The Union Flag

UnionFlagCorrectCroppedBy reading this page, you have become a vexillologist – more on that later on in this page.

Union Jack or Union Flag? Truth is, both terms are used now but if you want to be really accurate the Union Flag is only called the Union Jack when it flies from the Jackstaff of a Royal Navy warship which is the flagpole on the bow (front).

But did you know it can be flown upside down by accident? There is a subtle difference and its all to do with the flag’s history. The flag is made up of the crosses of St George (England), St Andrew (Scotland) and St Patrick (Ireland).

The graphic (right), from Wikipeda’s Union Flag article, shows how the Union Flag was created as the Kingdoms that make up the United Kingdom came together. Wales is not on the flag as it is a principality. Ireland left the Union in 1922 to become an independent country, leaving Northern Ireland, but the flag was not changed at that time.

Flags of the Union Jack

Click to view the big version in a new window

The Union Flag is seen all over the world and is incorporated into the flags of many countries such as Australia and New Zealand, British Overeseas Territories and even the State Flag of Hawaii!

Upside Down
So how can the flag be flown upside down? Scotland and England joined together first to create the United Kingdom and then Ireland joined much later. To reflect this, the Cross of St. Andrew “flies” higher than the Cross of St Patrick within the Union Flag. If you look carefully, the white diagonals are different thicknesses. Compare the picture on the top right of this page (flown correctly) with the pictures of the American Marines getting it wrong (they’re not the first, and the certainly won’t be the last).



Examples of flags from around the world. You can search for others using the Flags.Net database, there is even a proper term for the study of flags – it is called vexillology.