The Introduction of the Union Jack

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The Union Jack hasn't always been the flag of the United Kingdom. In fact, the United Kingdom hasn't always been called that.

Many years ago, what we now call the United Kingdom was actually separate countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. (Only Northern Ireland is now part of the United Kingdom.) In 1603, King James VI of Scotland became also King James I of England. This was called the "Grand Union."

To honor this, the people in both countries (now one country) created a new flag, the Union Jack. It combined the main elements of both the Scottish flag and the English flag. The Scottish flag at that time was a deep blue and had a white cross representing St. Andrew. The English at that time was a red cross representing St. George, the famous dragon-slayer. When the two countries came together, the two flags came together as well.

It didn't happen overnight, but it did happen. The flag was unveiled on April 12, 1606. It wasn't really favored by either English or Scottish. The Scottish people were angry that their flag now had a big red cross in the middle of it. The English people were angry that the white background from their flag had disappeared. But it stayed the "official" flag for many years.

When Northern Ireland became part of the mix in 1801, the flag as we know it today was born. Thus, the flag that signifies the United Kingdom is a familiar one.

(Check out this illustration, which demonstrates the progression of the "unified" flags.)

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David White