The origin of the Union Jack

[Taken from the Seamanship Manual of the Edwardian Royal Navy]

" A "JACK" is a flag to be flown on the "Jack" staff, i.e., a staff on the bowsprit  or fore part of  a ship, which custom now prevails; and it is believed that the term "Jack" is derived from the abbreviated name of the then reigning Sovereign King James I., under whose direction the flag was constructed, and who signed his name "Jacques."

The original National Flag of England was the Banner of St. George, to which the Banner of St. Andrew  was united by Royal Proclamation dated 12th April 1606.  By an order in Council dated 17th April , 1707, pursuant to  the Act uniting England and Scotland, the Jack of 1707 was approved.

In 1660 the Duke of York, afterwards James II., issued instructions that the Union Flag would in future be worn only by the King's Ships.

On the Union with Ireland, and Order in Council, dated 5th November, 1800, approved of the present Union Jack, which was authorised by Royal Proclamation  1st January 1801."

[End of subject taken from the Edwardian Seamanship Manual]

This leads to why the Union Jack has a right and wrong way of being worn - broad stripe to the staff - and if reversed, a sign of DISTRESS or more often, a sign of ignorance; virtually always the latter!  Some time ago I ran an on-line quiz and one of the questions  was about the broad white stripe denoting the correct way of displaying the flag and which country's flag or part thereof was used to form it. See below for the answer which nobody [from relatively few who answered]  got it right. 

     The best way to describe our flag is to make one.  Follow the basic steps below.  In all pictures below,  the flag pole is on the LEFT and the fly [the part of the flag fluttering in the wind on the RIGHT.

First  lay down the Scottish Saltire -St Andrew's Cross

Next, isolate St Patrick's Cross shown below. This is the most important next step for the Cross has to be modified to look like the second picture below.


The picture below is purposely shown excessively large so that the altered detail can clearly be seen


Overlay the modified St Patrick's flag on the Scottish Saltire so that  it covers the white cross completely so that none of it can be now seen. 



Then, complete the process by placing the St George's Cross on top of the picture above.  Before you do that note the broad white stripe in the upper flag pole side [top left]. You can readily see that the broad white stripe is part of St Patrick's Banner now redesigned  and reduced.


 One then  has the Union Flag/Union Jack, which, when counting clockwise, has a broad stripe in the top left hand quadrant; a broad stripe at the bottom of the second quadrant; a broad stripe at the bottom of the third quadrant, and a broad stripe at the top of the fourth quadrant.

Therefore, the Union Jack is made up of the full Banner of England, a Saltire but without the cross of St Andrew and a reduced Banner of Ireland. It depicts England as being the premier country of the Union [no defacement of its Banner and first and foremost spreading its might north/south east/west of the flag, carrying with it, the joint might of Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Wales, because she is a principality and not a country, is not represented at all, but joyously, we are told that there is a move afoot to create Wales as the fourth country of the Union. .

As well as being flown on the bow of a British warship when in harbour [but not at sea] the Union Jack [naval only] for ALL others the Union Flag, plays another important naval function. Our most senior officers, admirals of four ranks, have a distinctive flag which for the first three ranks is the Banner of St George, that Banner,  unaltered for an admiral, defaced with one red ball in the upper left quadrant for a vice admiral and with two red balls both in the flag pole quadrants for a rear admiral. See this file INTERNATIONAL FLAGS OF THE LATE 19th AND EARLY 20th Centuries.htm The most senior of all, an admiral of the fleet has the Union Jack as his personal flag.  These flags are displayed on staff cars, in small boats, and in ships at the masthead. The Union Jack also covers the coffins of admirals of the fleet in recognition of Rank and Service, whereas when covering the coffins of other naval personnel either officially or privately, it signify Service to Crown whether the deceased died in Service or was a veteran.

Now, having 'cleared the decks' on that point, the Union Jack is not unique to Britain nor to our Monarchy.  There are other countries who boast a Union Jack with as much pomp and ceremony plus history, as we ourselves claim for our Union Jack.  The best example is that of the United States Navy - to say the least - a very proud bunch of guys and gals. Just look at the following site to understand why . As we modified ours in  a couple of steps only,  and very few at that, the U.S. Navy is now using its 50th design for its Union Jack which is the 'star spangled banner' and not the 'stars and stripes'.

America is not the only country who lays claim to having a national or a Union Jack and also used in a maritime role, just like Britain and specifically naval and never national or mercantile. 

I hope  you fond that of interest.

Yours aye.