The Union


Flag of 1606
1801 Flag
Current Union Flag
In March 1603, Elizabeth I of England died without an heir, leaving the succession to the Crown open, thereby ending the Tudor Period and beginning the start of the Stuart reign.
Elizabeth's Ministers ignored Henry VIII's will and invited James VI of Scotland to accept the Crown of England. The two countries remained independent under a single Monarch, James VI (of Scotland) and I (of England), who called his new realm the Kingdom of Great Britain.

In 1606, following some altercations over flags between English and Scottish ships, James I issued a proclamation that confirmed the flag that was to be used.

Civil JackIn 1634, after some disputes concerning saluting ships in the Channel, Charles I partially repealed his father's proclamation and to this Civil Ensignday civilian vessels are not permitted to use the Union Jack.

They have their own Jack, a white bordered Union Jack and the courtesy flag is an appropriately coloured ensign.

Government / Naval Reserve EnsignRed for civil vessels, blue for government vessels, and white for naval vessels.

Naval EnsignThe execution of Charles I on the 30th January 1649, brought an end to the union of England and Scotland. The Union Flag no longer made sense so the English Parliament ordered the Admiralty to chose a new design. This was to be the first of several design used until the restoration of Charles II in May 1660 restored the pre-1649 flags.

In 1707, Queen Anne completed the task that James had started - a complete union of England and Scotland. The first article of the Treaty of Union stated that the flag would be the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew conjoined in such a manner as the Queen saw fit. Queen Anne decided to keep the existing design.

Up until 1801 Ireland had been a separate kingdom. In 1800 an Act of Union was passed to create the new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to come into effect on the 1st January 1801.The College of Arms designed a new flag with the Cross of St. Patrick counter-changed with the Cross of St. Andrew. The inclusion of St. Patrick's cross is of interest as St. Patrick was not martyred and therefore did not have a cross. The red saltire on white was the emblem of the powerful Irish Fitzgerald family and was a convenient symbol for Ireland:

Over the years the shape of the flag has gradually changed to its current proportions of one to two. This was caused by a steady decrease in the width of the cloth used to make the flags. The specifications were in the form of so many widths high by so many yards long. This meant that as the width of cloth reduced the flag apparently became longer and longer:

The independence in 1921 of the southern part of Ireland as the Irish Free State did not result in any change to the Union Flag.

The Union Jack or Union Flag

When the 'Union Jack' was first introduced, in 1606, it was known simply as 'the British flag' or 'the flag of Britain', and was ordered to be flown at the main masthead of all ships, warships and merchant ships, of both England and Scotland.

The first use of the name 'Union' appears in 1625. There are various theories as how it became known as the 'Union Jack', but most of the evidence points to the name being derived from the use of the word 'jack' as a diminutive. This word was in use before 1600 to describe a small flag flown from the small mast mounted on the bowsprit, and by 1627 it appears that a small version of the Union flag was commonly flown in this position. For some years it was called just 'the Jack', or 'Jack flag', or 'the King's Jack', but by 1674, while formally referred to as 'His Majesty's Jack', it was commonly called the Union Jack, and this was officially acknowledged.

In the 18th century the small mast on the bowsprit was replaced by staysails on the stays between the bowsprit and the foremast. By this time the Ensign had become the principal naval distinguishing flag, so it became the practice to fly the Union Jack only in harbour, on a specially rigged staff in the bows of the ships, the jackstaff. It should thus be noted that the jack flag had existed for over a hundred and fifty years before the jack staff came into being, and its name was related to its size rather than to the position in which it was flown.

It is often stated that the Union Flag should only be described as the Union Jack when flown in the bows of a warship, but this is a relatively recent idea. From early in its life the Admiralty itself frequently referred to the flag as the Union Jack, whatever its use, and in 1902 an Admiralty Circular announced that Their Lordships had decided that either name could be used officially. Such use was given Parliamentary approval in 1908 when it was stated that "the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag".