I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Union Jack flag of Great Britain, and perhaps you may also know what the individual flags of Scotland, Wales and Ireland look like, but did you know that there are also many other flags in the UK too?
In this article, we take a closer look at these lesser known flags and discover what they represent and how they help they help retain a sense of local identity.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Let’s start with the one we all recognise, the Union Jack, so called because it represents all four flags of the kingdoms of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The design reflects the 1801 Act of Union between Britain and Ireland, although rather interestingly the Welsh flag was not incorporated into the Union Jack as it was considered to be a province of England.
Tradition states that this flag should always be flown with the broader white diagonal seen on the top left quadrant, nearest the top of the flagpole. However, if it is ever seen to be flying upside down with the broader white stripe at the base, this is usually interpreted as a sign of distress or emergency.
The Arms of The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland
This simple red cross on a white background may look like a hospital sign, but this is the flag of England and makes up the central part of the Union Jack flag. The cross represents the Cross of St. George, the saint famed for his slaying of the dragon, but did you know that he wasn’t English? Very little is known about him, but it is thought he was born in Turkey, and the reason he came to be on the English flag is simply to honour his bravery.
The English national flag was first used in the Middle Ages by the military leader and King of England at the time, Richard the Lionheart. It was associated with the Knights Templar, but now can be more commonly seen on football shirts. In fact, sports play a major part in keeping national pride alive, as the national flower of England is the red rose and this symbol is the badge of the England Rugby team.
The Arms of England.
St. George is the patron saint of England and to celebrate this England has St. George’s Day on the 23rd of April each year
The Scottish flag also makes up part of the Union Jack with its diagonal white cross on a blue background. But did you know that Scotland has two flags? The other, not so familiar flag, is that of a red lion rampant on a gold background and can be seen on the Arms of Scotland. Although the blue design is the one we associate with Scotland, the red design continues to be used as the official Royal Standard of the Kings of Scotland for special state occasions to honour the Royal Family. Sometimes you may also see it waved by supporters at football and rugby matches.
Scotland used to be its own separate kingdom, but it has been part of the United Kingdom since 1707. The cross in this flag is representative of the x-shaped saltire cross on which St. Andrew (Scotland’s national saint) was crucified and has been Scotland’s national symbol since circa 1170. King James I combined the Scottish flag with the national flag of England in 1606 when the two kingdoms became united. The St Andrew’s Cross, as the flag is known, is very popular in Scotland and is used by the Scottish National Party as well as many sporting teams.
The Arms of Scotland.
St Andrew is the Patron saint of Scotland and legend has it that some of his bones were brought to St Andrew’s in Fife during the 4th century. St. Andrew’s Day is celebrated on the 30th of November and the national flower of Scotland is the thistle.
Ireland has the most colourful flag and differs in that it does not form any part of the Union Jack. Known as the Tricolour, the origins of the Irish flag go back to the French Revolution and indeed apart from the colours there are similarities in form. The flag was presented to the Nationalists by a group of French women who strongly believed in their bid for freedom from English rule. And indeed, after a long, arduous and incredibly bloody battle, in 1922 Ireland won its freedom from Britain and became an independent country.
There’s more to this flag than you may first realise, as the white signifies the peace between the green of the Nationalists and the orange of the Unionists. First flown in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising, this flag has been used by Ireland’s Nationalists and Republicans both north and south of the border ever since.
The Arms of the Republic of Ireland is of a golden harp on a background made of a field of blue. The national flower of Ireland is the shamrock (a small clover) hence the expression ‘the luck of the Irish’.
Wales has the most dramatic of all of the flags, with its striking red dragon on a split white and green background. And it is this red dragon that has formed such a strong symbol still used with great pride today by the people of Wales. Wales is a Principality that forms part of the United Kingdom, and it has been governed by England since being conquered in 1282.
The last native Prince of Wales, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, is represented in the arms of Wales. The Patron saint of Wales is St. David; the founder and the first abbot-bishop of St. David’s, a modest city in the county of Pembrokeshire. St David’s Day is celebrated on the 1st of March. The national flower of Wales is the daffodil, although some also associate the leek, which has been used as a Welsh emblem since around 1536.
The smaller nations:
Did you know that as well as the four main nations of the British Isles, there are also a number of smaller sovereign states that have their own flags and identities? Many of these smaller states are classed as dependant territories within one of the larger countries or are known as crown territories. Each one has its own parliament along with varying degrees of fiscal autonomy.
Northern Ireland is made up of six counties and has remained under British control since the independence of the Irish Republic in 1922. The flag is similar to that of the English flag and indeed it too includes the St. George’s Cross with the addition of the Crown, the Star of David and the Red Hand of Ulster.
Perhaps because of the fact Northern Ireland is the smallest of the Home Nations of the United Kingdom, there is no official Flag of Northern Ireland. The ‘Red Hand Flag’ was abolished in 1972, however these days the Unionists usually use the Union flag (although some may still use the Red Hand Flag) and the Nationalists tend to use the Flag of Ireland.
The Channel Isles
The Island Bailiwick of Guernsey and Jersey are not officially part of the United Kingdom, instead, they represent the final remnants of the medieval Dukedom of Normandy. So named because of their position in the Channel separating England and France, the Channel islands are Crown protectorates but remain as separate states from the rest of the United Kingdom, and therefore have their own Governments.
The flag of Jersey is a diagonal red cross on a white background with a gold crown and a red shield emblazoned with the three golden lions of England.
The Arms of the Bailiwick of Jersey.
Jersey is not a part of the UK, nor a part of the European Union; It is comparable to the Isle of Man in that it is a separate possession of the Crown.
The flag of Guernsey is made up of two crosses on a white background. The red cross is that of Saint George; the patron saint of England and the super imposed gold equal-armed cross is that of William the Conqueror.
The Arms of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.
This also includes the islets of Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou, Burhou and others.
The Alderney flag includes the red St George’s Cross with the badge of the island in the middle and is set upon a white background. The badge is a green disc imprinted with a crowned lion rampant holding a sprig of leaves.
Arms of the Island of Alderney
Alderney is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey and because the States of Alderney has legislature of the island, it also has a say in the States of Guernsey too.
The flag of Seigneur of Sark (the head of the feudal government of the Isle of Sark) is made up of a red cross on a white background, with the upper left quadrant filled in with red and bears two gold lions. It is similar to the arms of Normandy, which is close to the location of Sark.
Sark is also part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey and until very recently was considered to be the last feudal state in Europe. Many of the laws, in particular, those related to inheritance and the rule of the Seigneur, have changed very little since they were first enforced over 450 years ago, in 1565
Coat of Arms – the Island of Sark.
The two lions on this coat of arms are taken from the crest of Normandy in neighbouring France.
The Isle of Man
The flag of the Isle of Man bears the Manx symbol of the Three Legs of Man, This symbol was first used during the early 14th century on the Manx Sword of State and the armour clad legs, run in a clockwise direction bearing the Latin motto ‘Quocunque Jeceris Stabit’ or in English, ‘Whichever way you throw it, it will stand’.
The Isle of Man is a Crown Protectorate, but is a separate state in it’s own right and therefore not considered a part of the United Kingdom.
The Arms of The Island Of Man.
The three armoured legs from the flag also features on the Manx Coat of Arms and is surrounded by a Peregrine Falcon and Raven. This legs emblem is based on the legend of the Island God, Manannan, who is believed to have set fire to the Legs in a fit of rage before hurling them down a hill in a fit of rage, creating the illusion of a burning wheel.
It isn’t just countries that have their own flags, these days it is becoming more and more popular for the various counties of the United Kingdom to also bear their own flags. Some of these have been around for hundreds of years, however, there are now an increasing number of newly created county flags that are emerging. These county flags help add colour to the landscape and create a real sense of identity for the local people who have great pride in their county and are keen to keep its traditions.
On your travels around the British Isles, you may notice some of these flags and hopefully, we have helped you understand more about what these flags represent.