English Supremacy in the Union Flag

by JoHarrington

The Union Jack, as it's commonly known, was meant to represent the United Kingdom. It says more about England as a superpower.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a union of the countries of Cornwall, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Its flag shows anything but.

Cornwall and Wales aren't represented in it at all. The shade of blue meant to depict Scotland is actually that of England's Royal Navy. The flag of Ireland as a whole is still included, despite Eire being a republic since 1922. The red hand of Ulster, as symbolic of Northern Ireland, is nowhere to be seen.

Worst of all, the design shows the red St George's Cross of England stamping disdainfully over the rest. The Union Flag is nothing more than England declaring its dominance over the other countries in the British Isles.

The Union Flag, Commonly Called the Union Jack

This flag amalgamates the flags of England, Scotland and Ireland.
British Union Jack (UK Great Britain) Country Flag: 3x5ft poly
L-R: St George's Cross of England; St Andrew's Cross of Scotland; and St Patrick's Cross of Ireland.
England - St. George Cross - 3 x 5 fe...Scotland - St Andrews Cross - 3ft x 5...St Patrick's Cross 5' x 3' Flag

Two things should be immediately apparent when comparing the Union Flag with those of its constituent parts.

The first is that the blue is all wrong. The St Andrew's Cross is supposed to be sky blue. The official flag of Scotland records Pantone 300 as the optimum color. It has a very long history.

The legend goes that King Óengus II, in 832 CE, led his combined Scottish and Pictish army against the invading Angles. They were successful! In the aftermath of battle, Óengus looked up at the sky to discover that a freak cloud configuration had created the St Andrew's cross. 

The Scottish flag therefore shows white clouds against a blue sky, inspired by a real sighting after an historical defeat of the English.

Which is perhaps why Queen Anne and her council, in 1707, disdained the shade for one more suited to English pride. The blue in the Union Flag is Pantone 280. Which also just happens to be the shade of blue used in the Blue Ensign of the Royal Navy.

In short, England recolored the Scottish flag, so that it said less about that nation and more about Britannia ruling the waves.

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The second thing to notice is how much smaller the St Patrick Cross is to the other two. 

The actual proportions are one strip of white, two strips of red and three strips of white. It jostles for distinction in the same space as the Scottish St Andrew's Cross.

This is in comparison with the St George Cross, which is already slightly larger than both. That is two strips of white, four of red, then another two of white. 

All things being equal, the white saltire should include the red dead center, but its not. The Irish flag is positioned off to one side, designed to be viewed as anti-clockwise. This not only gives it lower precedence than the Scottish flag, but also implies a negative aspect. It would otherwise have been clockwise.

This is how the Union Flag would look, if it was color corrected and each of the three parts were afforded an equal size.

Image: Union Flag with correct colors and equal precedence.
Image: Union Flag with correct colors and equal precedence.
Paul Pollard

Of course, equality in the Union Flag can only ever be relative. The fact that England's St George Cross is layered on top of all of the rest gives a very clear message. England should be viewed as the dominant nation here.

This was an implication which wasn't lost on Scots. From the moment the Union Flag was first introduced, alternative versions appeared north of the English border. It depicted the St Andrew's Cross on top of the St George's Cross.

All Scottish ships and boats carried this version instead, and it was also flown from the top of Edinburgh Castle. It took legislation to stop that happening.

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A Few More Notes about the St Patrick's Cross of Ireland

Why is Eire still showed on the UK's Union Flag? I thought they'd left!

The observant amongst you may have noticed that all this talk about Ireland being under-represented should be a moot point.  The country shouldn't be there at all!

The Republic of Ireland has not been in the United Kingdom since December 6th 1922. When the nation earned its independence (after a victorious, but devastating war), everyone expected that the St Patrick's Flag would simply be removed.

It wasn't, because the United Kingdom had retained Northern Ireland.  This was despite the fact that the Red Hand of Ulster, which is emblematic of that country, is nowhere to be seen on the Union Flag.  Instead, the St Patrick's Saltire that is shown is representative of the entire of Ireland.

This caused an immediate issue for the new Republic of Ireland, which found itself unable to use its own national flag.

There have occasionally been questions asked in the Dáil Éireann about this. Ministers have suggested sending diplomatic representation to Westminster, formally requesting that Ireland be removed from the Union Flag. But there's no record of Eire having actually done it.

In reality, there's no need beyond the whole morality of the issue. Eire forged on ahead, as its own nation, under a green, white and orange tricolor that better matched the country's hard-won freedom. It was designed by a group of sympathetic French women in 1848, in early recognition of the fact that Ireland should be free.

It was this tricolor, not the St Patrick's Saltire, which was raised above the General Post Office during the Easter Rising of 1916. It was this which had more meaning to the Irish people.

However, it's still an ominous indication of the real thoughts in Westminster that the saltire of the whole of Ireland was never taken out of the Union Flag.

Three Flags Not Even Shown in the Union Flag

L-R: The Red Hand of Northern Ireland (Flag of Ulster); Y Ddraig Goch of Wales; and St Piran's Cross of Kernow.
Ulster - 3' x 5' Polyester FlagMilcom British Military Products - Fl...Cornwall 5' x 3' Flag

Three Out of Five Countries Aren't in the Union Flag

The United Kingdom is made up of Cornwall, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Aren't we missing some flags here?

Technically Northern Ireland is shown, as that was the excuse for keeping the St Patrick Saltire in the Union Flag.  But only one emblem is going to point to Ulster and that's the Red Hand.

The story goes that Ulster once found itself without an heir to the throne.  All of the likely candidates set sail in a boat race with the winner being the first hand to touch the shore. This would be the King.

Labraid of the clan Uí Néill was losing, but he was also desperate to win. He cut off his own hand and threw it onto the beach past the winning boat. Thus he became Labraid Lámh Dhearg (Labraid of the Red Hand) and the rightful king of Ulster.

There is no red hand on the Union Flag. The saltire indicating Northern Ireland was there long before that was even a country. The St Patrick's Cross represents Eire and Ulster combined.

Nor are the St Piran's Cross of Cornwall and Y Ddraig Goch (The Red Dragon) of Wales depicted. The excuse usually given is that both countries have been annexed by England. Therefore they should both be represented by the St George Cross.

The other reason is that Scotland, England and Ireland had all been separately governed countries before they joined the United Kingdom. Hence the flag should only show them, as they were the only ones united.

In which case, Cornwall and Wales have a case for stating that they aren't even in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  This, of course, is not in the agreement.  Wherever the U.K. has representation, then Wales and Cornwall are dragged into it too.

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How the Union Flag Favors England

  1. The English flag is slapped on top of the rest and it's proportionally bigger.
  2. The color of the Scottish flag was changed into the English Royal Navy blue instead.
  3. Eire was left represented even after the United Kingdom had lost the right to include the country. This decision was made in Westminster.
  4. Northern Ireland is lumped in with Eire; and the Red Hand of Ulster isn't shown to differentiate the nation.
  5. Wales and Cornwall aren't shown at all, but are presumed to be represented by England.
  6. Legislation has been enacted in both Scotland and Northern Ireland to stop any flag but the English preferred version of the Union Flag being used in an official capacity.

In short, the Union Flag reflects the English view of the U.K., not entirely shared by the other nations involved.

Updated: 05/31/2013, JoHarrington
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


JoHarrington on 09/13/2012

I'm the person who wrote this and my academic credentials are very well established.

May I ask which point precisely you challenge? I believe that the evidence is all there.

John Bull on 09/13/2012

The person who wrote this would appear not to have even a GCSE in History and most of the commentary is simply anti-English drivel. Hooray for the internet - it's a great tool for 'learning'....

JoHarrington on 06/08/2012

Don't make me invade Kent with my pitchfork, Nick. :p

If you lot hadn't let the Jutes into the country in the first place, us Celts wouldn't have this trouble!

nickupton on 06/05/2012

I think the point is that St George killed the Welsh dragon so we can forget that and quite frankly nobody could understand what the Cornish said when asked what were the colours of their flag ;)

JoHarrington on 06/03/2012

You're not alone. I think that half of the UK have no idea what they're waving in the air.

Glad to have been informative. :)

Sionnach Dhue on 06/03/2012

Thanks for writing this! I've always been irked by Cymru and Cornwall being left off the flag, but didn't know about the color differences etc.

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