Last modified: 2009-08-08 by rob raeside
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2:3 (also used in other dimensions); image by Antůnio Martins-TuvŠlkin, 30 May 2006
The Saint Andrew cross is one of the oldest national flags of all, dating back at least to the 12th century, although the honour of the oldest flag among the modern nations generally falls to the flag of Denmark.
(Notes taken from Graham Bartram's presentation on this topic at the ICV 19 in York.)
The Saint Andrew's cross.
Who was Saint Andrew? Andrew was one of Christ's disciples and legend has it he was active in Scythia, and crucified on a cross with diagonal beams. His remains were preserved, and (again by legend) Constantine wanted to remove them to Constantinople. A Greek monk was warned by an angel of this intent, and instructed to take them to the ends of the Earth. This he did, until he was shipwrecked in Scotland. Some of Andrew's relics were known to have been brought to St. Andrews, Scotland, by the Bishop of Hexham in 733 AD (Hexham Abbey is also dedicated to St. Andrew). In 1160 AD, St. Andrews Cathedral was erected, and the saint's relics were kept there until the cathedral was destroyed during the Reformation.
The earliest record to the Saint Andrew's cross flag dates from 1165 AD, where reference is made to a 9th Century battle. This was known in the 16th Century, although no record of the original source remains today.
Significant chronology of the flag includes:
Based on the chronology above, It would be better to say that the flag dated from the 16th Century.
Kenneth Campbell Fraser, 23 November 1998
Here's some additional information on the early St Andrew's cross from
1385: The ordinances for its use on soldier's uniforms read: 'Item every man French and Scots shall have a sign before and behind, namely a white St Andrew's Cross, and if his jack is white or his coat white he shall bear the said white cross in a piece of black cloth round or square'.I've left out details of the dates and price and people concerned and turned the old Scots into modern English where I am certain of the meaning. I presume 'elnis/elnes' are measures and that 'taffities' is a type of fabric. Red and yellow were the Stuart livery colours and were sometimes used as the field of the white cross. There is no indication of how the two colours were arranged.
Two quotes from the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland:
1512: Payment for a roll of blue say (woollen bunting) for the banner of a ship 'with Sanct Androis cors in the myddis'.
1540: Delivered to be three ensigns for the ships sixteen 'elnis' red and yellow 'taffites'. Delivered to be the crosses thereof, four 'elnes' half 'elne' white 'taffities' of Genoa.
The Scottish flag traces its ancestry back to the Battle of Athelstaneford, making it possibly the oldest of national flags, although among modern independent nations that honour generally falls to the Danish flag.
One legend, (very much a story but of interest nonetheless), concerns the fact that it is believed by generations of Scotsmen that our national flag, the white saltire on a blue ground, the oldest flag in the British Commonwealth, originated in a battle fought, a little
more than a mile from present day Markle,in the Parish of Prestonkirk in East Lothian, in the Dark Ages between the Picts and Scots on one side and the Angles of Northumbria on the other. There are various versions of the tale but it is generally agreed around the time of the 8th century, an army of Picts and Scots under King Hungus found themselves surrounded by a force of Angles under their leader Athelstan. King Hungus prayed earnestly for deliverance to God and the saints and that night St Andrew appeared to the King and promised them victory. Next day, when battle was joined, the vision of the white saltire (the diagonal cross on which the Apostle had been martyred) was seen by all in the blue sky. This so encouraged the Picts and Scots and affrighted their adversaries that a victory was won. King Athelstan was slain at the crossing of the burn, still known to this day as
Athelstaneford. The story continues that this all was seen as a 'Miracle' and may have been the origin of the name "Markle"!
In the nearby East Lothian village of Athelstaneford, a flag heritage centre commemorates and discusses the development of the legendary white cross on the blue background.
Thomas Middlemass, 6 February 2000
Nick Groom in his book, The Union Jack, the story of the British Flag,
published April 2006 claims the following: page 85.
"Constant attacks from the Vikings".
"It was during the course of these raids that king Angus adopted St. Andrew as the Patron Saint...and the next day as a silver saltire shone in the bright blue sky...thereafter the Picts adopted the diagonal white cross as their national banner". He notes "Bellenden's 1536 translation of Hector Boece 1520...worked from a lost source c1165...this is erroneously given as the eve of a battle with the Saxons at East Lothian in 832".
Also on the Bristol University website, The Union Jack, Nick Groom:
"The St Andrew's cross, a silver saltire on blue...It was also the omen seen in the sky by the Pictish king Angus before he defeated a Danish invasion".
In my opinion the enemy of the Picts at the Battle of Athelstaneford, were Angles-Saxons and not Vikings-Danes. So, I e-mailed Mr. Groom. He stated that: "used the Oxford Companion to British History (1997), and then followed up original sources (as indicated in footnotes and bibliography)". All the sources I can find, show the enemy of the Picts at the Battle of Athelstaneford to be Angles-Saxons.
You are quite right to object to 'Danes' as the enemy of the Picts
as stated on the website: the enemy was reputedly a king Athelstan of England.
The story in medieval Scottish sources is chronologically impossible, however:
Athelstan and Ungus/Unust/Onuist king of the Picts were not contemporaries
(doesn't matter which of two Onuists you pick: 729-61 or 820-34). I think
'Danes' must have crept in in a misguided attempt to make the story credible for
the second Onuist.
In this case we are helped by the survival of two account of St Andrews foundation, both 12th century. One (the longer, called the 'B' account) can be dated to David I's reign (1124-53) as it stands, but it seems to have an earlier core dating from about 840. Unfortunately it is extremely difficult to show what belonged to this earlier core. The other (the shorter, called 'A') can be dated to sometime in or shortly after 1101. The exciting thing about the shorter legend of 1101+ is that it gives what looks like the earliest account of the famous battle. It does not say that a saltire was seen in the sky (that is a much much later detail) but it does describe a cross. The whole passage reads (with apologies for a translation that tries to stick closely to the Latin, and is not very elegant!) [note that the king, obviously Onuist, is called 'Ungus']:
'At that time, not by chance but by divine instigation, a king of the Picts called Ungus son of Urguist, rising up with a great army, killing with the cruelest devastation the British nations living in the south part of this island, finally reached the plain of Mercia and wintered there. Then all the peoples of nearly the whole island, coming with a united force, surrounded him, intending to destroy him and his army completely. Next day, the aforementioned king went out for a walk with his seven most intimate companions, and a divine light shone around them, and they fell forward onto their faces, unable to bear it [the light]. And lo!, a voice was heard from heaven: 'Ungus, Ungus, hear me, an apostle of Christ, Andrew by name, who am sent to defend and protect you. Get up; behold the sign of the cross of Christ which stands in the sky and will go before you against your enemies: nevertheless, offer a tenth part of your inheritance in alms to God Almighty and in honour of St Andrew His apostle'. Now on the third day, advised by the divine voice, [Ungus] divided his army into thirteen troops, and the image of the cross went in front of each division, and a divine light shone from the top of each and every sign. Thereupon they became victors.'
You'll notice that English are not specified explicitly, by the way, but Mercia is (the biggest Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the eighth century). Now, an early source (northern English annals of the 8th cent) refers to Onuist I and the king of Northumbria coming to terms with the king of Dumbarton on 1 August 756, and then talks of one of them (presumably Onuist) leading an army from Govan to 'Newburgh' where, on 10 August, it was nearly completely destroyed. Alex Woolf has pointed out to me that 'Newburgh' here could be a place in Staffordshire in Mercia, and that this could be the situation mentioned in the legend, when Onuist was facing annihilation in Mercia but managed to escape. What was Onuist doing down in Mercia, you might ask? Another early English chronicle (again from the 8th cent) refers to the king of Wessex in 750 rebelling against the king of Mercia and Onuist king of the Picts. It looks as if the king of Mercia and Onuist shared the position of preeminent ruler of Britain. Maybe in 756 Onuist was trying to establish himself as king of Britain, but was nearly destroyed. This interpretation might also explain the terms of reference in the account in the legend: it is not referred to as 'Picts v. English', but as Onuist v. nearly all peoples in the island of Britain. It is as if Onuist was trying to establish a more powerful monarchy, and everyone else feared him and wished to destroy him. But that is just a bit of a guess!
None of this really helps explain the saltire specifically. Also, although Andrew was clearly a very important saint to St Andrews itself and some Pictish kings, it is not clear that Andrew became patron saint of Scotland (or that there was any patron saint as such) until the eve of the wars of independence. It all depends what is meant by 'patron saint' of a 'country/nation'.
Dauvit Broun, 2 July 2006
Assuming "Saint Alban" isn't just another name for Saint Andrew, there
appears to be more than one Saint on the list with a Saltire. Apart from
the English custom to indicate all centred crosses as "Saint George'(s)
Crosses" and all saltires as "Saint Andrew's Crosses", what do you base
this comment on?
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 16 January 2001
I can't give you citations from references, but if you take a look at any lexicon regarding the cross, you'll find graphical representation of several cross types there. And, there the cross with oblique bars would be attributed to St. Andrew, I'm sure, without any special reference to Scotish flag. Another example would be a railroad crossing traffic sign. At least in continental Europe it is in form of diagonally crossed red and white bars, and is called Andrew's cross, as far as I am aware, in many European languages. And the Russian Naval ensign is called "andreevski" i.e. Andrew's flag.
Referring to a remark that a Saint Andrew's cross has arms that are perpendicular, and which are at 45
degrees to the edges of the flag, I believe that it is
not so, meaning that there is no need for a diagonal cross to have
perpendicular bars at 45 degrees to the edges. As far as I am aware, the
representation of St. Andrew in church iconography much more often
shows the Saint with his diagonal cross being of a shape
similar to vertically hoisted Scottish flag.
Željko Heimer, 17 January 2001
The first-called Apostle
Protokletos, or first-called, is the byname given to the Apostle Andrew in the early Greek Church. This comes from the fact that in John's Gospel he is the first disciple named. (John 1:40) He and another (unnamed) disciple of John the Baptist were present when, on the day after the Lord's baptism, John saw Jesus walking past and said: "Look, the Lamb of God." The two then spent the day with Jesus. Andrew's first action was to call his brother Simon, saying: "We have found the Messiah." Jesus, on seeing Simon, said: "You are Simon, son of John(1). You shall be called Cephas(2)."
This passage in John explains the brothers' meeting with Jesus on the shore
of Galilee at Bethsaida, rather baldly rendered in the Gospels of Matthew
" 'Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him." (Matthew 4:19,20; Mark 1:17,18)
Andrew (whose feast day is 30 November) seems to have been an approachable fellow: it was he who took the boy with the five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus. And when a party of Greeks wanted to see Jesus, Philip approached Andrew, who arranged things. Elfrida Vipont, writing in Some Christian Festivals, says: "Because of his approachability, and because of his special gift for bringing people to Jesus, St Andrew has always been especially associated with missionary work."
Indeed in later years Andrew is associated with missionary work on the Black Sea shores, although it is in the heart of Greece that he met his end. Tradition asserts that Andrew was crucified at Patras (modern Patrai), on the northern shore of the Greek peninsula known as Morea or the Peloponnese. No date is known; even the Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to it as being around 60/70 (AD). Traditionally Andrew's cross was X-shaped, and it is a convention of ecclesiastical and heraldic art that he either appears with an X-shaped cross, or saltire, or is symbolised by one.
The Roman Emperor Constantius II ordered Andrew's remains removed to Constantinople in 357. During the 8th century some relics were taken to Scotland where they were placed in the care of a monastic settlement founded two centuries earlier in Fife, called first Mucross, then Kilrymont. But after the arrival of Andrew's relics a new church was built there, dedicated to Andrew as patron saint of Scotland, and the place became known St Andrews. And that is how the home of golf came to bear the name of a Galilean fisherman.
Andrew became known as one of the Seven Champions of Christendom, the others being: George, of England; David, of Wales; Patrick, of Ireland; Denis, of France; James (Santiago), of Spain; and Anthony of Padua, of Italy. The cross (saltire) of St Andrew became the badge of Scotland, although it took some time to become fixed in its present colours of white on blue: mediaeval Scottish armies were instructed to place contrasting bands of cloth on their surcoats, white if the surcoat was dark. Today St Andrew's cross not only forms part of Britain's Union Jack, but plays a role in resurgent Russian nationalism, for Andrew is patron of Russia, too. Peter the Great borrowed the Dutch flag and rearranged its colours for Russia's banner, but he also took Scotland's flag and reversed its colours for a naval jack flag.
The rest of Andrew's remains were transferred to Amalfi (40km from Naples), in 1208 and in the 15th century his head went to Rome. In 1964 Pope Paul VI returned the head to Patrai as a gesture of goodwill to the Greek Orthodox Church.
The name Andrew (Andreas, in Greek) means "manly". Some say it must have been a translation of a Hebrew or Aramaic name, but Galilee was a very mixed region and Greek was used more freely there than in Judaea. The name became popular in Scotland long before it was much used in England, but also appears in Spain (Andres), France (Andre), the Netherlands (Andries), Scandinavia (Anders), Russia (Andrei), Poland (Andrzej, pronounced Andjay) and Italy (Andrea). The Italian form is used as a girl's name in English, but since it means "manly" there seems little point. Andrew is also associated with earthquakes, through California's San Andreas Fault - named for a Spanish mission church.
(1) John: in Hebrew, Yochanan. Sometimes translated as Jonah (Simon bar Jonah).
(2) Cephas, or Kefas: Hebrew for "rock"; in Greek, Petros, which has become Peter in English.
Mike Oettle, 21 January 2002
As every body knows flag of Scotland is St. Andrew's flag, which is blue
banner with a white saltire cross (St. Andrew's cross). Now, Nova Scotia and
Russian Navy are using the same St. Andrew's flags, but reversed colors (white
banner with a blue saltire cross). The only difference is that Nova Scotia has
the Scottish Coat of Arms in the center of the saltire. Technially, all of these
countries could call those flags the St. Andrew's flags. Which is the real
"Georgiy", 11 June, 2003
I may get some argument on this, but in my opinion it's either or both and
more. What makes it a St. Andrew's cross is not the color scheme but the
diagonal orientation, commemorating the legend that Andrew was crucified on an
X-shaped cross. It seems to me that a flag bearing a St. Andrew's cross is a St.
Andrew's flag, regardless of the colors, if that's the symbolism the flag
designer intended. On the other hand, if a flag designer puts a yellow saltire
on blue and intends it to represent St. Alban, then the flag is not a St.
Joe McMillan, 11 June 2003
In 17th century Scotland, the colours carried by the infantry regiments that fought against Cromwell in 1648-50 are in a wide variety of colours. There are yellow saltires on black, black on yellow, white on red, red on white, white on yellow, white on black, white on green, red on yellow, yellow on red, white on blue and red quartered, yellow and white quartered on blue, and for those with no imagination, white saltires on blue :-). The choice of colours appears to be have dictated by the livery colours of the colonel. So at that time, it would seem that it was the saltire itself that was the 'national identifier', rather than it having to be a white saltire on a blue (of whatever colour) field.
On the same theme, there is a 16th Century manuscript in the Koninklijke
Bibliotheek in The Hague, which contains a roll of the arms of Scottish noblemen
(Ms. 130 B 12; internal evidence dates it to c.1592). The first folio shows the
arms of the King. The sinister unicorn supporter carries a banner of the arms,
but the dexter supporter carries a banner which is barry of six gules and or a
saltire argent overall. Or in other words, a saltire placed on the heraldic
livery colours of the arms. There is a photo of the page in The Double Tressure,
the journal of the Scottish Heraldry Society, issue 10 (1988) on page 23.
Ian Sumner, 12 June 2003
July 1st 1999 was a very special day for Scotland and her people:
after nearly three hundred years Scots regained the right to govern
themselves, with the opening of the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.
It was a day full of flags, mainly the Saltire of Scotland, but with
lots of others. The palace of Holyrood House was flying the new
Scottish royal standard (at least "new"
in terms of being used) while the queen was in residence. Edinburgh
Castle was flying the Union Flag as a royal fortress and the General
Assembly building, the temporary home of the new parliament, was
flying the Union Flag on its left tower and the Saltire on its right
tower (it has a twin-towered gateway).
Graham Bartram, 4 July 1999
The "Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia" notes that the Saltire: blue with a
white diagonal cross, is the flag of St. Andrew, patron of Scotland. It is the
correct flag for Scots or Scottish corporate bodies to demonstrate their loyalty
Randy Young, 19 March 2004
Of the flags of England, Scotland and Wales only the Scottish Saltire is,
established by (Scottish) Constitutional Law, the Cross of St George is (as
David states) established by custom and practice and the Welsh Dragon by Order
in Council? In this instance I am taking the phrase "Constitutional Law" to mean
'Parliamentary Law', and not for a moment forgetting both the importance of
"custom and practice" in English common law, and the legal status of a Royal
Order in Council issued under the Royal Prerogative.
Christopher Southworth, 15 April 2004
Possibly the largest Scottish saltire "raised" can be seen in
this image, from
the Six Nations rugby tournament in Sydney, Australia, 2004.
Colin Dobson, 28 September 2004
The Sunday Times reported:
"Last year the First Minister (Jack McConnell) introduced a policy (23 November 2004) of flying the Saltire above all public buildings to instill national pride and to promote the country to foreigners. The flag is displayed at the Parliament, at Bute House, the First Minister's official residence and at Scottish Executive offices."
Some other examples of how the saltire is used include:
The Magazine "Scotland on Sunday" reported discussion on the introduction of a flag for the Scottish Parliament. It was reported that Members of Scottsih Parliament (MSPs) want to create a distinctive emblem to fly over Holyrood in a bid to promote its identity and restore pride. Among the new designs expected to be considered by the parliamentís cross-party housekeeping group is a version of the parliamentís existing logo, which features a Saltire against a purple backdrop with a crown above and cords to each side. Some Scottish Nationalist MSPs, however, are opposed to the idea, believing that as Scotlandís national flag, only the Saltire should fly above Holyrood.
Extracted from Scotland on Sunday, (click here for full article) located by Phil Nelson, 3 January 2003
In response to this article, and a query directed to the Scottish Parliament, the following reply was received:
"The article that appeared in Scotland on Sunday in December
2002 refers to 'new designs expected to be considered by the parliament's
cross-party housekeeping group'. I can confirm that the Scottish Parliamentary
Corporate Body (SPCB - the 'cross-party housekeeping group') did consider the
issue of having a parliamentary flag, but the matter is not currently a priority
and I believe that it has not been taken any further. Should it wish to do so,
the new SPCB elected by the new Parliament in May could consider the issue again
in the future.
I hope that this will be of assistance.
Public Information Service, The Scottish Parliament
Sean McKinnis, 4 April 2003
The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, George Reid
MSP, replied to a question I sent to him. Here is his brief response:
Thank you for your interest in the subject of a Scottish Parliament flag. The Scottish Parliament has been granted armorial bearings from the Lord Lyon and a flag can be developed from this if required. This issue was last discussed by the Corporate Body in April 2002 but no formal decision has been taken regarding the matter.
GEORGE REID MSP
Sean McKinniss, 12 August 2003