• Facts & Fiction
  • Facts & Fiction

Union Hi-Jack, the curious case of the missing country.

The Union Flag

The Union Flag, the 'Union Jack' is possibly the best known of all the British icons appearing on car roofs, guitars, underpants you name it, its been branded but what does it really mean if it ignores one of the oldest nations in the British Isles?

United Kingdom, Union Flag

For the benefit of those new to this subject lets take a quick look at its background:

The union flag was somewhat of a breakthrough (if accidentally) since flags were/are usually military devices and would traditionally carry the emblems of the royal house they were meant to represent. The Union Flag did not blend Royal motifs, it represented the nations through their saints emblems.

The earliest form of this flag was created for naval use during the reign on James the 1st. James' reign was special since he was also King James the 6th of Scotland. This meant the two kingdoms were unified. However, it did not mean the two counties became one, government is enshrined in law (in Britain the law has usually been with the consent of the people to some degree) and just because a Scott had become king of England didn't mean Englishmen became Scottish!

The original intention of the flag was simple practicality - the identification at sea of Royal Navy ships. As a military tool the union flag was very successful and grew in importance but it also offered a visual indication as to the 'desire' of the government and the crown for unification of the realms. By 1801 the cross of Saint Patrick had been added to form the flag we know today:

The Union Flag Saint George Saint Andrew Saint Patrick

Above: The flags of the Union, St. George, St. Andrew and St. Patrick.

It's worth noting that even today, the St. George's Cross accepted as the national flag of England is not an official symbol, government offices may not fly it in favour of the Union Flag although they can fly it together with the Union Flag if they wish.

So why isn't Saint David on the flag? Why isn't Wales represented?

Here's why and I'm sorry to say to those readers not interested in history it's a necessary evil. We have to look further back, before James came to the throne, to the Tudors.

As you may already know, the Tudor dynasty boasted Welsh ancestry. Their reign began with Henry the 7th (born in Pembrokeshire) who seized the crown from Richard the 3rd, check your Shakespeare for details. Henry was descended from Edmund Tudor, again this is well documented elsewhere.

The Tudor dynasty brought a new dynamism to the crown. England and Wales under Tudor rule flourished especially with Elizabeth on the throne. The Elizabethan period alone produced two of England's greatest poets, Shakespeare and Bacon along with hero's like Drake and Ralegh. It is Elizabeth's father Henry the 8th we need to look to for an explanation to why Wales does not appear on the modern Union Flag.

The Tudors used their Welsh ancestry as a political tool. They were well aware of the power of the Arthurian legend and they made use of their 'British' origins to reinforce their claim to the crown, Henry the 7th even named his son Arthur. Conflicts and negotiations with Scotland were an ongoing theme. Henry's continental wars were pressing the treasury and in the background were the claims and counter claims to the new lands found to the west, America.

Lets get one important issue out of the way, Henry the 8th was an Englishman. He was an English king born and bred in England. His Welsh connection was used whenever it suited him and in 1536 it was in his interest to unite England and Wales, binding the two nations together in law. The 1536 Act of Union is quite a sophisticated legal document (although it was based on an earlier document re: Rhuddlan and needed amendments in 1543) which could be likened to a marriage certificate in that when a couple wed they become in effect one person, at least in law. It ensured that there was no difference in law between and Englishman and a Welshman (sorry ladies). It states that Wales is annexed to and united with England and here's the crunch, it states Wales is incorporated to and with England!

So how does this effect the Union Flag?

Well the official line is: since Wales and England are one country according to the Act of Union of 1536, Wales IS represented on the flag because England is represented with Saint George's cross! If England is represented, Wales is represented by default and in theory, visa versa. England became the kingdom of England and Wales. The term KINGDOM is important. An alternate reason (they can't even get their story straight!) is that the flag represents the three united kingdoms which are the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. Wales is not a kingdom, it's a principality hence is not represented. This might be legally correct but it's obvious tosh.

Wales is quite obviously NOT represented on the Union Flag, anyone with half a brain and an eye can see.

Apart from anything else, the Union Flag uses the emblems of the national saints not the emblems of the Royal houses hence symbolically linking the flag with the nation, the people. As a British nation the Welsh should have been included, possibly the people of Man too. So Wales HAS been ignored, or have we?

ddraig goch cymru

When the first form of the Union Flag was introduced in 1606 there was no official Welsh flag. We're so used to seeing the Red Dragon it's easy to assume it's been around for ever; not true, it's only (officially) existed since 1959. Elements of the flag have been around for a little while, the dragon motif could pre-date Saint George's cross by as much as a thousand years!

However, there's a problem. It's debatable but some say the dragon was used to represent Celtic people rather than individuals which would mean it had true national symbolism. Certainly by the time of the Tudors it was used to represent the Royal house. There's also some confusion over the colour, red or gold, the green and white elements are definitely Tudor colours. The Stewart's were not including their own family symbols on the new 'union' flag, there's no way on earth would they include anything of the Tudors. After all, they were trying to establish themselves as a dynasty in their own right.

What about Saint David's cross? Well unfortunately it looks like the history of this flag is for want of a better word, broken. It has strong links with the church in Wales and has appeared as family emblems here and there. Also, it is currently shown as a gold cross on a black background but earlier forms have been black on gold. It has only gained popularity in the 20th century. If it did exist in some form in 1606 King James would not have been aware of it and even so, since Saint David only became the patron saint of Wales in the 1800's James would not have been able to use it.

So have we been ignored? Yes. Could they have added us to the flag? No.

Of course, there's nothing stopping the 'powers that be' from redressing the issue. Our problem is the other nations don't see it as an issue, it's not a problem to them. In 2004 Wales was missing from a map of Europe printed on an official EC publication, literally left off! One can only wonder "Would this have happened if Wales were represented on the Union Flag?" How much improved would foreign awareness be of Wales, of the whole United Kingdom? We can only guess.

If the Union Flag does not represent the Britons, at least not all of them, how can it be used as a British emblem?

Saint David's Flag

Where does this leave Wales? The Red Dragon is elegant and distinctive. If you took it back in time and raised it on an Elizabethan ship it would almost certainly be recognised so it's quite authentic too.

However, as discussed earlier, if we ever want representation on the Union Flag we will have to move on. The Dragon represents who we were. Lets keep it lest we forget but we need a flag that represents who we are, who we want to become. We need a new national flag, the Cross of Saint David.

We have a series of Saint David's Cross and Red Dragon images for use as desktop and mobile phone graphics available FREE at famouswelsh.com. Click HERE to view our download page now.

More information on flags can be found HERE

More information on Tudor and Stewart history can be found HERE

More information on the Royal family including emblems can be found HERE