The White Ensign

For no reason in particular, I am making this post a celebration of the white ensign, one of the more notable of our various derivative flags. In modern times, the white ensign is, of course, the flag of the Royal Navy, seen in the photograph above on Admiralty Arch at the top of The Mall (incidentally, the legend translates to 'in the tenth year of [the reign of] King Edward VII, [dedicated to] Queen Victoria from a grateful citizenry; 1910' where it seems to fly intermittently on my visits to London.

In an obscure enough way as to be included amongst these pages, the flag was also the subject of a legal argument. The 'National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights' - a 19th century pro-Tory organisation which spent its time pointing out the Liberals' favouritism towards the Irish, claiming that all the UK should all be called Great Britain and campaigning to bring about a Wallace Monument - made the point that to use emblems of St George was unconstitutional per the 1707 Act of Union, being an exclusively English symbol rather than a British one. Within this mild lunacy is the semblance of an interesting point: is the red cross indeed the cross of St George?


The Indian Navy, who recently reintroduced a white ensign baring their own national flag after some experimentation with some daft symbol involving an anchor, think not. All official statements refer to the red cross simply as that - two intersecting lines rather than a cross of St George. Equally though, only the most jingoistic nationalist can deny the status of the St George's cross as more than simply a symbol of England: featuring, as it does, also on the flags of Georgia, Barcelona, Montreal, Milan, Padua, Guernsey and the Eastern Roman Empire (amongst others) and remaining on the naval flags of Barbados, Jamaica and the aforementioned India.

Whilst the more traditional realms - Canada, Australia, New Zealand - have opted for more localised designs, South Africa has oddly retained the symbolism in a rather different format:

An enduring legacy for a saint who, other than the relatively recent patronage, has very little to do with England or the United Kingdom. Indeed, even his most famous accomplishment - the legend of the slaying of the dragon - is a recent and manufactured invention. George was a Roman soldier who, defying the Emperor Diocletian, openly declared himself a Christian and sought to protect the other Christians under his command. Resisting both bribery and perhaps the worst catalogue of physical tortures imposed on any historical figure, he refused to apostatise and as such the inevitable conclusion to his life was to be martyrdom and, rather less inevitably, being presumably the most enduring vexillogical symbol in history.

Related posts: St George in Glasgow
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Previous Articles

Renfrewshire flags - A look back at the proper flags of the ancient county of Renfrewshire.

The Scottish Parliament - Possibly the most controversial structure in 21st century Scotland. A missed opportunity, a tragedy destined to happen or just an underrated work?

A Toast to Glasgow - Some views of Scotland's largest city and northern Britain's great Victorian metropolis.

A Defence of Propaganda - War-time optimism, reclaiming terminology and a nod to the fine work of Abram Games OBE.

St Andrew's House - Art deco at the political heart of Edinburgh.

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