|THE UNION JACK: The Story of the British Flag|
Alistair McConnachie reviews the new book out now in paperback. This article was published originally in the July 2007 issue of Sovereignty.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated in July 2007 that he wanted to see the Union Jack flown more often from public buildings. This is part of a campaign to engender a sense of shared Britishness among all the people of the United Kingdom.
For the purposes of this review, let's ignore the extent to which it can be argued that his government is responsible, in no small measure, for policies -- such as open borders and ill-thought out devolution -- which can lead to the fracture of British cohesion.
The fact, at least, that he is promoting the national flag is a good thing -- so it is timely to review this excellent recent publication.
Nick Groom's book, The Union Jack 1, bills itself as "the first history of the British flag". It is certainly the most complete treatment of the subject which we have encountered. He introduces his subject by setting it in a broad national context.
THE DREAM OF UNION
The dream of union has been long and for many it has been a nightmare, but it is the one dream from which Britain can never awake: to do so would be to end the 'British Isles' as a meaningful concept. 3
Groom starts at the very beginning where heraldic and pre-heraldic "attempts to represent both visually and symbolically a union of Great Britain are effectively prototypes of the Union Jack." 4 He continues through the centuries in a comprehensive rendering of history.
In 1603, 33 years after being crowned King of Scotland, James VI became James I of Great Britain.
His vision was one of British unity:
GIVING VOICE TO BRITAIN'S POSSIBILITIES
Groom suggests that, like Rule Britannia -- "one of two anthems that literally gave voice to the possibilities that the creation of Great Britain presented to the world" -- written by the Scot James Thomson, God Save the King may also have been written by a Scot, James Oswald, although there are various claimants for authorship and composition. 6
Groom includes text of an early version of God Save the King published in 1750, which includes several verses we hadn't read before. In this regard it's important to reiterate what we said in the May 2002 Sovereignty Special Report: There has never been an official version of the National Anthem and the Palace has never approved any version believing the words evolve by tradition rather than decree.
Many previous verses would be considered anachronistic today, and possibly illegal!
For example, one of the verses listed here, goes:
While the book is largely history, Groom permits himself some interesting political comments in his Conclusion. Overall, he is pro-Union:
And very pro-Union Jack, concluding:
The book also lists a chronology of English, Scottish and British monarchs, the dimensions of the Union Jack, the rules for hoisting flags on government buildings, and the full list of official days in which the Union Jack is to be flown. An extensive bibliography, full references, and index are also included.
(1) Nick Groom, The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag, (London: Atlantic Books, 2006), 396 pages, and out now in paperback. Page numbers in this article refer to the hardback edition.
(2) at xvii.
(3) at xvi-xvii.
(4) at 2.
(5) at 125.
(6) at 179.
(7) at 313.
(8) at 316.