Saltire – The Flag of Scotland!
A joint force of Picts and Scots under King Angus (or Óengus) of The Picts met a Northumbrian army under King Athelstan at a location near what would become Athelstaneford, four miles north east of Haddington, in East Lothian. The Pictish army were surrounded by superior numbers and prayed for assistance. That night Saint Andrew who was martyred on a Saltire shaped cross appeared to Angus and assured him of victory.
The following morning the two armies formed up for battle. As they did so, a strange cloud formation appeared, forming a broad diagonal white cross against the background of bright blue sky. The Picts and Scots believed this to be an omen: and so did the Angles. The battle that followed was an improbable victory for the outnumbered Picts and Scots. From then onwards the Saltire has been used as Scotland’s national flag.
Use of the familiar iconography of St Andrews martyrdom, showing the apostle bound to an X-shaped cross, first appears in the Kingdom of Scotland in 1180 during the reign of William I. The earliest physical evidence of the Saltires use as a national symbol can be traced to 1286, were it was used on the seal of the Guardians of Scotland, and evidence of the symbol being used on a flag rather than a seal, brooch or surcoat dates to much later. The earliest reference to the Saint Andrew’s Cross as a flag is found in the Vienna Book of Hours, circa 1503, in which a white saltire is depicted with a red background. In the case of Scotland, use of a blue background for the Saint Andrew’s Cross is said to date from at least the 15th century, with the first certain illustration of a flag depicting such appearing in Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount’s Register of Scottish Arms, circa 1542, although the massive heraldic standard of the ‘Great Michael’, a great ship of the Royal Scottish Navy which was launched around 1510, had the “Sanct Androis cors” on a blue background in the Hoist.
Traditionally the Saltire is blue (some say to represent the sky in the vision) but some versions have existed which have the white cross on a black background (due to the shortage of vegetable dyes that could reproduce the colour) and even green or red.
In modern Scotland the Scottish Government has ruled that the Saltire should, where possible, fly on all its buildings every day from 8am until sunset. Th only exception to this is during United Kingdom ‘National Days’, were the Saltire is replaced by the Union Flag if only one flag pole is present. Likewise on St Andrews Day, the Union Flag is only flown if more than one flag pole is present. In recent years, embassies of the United Kingdom have also flown the Saltire to mark St Andrew’s Day.
The seven British Army Infantry battalions of the Scottish Division, plus the Scots Guards and Royal Scots Dragoon Guards regiments, use the Saltire in a variety of forms to this day. Combat and transport vehicles of these Army units may be adorned with a small, 130mm x 80mm in size, representation of the Saltire. Such decals being displayed on the front and/or rear of the vehicle and on tanks these may also be displayed on the vehicle turret. In Iraq, during both Operation Granby and the subsequent Operation Telic, the Saltire was seen to be flown from the communications whip antenna of vehicles belonging to these units. Funerals, conducted with full military honours, of casualties of these operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, have also been seen to include the Saltire; the flag being draped over the coffin of the deceased.
There are several areas around the world that use a variation of the Saltire as their own flag, usually due to a connection with Scotland. The Canadian province of Nova Scotia (Latin for ‘New Scotland’) uses an inverse version of the flag, with a blue cross on a field of white. Nova Scotia has more than just a name to connect it to Scotland, as it was the first colonial venture of the Kingdom of Scotland in the Americas and as such has a great number of Scottish descendants.
The Dutch area of Sint-Oedenrode, which is named after the Scottish princess Saint Oda, uses a version of the flag of Scotland, defaced with a gold castle having on both sides a battlement.
The flag of Tenerife is identical to the Scottish flag except for the shade of blue, Tenerife’s flag using a much darker colour. Although some theories claim a connection between the flags, their similarity is likely coincidental.