It’s the symbol of the United Kingdom, flying proudly on public buildings, royal palaces and even on the moon. But how much do you really know about the Union Jack?
You may think it’s just a flag, but it’s actually a fascinating story of how three different countries came together under one monarch and one banner.
The Union Jack, or Union Flag, is the national flag of the United Kingdom, which consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It combines the crosses of St. George, St. Andrew and St. Patrick to represent each country respectively.
But why is it called the Union Jack? And what is the correct way to fly it?
The name ‘Union’ first appeared in 1625, when King James VI of Scotland inherited the throne of England and Ireland from his cousin Queen Elizabeth I. He wanted to unite his three kingdoms under one flag, so he ordered a new design that merged the red cross of St. George (England) and the white saltire of St. Andrew (Scotland) on a blue background.
The name ‘Jack’ comes from the term for a small flag flown from the mast of a ship. Since before 1600, ‘jack’ has been used to describe a small flag flown from the mast of a ship – so, when a small version of the Union Jack started to be flown around 1627, it was often referred to as the jack, jack flag or King’s jack.
But the flag was not complete yet. In 1801, after Ireland joined the union with Great Britain, another cross was added: the red saltire of St. Patrick (Ireland). This created the flag we know today, with its distinctive pattern of red, white and blue.
However, there is no symbol for Wales in the flag, as Wales was already part of England when the first Union Jack was created. Some Welsh people have campaigned for a dragon or a daffodil to be added to the flag, but so far their efforts have been unsuccessful.
The Union Jack has become one of the most recognisable flags in the world, and has been used by many former British colonies and territories as part of their own flags. It also appears on the upper left-hand corner of the flag of Hawaii, which has no historical connection to Britain.
But there is a right and a wrong way to fly the flag. The broad white diagonal stripe should be above the red diagonal stripe on both sides at the top left corner nearest to the flagpole. If you fly it upside down, you are sending a signal of distress or disrespect.
So next time you see the Union Jack waving in the wind, remember that it’s not just a flag – it’s a piece of history that tells a story of how three countries became one.