Union Jack

From Academic Kids

Flag Ratio: 1:2
Flag Ratio: 1:2

The Union Flag or Union Jack is the flag most commonly associated with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and was also used throughout the former British Empire. It retains an official or semi-official status in many Commonwealth Realms.

It is commonly referred to as the Union Jack, but Union Flag is actually the correct form as it only becomes a Jack when flown from a ship's jack mast. In Canada the flag is officially called the Royal Union Flag.

Note that the jack flown by ships of the United States Navy is also referred to as the Union Jack.

The current design of the Union Flag or Jack dates from the union of Ireland and Great Britain in 1801 with the formation of the United Kingdom.

The Court of the Lord Lyon, which has criminal jurisdiction in heraldic matters in Scotland, confirms that the Union Flag "popularly called The Union Jack, is the correct flag for all citizens and corporate bodies of the United Kingdom to fly to demonstrate their loyalty and their nationality."

Its correct proportions are 1:2. However, the version officially used by the British Army modifies the proportions to 3:5.

A careful examination of the flag shows that, contrary to popular belief, the flag does not have reflectional symmetry, but has a right side and a wrong side up. A mnemonic to remind those flying the flag which end is up is Wide white top - the broad white stripe (composing part of the cross of Saint Andrew) should be above the red stripe (the cross of Saint Patrick) in the upper hoist of the flag (the hoist is the half of the flag near the flagpole). Flying the Union Jack upside-down may be regarded as a distress signal.


Terminology: "Union Flag" or "Union Jack"?

The issue of whether it is acceptable to use the term "Union Jack" is one that causes considerable controversy. Although it is often asserted that "Union Jack" should only be used for the flag when it is flown as a jack (a small flag flown at the bow of a ship), it is not universally accepted that the "Jack" of "Union Jack" is a reference to such a jack flag; other explanations have been put forward. See [1] (http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page398.asp). Even if the term "Union Jack" does derive from the jack flag (as perhaps seems most likely), it has been in use since the early 1700s and, after three centuries, is now sanctioned by usage, has appeared in official usage and remains the popular term.

The term "Union Flag", on the other hand, is indisputably correct and because of this is the term preferred in official documents and by vexillologists.


Original Grand Union Flag

Original Grand Union flag of .
Original Grand Union flag of 1606.

When James VI of Scotland also became James I of England in 1603, the two kingdoms of England and Scotland became united through the institution of the Crown. On April 12, 1606, a "Grand Union" flag was created to represent this grand union. The flag was a superposition of the red cross of St George of England and the saltire of St Andrew of Scotland. Note however that the ground of the Grand Union flag is a deep "navy" blue. The blue ground of the Scottish national flag, the saltire, from which the blue ground of the Grand Union flag is derived, is a lighter "royal" blue. The Welsh flag never became part of the Grand Union flag because Wales had been annexed by Edward I of England much earlier and Wales was considered to be a part of the kingdom of England.

Current Union Flag

Missing image
Saint Patrick's Cross. The modern Union Flag is a combination of this flag and the Union Flag of 1606.

The current Union Flag dates from January 1, 1801 with the 1801 Act of Union with Ireland. The new design added the red saltire cross attributed to St Patrick for Ireland. The saltire is counterchanged to combine it with the saltire of St Andrew. The red cross is thought to have come from the heraldic device of the Fitzgerald family who were sent by Henry II of England to aid Anglo-Norman rule in Ireland and has rarely been used as an emblem of Ireland by the Irish: a harp, a Celtic cross, a shamrock, or (since 1922) an Irish tricolour have been more common. However, the exact origin of the flag is unknown, with evidence of saltires being present on ancient Irish coins and maps. The St Patrick's saltire flag has been used in more recent times for St Patrick's Day in Northern Ireland, by various organisations wishing to avoid the sectarianism that may be implied by the use of either the tricolour or symbols of Unionism.

The flag is blazoned Azure, the Crosses Saltire of St. Andrew and St. Patrick, quarterly per saltire, counterchanged Argent and Gules, the latter fimbriated of the second, surmounted by the Cross of St. George of the third, fimbriated as the saltire.


The Union Flag is a royal flag, rather than a national flag. In fact, no law has ever been passed making it a national flag, but it has become one through usage. Its first recognition as a national flag came in 1908, when it was stated in Parliament that "the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag". A more categorical statement was made by the Home Secretary in 1933, when he stated that "the Union Flag is the National Flag". Civilian use is permitted, but stricter guidelines apply for use on naval vessels where the flag may not be used as a jack by merchant ships (see below).

At the close of the Great Flag Debate of 1964, which resulted in the adoption of the Maple Leaf Flag as the Canadian national flag, the Parliament of Canada voted to adopt the Royal Union Flag as the symbol of Canada's membership of the Commonwealth and her allegiance to the Crown. It is commonly flown alongside the Maple-Leaf Flag on Commonwealth Day and other royal occasions and anniversaries.

Use in other flags

The Union Flag was found in the canton (top left-hand corner) of the flags of many colonies of the UK, while the field (background) of their flags was the colour of the naval ensign flown by the particular Royal Navy squadron that patrolled that region of the World.

All administrative regions and territories of the United Kingdom fly the Union Flag in some form. Outside the UK itself, it is usually part of a special ensign in which the Jack is placed in the upper left hand corner of a blue field, with a signifying crest in the bottom right.

Several former colonies, notably Australia, New Zealand and Fiji continue to retain the Union Flag in their own national flags; in the colonies, the Union Flag was used semi-interchangeably with territorial flags for significant parts of their early history. This was also the case in Canada until the introduction of the Maple Leaf Flag in 1965, but it is still used in the flags of a number of Canadian provinces. It is also shown in the canton of the Flag of Hawaii, for quite different reasons.

Pilot Jack

The flag in a white border occasionally seen on merchant ships is sometimes referred to as the Pilot Jack. It can be traced back to 1823 when it was created as a signal flag, never intended as a civil jack. A book issued to British consuls in 1855 states that the white bordered Union Jack is to be hoisted for a pilot. Although there was some ambiguity regarding the legality of it being flown for any other purpose on civilian vessels, its use as an ensign or jack was established well in advance of the 1864 Act that designated the Red Ensign to merchant shipping. This practice was generally ignored by the authorities, partly because of fears that it would rise to demands that the merchant fleet be allowed to use the Union Flag, which the Admiralty, for its own arbitrary reasons, did not want to see. In 1970 the white-bordered Union Jack ceased to be the signal for a pilot, but references to it as national colours were not removed from the current Merchant Shipping Act and it was legally interpreted as a flag that could be flown on a merchant ship, as a jack if desired. This status was confirmed by the Merchant Shipping (Registration, etc.) Act 1993 which prohibits the use of any distinctive national colours or those used or resembling flags or pendants on Her Majesty's Ships, except the Red Ensign, the Union Flag with a white border, and some other exceptions permitted elsewhere in the Act.

Specifications for flag use

To fly the flag the correct way up, the broad portion of the white cross of St Andrew should be above the red band of St Patrick (and the thin white portion below) in the upper hoist canton (the corner at the top nearest to the flag-pole). This is expressed by the mnemonic: "wide white top", and the phrase: "broad side up". Traditionally, flying a flag upside down is understood as a distress signal; this distinction would be impossible in the case of the union flag without the slight pinwheeling of St. Patrick's cross. (Note that, as noted in the article on British ensigns, the main flags actually flown by British naval, commercial, and pleasure craft are more obviously asymmetrical than the union flag, making the distress signal far more visible at a distance.)

The normal dimensions of the flag are 1:2, except in the British Army where a 3:5 version is used. The British Army's flag is the Union Flag, but in 1938 a "British Army Non-Ceremonial Flag" was devised, featuring a Lion on crossed blades with the St Edward's Crown on a red back ground. This is not the equivalent of the ensigns of the other armed services, but is used at recruiting and military or sporting events, when the Army needs to be identified but the reverence and ceremonial due to the regimental flags and the Union Jack would be inappropriate.

The colour specifications for the flag are [2] (http://www.flaginstitute.org/):

  • Union Flag (Royal) Blue - Pantone 280 - Web-Safe Hex #003399 - RGB 0-33-115 - CMYK - Ministry of Defence 8711D - NATO 8305.99.130.4580
  • Union Flag Red - Pantone 186 - Web-Safe Hex #CC0000 - RGB 198-16-24 - CMYK - Ministry of Defence 8711H - NATO 8305.99.130.4584
  • White - Pantone Safe - RGB 255-255-255 - Web-Safe Hex #FFFFFF CMYK - Ministry of Defence 8711J - NATO 8305.99.130.4585

External links

Related flags

Flags of countries within the United Kingdom

England - Northern Ireland - Scotland - Wales

Flags of specific counties within England

Cornwall - Devon - Isle of Wight

Flags of the Channel Islands and Isle of Man

Alderney - Guernsey - Herm - Jersey - Sark. Isle of Man.

Naval/Airforce/Army Flags

British ensigns, Colours and guidons, Red Ensign, Blue Ensign

Other flags with the Union Flag

Anguilla, Australia, Bermuda, British Columbia, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Canadian Red Ensign, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Hawaii, Manitoba, New South Wales, New Zealand, Ontario, Pitcairn Islands, Queensland, Saint Helena, South Australia, Tasmania, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tuvalu, Victoria, Western Australia

See also

External links

National flags
List of national flags | List of national coats of arms
bg:Знаме на Обединеното кралство

pt:Bandeira do Reino Unido de:Union Jack es:Bandera del Reino Unido fr:Drapeau du Royaume-Uni it:Bandiera britannica he:דגל הממלכה המאוחדת ja:ユニオンジャック nl:Union Jack pl:Flaga Wielkiej Brytanii pt:Bandeira do Reino Unido ro:Union Jack sv:Union Jack zh:英国国旗


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