Following on my post on the flags of the Muslim world, by popular request I now write on the flags of Northern Europe that contain crosses, and briefly explore the origin and evolution of the common design.
The story begins with the flag of Denmark, which claims that its flag, know as the Dannebrog, is the oldest flag in the world. Legend states the flag fell from the sky at the Battle of Lyndanisse, during the Danish crusade in Estonia, on June 15, 1219. The flag has been the flag of Denmark and the Danish kings ever since.
In Sweden, according to local lore, the 12th century Swedish king Eric the Holy saw a golden cross in the sky as he landed in Finland during the First Swedish Crusade in 1157, and adopted this sign of God as his royal banner. If true, it would make the flag older than the Dannebrog, but there is apparently insufficient historical evidence. The alternative theory is that it was a resistance flag against the Danish flag, in which case it was created during the reign of King Charles Knutsson in the early 15th century.
The flags of Denmark and Sweden are old, but the remaining flags are modern creations. Norway used the Danish flag during the Danish-Norwegian union that ended in the 16th century, and kept the Danish flag with slight modifications until Norway adopted its current flag in 1821.
The flag of the Faroe Islands (see CA post) was first made by Faroese students in Copenhagen and later brought to the Faroes where it was first hoisted in 1919. It entered common use in 1931. When Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, British troops took the islands and a need to distinguish the ships of the Faroes from those of occupied Denmark occurred, so approved the flag, which was later officially recognized with the Home Rule Act of 23 March 1948.
Finland is one of the newest of these states mentioned and has the newest flag. The current blue-crossed design was first used by a Helsinki yacht club founded in 1861, which was similar to the flag of the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, founded the previous year. It became the flag shortly after Finland gained independence in 1917. And in Iceland, the flag was officially adopted in 1915 and became the national flag upon independence in 1948. While taking the design from Denmark, the blue is the color of the mountains, white represents the snow and ice, and red its volcanoes.
The British cousins of the Nordic states also have a cross in the flag, but the offset is symmetrical, and diagonal in some cases. Then there is also the unique British and United Kingdom Flags that were formed as a fusion of multiple crosses.
The flag of England is the St George’s Cross that first appeared as an emblem of England during the Crusades, making it one of the earliest known English emblems. It became the national flag during the sixteenth century. Although it first appeared at around the same time as the Danish and Swedish flags, the cross is not offset like the Nordic flags and is placed in the center of the flag.
Scotland‘s flag is based on the a 9th century symbol, which became the national symbol in the 13th century. It became a flag at around the same time as the English flag in the 16th century.
St. Patrick’s flag in Ireland is controversial. The arms of Ireland since the sixteenth century have been a gold harp with silver strings on a blue field, and the X-shaped flag was adopted in the 18th century. Today it is rejected, perhaps partly because it was adopted and modified by the rightist Blueshirts in the early 20th century, but it remains a part of Union Jack.
In 1606, following the Tudor unification of England and Scotland, the flags of England and Scotland were merged to form the flag of Great Britain. Later, the flag of Ireland was included to form the flag of the United Kingdom, or the Union Jack.
As a postscript, we have the flag of Jersey, adopted in its modern form in 1981 — it previously used a very similar flag to that of the St. Patrick’s flag.