The Flag of Scotland

The national flag of Scotland has a silver cross upon a blue background which is based on the cross of Saint Andrew, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ and also Scotland’s patron saint. The cross is a saltire which means that it crosses from corner to corner. Legend has it that this saltire cross is exclusively Saint Andrew’s for his having chosen to be crucified on that kind of cross in deference to the Lord Jesus.

History of the Saltire Cross. In the year 761 Scotland was divided into four kingdoms. One of these - Pictland – was at war with the Anglo-Saxons from north of England. Before battle, King Angus of the Picts had a dream about St. Andrew bearing his saltire cross. The Picts won the battle at Athelstaneford and thereafter adopted Andrew as patron saint.

At first, the saltire cross was used as a means of identity as a badge pinned on clothing or upon a pennant or banner. There was no flag as such. In 1138, The Scottish King – David the First – for the first time used a Lion as his personal symbol in The Battle of the Standard. When Robert the First, known as Robert the Bruce, defeated the English army at Bannockburn in 1314, there were no saltire flags, but undoubtedly the St. Andrew’s cross was embroidered upon tunics for safety and as a symbol of loyalty to the first king of all Scotland. In the 14th century, Scots bore a white saltire both on the front, as well as on the back, of their tunics.

The Douglas standard is said to be the oldest flag to have borne the saltire cross.
This standard, flown at the Battle of Otterburn, fought against the Percys of Northumberland in 1388, is green with a saltire cross and a red heart. The personal flag of the Scottish Earl of Douglas is also green, while the red heart is the special symbol of the Douglases. The Earl won the battle but lost his life in the endeavour.

Thereafter, the saltire cross came to represent Scotland. It is shown on coins dating from the 13th century, during the reign of King David the First. National flags from the 15th century bore the silver saltire upon a blue background, relating to King Angus´s dream of St. Andrew bearing his cross against the blue of the sky.

In 1603, King James the Sixth of Scotland and the first of England, the only son of Mary Queen of Scots, took up residence in London and had a flag designed with the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George. The Scottish parliament complained (the red of England crossed the silver one) and kept their right to fly St. Andrew’s cross in Scotland.

During the 17th century,  when the Scots joined with the English parliament to fight against King Charles the First, St. Andrew’s cross  became the Covenanter’s Flag and, thus, one hundred years later, influenced the flag of the U.S.A., as is shown by its blue background. In 1707, Scotland and England joined to form the United Kingdom and the Union Jack flag was created. The Union Jack is comprised of a combination of the blue and white saltire of St.Andrew of Scotland, the red and white Cross of St.George of England, and the red and white saltire of St. Patrick of Ireland.

However things were not left there. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jacobites – supporters of the exiled Stuart King James the 2nd – carried the saltire in their rejection of the Hanoverian Prince George. This flag displayed a cross of gold upon a blue background, as blue and gold were the Stuart colours. In battles like Culloden in 1746, the cross of St. Andrew was carried by both sides: by those Scots who fought alongside English and German troops for King George, and by their opponents, other Scots, Anglican Tories, Roman Catholics, the Irish and Welsh who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Scotland’s Cross can also be found in the flags of two Canadian Provinces, both with strong Scottish influence: Nova Scotia (New Scotland) and Newfoundland. Here the colours are reversed with a blue cross on a white background. Also, Saint Andrew’s saltire cross is represented, in the form of the Union Jack, on the national flags of New Zealand and Australia.

The Lion of Scotland

There is another Scottish Flag. This is the Royal Standard of Scotland. On its golden background rises a Lion Rampant in red. A double red border runs around the edges featuring three pointed petals. The Motto of Scotland: “Nemo me impune lacessit” or “No-one attacks me and gets away with it! completes the picture.

Once the unlawful use of this standard brought severe punishment, even to the death, for it is the Standard of the Kings and Queens of Scotland. However, the standard did not belong personally to the monarch. Each King and Queen would also have had their own personal family badge.

It is more than likely that the early Scottish Kings used the dragon for their symbol. The appearance of the Lion may have begun with King William the Lion, in the 12th Century and was most certainly used by his son, King Alexander the Second.

The Royal Standard is still used by the King’s Chief Officer in Scotland.
The Lion is also used on the Great Seal of Scotland as the stamp of proof of validity on all official documents.  It is also carried by Scottish heralds. This is an ancient office, still in use. Heralds carried the Monarch’s messages, proclaimed the King’s greatness and kept records of each family badge. The Chief Herald, known by the title, Lyon King of Arms, has his own powers to prevent the misuse age of coats of arms or badges. He also yields the power to approve new designs of the same, and of tartans.

King James the Sixth (James the First of England) had made a new flag in 1603 which includes the symbols of England, France and Ireland as well as the Lion Rampant.

The Thistle
In the language of heraldry, the humble thistle has the honour of being Scotland’s national badge. “ The Thistle, slipped and leaved proper”, which means that it is face on with its leaves and spines.

Legend has it that the Thistle came to be regarded as lucky after a raiding party of Danes woke a castle with their cries of pain as they tried to cross a thistle infested moat. However, it is not such an ancient a sign as the Lion or the Saltire Cross. It was first used as a special symbol of the Scots in the 15th Century in the times of King James the Third.

The Thistle is a tough, prickly plant, eaten only by donkeys. But it became to be considered as fierce as the Lion. Another prickly plant, the rose, came to partake in its fame. When the English Princess Margaret Tudor married James´ son, their union was called the Marriage of the Thistle and the Rose.

The Thistle became popular among the common people.  The homely Thistle was a ready identification for them while the Lion was considered grand and the Saltire, hallowed. It is a reminder that although Scotland may not be considered as rich,  it is certainly not to be grasped lightly!

The Tartan (click here)
Fiona Pérez-Peterkin on behalf of the Schiehallion SCD Group