I guess I’m just an ignorant peasant in the commonwealth, but I learned two rather basic facts about our mother England today. First, England is not a country. It was, back in it’s hay-day of imperialistic power and what-not, a country. But now… not so much. Scotland isn’t a country, Northern Ireland isn’t a country, Great Britain isn’t a country either. Wales is even further away from being a country. The fact of the matter is, all that is just the ingredients for the true country that is the United Kingdom. (or more formally, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland)
In 1536, Henry VIII (the guy with the catchy theme song) passed a law that made Wales a province of England. In 1603 Queen Elizabeth I knocked off, and King James IV of Scotland got promoted to King James I of England. Within a year he started calling himself the King of Great Britain, and eventually the idea caught on with England and Scotland teaming up. It became the official United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Another century later Ireland joined on. (with the bulk of Ireland buggering off again in 1921 as an independent republic. Rumour has it there are still some strong feelings about that.)
The flag of the United Kingdom, called the Union Jack, is in fact a combination of of the three flags of the individual nations. Fortunately they all had pretty simple flags to begin with. Saint George’s cross of England, an up-and-down red cross on white, St. Andrew’s cross of Scotland, the white diagonal on a blue background, and St. Patrick’s cross of Ireland, a thinner red diagonal on white. Layer them all together and there you have the Union Jack.
The other big surprise for me is that the flag is not symmetrical. All the individual flags were symmetrical, but due to the crazy rules of heraldry (which deserve their own fact sometime down the road) the St. Patrick cross is slightly skewed. It illustrates that Scotland was a member of the union before Ireland, so in the top left corner, the white stripe is positioned higher than red stripe. If you were to take a ruler to the red diagonal stripes, they wouldn’t line up at all. As a result of this very subtle shift, it is very common to find the Union Jack flying upside down, which is of course both illegal and highly insulting to the queen.
We are amused.
- Source: http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/geography/unionjack.html (click the blue arrows for the whole story)