Last modified: 2003-07-12 by rob raeside
Keywords: scotland | saltire | cross: saint andrew |
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The Saint Andrew cross is one of the oldest national flags of all, dating back at least to the 12th century, although the honour of the oldest flag among the modern nations generally falls to the flag of Denmark.
(Notes taken from Graham Bartram's presentation on this topic at the ICV 19 in York.)
The Saint Andrew's cross.
Who was Saint Andrew? Andrew was one of Christ's disciples and legend has it he was active in Scythia, and crucified on a cross with diagonal beams. His remains were preserved, and (again by legend) Constantine wanted to remove them to Constantinople. A Greek monk was warned by an angel of this intent, and instructed to take them to the ends of the Earth. This he did, until he was shipwrecked in Scotland. Some of Andrew's relics were known to have been brought to St. Andrews, Scotland, by the Bishop of Hexham in 733 AD (Hexham Abbey is also dedicated to St. Andrew). In 1160 AD, St. Andrews Cathedral was erected, and the saint's relics were kept there until the cathedral was destroyed during the Reformation.
The earliest record to the Saint Andrew's cross flag dates from 1165 AD, where reference is made to a 9th Century battle. This was known in the 16th Century, although no record of the original source remains today.
Significant chronology of the flag includes:
Based on the chronology above, It would be better to say that the flag dated from the 16th Century.
Kenneth Campbell Fraser, 23 November 1998
Here's some additional information on the early St Andrew's cross from
1385: The ordinances for its use on soldier's uniforms read: 'Item every man French and Scots shall have a sign before and behind, namely a white St Andrew's Cross, and if his jack is white or his coat white he shall bear the said white cross in a piece of black cloth round or square'.I've left out details of the dates and price and people concerned and turned the old Scots into modern English where I am certain of the meaning. I presume 'elnis/elnes' are measures and that 'taffities' is a type of fabric. Red and yellow were the Stuart livery colours and were sometimes used as the field of the white cross. There is no indication of how the two colours were arranged.
Two quotes from the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland:
1512: Payment for a roll of blue say (woollen bunting) for the banner of a ship 'with Sanct Androis cors in the myddis'.
1540: Delivered to be three ensigns for the ships sixteen 'elnis' red and yellow 'taffites'. Delivered to be the crosses thereof, four 'elnes' half 'elne' white 'taffities' of Genoa.
David Prothero, 24 November 1998
One legend, (very much a story but of interest nonetheless), concerns the fact that it is believed by generations of Scotsmen that our national flag, the white saltire on a blue ground, the oldest flag in the British Commonwealth, originated in a battle fought, a little
more than a mile from present day Markle,in the Parish of Prestonkirk in East Lothian, in the Dark Ages between the Picts and Scots on one side and the Angles of Northumbria on the other. There are various versions of the tale but it is generally agreed around the time of the 8th century, an army of Picts and Scots under King Hungus found themselves surrounded by a force of Angles under their leader Athelstan. King Hungus prayed earnestly for deliverance to God and the saints and that night St Andrew appeared to the King and promised them victory. Next day, when battle was joined, the vision of the white saltire (the diagonal cross on which the Apostle had been martyred) was seen by all in the blue sky. This so encouraged the Picts and Scots and affrighted their adversaries that a victory was won. King Athelstan was slain at the crossing of the burn, still known to this day as
Athelstaneford. The story continues that this all was seen as a 'Miracle' and may have been the origin of the name "Markle"!
In the nearby East Lothian village of Athelstaneford, a flag heritage centre commemorates and discusses the development of the legendary white cross on the blue background.
Thomas Middlemass, 6 February 2000
The Scottish flag traces its ancestry back to the Battle of Athelstaneford, making it possibly the oldest of national flags, although among modern independent nations that honour generally falls to the Danish flag.
Assuming "Saint Alban" isn't just another name for Saint Andrew, there
appears to be more than one Saint on the list with a Saltire. Apart from
the English custom to indicate all centred crosses as "Saint George'(s)
Crosses" and all saltires as "Saint Andrew's Crosses", what do you base
this comment on?
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 16 January 2001
I can't give you citations from references, but if you take a look at any lexicon regarding the cross, you'll find graphical representation of several cross types there. And, there the cross with oblique bars would be attributed to St. Andrew, I'm sure, without any special reference to Scotish flag. Another example would be a railroad crossing traffic sign. At least in continental Europe it is in form of diagonally crossed red and white bars, and is called Andrew's cross, as far as I am aware, in many European languages. And the Russian Naval ensign is called "andreevski" i.e. Andrew's flag.
Referring to a remark that a Saint Andrew's cross has arms that are perpendicular, and which are at 45
degrees to the edges of the flag, I believe that it is
not so, meaning that there is no need for a diagonal cross to have
perpendicular bars at 45 degrees to the edges. As far as I am aware, the
representation of St. Andrew in church iconography much more often
shows the Saint with his diagonal cross being of a shape
similar to vertically hoisted Scottish flag.
Zeljko Heimer, 17 January 2001
This passage in John explains the brothers' meeting with Jesus on the shore
of Galilee at Bethsaida, rather baldly rendered in the Gospels of Matthew
" 'Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him." (Matthew 4:19,20; Mark 1:17,18)
Andrew (whose feast day is 30 November) seems to have been an approachable fellow: it was he who took the boy with the five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus. And when a party of Greeks wanted to see Jesus, Philip approached Andrew, who arranged things. Elfrida Vipont, writing in Some Christian Festivals, says: "Because of his approachability, and because of his special gift for bringing people to Jesus, St Andrew has always been especially associated with missionary work."
Indeed in later years Andrew is associated with missionary work on the Black Sea shores, although it is in the heart of Greece that he met his end. Tradition asserts that Andrew was crucified at Patras (modern Patrai), on the northern shore of the Greek peninsula known as Morea or the Peloponnese. No date is known; even the Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to it as being around 60/70 (AD). Traditionally Andrew's cross was X-shaped, and it is a convention of ecclesiastical and heraldic art that he either appears with an X-shaped cross, or saltire, or is symbolised by one.
The Roman Emperor Constantius II ordered Andrew's remains removed to Constantinople in 357. During the 8th century some relics were taken to Scotland where they were placed in the care of a monastic settlement founded two centuries earlier in Fife, called first Mucross, then Kilrymont. But after the arrival of Andrew's relics a new church was built there, dedicated to Andrew as patron saint of Scotland, and the place became known St Andrews. And that is how the home of golf came to bear the name of a Galilean fisherman.
Andrew became known as one of the Seven Champions of Christendom, the others being: George, of England; David, of Wales; Patrick, of Ireland; Denis, of France; James (Santiago), of Spain; and Anthony of Padua, of Italy. The cross (saltire) of St Andrew became the badge of Scotland, although it took some time to become fixed in its present colours of white on blue: mediaeval Scottish armies were instructed to place contrasting bands of cloth on their surcoats, white if the surcoat was dark. Today St Andrew's cross not only forms part of Britain's Union Jack, but plays a role in resurgent Russian nationalism, for Andrew is patron of Russia, too. Peter the Great borrowed the Dutch flag and rearranged its colours for Russia's banner, but he also took Scotland's flag and reversed its colours for a naval jack flag.
The rest of Andrew's remains were transferred to Amalfi (40km from Naples), in 1208 and in the 15th century his head went to Rome. In 1964 Pope Paul VI returned the head to Patrai as a gesture of goodwill to the Greek Orthodox Church.
The name Andrew (Andreas, in Greek) means "manly". Some say it must have been a translation of a Hebrew or Aramaic name, but Galilee was a very mixed region and Greek was used more freely there than in Judaea. The name became popular in Scotland long before it was much used in England, but also appears in Spain (Andres), France (Andre), the Netherlands (Andries), Scandinavia (Anders), Russia (Andrei), Poland (Andrzej, pronounced Andjay) and Italy (Andrea). The Italian form is used as a girl's name in English, but since it means "manly" there seems little point. Andrew is also associated with earthquakes, through California's San Andreas Fault - named for a Spanish mission church.
(1) John: in Hebrew, Yochanan. Sometimes translated as Jonah (Simon bar Jonah).
(2) Cephas, or Kefas: Hebrew for "rock"; in Greek, Petros, which has become Peter in English.
Mike Oettle, 21 January 2002
As every body knows flag of Scotland is St. Andrew's flag, which is blue
banner with a white saltire cross (St. Andrew's cross). Now, Nova Scotia and
Russian Navy are using the same St. Andrew's flags, but reversed colors (white
banner with a blue saltire cross). The only difference is that Nova Scotia has
the Scottish Coat of Arms in the center of the saltire. Technially, all of these
countries could call those flags the St. Andrew's flags. Which is the real
"Georgiy", 11 June, 2003
I may get some argument on this, but in my opinion it's either or both and
more. What makes it a St. Andrew's cross is not the color scheme but the
diagonal orientation, commemorating the legend that Andrew was crucified on an
X-shaped cross. It seems to me that a flag bearing a St. Andrew's cross is a St.
Andrew's flag, regardless of the colors, if that's the symbolism the flag
designer intended. On the other hand, if a flag designer puts a yellow saltire
on blue and intends it to represent St. Alban, then the flag is not a St.
Joe McMillan, 11 June 2003
In 17th century Scotland, the colours carried by the infantry regiments that fought against Cromwell in 1648-50 are in a wide variety of colours. There are yellow saltires on black, black on yellow, white on red, red on white, white on yellow, white on black, white on green, red on yellow, yellow on red, white on blue and red quartered, yellow and white quartered on blue, and for those with no imagination, white saltires on blue :-). The choice of colours appears to be have dictated by the livery colours of the colonel. So at that time, it would seem that it was the saltire itself that was the 'national identifier', rather than it having to be a white saltire on a blue (of whatever colour) field.
On the same theme, there is a 16th Century manuscript in the Koninklijke
Bibliotheek in The Hague, which contains a roll of the arms of Scottish noblemen
(Ms. 130 B 12; internal evidence dates it to c.1592). The first folio shows the
arms of the King. The sinister unicorn supporter carries a banner of the arms,
but the dexter supporter carries a banner which is barry of six gules and or a
saltire argent overall. Or in other words, a saltire placed on the heraldic
livery colours of the arms. There is a photo of the page in The Double Tressure,
the journal of the Scottish Heraldry Society, issue 10 (1988) on page 23.
Ian Sumner, 12 June 2003
The Scottish Parliament’s education, culture and sport committee has set the optimum shade of blue for the flag
as Pantone 300 (), azure, or sky-blue.
The committee’s decision is only advisory and it will have to go to Jim Wallace,
the justice minister, for ratification. The subject first came to the Scottish
Parliament in 2000 when George Reid, a retired accountant, submitted a petition
to the public petitions committee. Later that year, the education committee
considered the petition and decided it was not a devolved matter and that
Members of the Scottish Parliament were therefore powerless to act. At a later
stage, however, Scotland’s heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon King of Arms,
suggested it was within Holyrood’s powers and Mr Reid petitioned Holyrood a
second time. Mike Russell, MSP for south of Scotland region noted that the
committee’s verdict would have no statutory force but would amount to "a pretty
Extracts from The Scotsman, 19 February 2002
Iain Sutherland, 22 February, 2002
Before this there is no official Pantone colour for the Scottish flag. In 1998 the Flag Institute recommended Pantone 300 () for the blue, but often an even lighter shade, such as Pantone 299 (), is used in actual flags. The important fact is that it should be lighter than the dark blue used in the Union Flag.
Graham Bartram, 17 March 1998
The colour of the blue on the saltire today is usually Pantone 279 () (UN blue). Lord Lyon uses "ultramarine blue with added white".
Graham Bartram, 26 July 2001
Although the shade is lighter than the dark blue of the United Kingdom flag, it
is more like the normal blue seen on flags around the world. Perhaps the most
accurate version would be to use the blue shown for the Shetland flag (Pantone
300 ) - the two flags are
identical shades when seen flying together.
Ken Bagnall, 25 September 2002
In 'The Story of the Scottish Flag' by McMillan and
Stewart (1925) it is suggested that the flag used to be sky blue, and that
indigo blue [commonly in use in the early 20th Century] was adopted to meet the
needs of sailors for a fast colour before the invention of modern fast dyes of a
lighter shade. Quoting Sir Herbert Maxwell, 'one of our foremost Scottish
historical authorities', "It is to be regretted that flag makers use, not a
heraldic azure, but navy blue, which shows almost black against the sky, thus
obscuring the celestial origin of the ensign."
In 1937, the flag makers Edgington asked the Admiralty for the correct shade of blue for the field of St Andrew's cross after having a batch, ordered for the coronation, returned for being the wrong shade. (ADM 1/9118 in Public Record Office at Kew.) The Scottish Office quoted Lyon King of Arms as saying it should be azure which was a light blue. He did not consider the "blue-black" sometimes used in Union Flags as blue, and would refuse to pass it as azure on a Coat of Arms.
Pattern T.812. Blue, Azure.
T.813. (formerly 61A) Blue, Intermediate.
T.814. Royal Blue.
Azure described as "bright blue" by Sir Hebert Maxwell who said it should be 61A which he called Saxe Blue.
If it still exists the Saint Andrew Society of Glasgow may have some information on the subject.
David Prothero, 25 July 2002
By tradition the flag is based on a saltire-cross of St Andrew which appeared in the form of clouds in the sky above a battle between the Scots and the Saxons. This encouraged the Scots to victory and ever since the 'sky-blue' flag with a white saltire has been the national flag.Graham Bartram, 17 March 1998
July 1st 1999 was a very special day for Scotland and her people: after nearly three hundred years Scots regained the right to govern themselves, with the opening of the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh. It was a day full of flags, mainly the Saltire of Scotland, but with lots of others. The palace of Holyrood House was flying the new Scottish royal standard (at least "new" in terms of being used) while the queen was in residence. Edinburgh Castle was flying the Union Flag as a royal fortress and the General Assembly building, the temporary home of the new parliament, was flying the Union Flag on its left tower and the Saltire on its right tower (it has a twin-towered gateway).
Graham Bartram, 4 July 1999
The Magazine "Scotland on Sunday" reported discussion on the introduction of a flag for the Scottish Parliament. It was reported that Members of Scottsih Parliament (MSPs) want to create a distinctive emblem to fly over Holyrood in a bid to promote its identity and restore pride. Among the new designs expected to be considered by the parliament’s cross-party housekeeping group is a version of the parliament’s existing logo, which features a Saltire against a purple backdrop with a crown above and cords to each side. Some Scottish Nationalist MSPs, however, are opposed to the idea, believing that as Scotland’s national flag, only the Saltire should fly above Holyrood.
Extracted from Scotland on Sunday, (click here for full article) located by Phil Nelson, 3 January 2003
In response to this article, and a query directed to the Scottish Parliament, the following reply was received:
"The article that appeared in Scotland on Sunday in December
2002 refers to 'new designs expected to be considered by the parliament's
cross-party housekeeping group'. I can confirm that the Scottish Parliamentary
Corporate Body (SPCB - the 'cross-party housekeeping group') did consider the
issue of having a parliamentary flag, but the matter is not currently a priority
and I believe that it has not been taken any further. Should it wish to do so,
the new SPCB elected by the new Parliament in May could consider the issue again
in the future.
I hope that this will be of assistance.
Public Information Service, The Scottish Parliament
Sean McKinnis, 4 April 2003
by Rob Raeside
The Scottish Red Ensign is shown in a number of flag charts of the 17th and early 18th centuries. While I have read nothing in positive confirmation, the consensus of informed opinion seems to be that it was actually flown before 1707 by the Scots merchant marine and by the tiny Scots navy. It is shown on the flag charts of William Downham 1685-6, Allard 1695 & 1705 and of B Lens c1700.
Following the Act of Union between England and Scotland of 1601 and up to the Act of (Political) Union of 1707, the English and Scots navies were still separate entities as before 1601, so flew the ensigns of their respective countries. When the two navies were combined in 1707 to become the British Royal Navy, the Scottish navy consisted of only 3 ships. (The English navy had 277 ships at this time.)
Christopher Southworth, 24 February 2003
There was also a Scottish Admiral's flag, referred to by Wilson (1999) 'Flags at Sea', page 23, which he describes as white with a horizontal blue anchor. However, it seems to have been used only by James, Duke of York between 1673 and 1685 (i.e. between when he was deprived of the post of Lord High Admiral, and when he succeeded to the throne as James VII/II). His source is apparently a contemporary drawing by one of the van der Veldes.
Ian Sumner, 26 February 2003
The flag you are referring to is that of 'Lord High Admiral of Scotland', and Perrin implies that it was invented by James, himself. I do not know whether the appointment existed prior to James's assumption of it, and was only in abeyance? For our non-British readers, James had been deprived of his office as Lord High Admiral of England because he had converted to Roman Catholicism (which according to the law of the time meant that he could not hold office under the crown).
Christopher Southworth, 26 February 2003
The title Lord High Admiral of Scotland existed before James. Probably its most famous holder was Sir Andrew Wood who was Lord High Admiral to James IV (and probably his father James III) circa 1500. He was generally regarded as the greatest seaman of his day. The Scottish Navy had existed in one form or another since around 1000 AD when it was created to combat the Viking attacks. At that time it was composed of Viking longboats, often captured from the Vikings themselves (well if they will leave them lying around cluttering up the beaches while they go raiding inland...). In 1511 it was reputed to have the largest warship in the world, The Great Michael, 240 ft long and weighing 1000 tons, with a crew of 300 and twenty seven cannons. Apart from the occasional dedicated warship like the Great Michael it was composed of armed merchantmen that could be "drafted" if needed.
Graham Bartram, 1 March 2003