The Union Jack is the popular name for the national flag of the United Kingdom. It is a composite flag composed of the flags of the patron saints of three of the four countries that comprise the United Kingdom. The cross of St Andrew represents Scotland, St George represents England and the cross of St Patrick represents Northern Ireland. The only country which is part of the United Kingdom which does not have its flag included in the Union Jack is Wales which was historically incorporated into the kingdom of England.
Strictly speaking, when it is not being flown from the Jack staff of a ship it is not a jack and it is correctly called a Union Flag. However, the long standing popular preferrence of calling it it jack (in association with Britain's strong maritime history) would make such a distinction the reserve of only the most pedantic of flag enthusiasts.
Its correct proportions of height to width is 1:2, except when used by the British Army when it is 3:5.
It's asymetric design means that is is sometimes accidentally flown upside down when the flag is not correctly attached with the wide white stripe above the St Patrick's cross.
The first Union Flag followed the union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. It featured the crosses of St George and St Andrew.
The addtion of the St Patrick cross was made following the poltical union of Great Brtain and Ireland in 1801.
The flag features in the canton (the top left hand corner of a flag) in the following:
- The White Ensign used by the British Royal Navy (the white ensign is the flag of St George with the Union Jack in the canton)
- The Red Ensign used by Brtish merchant ships.
- The Blue Ensign of Royal Navy reserve ships.
- Flags of some countries who, as former British possessions are now memebers of the Commonwealth Nations - including Austrailia, New Zealand and Bermuda.
- The state flag of Hawaii - the only territory that was never a British possession to use it.
- Some Canadian Provincial Flags. In the case of British Columbia the Union Jack is featured in the upper half rather than the canton.
- The original continental flag of the United States featured a pre-1801 union flag with thriteen red and white stripes.
Influences in other designs
A Russian naval jack was created in the Tsarist era and revived after the fall of communism. It features the cross of St Andrew (patron saint of Russia) over the cross of St George (patron saint of Moscow). In each case, the cross and background colours are the reverse of those found the British Union Jack.