The citizens of the United States of America are totally united in their adoration of their country’s flag, The Stars and Stripes, or Old Glory. Until about 1980 the citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were as passionate, if not as overtly so, about their flag, the Union Jack. The Union Jack is an older flag than the Stars and Stripes. The latter, I understand, dates from 1786 and has changed only since then in the number of stars as the USA grew. The Union Jack on the other hand has a much more ad hoc development.

In 1603 James VI of Scotland was crowned King James I of England. It may seem curious to today’s youngsters that the crowns of Scotland and England could be worn by the same man but that each nation should be separate, having, legal, judicial and administrative mutual independence. But this was and still is the case. James moved down to England but the sovereign state of Scotland and the sovereign state of England continued as before.

However James (VI, I) decreed that the flag under which his (English) navy operated would be an ensigned St George’s Cross. An ensign is a flag within a flag, typically the top left hand quarter of a different flag, in this case the ensign being an amalgamation of the saltire of St Andrew and the cross of St George. The most familiar ensign is of course the Union Jack which appears in many flags, Australian, New Zealand, Bahamas and many others. King James decreed that St George’s Cross as flown by his English navy should be ensigned by his new Union Jack. A jack apparently was the term assigned to a small flag or ensign, and we can see how the fact that the new flag first appearing as an ensign gave it its name, indelibly, as the Union Jack. King James’ idea was to overlay the flags of his two kingdoms to produce one flag.

First one 1606

So the earliest examples of the Union Jack combine the Scottish St Andrews saltire and the English St George’s cross. This worked well as the red cross on white over-laid well with the white saltire on blue background.
It seems that the Union Jack, thus produced, only appeared as an ensign on English, and possibly Scottish, warships until the Act of Union in 1707. It is not clear if Scottish warships ensigned the Union Jack on the saltire of St Andrew as the English ships did on to the cross of St George.

At this time the Scottish Parliament amalgamated with the English Parliament and the Union Jack became the flag of the United Kingdom. There seems to be little firm directive either from the monarch, Queen Anne, or Parliament as to which of the three flags should be dominant. There appears to be no directive from Crown or Parliament to favour, or ban, either or both of the English and Scottish flags.

The next big change to the Union Jack, which had gained acceptance in the eighteenth century as the British flag, was the Act of Union of 1800 whereby the Irish parliament was combined with the English and Scottish parliament at Westminster. At that time there was only one Irish state with a Parliament in Dublin, on the English/Scottish model. The flag of Ireland was the saltire of St Patrick which is a red diagonal cross on white. St Patrick’s cross was overlaid with the existing Union Jack to produce the flag as we now know and love it. Incidentally usually only martyred saints have flags with crosses, so St George and St Andrew but not so St Patrick, who was not a martyr and is the exception to the rule.


During the nineteenth century the nation’s flag came to be the Union Jack.

Such use was given Parliamentary approval in 1908 when it was stated that "the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag".

Nowhere where British forces or British administration were involved was there any primary flag other than the Union Jack, except for the Royal Navy which continued to fly the white Ensign, the ensigned St George’s cross.

In the last ten or so years there has been a concerted attack on the Union Jack. This attack appears to have been masterminded by the liberal politically correct brigade, which considers the word Jack to be sexist, male orientated and therefore unacceptable. This lot started telling us that the correct name for the Union Jack is the Union flag and put about many silly stories such as that it is only called the Union Jack on warships. All as usual a load of nonsense. I can declare with total veracity that I never heard our flag called anything except the Union Jack for the first fifty years of my life, and I have heard and read the name many, many thousands of times. I know that no-one can produce written references prior to 1980 which named our flag anything other than the Union Jack.

When I was a boy, on some days my mum would tell me to hang the Union Jack out of the top window and I immediately knew it was a day of national significance. You may find it easy to believe me when I tell you that we did not live on a warship and that she told me to hang out the Union Jack. I shall continue to call it the Union Jack until the day I die and I trust that my children will take a similar position. I urge my fellow citizens to do likewise and so preserve a much loved and much respected name for a much respected and much loved flag.

The Union Jack for me.

Franklin Carstairs 20/12/00