Your RDA of Irony

Flagging Efforts

April 12th

UK flagWhat happens when you combine a Greek and a Jew? You either get 241 jokes about lawyers or the flag of Great Britain. Since I have writer’s block, I will skip the 241 jokes and just give you the history of the Union Jack.

Until April 12, 1606, the flag of England was ostensibly the “cross of St. George”, two straight red lines transecting on a white background. St. George was the patron saint of England, although you can hardly imagine a cosmopolitan 4th century Greek bishop visiting the backwoods of Britannia.

Until April 12, 1606, the flag of Scotland was ostensibly “the cross of St. Andrew”, two white diagonal lines intersecting on a blue background. St. Andrew was the patron saint of Scotland, although you could be certain that an illiterate first century Jewish fisherman never heard of Caledonia.

On April 12, 1606, however, the two flags were combined, because both country were ruled by James, England’s first and Scotland’s sixth. King James was somewhat brighter than the average Stuart and considerably shorter, but he had the full extent of Scottish parsimony. (Being cheap did spare him a conflict over money with Parliament; his son should have been so stingy.) He probably thought that combining the two flags would save on fabric.

The flag soon was named the Union Jack, an allusion to the fact that the Latin form of James is Jacobus, alias Jack. Initially, the Union Jack was the monarch’s personal banner. England and Scotland continued to fly their respective “crosses.” But in 1707, someone kept Queen Anne sober enough to sign the Act of Union, combining Scotland and England into one country and under one flag.

In 1801, the Union Jack’s appearance was “freshened” and updated with the addition of a red sash of intersecting diagonal lines: “the cross of St. Patrick”. (St. Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland and, in an unprecedented coincidence, he really had been there.) You can just imagine just how thrilled the Irish were to be be represented on the Union Jack.

Wales, however, is excluded from the Union Jack. Its “cross of St. David” is two straight yellow lines transecting on a black background. Wales might have stayed independent if its soldiers had clashed as ferociously as its color scheme.

  1. Joan Stewart Smith says:

    My British husband explained all this to me once – and at first, I thought he was joking. Most Americans just think the Union Jack is just an interesting criss-cross pattern of colors and lines.

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