Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Flag, any banner or ensign used, or intended to be used, to convey a definite meaning, as, for example, nationality, ownership, or any signal. Flags may be divided into national, including naval and mercantile, ensigns: flags indicative of rank or office; house flags; and signal flags; and while, strictly speaking, the word flag means a right-angled parallelogram of bunting or other suitable material, the term is also used generally to cover pennants, burgees, and, in fact, all forms of bunting employed for display. National flags, or ensigns, are ordinarily half again as long as they are broad. That part of them which is placed next to the mast or halliard is known as the "hoist," the free end as the "fly." As the proportions of the British flag differ from those of most other nations, and as, moreover, the flag itself is, more often than not, wrongly constructed, a few words concerning its form and history are not inappropriate. The essential feature in every British national flag is the "Union," which either occupies the whole field (when it forms the "Union Jack"), or is confined to the upper corner of it, next the flagstaff (when it forms the white, blue, or red ensign, as the case may be). This Union should be twice as long as it is broad. If, therefore, the breadth of the hoist be represented by 100, the length will be represented by 200. The proper width of the Red St. George's Cross is 20; that of each white border of the St. George's Cross, 6.66; that of the white St. Andrew's Cross, 10; that of the red saltire, standing for Ireland, 6.66; and that of the white fimbriation of the red saltire, 3.33. The St. George's Cross represents England. According to some, its white edging is merely a heraldic fimbriation; while according to others it represents the remains of an old French flag (a white cross on a blue field), which was utilised by England in the early days of the claim of the English kings to the crown of France. The compound diagonal cross represents not only two crosses - viz. the Irish saltire gules and the white Scots cross of St. Andrew - but also the heraldic fimbriation proper to the former when borne upon a field azure; and therefore the whole is arranged, so as to indicate its significance, in an "interchanged" manner; or, in other words, Ireland and Scotland are each given predominance in alternate limbs of the main diagonal cross. Before the union with Scotland the St. George's Cross stood alone on the English flag; subsequently the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew were blended, and in 1801 the present "Union" was adopted upon the admission of Ireland. Used alone, and covering the whole field of a flag, the Union Jack is employed extensively by the army; and by the navy is borne in every ship on the jack-staff, or forward flagstaff, as a kind of subsidiary ensign; while, hoisted at the main, it is also the badge of an admiral of the fleet. Used as forming the upper near canton of a flag, the Union is employed in three ways: firstly, in the White Ensign - a white flag which bears over its whole field a red St. George's Cross, two-fifteenths of the width of the ensign, and which is carried on the flagstaff or at the peak of every British warship in commission, and also, by licence of the Admiralty, by the vessels of the Royal Yacht Squadron; secondly, in the Blue Ensign, a flag which has a blue field, and which is carried by vessels officered and manned up to a certain strength by the Royal Naval Reserve, by certain vessels chartered by Government, and by certain licensed yacht clubs; and thirdly, in the Red Ensign, a flag which has a red field, and which is the flag of the mercantile marine generally, and of ordinary yacht clubs and private craft. The Union also appears bordered in the merchant service and in some signal flags. Among British flags indicative of rank or office may be mentioned the Royal Standard; the Admiralty flag (a gold foul anchor on a red field); the Trinity House flag (a St. George's flag, with ships in full sail in the cantons); and the distinguishing flags and pennants of naval officers of various ranks. Among house-flags are the numerous distinguishing flags of the various steamship companies and yacht clubs. Among signal flags may be reckoned not only those arbitrarily arranged flags, burgees, and pennants by means of which ships at sea communicate one with another; but also national and other flags, when used, as they often are, to convey significations other than those for which they are primarily intended. Thus, any British ensign hoisted with the "Union" down is indicative of distress. The St. George's Cross on a white field began to be used as the regular English naval ensign as early as the 14th century. At the union of 1606 the ensign became "azure, a saltire argent, surmounted by a cross gules fimbriated of the second," the fimbriation being one-third the width of the red cross, and the red cross one-fifth the width of the flag; and this remained the national ensign, except during the Cromwellian period, until 1801. In that period ensigns varied a good deal, and sometimes had a harp on the fly; but the old Union was reintroduced in 1660.