The Union Jack is one of the names for the national flag of the United Kingdom. It also has other names such as the British Flag and the Royal Union Flag which are more common in former overseas territories like Canada. The British flag also appears in the corner of some flags from Commonwealth countries. The flag has a rich history that many enthusiasts and collectors find quite interesting.
The Origins of the Union Jack
King James VI of Scotland became ruler of England and Ireland in 1603 and he united all three countries into one union, although each territory remained a separate state. To represent the union between the three countries, he commissioned a new flag in 1606 that combined the St George's Cross of England, the St Patrick's Cross of Ireland, and the St Andrew's Cross of Scotland. When put together, they formed the original flag of Great Britain. In 1921, when Ireland won its independence from Britain, the Irish cross remained on the flag because Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom. Although Northern Ireland went on to design a new flag, the Union Jack remained the same. In 1973, Northern Ireland abolished its flag when it reintroduced direct rule from London.
The Union Jack Name
Debate has existed for years over whether to call the flag the Union Jack or the Union Flag. Both are technically correct; when King James instituted the flag, he did not specify the name. It was simply called the British flag or the flag of Britain. However, the term 'jack' appeared prior to 1600 to describe another flag, and it somehow manifested into the common term for the British flag. By 1674, most people referred to the flag as his Majesty's Jack and then Union Jack. During the Union of 1801 proclamation, King George II made statements that used both 'jack' and 'flag'.
The Union Jack Design
As mentioned above, the Union Jack came from the combination of St George's Cross, St Andrew's Cross, and St Patrick's Cross. Because the Scottish flag was white and blue and England's and Ireland's flags were both red and white, the Union Jack became red, white, and blue. A red cross appears in the centre with a white outline. Behind it is a white sideways cross, and the background is blue. The original flag was much larger than the American flag and the flags of most other countries.