Unbeknownst to many, Scotland has many interesting and unique flags, some dating back centuries, and some quite recent.
The third in this three-part mini series of blog posts about Scotland, I will explain some of the different flags of Scotland,
their meanings and a brief history. Enjoy!
1. The Saltire:
Possibly the most iconic Scottish image ever, the saltire represent’s St Andrew’s Cross. Following Robert the Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the Declaration of Arbroath (a letter written in 1320 by the barons and whole community of the kingdom of Scotland to the pope, asking him to recognise Scotland’s independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king) officially names St Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland. The saltire seems to have become the offical national flag in 1385, where the Parliament of Scotland agreed that Scottish soldiers should where the saltire’s white cross as a recognisable emblem because, of course, in the heat of battle it is always a good idea to be able to tell apart the friend from the foe.
It is believed that the flag of Scotland. originated in 832, on the eve of a battle between a combined Picts and Scots army and an invading army of Angles led by King Aethelstan of East Anglia. St Andrew came to the Pictish king, Óengus (Angus) II and guaranteed him that victory was his. The following morning an appearance of clouds gathered against the backdrop of a bright blue sky, depicting a white saltire that was seen on both sides. Inspired, the Picts and Scots won a renowned victory over King Aethelstan and the Angles. Though its exact origin might have been lost to the past, the flag of Scotland is typically deemed one of the oldest national flags in current use.
The Lion rampant:
Scotland also has another unofficial national flag, the Lion Rampant, which appears in its thousands whenever national
sporting teams compete.
It is thought that it was King Richard I “The Lion Heart” who, in the late 12th century first introduced the heraldic device displaying a rampant lion (“The king of beasts”), rearing up with three of its four clawed paws outstretched as if in battle. This Lion Rampant was gradually adopted as the Scottish Royal coat of arms and incorporated into the Great Seal of Scotland.
The flag is technically the Royal Standard of the King or Queen of Scots, and still remains the personal banner of the monarch. Its use is strictly speaking, restricted.
The Union Jack:
In 1707, Scotland joined with the kingdom of England (and the other countries it ruled) in an act called ‘The Act of Union”. Scotland kept its independence with its legal and religious systems, but coinage, taxation, sovereignty, trade, parliament and flag became one. The red cross of St George combined with the blue cross of St Andrew, becoming the ‘old’ union flag. The Union flag that now know today did not appear until 1801, after another Act of Union, when the ‘old’ flag combined with the red cross of St Patrick of Ireland.
Recently, the guidelines in regard to the flying of flags in Scotland has restricted the Union Jack’s use on government buildings as Remembrance Day only.
The Flag of Edinburgh:
The flag of Edinburgh is one of Scotland’s oldest -locality-specific flags, dating back to 1732. It is sometimes known as “Old Reekie’s flag”, “Old Reekie” being an affectionate nickname for Edinburgh, meaning “Old Smokey” in the Scots dialect.
In November 2017 a competition to design a one-of-a-kind flag for East Lothian was launched, commenced by a partnership including the Scottish Flag Trust, the East Lothian Council and the Lord Lyon.
623 entries were received and after a judging panel sorted through the designs, a short list of the four best were put to the public vote. Archie Martin’s design won, unveiled at the official launch on the 13 Dec 2018. The hope is that the flag will be a strong symbol of East Lothian for many years to come.
The blue background of the flag is based on the Saltire, to remember East Lothian’s status as the birthplace of Scotland’s national flag. A lion in the centre represents Scotland’s coat of arms and the affiliation of the Scottish King William the Lion with Haddington. The gold on the cross shows the wealth of East Lothian’s farmland and reputation as the granary of Scotland. The thin blue lines symbolise the Tyne and Esk rivers.
The flag design is registered with the Lord Lyon.
The Flag of Shetland was designed in 1969 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Shetland’s transfer from the rule of Norway to the rule of Scotland. The design is based on the colour of Scotland’s flag and the cross shape from Scandinavian tradition, a nod to Shetland’s viking heritage.
For many years people of Orkney used a flag with a red Scandinavian cross on a gold background of St Magnus, but the Lord Lyon (who controls the flags and heraldry in Scotland) refused to register it as it was thought too similar to the arms of the Earls of Ulster. In 2007, the Orkney Council held a competition to select a new flag. The winner was Duncan Tullock of Birsay, who sketched out his initial idea using his grandchildren’s crayons. The flag was awarded official recognition and approval by Lord Lyon.
The cross is Nordic, in keeping with Orkney’s viking heritage, and, according to Mr Tullock; “Orkney has always been represented by red, so that was an obvious choice. The yellow symbolizes the royal standards of both Scotland and Norway and blue is for Scotland, and also for the sea that surrounds us”
Situated right at the tip of north eastern Scotland, Caithness was granted their own flag in 2016. The design was selected by the Highland Council from scores of suggestions from all over the world.
The design features a Nordic cross and a galley ship, representing Caithness’s ancient Viking past.
Also known as the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, Kirkcudbrightshire’s flag was organised by the Lord Lieutenant to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday in 2016.
The green and white quarters of the flag refer to the check pattern that appears on the former council arms and also refer to the checked fabric used to count taxes by the Stewart Lords of Galloway, hence the town’s name of Stewartry. On top of the checks is the cross of St Cuthbert; the inspiration of Kirkcudbrightshire’s name; “The Shire of the Church of Cuthbert.” The flag’s design was designed by Phillip Tibbetts and was approved by the Lord Lyon.
Denny and Dunipace:
The flag of Denny and Dunipace, two towns on the North (Dunipace) and South (Denny) banks of the River Carron, also had their flag approved in 2016.
The castle in the flag symbolises the name of the River Carron, the name of which possibly originates from “Care Avon”, meaning “River of Forts.” and the two towers remember the settlements of the two towns. The flag’s 11 pointed star symbolises the 11 mills that operated in the area during the mid 1700’s.
The first island in the Western Isles to have their own flag, South Uist was granted official recognition of its flag in May 2017, after Donnie Steele, a former councillor championed the cause and organised a petition to gather support for the flag to be officially acknowledged.
The design is a Nordic cross modelled in the pattern of Norway’s flag.
The Outer Hebrides is an archipelago traditionally split between Inverness-Shire and Ross-Shire. A far flung island group with a distinct history and culture, the Outer Hebrides designed their flag to represent their rich history.
The flag is an armorial banner shaped like the shield on the council arms and is gold with a horizontal rippling blue and white band across the middle. Above the band are two “birlinns” a boat typical of the Outer Hebrides area. The three black galleys are from the arms of the former Duke of Rothesay, who held the “Lordship of the Isles.” Though the blue and white ripples represent the sea, the whole design is clearly derived from the earlier “Lord of the Isles” arms.
Because Scottish heraldic law is very strict in the use of heraldry and flags, there appears to be no official sanction for the flag to be used by the general public and the design is not registered by the Lord Lyon, though the flag is both popular and used to represent the Outer Hebrides in the Western Isles Island Game Association in the Island Games competitions.
Isle of Tiree:
After the successful registration Barra and South Uist’s flags, the competition to secure a flag for Tiree was announced on February 27th, The competition was a joint plan of Tiree Community Council, The Flag Institute and The Court of the Lord Lyon, motivated by a 2017 vote where the people of Tiree overwhelmingly backed the move by the Community Council to establish an island flag. The winning flag “The Sun of Barley was revealed on Sep 8th 2018, designed by Donald Cameron, after receiving 56% of the votes.
The ears of barley symbolise the richness of the island Tìr an Eòrna ‘the land of barley’’, known since medieval times as the most
lush of the Hebrides. The flag design also refers to the familiar emblem of the Tiree Association: a sheaf of barley, fork and rake. The arrangement of the barley ears to create a yellow circle is reminiscent of the sun, symbolising Tiree’s reputation as “the sunshine isle”
Island of Barra:
On the 9th of April 2019 it was reported that the unofficial flag for the Island of Barra, which had been in use for some years, is now officially recognised by the Lord Lyon. The flag is a white Scandinavian cross, no doubt a nod to the island’s Viking heritage, on a green background.
Please note that there has been such a surge of interest in creating flags for different places in Scotland that I am unfortunately unable to list them all, this blog post represents the flags known to me that I have found through my research; there are other flags out there, maybe even being made this very minute!
I hope you enjoyed this mini-series about Scotland, and as always, happy researching!