Such is the legendary origin of the
Scottish flag. A memorial stands in the churchyard at Athelstaneford,
East Lothian, and there the flag of St Andrew, "azure, a saltire
argent". flies permanently. floodlit at night.
Andrew was probably the patron of Scotland by the year 1000. In 1286,
the Seal of the Guardians of Scotland already bears, on the obverse, a
representation of St Andrew on his X-shaped cross, with the Latin
inscription "ANDREA SCOTIS DUX ESTO COMPATRIOTIS" (St Andrew
be leader of the compatriot Scots). In I 390, St Andrew was used as a
national symbol on a coin of the realm, the five-shilling piece minted
in the reign of Robert Ill.
In 1385, as the Scots made
preparations to invade England, the Scots Parliament decreed that
"every man shall have a sign before and behind, namely a white St
Andrew’s Cross, and if his coat is white he shall bear the same white
cross on a piece of black cloth". Note that blue as a background
had not yet been developed. The crosses of St Andrew and St George are
so strikingly dissimilar as to be easily recognisable in the heat of
battle, and their importance in medieval warfare is therefore
There are other references in the 14th century to
saltires with fields which were not blue. The Douglas Standard, said to
have been carried at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388, included a saltire
on a sage green background.
1460, a white saltire on a blue background appears as part of a more
complex design on the "Blue Blanket" standard, said to have
been given to the incorporated trades of Edinburgh by James Ill.
By the start of the 16th century the plain white
saltire on a blue field had become established. For instance, in 1511,
the Great Michael, the largest warship of its day, was built for King
James IV and carried the St Andrew’s Cross at its head.
In 1606 James VI and I established the first Union
Flag combining the flags of St Andrew and St George. The St Andrew’s
Cross was allowed to continue as Scotland’s national flag, and the
Union Flag was restricted to royal ships by Charles I in 1634.
Numerous 17th century examples are
found of ships flying the saltire: it became a true national flag at
sea. When in I 672 the Public Register of Arms was set up, the St Andrew’s
Cross was recorded as the badge of Scotland, and many seaport arms show
ships flying it.
St Andrew’s Cross was also commonly the basis of the colours of
Scottish Regiments in the Civil Wars, and later of those of the
In 1672, by Act of Parliament, the
legal jurisdiction over the display of flags in Scotland came within the
sole discretion of a Scottish authority - the I.ord Lyon King of Arms.
He remains to this day supreme in heraldic matters throughout Scotland.
One of the consequences of 1707 was
the introduction of the Union Flag as the flag of Great Britain. Queen
Anne duly saw fit to make the Scottish flag the ground of the new one,
placing thereon that of St George, and this continued to be the Union
Flag until 1801 when the so-called cross of St Patrick (really the red
saltire of the Fitzgerald arms) was added.
new flag was not generally welcomed -neither in England nor in Scotland.
The English protested that the white field of the St George’s Cross
was obscured by the St Andrew’s blue. The Scots were angered that the
St George’s Cross was left entire, and not only obscured the cross of
St Andrew but also cut it into pieces. Moreover, in the Royal Navy the
flag of England remained predominant (the White Ensign consisting of a
St George’s Cross with a relatively insignificant Union Flag in the
the Act of Union, the use of the St Andrew’s Cross declined. Ayellow
or gold saltire on a blue field was used, however, during the Jacobite
risings of 1715 and 1745.
In the latter half of the 20th century, there was a
major resurgence in the use of the St Andrew’s Cross, and it has
regained its status as the legally established national flag of
Scotland. It is used by all Scottish teams in international
competitions. It is now widely flown on the flagstaffs of public
buildings, sometimes alone and sometimes side by side with the Union
Flag. The saltire is also used by many bodies, both private and public,
as a logo, a purpose for which it is well suited.
The Influence of
part of the Union Flag, the St Andrew's Cross of Scotland appears
on the flags of Commonwealth countries too numerous to mention.
only flag which appears to have been directly derived from the St Andrew’s
Cross is the provincial flag of Nova Scotia. This depicts a blue
saltire on a white field, with a small shield of the Scottish Royal Arms
in the centre.
There are thought to be two principal
lines of descent of the saltire in flags. First, in the 15th century,
the Duke of Burgundy, having received from Constantinople a supposed
fragment of St Andrew, began to use the saltire. By 1516 the Hapsburgs
had inherited the thrones of both Burgundy and Spain, and the saltire
began to appear there on military colours and naval flags. This may
account for the subsequent use of flags based on the saltire by the
Basques, Paraguay, Belgium, and Burundi.
A second line of descent relates to
reforms introduced by Tsar Peter the Great of Russia following visits to
Western Europe in the 1690s. He designed a naval flag with a blue
saltire on a white background, and this became the Russian Imperial
naval ensign up to 1917. This in turn gave rise to the use of other
naval flags based on the saltire, e.g. in Bulgaria, Estonia and Latvia.
Could there be a Scottish line of
descent? It is not impossible that the Burgundians, having adopted St
Andrew as their patron, got the idea of the saltire flag from that
already established in Scotland. Three centuries later, Peter the Great,
on his visit to the Netherlands, might easily have seen a Spanish naval
ensign based on the saltire. If such conjectures could be substantiated,
the flag of Scotland might turn out to be the remote ancestor of most of
the other saltire flags used throughout history!
recently and quite independently, some saltire flags have appeared
elsewhere. The flag of Jamaica has a yellow saltire on a field of
green and black. Black symbolises past hardships; gold, natural wealth;
and green, hope. The saltire is apparently inspired by the arms of the
capital, the official name of which is Kingston and St Andrew.
battle flag of the Confederate States of America, from 1861 to 1865,
also incorporated a saltire, in this case a blue cross on a red field,
with 13 white stars representing the states. Today, this flag forms part
of the state flags of Georgia and Mississippi.
Become a Friend of
the Scottish Flag Trust
has a special place in Scotland’s history. Tradition records that near
this East Lothian village in 832AD a battle was fought which led to the
adoption of the St Andrew’s Cross or Saltire as Scotland’s national
flag. An army of Picts under King Angus and aided by a contingent of
Scots was invading Lothian (at that time still Northumbrian territory),
and found itself surrounded by a larger force of Saxons led by Athelstan.
Fearing the outcome, Angus led prayers for deliverance and was rewarded
by seeing against a blue sky a great white cross like St Andrew’s. The
king vowed that if, with the saint’s help, he gained the victory, then
Andrew would thereafter be the patron saint of Scotland. The Scots did
win, and the Saltire became the flag of Scotland.
Heritage Centre and Saltire
In 1997, a Heritage
Centre was opened in a restored doocot next to Athelstaneford Church,
and visitors are now able to learn much more about Scotland’s flag and
to enjoy a short audio visual dramatisation of its origins. The Centre
is open from 10am till 5pm each day from April till September, and
admission is free.
The public are also
encouraged to walk through the churchyard, to enter the historic Church,
and to visit the Saltire Memorial which was erected in 1965. A Saltire
is flown permanently at the Memorial, even during the hours of darkness
when it is floodlit.
Friends of The Scottish Flag Trust
Responsibility for the
upkeep and operational costs of the Heritage Centre and the Saltire
Memorial lies with the Scottish Flag Trust, a registered charity.
To enable funds to be
raised for this purpose, a ‘Friends of the Scottish Flag Trust’
organisation has been established. ‘Friends’ give their support for
the work of the Trust by way of an annual subscription of £10
(minimum), and in return receive a newsletter, and have their names
added to the richly decorated Book of the Saltire which is on display
within Athelstaneford Church. Should you wish to become a Friend of the
Scottish Flag Trust contact:
Allan W. Gray, CA, Treasurer, The
Scottish Flag Trust P.O. Box 84, Edinburgh, Scotland.
about St Andrew, Scotland's Patron Saint, here!