No, it's not the Union Jack.  It's not the original Canadian flag, either.

And if compared with today's national flag of Great Britain, indeed it IS different.  On January 1, 1801, a divided red saltire--representing St. Patrick--was added to the Union Flag to reflect that Ireland was now formally recognized as part of the United Kingdom. This flag continues today as Great Britain's national flag.

British Union Flag;  1707 to 1801

British Union Jack;  1801 to present

That's the abbreviated explanation of why the Union Flag is so prominently featured among the United Empire Loyalists; at the time of the mass exodus of Loyalists from the new United States (c. 1784), Ireland (represented by St.Patrick's Cross) was not yet formally recognised as being part of the United Kingdom.

Now... for the naturally curious, read on!

St.George's Cross on a white field was the flag of England as early as 1277. This flag was in use during the crusades and in 1497, this flag was flown by John and Sebastian Cabot on their voyages from England to Newfoundland and the North American continent.   Even after the creation of the British Union (which combined the St. George's cross and the St. Andrew's cross) the St. George's cross was still flown on the masts of English ships.  In 1707, England and Wales united with Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.


St. George's Cross;  c. 1277 to 1707

St. Andrew's Cross;  c. 1100's to present

 The Scottish flag is the cross of St. Andrew, also known as the Saltire.   Tradition suggests that St. Andrew (an apostle of Jesus in the Christian religion) was put to death by the Romans in Greece by being pinned to a cross of this shape. According to legend,  the St Andrew's Cross is so shaped because the apostle Andrew petitioned the Roman authorities (who had sentenced him to death) not to crucify him on the same shape of cross as Christ, and this was granted.  It is said to be one of the oldest national flags of any country, dating back at least to the 12th century.

St.Patrick's Cross;  1783 to 1801

British Union Flag;  1707 to 1801

In 1782 Britain acknowledged the exclusive right of the Irish parliament to legislate for Ireland. To reflect the country's enhanced constitutional status, an order of chivalry called the Order of St Patrick was established in the following year. The regalia worn by the knights of this order showed a red saltire on a white background.

After the union with Britain in 1801, the St Patrick's Cross continued to feature in the arms and flags adopted by various professional and public bodies during the nineteenth century: examples include the Royal Dublin Society, Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, Queen's University Belfast, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, etc. These bodies were non-political but tended to draw their membership from the upper classes in which Unionists predominated. They favoured the St Patrick's Cross as a 'safe' national symbol which, unlike the harp, was not associated with nationalism and revolution.

The British Union flag design was created by King James VI of Scotland when he became King of England in 1603. It was created by combining England's red cross of St.George with Scotland's white cross of St. Andrew.  This was the flag that flew above all the early English settlements in the new world. It was the most commonly used flag in the English colonies until the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1775.

The St. George's Cross continued as the official national flag. For seagoing ships, however, the official banner was the Union flag (better known as the Union Jack), which combined England St. George's Cross with Scotland's St. Andrew's Cross (a white saltire on blue). In 1707, the Union flag became Britain's national land flag.

Great Britain's Union Jack;  1801 to present

Great Britain's Union Jack was changed on January 1, 1801, when a divided red saltire--representing St. Patrick--was added to the Union Jack to reflect that Ireland was now formally recognized as part of the United Kingdom. This flag continues today as Great Britain's national flag.


The Loyalist Connection



From the second half of the 13th century, England used a white flag with the red cross of Saint George as its national banner.

The flag of Scotland was the white saltire of Saint Andrew on a blue background. The earliest references to this banner can be traced to the 12th century and it was certainly in use by the 13th Century.  

Days before she died in 1603,Queen Elizabeth I, who never married, named James VI of Scotland, son of her cousin Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, as her heir. He became James I of England. On his accession, he declared his intention to be the first British monarch to be known as King of Great Britain.

Consequently, he ordered a flag to be devised to mark the union of the two thrones. This was called the Union Flag and was introduced in 1606.

So as not to give priority to either flag, the field of the new flag was made blue and the red cross of Saint George, edged with white, was imposed on the white saltire of Saint Andrew.

This was the flag under which the United Empire Loyalists entered British North America (Canada) after leaving the Thirteen Colonies following the American Revolution in 1776. Hence, the term "Loyalist Flag". The Loyalists have never forgotten nor abandoned the strong ties to this heritage.

The flag now flown throughout Britain and her possessions includes the saltire of Saint Patrick which is red on a white background. This was added in 1801 during the reign of King George III following the Act of Union in 1800 under which Ireland was incorporated along with England, Scotland and Wales to form the United Kingdom.

The origin of the term "Union Jack" is uncertain. The term "Jack" was first used in the British Navy as the name for the Union Flag flown at the main masthead. Strictly speaking, the term "Union Jack" applies to the Union Flag flown from the bow of a ship. After the legislative union of England and Scotland in 1707, during the reign of Queen Anne, the Union Flag became known as the British Flag.


With the exception of the Commonwealth period (1649 - 1670) under the control of Oliver Cromwell, the Union Flag and British Flag have flown uninteruptedly for almost four hundred years.



Reference:  Boutell's Heraldry, Fredrick Warne & Co. Ltd., 1950, 1966 Orbis Encyclopedia of Flags and Coats of Arms, Geodetic and Cartographic Enterprises, 1985 Flag and Arms Across the World, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1980


Things Worth Noting


Flying the United Kingdom Flag Properly



Upside down!

When examining the flag of the United Kingdom, it's important to carefully note the red 'X' of the St.Patrick's Cross is not centered on the white 'X' of the St.Andrew's Cross.

In the upper-left field (the pole side) of the above left UK flag, the white stripe is broader and on top of the red stripe.  This is correct positioning of the flag.

In the flag on the right, the broader white stripe in the upper-left field (also pole side) is under the red stripe.  This flag is upside-down.

UK flag protocol states that intentionally flying the Union Jack upside down is a sign of distress and an overt display of "lse-majest" (or insulting the Crown).

And that's even more reason to exercise care in its display.

Because in addition to incredibly poor manners (which isn't an indictable offense), deliberately insulting Her Majesty IS sufficient cause to lay charges in some parts of the Commonwealth.  THAT would put a real damper on the holidays.

 The offset design of the St.Andrews/St.Patrick's Crosses was intentional; it indicates the presense of two distinct flags combined on one flag.  Rather than 'covering up' each another, the vestiges of both flags are accentuated... which is both a proper and egalitarian sentiment.



More Things Worth Noting

(With a Touch of Irony)

British Red Ensign
   "Colonial Red Ensign"

The best known of the British Maritime flags, or Ensigns, which were formed by placing the Union flag in the canton of another flag having a field of white, blue or red. This flag is also known as the Meteor flag, and was widely used on ships during the Colonial period. This was the first National flag of the United States.

Grand Union
"Continental Colors"

This flag was never officially sanctioned by the Continental Congress but is considered the first flag of the United States and was in use from late 1775 until mid 1777. This flag was an alteration of the British Meteor flag. In its blue canton was the red cross of St.George and the white cross of St. Andrew. The thirteen stripes signified the original colonies. Retaining the British Union in the canton indicated a continued loyalty, as the Americans saw it, to the constitutional government against which they fought. On January 1,1776, this flag was first raised on Prospect Hill (then called Mt. Pisgah), in Somerville, Massachusetts. At this time the Continental army came into formal existence. At the time it was known as the continental colors because it represented the entire nation. In one of Washington's letters he referred to it as the "Great Union Flag" and it is most commonly called the Grand Union today.