The Flag of Scotland – History and Facts

Scottish Flag with Alba Gu Brath

Scottish flag, also known as Saltire, dates back to the 12th century. It is made up of a great white cross which spans diagonally across the flag on a blue background. This was the supposed shape of the cross that St. Andrew was put to death on and therefore the flag is also known as the 'Cross of St. Andrew'. Interestingly the Saltire is thought to be one of the oldest national flags in the world.

Scotland is usually associated with such canonical features, as bagpipe, redheads, Loch Ness monster, unicorns (the national symbol), etc. However, the Scottish flag contains one of the most remarkable features - the Saltire. It not only has deep historical roots but is highly praised among religious societies. Why Saltire became the national symbol and eventually appeared on the flag of Scotland? What makes it different from a Scottish lion flag, and what is the reason for having two national flags in Scotland? Here are some cool facts to consider.

Scottish Flag: The Legends of St. Andrews Cross

As a rule, any legend has its hero. And St. Andrews is the main hero of this tale. He is also known, as Apostle Andrews and the brother of St. Peter. He was crucified in 60 AD in the city of Patras in Achaea.

andrew the apostle death


The Saltire, a special Latin cross in a form of X, played a final role in his death. One of the key differences between the regular crucifixion and the St. Andrews crucifixion was that he was tied to the cross and not nailed to it. He thought that he was not worthy to be martyred on the same cross as Jesus had been, that’s why he chose the Saltire instead. A bitter end, which eventually made him an everlasting legend only 770+ years later and formed a special symbol, called in his honor – the St. Andrews cross.

Legends About St. Andrews Cross

There are lots of different legends about St. Andrews cross. However, there are two of them, which are so popular that they cause intensive debates until today.

  • The Battle Of Athelstaneford

Scottish Flag in the sky

One of the most iconic connections to the history of the Scottish flag happened in 832 AD, near the small village Athelstaneford, which is located a few miles northeast of Haddington.

The united armies of Scots and Picts faced the Northumbrian army of Angles and Saxons. The leader of the Scottish army was King Angus, while some say that the warlord of Angles was the very well-known King Athelstan.

The Scottish army was heavily outnumbered. Only a miracle (or a very clever commander with a great strategy) could save them. And at night before the battle, King Angus had a dream. He saw St. Andrews, who predicted his victory.

When two armies gathered before a great clash, they saw a miraculous white cloud formation on a blue sky, which looked like a Saltire symbol. It was an omen for both armies, however, only one of them could be victorious. That same day, the united army of Scots and Picts won a devastating victory against the army of Angles and Saxons.

Since then, the St Andrews cross became an official emblem on the flag of Scotland and is highly praised nowadays. Even though, a lot of historical facts indicate that king Athelstan had never participated in the mentioned battle and lived in a different time. He was a king of England from 927 until his death in 939. He was known for his legendary victory against the united forces of Constantine II, Olaf Guthfrithson, and Owain, kings of Scotland, Dublin, and Strathclyde. In other words, it clearly indicates that both English and Scottish historians had their own vision of the success and failures of their own leaders.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t deny the fact that the influence of St. Andrews cross omen was undeniable for the religious people of Scotland of that era. This fact alone had long-lasting consequences. He became a true patron saint of the united land in 1314 after the Battle of Bannockburn, another victory of Scotland against England. Robert the Bruce proclaimed famous words, where he mentioned St. Andrews power and after that, according to the chronicles, “the standards of war were spread out in the golden dawn.”

  • The St. Regulus

St Andrews cathedral and St Rules tower

It is said that the St. Regulus (a legendary monk of Patras, Greece) have traveled to Scotland in 345 AD via ship with the relics of St. Andrews. The reason for that was because the emperor of the Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, planned to take the remains of a saint to Constantinople. St. Regulus had a vision (in a form of an angel), which instructed him to take the relics to the faraway land on the west, and so he started his long journey. Eventually, he was shipwrecked near the Kilrymont, a known Pictish settlement. There he founded a church and eventually the settlement was renamed St. Andrews – a medieval place of religious pilgrims.

Today, the official celebrations of St. Andrews day are held on November 30. People honor the great saint and his legacy, which is an official part of the Scotland flag.

When Was The Scottish Flag Adopted?

scottish independence march

The official appearance of the Scottish flag was in 1542. It was a part of the illustration from the book “Register of Scottish Arms”, made by Sir David Lyndsay, a Scottish herald.

Some say that it’s the oldest flag in Europe. However, according to the official information, the flag of Scotland is the second-oldest national flag in the world, while the first place was proudly taken by Denmark’s “Dannebrog” (1478).

It has been constantly changing since then – mainly because of the blue shades. The legend says that the St. Andrews cross represented the white wooden shade, while St. Andrews himself worn blue robes.

This led to a variety of color choices – starting from light blue, indigo, and even dark navy. The sacred meaning of these colors is an important part of the Scottish flag. The white color resembles pacification, while the blue color is a symbol of justice.

Even though the blue flag with white X had lots of reviews, its appearance became standardized in 2003. The Scottish Parliamentary committee decided to invent a final version of the blue color. The shade, known as Pantone 300, was chosen as the official background color of the Scotland flag. This was highly requested by the Lord Lyon King of Arms and the petition from the Scottish Executive (government). The common proportions of the flag are 5:4.

Scottish Lion Flag: A Legacy Of Richard The Lion-Heart

Scottish Lion Rampant flag

The Scottish lion flag, also commonly known as Lion Rampant of Scotland, is the second flag of this country. It belongs to the royal family of Kings and Queens of Scotland and is quite different from St. Andrews cross emblem.

The King of England, Richard I, the Lion-Heart, invented the usage of one and two lion rampant combatants in 1189 for the Great Seal. Some say that it has a direct relation to the Scottish monarchs, who decided to adopt this emblem for their royal flag.

On the Scottish flag, the lion is presented as a large, red beast, rearing up with a blue tongue and four blue fangs on each paw. It stands on a yellow background within two red frames. The borders of these frames are decorated with “fleur-de-lis” – a well-known regal symbol among European monarchs, especially in France.

It’s known that the symbol first appeared in 1222 and is related to Alexander II, making the Scottish flag lion one of the oldest regal symbols in Europe. The emblem usually appeared on the shields of the royal coat of arms, including the shield of the King of Scots himself.

After proclaiming a Union of Crowns between England and Scotland in 1603, the Scottish lion flag was mainly used by representatives of the Monarchy of both Scottish and British courts. It was raised during the absence of a Sovereign in their royal residences.

It’s important to know, that it’s illegal to use this flag by the people who are not related to the royal family directly since 1672. The special act of Parliament of Scotland guarantees the penalties for those who use it without approval, so not many people can afford to use it in public buildings. Nevertheless, the flag is still very popular during various occasions, such as sporting events. You can also buy various souvenirs at gift shops, which resemble the Scottish lion flag. There are obvious reasons for that – tourism brings a lot of cache injections to the economy of the country.

Since there are no Scottish Kings and Queens since the 17th century, it’s safe to assume that the flag belongs to the recent Kings and Queens of England.

Flag Of Angus

flag of angus scotland

In 2007 the Angus Council proposed to replace the Saltire with a special flag of Angus. It represented various emblems, like crowns, stars, and also a red lion with a crown. The main idea was that the flag should be raised on Council Buildings. It caused a negative reaction in society, as it’s quite obvious that thousands of people love the original Scottish flag. However, the flag of Angus actually found its place beside the Saltire, without actually replacing it.

Union Jacks: A Step To The Commonwealth

Flag of Great Britain

The Union Jack (also known as the Union Flag) is a national flag of the United Kingdom. The term “jack” was used to describe a flag flown from the mast of a ship. In other words, it had a strong relationship to the Royal Navy as a core feature of England during the colonialism period.

The appearance of this flag was not an easy or fast process, as it required the united efforts of 3 countries – England, Scotland and Ireland, which had (and still have) controversial political and economical views.

The Union of Crowns in 1603 was a very important step to unite the countries in a single commonwealth. The founder of this idea was the King of Scotland, James VI, who inherited the thrones of England and Ireland this same year.

There existed various combinations of the English and Scottish combined flags. For some time there was no obvious choice, and each country wanted its cross to take the primary position on the Union Jacks flag.

Here you can see that the Scottish flag appeared as a miniature version of itself on a large flag of England.

Early design for a Union Jack in 1604

Here are several versions, where the influence of the St. Andrews cross is obviously much higher.

Union Jack offered by ScotlandUnion Jack offered by ScotlandUnion Jack offered by Scotland


However, it was decided to mix the white background of the English flag and the Scotland flag, placing a St. Georges red cross of England over the white cross of St. Andrews. That was an approved version of the Union Jacks flag in 1606.

Great Britain flag with bottom white strip

The last but not least country was Ireland. The final preparations between the Parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland were finished on January 1, 1801, and these merges were known as Acts of Union. You can see the steps of the Union Jack flag transformation into its final form below.

Union Jack Bloom Consulting

In the official decree of the George III (United Kingdom) there is a direct quote about this: “The Union flag shall be azure, the crosses-saltires of St. Andrew and St. Patrick quartered per Saltire counterchanged argent and gules; the latter fimbriated of the second; surmounted by the cross of St. George of the third, fimbriated as the Saltire”.

In time, the term “Union Jack” was marked as incorrect by Reed’s Nautical Almanac, because the “jack” term is related to the small flag on Naval Vessels, and it has no relation to the Royal Navy and its Union Flag. Due to the Flag Etiquette prohibited usage of such a term, Union Jack somewhat lost its popularity among the specific part of society. Even though, Union Jacks term remained popular nowadays and is easily recognizable all over the world due to its unique structure.

Use Of The Saltire Outside Scotland

State flag of Nova Scotia in Canada

As a final thought, we can’t ignore the great influence of the Saltire on other world countries. It is known that the St. Andrews cross is used in such countries/spheres as:

  • Russia (St. Andrews is a known patron saint of the orthodox church);
  • Canada (the province of Nova Scotia is using a combination of St. Andrews cross + Rampant Lion flags). The main difference is that the color of the cross is blue, while the background is white;
  • Netherlands (the town Sint-Oedenrode has a flag, similar to the Scotland flag). What differs them is that the coat of arms is depicted on the left section of this flag;
  • European Union. The black St. Andrews cross depicts the hazard symbol for the dangerous chemicals, not as severe as a skull or crossbones.


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