The flag of England is derived from Saint George's Cross (heraldic blazon: Argent, a cross gules). The association of the red cross as an emblem of England can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and it was used as a component in the design of the Union Flag in 1606. Since the 1990s it has been in increasingly wide use, particularly at national sporting events.
|Use||Civil and state flag|
A white field with centred red cross|
(Argent, a cross gules)
In 1188 Henry II of England and Philip II of France agreed to go on a crusade, and that Henry would use a white cross and Philip a red cross. 13th-century authorities are unanimous on the point that the English king adopted the white cross, and the French king the red one (and not vice versa as suggested by later use). It is not clear at what point the English exchanged the white cross for the red-on-white one.
There was a historiographical tradition claiming that Richard the Lionheart himself adopted both the flag and the patron saint from Genoa at some point during his crusade. This idea can be traced to the Victorian era, Perrin (1922) refers to it as a "common belief", and it is still popularly repeated today even though it cannot be substantiated as historical.
Red crosses seem to have been used as a distinguishing mark worn by English soldiers from the reign of Edward I (1270s), or perhaps slightly earlier, in the Battle of Evesham of 1265, using a red cross on their uniforms to distinguish themselves from the white crosses used by the rebel barons at the Battle of Lewes a year earlier. Perrin (1922:37) notes a roll of accounts from 1277 where the purchase of cloth for the king's tailor is identified as destined for the manufacture of a large number of pennoncels (pennons attached to lances) and bracers (worn by archers on their left forearms) "of the arms of Saint George" for the use by the king's foot soldiers (pro peditibus regis). Perrin concludes from this that the introduction of the Cross of St George as a "national emblem" is originally due to Edward I. By 1300, there was also a greater "banner of St George", but not yet in a prominent function; the king used it among several banners of saints alongside the royal banner. Saint George had become popular as a "warrior saint" during the crusades, but the saint most closely associated with England was Edward the Confessor until the time of Edward III, who in thanks for Saint George's supposed intervention in his favour at the Battle of Crécy gave him a special position as a patron saint of the Order of the Garter in 1348. From that time, his banner was used with increasing prominence alongside the Royal Banner and became a fixed element in the hoist of the Royal Standard. The flag shown for England in the Book of All Kingdoms of 1367 is solid red (while St George's Cross is shown for Nice and, in a five-cross version, for Tblisi). John Cabot, commissioned by Henry VII to sail "under our banners, flags and ensigns," reportedly took St George's banner to Newfoundland in 1497.
St George's Day was considered a "double major feast" from 1415, but George was still eclipsed by his "rivals" Saints Edward and Edmund. He finally rose to the position of the primary patron saint of England during the English Reformation, with the revised prayer book of 1552, when all religious flags, including all saints' banners except for his were abolished. The first recorded use of St George's Cross as a maritime flag, in conjunction with royal banners, dates to 1545. In 1606 it was combined with the Scottish St Andrew's Cross to form the Union Jack.
The concept of a national flag, as opposed to royal banners, naval ensigns or military flags, developed in the late 18th century, following the American and French Revolutions. In the 19th century, it became desirable for all nations of Europe (and later worldwide) to identify a national flag. Since during that time, the terms Britain and England were used largely interchangeably, the Union Flag was used as national flag de facto, even though never officially adopted. The observation that the Cross of St George is the "national flag of England" (as opposed to the Union Flag being the flag of all of the United Kingdom) was made in the context of Irish irredentism, as noted by G. K. Chesterton in 1933,
The flag of England is one of the key components of the Union Flag. The Union Flag has been used in a variety of forms since the proclamation by Orders in Council 1606, when the flags of Scotland and England were first merged to symbolise the Union of the Crowns. (The Union of the Crowns having occurred in 1603). In Scotland, and in particular on Scottish vessels at sea, historical evidence suggests that a separate design of Union Flag was flown to that used in England. In the Acts of Union of 1707, which united the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England to become the Kingdom of Great Britain, it was declared that "the Crosses of St. George and St. Andrew be conjoined, in such Manner as her Majesty shall think fit, and used in all Flags, Banners, Standards and Ensigns, both at Sea and Land."
From 1801, to symbolise the union of the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland, a new design which included the St Patrick's Cross was adopted for the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Flag of the United Kingdom, having remained unchanged following the partition of Ireland in 1921 and creation of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, continues to be used as the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The flag of the City of London is based on the English flag, having a centred St George's Cross on a white background, with a red sword in the upper hoist canton (the top left quarter). The sword is believed to represent the sword that beheaded Saint Paul who is the patron saint of the city.
The flag used by the British Royal Navy (the White Ensign) is also based on the flag of England, consisting of the St George's Cross and a Union Flag in the canton. In addition to the United Kingdom, several countries in the Commonwealth of Nations also have variants of the White Ensign with their own national flags in the canton, with the St George's Cross sometimes being replaced by a naval badge.
Churches belonging to the Church of England (unless for special reasons another flag is flown by custom) may fly St George's Cross. The correct way (since an order from the Earl Marshal in 1938) is for the church to fly the St George's cross, with the arms of the diocese in the left-hand upper corner of the flag.
The flag is also seen during other sporting events in which England competes, for example during England Cricket matches (the Cricket World Cup and The Ashes), during Rugby Union matches and in football. It is also used in icons on the Internet and on the TV screen to represent teams and players from England.
Before 1996, most of the flags waved by supporters were Union Flags. It is now observed that most are England flags. In a sporting context, the flag is often seen being waved by supporters with the unofficial addition of the word 'England' across its horizontal bar.
As the national flag of England, the St George's cross is also used in English nationalism in conscious distinction from the Union Flag. This is parallel to, but less widely practised, than the use of the flag of Scotland as distinct from the Union Flag in Scottish nationalism. While the flag of Scotland has been officially defined by the Scottish Parliament in 2003, the flag of England does not figure in any official legislation, and its use by English nationalists was for some time limited to the "far-right", notably the British National Party (founded 1982). Since the flag's widespread use in sporting events since the mid-1990s, the association with far-right nationalism has waned, and the flag is now frequently flown throughout the country both privately and by local authorities, although it also remains in use by nationalist groups such as the English Defence League (founded 2009).
Since the 1980s, an alternative 'White Dragon of England' flag has been in use by some English nationals. This was created and spread in order to have a flag with pre-Norman Conquest symbolic leanings.
Due to the spread of the British Empire, the flag of England is currently, and was formerly used on various flags and coats of arms of different countries, states and provinces throughout the territories of the British Empire. The St George's Cross is also used as the city flag of some northern Italian cities, such as Milan and Bologna.