Posted by: Tobias | September 10, 2008

The Stories National Flags can tell

Not too long ago I was driving through Northern Ireland with Mathieu and Linda and we got to talking about why the Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom, looked the way it looked. I seemed to remember that it was a composite of the flags of the individual kingdoms that the UK contains but couldn’t explain why the Welsh dragon did not appear anywhere on the flag. When we got back from the trip, we’d forgotten all about the discussion and never looked up the answer.

Purely by accident I stumbled on the answer today on a page about the histories of a number of national flags and how they have changed throughout history.

This is what the page has to say about the Union Jack:

If you look closely at the Union Jack, you’ll notice that the diagonal red and white stripes aren’t symmetrical. Here’s the story behind it:

In 1801, an Act of Union which made Ireland a co-equal member of the United Kingdom made it necessary to add a symbol for Ireland to the flag, but without obliterating any of the existing symbols. If the St. Patrick’s cross had been centered on the diagonal stripes, then St. Andrew’s cross would have been relegated to an inferior position, basically serving only as a border for St. Patrick’s. But Scotland was the senior of the two kingdoms, so this was unsatisfactory. The solution was to divide the diagonal stripes diagonally, so that the red St. Patrick’s cross would take up only half of each stripe, and so that half devoted to St. Andrew would take the place of honor. Thus, in the two hoist quarters, the white St. Andrew’s cross occupies the upper position, and in the two fly quarters, the red St. Patrick’s cross occupies the upper position.

But what happened to Wales? The Flag of Wales, The Red Dragon or Y Ddraig Goch, isn’t represented in the Union Jack because Wales was annexed by England in 1282. With the Laws in Wales Act 1535 – 1542, it is legally part of the Kingdom of England and thus represented under the St. George’s Cross flag.



  1. Cool, really good stuff!! We forgot about it indeed but still: Rare jongens die Britten!

    (from Astix and Oblix which translated in Dutch keep on saying Rare jongens die Romeinen)

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