A Complete Guide to Heraldry/Chapter 41

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Orders in Council and other official documents refer to this flag as the Union Flag, The Union Jack, Our Jack, The King's Colours, and the Union Banner, which last title precise Heraldry usually adopts. In patriotic songs it is toasted as "The Red, White, and Blue," whilst in the Services men affectionately allude to it as "the dear old duster." But Britons at large cling to the title which heads this chapter; to them it is "The Union Jack."

Why Union? Obviously because it unites three emblems of tutelar saints on one flag, and thereby denotes the union of three peoples under one Sovereign. It is the motto "Tria juncta in Uno" rendered in bunting.

Why Jack? Two theories are propounded, one fanciful, the other probable. Some say "Jack" is the anglicised form of "Jacques," which is the French signature of James I., in whose reign and by whose command the first Union Flag was called into being. Against this at least three reasons may justly be urged: (1) The term "Jack" does not appear—so far as we can discover—in any warrant referring to the Jacobean Flag of 1606. It is rather in later documents that this term occurs. (2) If the earliest Union Flag be a "Jack" just because it is the creation of James, then surely it follows that, to be consistent, later Union Flags, the creations of later sovereigns, should have borne those Sovereigns' names; for example The Union Anne, The Union George! (3) The English way of pronouncing "Jacques" is not, and probably never was Jack, but Jaikes. The other, and more feasible theory, is as follows: The term "Jaque" (e.g. jaque de mailles) was borrowed from the French and referred to any jacket or coat on which, especially, heraldic emblems were blazoned. In days long prior to those of the first Stuart king, mention is made of "whytte cotes with red crosses worn by shyppesmen and men of the cette of London," from which sentence we learn that the emblem of the nation's tutelar saint was (as in yet earlier Crusaders' days) a fighter's emblem. When such emblem or emblems were transferred to a flag, the term Jaque may well, in course of time, have been also applied to that flag, as previously to the jacket.

Glance now at the story of those Orders in Council which created the various Union flags. The very union of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland seems to have accentuated the pettier national jealousies, so that Southrons annoyed Northerners by hoisting the St. George above the St. Andrew, and the Scotchmen retaliated by a species of tu quoque. The King sought to allay these quarrels by creating a British, as other than a purely English or Scottish, flag. But let the Proclamation speak for itself.

"By the King.
"Whereas, some differences hath arisen between Our subjects of South and North Britaine travelling by Seas, about the bearing of their Flagges: For the avoiding of all contentions hereafter, Wee have, with the advice of our Councill, ordered: That from henceforth all our Subjects of this Isle and Kingdome of Great Britaine, and all our members thereof, shall beare in their main-toppe the Red Crosse, commonly called St. George's Crosse, and the White Crosse, commonly called St. Andrew's Crosse, joyned together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects: and in their fore-toppe our Subjects of South Britaine shall weare the Red Crosse onely as they were wont, and our Subjects of North Britaine in their fore-toppe the White Crosse onely as they were accustomed."—1606.
This attempt at conciliating differences deserved but did not win success. "The King's Owne Shipps" deemed themselves slighted, since all vessels were treated alike in this matter, and so persistent was the agitation that at last, in Charles I.'s reign (1634), another Proclamation was issued "for the honour of Oure Shipps in Oure Navie Royall, whereby those ships alone had the right of hoisting "the Union Flagge." The days of the Commonwealth brought another change, for with the King the King's Flag disappeared. The Protector caused two new flags to be made, viz. The Great Union (a flag little used, however, although it figured at his funeral obsequies), and which may be thus blazoned: Quarterly 1 and 4, The St. George; 2. The St. Andrew; 3. azure, a harp or, for Ireland; over all on an inescutcheon of pretence, sable, a lion rampant or, for the Protector's personal arms, and The Commonwealth Ensign, which latter Parliament treated as the paramount flag. The most interesting features of this flag are that it was of three kinds, one red, one white, one blue, and that Ireland but not Scotland had a place on its folds. When the King came to


Complete Guide to Heraldry Plate9.jpg

his own again yet another change was witnessed. By this Proclamation ships in the Navy were to carry The Union, and all merchantmen The St. George, whilst these latter vessels were also to wear "The Red Ensign with the St. George, on a Canton." Passing on, we reach the days of Queen Anne, who as soon as the union of the two Parliaments was accomplished, issued a famous Proclamation often quoted. Suffice it here to outline its effect.

The two crosses of St. George and St. Andrew were—as the Treaty of Union had agreed should be—"conjoyned in such a manner as we should think fit"; and what that manner was is "described on the margent" in the shape of a sketch. But further, in place of the St. George being placed on the canton of the Red Ensign of Charles II. (itself the Commonwealth Ensign, minus the harp) the Proclamation ordered the "Union" as a canton, and finally this new Red Ensign was confined to the merchant ships, whilst "Our Jack" was reserved for the use of the Navy, unless by particular warrant. Thus things continued until the union of Ireland with England and Scotland. The Proclamation referring to this Act of Union closes with the Herald's verbal blazon of the full Union Flag:—"The Union Flag shall be Azure, the Crosses Saltire of St. Andrew and St. Patrick, Quarterly per saltire, countercharged Argent and Gules, the latter fimbriated of the second, surmounted by the Cross of St. George of the third, fimbriated as the Saltire." Thus the Union, as displayed in bunting, was perfected.

Our Union Flag is very remarkable, even amongst the flags of Christendom, both as a blending of crosses, and crosses only, and also as an emblem of the union of two or more countries. Yet it is not unique, for the flags of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have a somewhat similar story to tell. The last two countries separated at different dates from Denmark, and then together formed a United Scandinavian Kingdom. In separating, they each took to themselves a separate flag, and again, in uniting, they called into being a Union Banner. How they treated these changes Fig. 775 will illustrate. Notwithstanding these acts of union both Scandinavians and Britons have had, and we still have, differences over these Union Flags. Whilst, however, they based their protests on the sentiment of independence, we ground our grumblings on questions of heraldic precedence, and of the interpretation of verbal blazons. Leaving our neighbours to settle their differences, let us examine our own. Take the subject of precedence. Very early in the flag's history, Scotsmen were indignant because the St. Andrew was not placed over the St. George. All kinds of variations have been suggested to lessen this crux of precedence, but such attempts must plainly be in vain. Do what you will, some kind of precedence is unavoidable. The St. George, then, as representing the paramount partner, occupies the centre of the flag, whilst the St. Andrew, as senior in partnership to the St. Patrick, is placed above the St. Patrick, in the first quarter, although throughout it is counterchanged. The words in italic are important, for when the order is reversed, then that particular flag is flying upside down.

Fig. 776.—The Union Flag of 1707.

Fig. 776.—The Union Flag of 1707.

The mode of procedure in creating flags has been much the same from one reign to another. Briefly it is this: The Sovereign seeks the advice of, and receives a report from, the Lords of the Privy Council. These councillors are "attended by the King of Arms and Heralds, with diverse drafts prepared by them." A decision being arrived at, an Order in Council, followed by a Royal Proclamation, makes known the character of the flag. In both Order and Proclamation it is usual to make reference to the verbal blazon, and to "the form made by our heralds." Thus there are three agents recognised—(1) the Sovereign, the fountain of all honours; (2) the heralds, who authoritatively blazon, outline, and register all achievements; and (3) the naval authority, as that in which are vested the duty and the power of seeing the actual bunting properly made up and properly flown.

Fig. 777.—The Union Flag of 1801.

Fig. 777.—The Union Flag of 1801]

In keeping with this, the general mode of procedure, the Proclamations demand our attention. The Proclamation of James (1606). A high official of the College of Arms informs us that neither verbal blazon nor drawing of the first Union Flag is extant. On the other hand, in the Proclamations of 1707 and 1801 we have both blazon and drawing. The blazon has already been given of the 1801 flag (which is the one most needing a verbal blazon), and the drawings of both flags we here produce (Figs. 776 and 777). These drawings—though slightly reduced in these pages—are most careful copies of the signed copies supplied to us by the official already alluded to. In forwarding them he writes: "They are not drawn to scale;" and he adds, further on, "they are exactly the same size as recorded in our books." So then we have, in these two drawings, the heralds' interpretation, at the time, of their own verbal blazon. Now comes the Admiralty part of the work. In the Admiralty Regulations we have a "Memorandum relative to the origin of the Union Flag in its present form." In this there is a brief history of the changes made in the flag from time to time, with quotations from the warrants, together with the verbal blazon AND two coloured drawings (Figs. 778 and 779). The Admiralty has also appended to the Memorandum the following interesting and ingeniously worked out Table of Proportions, adapted for a flag 15 feet by 7½ feet. Presumably this table forms the basis upon which all Union Flags are made up under Admiralty supervision:—

ft. in.
The + of St. George
Two borders 115 each
together 13 1
The × of St. Patrick
Its border
St. Andrew

together 110

Fig. 778.—Admiralty Pattern of 1707 Flag.

Fig. 778.—Admiralty Pattern of 1707 Flag.

Fig. 779.—Admiralty Pattern of 1801 Flag.

Fig. 779.—Admiralty Pattern of 1801 Flag.

The student of heraldry will observe that this table is based on the proportions of the Ordinaries and Sub-Ordinaries figuring on the flag, as those proportions are regulated by English Rules of Armory. These rules give a cross as ⅓, a saltire as 15, a fimbriation about 1/20, of the flag's width. By the way, we notice here, yet only to dismiss it as hypercritical, the objection taken to the employment (in the verbal blazon of 1801) of the term "fimbriated." To our mind this objection seems a storm in a teacup. Further, it is always admissible in armory to lessen the size of charges when these crowd a field, and although we are fully aware that the laws of armory are not always nor all of them applied to flags, yet there is sufficient evidence to show that the heralds and the Admiralty did recognise the cases of shields and flags to be somewhat analogous. But there are two features in The Admiralty pattern which cannot but arrest the attention of all those who have made a study of armory. The one is that the sub-ordinaries, i.e. the fimbriations, have different proportions given to them, although they are repetitions of the same sub-ordinary, and also seem guarded against such treatment by the very wording of the blazon, and by the practice usual in such cases. And the other is that, after counterchanging the saltires, the St. Patrick is attenuated by having its fimbriation taken off its own field, instead (as the common custom is) off the field of the flag.

All Warrants dealing with flags provide for their being flown at sea (Queen Anne's Proclamation is apparently the first that adds "and land"), and gradually reserve for the Royal Navy—or fighting ships—the honour of alone bearing the Union Jack. The accompanying diagram shows at a glance the changes made by the several Proclamations. The latest word on this subject is "The Merchant Shipping (Colours) Act of Queen Victoria, 1894." This Acts sets forth among other things that—(1) "The red ensign usually worn by merchant ships, without any defacement or modification whatsoever, is hereby declared to be the proper national colours for all ships and boats belonging to any British subject, except in the case of Her Majesty's ships or boats, or in the case of any other ship or boat for the time being allowed to wear any other national colours in pursuance of a warrant from Her Majesty or from the Admiralty. (2) If any distinctive national colours except such red ensign, or except the Union Jack with a white border, or if any colours usually worn by Her Majesty's ships, &c. … are or is hoisted on board any ship … without warrant … for each offence … a fine not exceeding five hundred pounds.