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England (United Kingdom)

Last modified: 2020-07-04 by rob raeside
Keywords: england | united kingdom | cross: saint george | leopards: 3 | lions: 3 |
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[Flag of England] 3:5; image by Vincent Morley

See also:

English county, regional and municipal flags

* The asterisk indicates the flag is listed in the UK Flag Registry.

Description of the flag

The cross of St George, not the Union Jack, is the flag of England. It is a red cross on a white field. The Church of England uses the cross of Saint George with the shield of arms of its diocese in the canton, although in practice many, when they fly the flag at all, fly the plain cross.
Roy Stilling
, 21 November 1995

The official proportions for the national flag of England is 3:5, with the cross being 1/5 of the height of the flag wide. The same ratio is used for Scotland and Wales. The saltire on Scotland's flag is also 1/5 of the height of the flag wide. It was chosen as being the closest 'standard' shape to the golden rectangle.
Graham Bartram, 5 April 1999

Public buildings in England are supposed to fly the Union Jack on St George's Day (April 23rd) and can only fly St George if they have more than one flagpole.
Roy Stilling, 20 February 1998

Earliest Use of the Flag

Although St. George was known in England in the 5th Century and his legend was brought back to England by stories from the 1st crusade, there is no mention of the 'Cross of St. George'. If, as I am led to believe, Richard the Lionheart (1189-1199) saw a vision of St. George with a red cross banner, I can only assume that Richard brought back the red cross. This seems to be at odds with the history of the Genoa flag where Filipo Nocetti gives information that English ships bore the cross so as to have safe passage into the port of Genoa, subsequently paying the King for this safe passage.  Filipo gives the year 1190 some 9 years before Richard returned, so if our Italian correspondent is correct then the 'Cross of St. George' would have been seen in England before the second
Barry Hamblin
, 1 July 2002

There is a chapter on this subject in British Flags by W.G.Perrin (1922) who was Admiralty Librarian in the early 1900's. He wrote that although St George was popular among crusaders there was no particular connection with England at that time. St George was a foreign saint and it was many years before he came to be regarded as similar in importance to the English saints Edward and Edmund.

Briefly he wrote that;

England as a nation state did not exist until the reign of Edward I (1272), all previous kings having been Norman or Anglo-Norman.
The earliest reference to the cross of St George as an English emblem (not flag) was in a roll of account relating to the Welsh War of 1277.
Although the banner of St George was flown when the castle of Caerlaverock was taken in 1300, it was in company with those of St Edward and St Edmund.
Edward the Confessor was "patron saint" of England until 1348 when the greater importance of St George was promoted by the establishment of the Chapel of St George at Windsor. It was not until 1415 that the festival of St George was raised to the position of a "double major feast" and ordered to be observed throughout the Province of the Archbishop of Canterbury with as much solemnity as Christmas Day.
St George's cross did not achieve any sort of status as the national flag until the 16th century, when all other saints' banners were abandoned during the Reformation. The earliest record of St George's flag at sea, as an English flag in conjunction with royal banners but no other saintly flags, was 1545.
David Prothero, 1 July 2002

Were there other saints' banners in the 16th Century?
Željko Heimer, 2 July 2002

To quote Perrin, page 40.
"When the Prayer Book was revised under Edward VI (1547-1553), the festival of St George was abolished, with many others. Under the influence of the
Reformation the banners of his former rivals, St Edward and St Edmund, together with all other religious flags in public use, except that of St George, entirely disappeared, and their place was taken by banners containing royal badges."

In connection with flags ordered for ships in the 15th century he mentions, the gittons of Holy Trinity, Holy Ghost, St Mary, St Edward, St George; the streamers of Holy Ghost, St Katherine, St Nicholas; banners of St Peter, St Katherine, St George, St Edward, St Anne; standards of St Mary, St George, Holy Ghost, St Edward; plus non-religious flags in various forms bearing, royal arms, ostrich feather, swan, antelope, pomegranate and rose, rose of white and green, dragon, lion, greyhound, portcullis and red lion.
David Prothero, 3 July 2002

Flag-flying days

From the House of Lords Hansard, dated 4 October 2001:

Flag Flying: English and Scottish Heritage Buildings

Lord Inglewood asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the rules relating to the flying of flags on buildings managed by English and Scottish Heritage; and whether those buildings in England can fly the St George's Cross in the way that those in Scotland fly the St Andrew's Saltire.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): In England there are currently 21 appointed days each year when it is required, by command of Her Majesty the Queen, that government buildings fly the Union Flag. The St George's Cross may be flown in conjunction with the Union flag on 23 April each year. English Heritage sites fall outside the definition of government buildings and they can fly flags whenever they wish. However, they choose to follow the government rules on flag flying and fly flags on the appointed days.

In Scotland the Scottish Executive issues a list of flag flying days that closely mirror the English guidelines. These rules apply to buildings of the Scottish Executive and its agencies. Historic Scotland choose to follow the Scottish Executive guidelines but with a special dispensation to fly both its own house flag and the Saltire on other days.
Joe McMillan, 29 October 2001

Use on inland waterways

There is a growing movement for craft on the inland waterways of  England to fly the Cross of St. George in place of the Red Ensign. What is the legal position?
Chris. K. Potter
, 25 September 2007

Craft on inland waterways do not appear to be excluded from the definition of a "small ship" in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. "Small ships", among others, need permission to fly "any colours usually worn by Her Majesty's ships". See Some years ago a request for permission to fly St George's flag was refused. See Admiral of the Medway
David Prothero, 25 September 2007

Use as a merchant jack

The use of the 1:2 St. George's flag as a merchant jack can be justified. It was definitely the correct jack for English and later British merchant ships from 1674 to 1824 when reference to it was omitted from the regulations. Some took this omission to mean that it was not correct for merchant ships to use it as a jack, while others argued that since it was not specifically prohibited it was still legal under the proclamation of 1674, which has not been cancelled. It is at present occasionally used as a jack.
David Prothero, 10 February 2008