Monthly Archives: July 2017

What’s in a name? – The ‘Union Flag’ or the ‘Union Jack’?

I was recently puzzling over a question whilst writing my next novel. Should I refer to the British flag as the ‘Union Jack’ or the ‘Union Flag’? Many people have different opinions on this so I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the history of the flag; after all, this is not just a symbol for the United Kingdom but for many other countries too*, an expression of the wide influence which Great Britain has had in the history and development of those countries.

So what is the history of the Union Jack?

The Union Jack actually incorporates the national flags of three countries – England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Its name even emphasises the fact that Great Britain is a union of nations, the full title of our country being ‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. As I said earlier, the flag is also called the ‘Union Flag’, and this emphasises the way that the union of our countries can change over time but we still hold together. The fact that some powers have been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in recognition of their different national identities and needs does not detract from the essential unity of Great Britain. (Although Scotland has held a referendum to see if the country supports independence so far the majority of that country wish to remain in the Union).

The flag itself is an intricate design marrying together three different national flags, each one representing the patron saint of that country:

St George’s cross, the flag of England
St Andrew’s cross, the flag of Scotland
St Patrick’s cross, the flag of Northern Ireland

So where is the flag of St David of Wales? you may ask. Well, the first Union Flag was designed in 1606, and as Wales had already been united with England for centuries by that time the flag of St George was used to represent both. The Welsh still do have their own flag though, a red dragon, and this can often be seen being waved at sporting events by proudly nationalistic Welsh people.

The Welsh dragon

When King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne on the death of Queen Elizabeth I (see my article ‘A British Game Of Thrones’) it was decided to create a new flag to celebrate this union. The final design had a blue background with the red cross of St George superimposed over the white cross of St Andrew. This became known as the Union Flag.

Although James was king of both England and Scotland these were still two separate countries and so the new Union Flag was only flown at sea until England and Scotland were finally united in 1707 under Queen Anne. While at sea the flag was flown from the jack staff at the bow of the ship, and this is probably where the name ‘Union Jack’ comes from.

Ireland didn’t join the Union until 1801, at which time it was felt that the Irish identity should also be represented in the Union Flag. This is when the cross of St Patrick was added and the flag became what we know it to be today, with the ‘Union Jack’ receiving Parliamentary approval as the national flag in 1908.

So that is how the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland came into existence. But does this help me in deciding what to call the flag in my novel? The official name is the Union Flag, but it is rarely called that and we British know and love it as the Union Jack. The characters in my novel would not be bothered about history or technicalities but would use the name that was known to everyone. So I have decided to go with the common usage of the time and refer to the Union Jack. I do hope no historians or vexillologists will be too offended by that!

*Flags which feature the Union Jack:

Commonwealth nations – Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Tuvalu, United Kingdom

Overseas Territories – Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Anguilla, Ascension Island, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Falkland Islands, Niue, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Ross Dependency, Saint Helena, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands

Federal, Provinces, Territories and States – British Columbia, Hawaii, Manitoba, New South Wales, Ontario, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia

Flags which used to feature the Union Jack:

Canada, South Africa, Australia, Newfoundland

Please let me know if I’ve missed any!

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Recommended Read – Csardas by Diane Pearson

CSARDAS – taken from the name of the Hungarian national dance – follows the fortunes of the enchanting Ferenc sisters from their glittering beginnings in aristocratic Hungary, through the traumas of two World Wars.

From the dazzling elegance of coming-out balls, feudal estates and a culture steeped in romance, to terror and starvation in the concentration camps – no story could be more dramatic than that of Eva and Amalia Ferenc, whose fate it is to be debutantes when the shot which killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo plunged Europe into the First World War. Their story is enthralling, tragic, romantic – and absolutely unputdownable.

Csardas is incredibly well researched giving a detailed and seemingly faultless history of Hungary from the feudal society which existed in the Austro-Hungarian empire before the First World War through to the creation of the communist state after the Second. With a clever choice of families to follow (aristocrats, wealthy half-Jews and poor serfs) Ms Pearson has been able to look at the key points in the history of Hungary from all perspectives in a narrative which is never ‘instructive’ but flows as a good story should.

The novel is well written giving a real feel of time and place whilst gently encouraging the reader to invest in the lives of its central characters who are believable and multi-layered. You will soon find yourself loving some and feeling less sympathetic towards others – the shallow young girl who never really grows up; the aristocrat whose experiences during World War One leave him mentally scared in a way that guides his future actions; the peasant boy who can’t commit to others because of his fear of loss…

The publisher’s description of this book may give the impression of a romance novel but it is much more than that. There are love stories intertwined throughout, but that is the nature of life itself; where Csardas excels is in the subtle way in which serious topics are covered from the depravities of war to the suppression of the lower classes and horrific treatment of Jews. Essentially this is a book which charts how life and culture in a country changes due to politics and war, giving the reader a fascinating insight into a country which we all know of but know little about.

The beginning of Csardas may seem a little slow to some readers as it sets the scene within Hungary at the beginning of the twentieth century and introduces the key characters, but this is necessary as it gives a great foundation for the engrossing story which follows. This is a book which I have read a number of times and no doubt will return to again in the future.

If you like well-written epic stories based on historical fact then Csardas is for you.

Csardas is available on Amazon

You can find out about other books by Diane Pearson here

You can find more of my Recommended Reads here

Yorkshire’s forgotten battle – Marston Moor

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644. This was an important battle in English history but few people know much about it. So why was there a battle on Marston Moor? Who was fighting and what impact did this have?

The English Civil War of the 17th century pitted Parliament against the King and was one of the defining moments in the development of the United Kingdom as a parliamentary democracy. There were a number of battles and skirmishes during the two civil wars (the first with King Charles leading his forces and the second whilst he was being held prisoner by Cromwell and Parliament), the three major battles being Edgehill, Naseby and Marston Moor.

The Battle of Marston Moor, which took place in the evening of 2nd July 1644, was critical for the control of the north and is believed to have been the largest battle ever fought on English soil in terms of numbers of combatants. Surprising as it may seem for a battle of such massive proportions and such a pivotal role it only lasted for about two hours. The action took place on open fields and moorland which still exist relatively unchanged, this has enabled historians to get a very good understanding of how the battle unfolded as most of the key features of the local landscape are still there to be seen by historians and visitors alike.

Memorial to those who fell during the Battle of Marston Moor.

At the outbreak of the conflict England was divided along lines of political persuasion and religious beliefs, families were torn apart and no community was immune to the terrible divisiveness of civil war yet, on the whole, the north of England tended to side with Parliament and was a centre of opposition to King Charles in the early part of the war. The prosperous city of York was the major religious centre in the north so control there was seen as vital – whoever held York would have a distinct advantage over their enemies.

The Marquis of Newcastle led a Royalist army to York in the spring of 1644 and although he took possession of the city he soon found himself besieged there by Sir Thomas Fairfax who was leading a joint force of Parliamentary and Scottish men. King Charles was desperate to hold on to York and sent his nephew, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, to try to relieve the siege. Although young, Rupert had a reputation as a good leader in battle and so when Fairfax heard about the approach of the relief force he abandoned the siege and moved out towards Marston Moor (7 miles from York). Prince Rupert led the King’s forces into York on 1st July 1644 and, together with his command team, decided to pursue the enemy the following day. Unfortunately for Prince Rupert some of his commanders allowed their men to loot the city or take rest so his forces marched at different paces and only arrived on the moor near the village of Long Marston in dribs and drabs, disorganised and perhaps a little over confident after taking York. They arrived to find that Parliament already had control of the roads and so Rupert was forced to marshal his men on the desolate moors, setting up his front in fits and starts as his men arrived whilst the Parliamentarians were already organised in a good defensive position.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine by Anthony van Dyck

Although Rupert was at a disadvantage numerically – both sides had more or less equal cavalry forces of around 7,000, but the 20,000 combined infantry of the Scots and Parliament far outnumbered the 11,000 Royalists – he did have the advantage of protection offered by the varied geography of the moorland. The Royalists were able to position themselves amongst the numerous ditches and hedges which would impede attacks by the enemy, whether on horse or foot. Rupert felt confident that his left flank was particularly well defended in this way.

Fairfax’s Parliamentary forces occupied a low hill (barely 100 feet high) which gave them the advantage of higher ground on the flat moor and farmland, although a number of cornfields did make it difficult for him to deploy all of his forces. The Royalists tried to take advantage of this and seize a rabbit warren to the west of the fields so that they could infiltrate the Parliamentary positions, but they were forced back and Cromwell put the left wing of his cavalry there. Next to this was a very strong central force made up of more than 14,000 infantry and almost 40 artillery pieces; Sir Thomas Fairfax held the right wing with a cavalry of at least 2,000. Both cavalry wings were interspersed with musketeers and dragoons.

The Royalists were positioned on the moor, below the enemy and behind a drainage ditch which it was hoped would prevent, or at least disrupt, any cavalry charge. Like the enemy forces opposite, their wings were made up of cavalry and musketeers, the centre consisted of infantry and 14 artillery pieces, whilst Rupert held 600 cavalry in reserve behind these. As evening approached on 2nd July Rupert could hear the enemy singing psalms and presumed that they were getting ready to bed down for the night and there would be no attack before the morning. Yet, as the Royalists settled down to supper, the enemy attacked just as a thunderstorm broke over the moor.

The cavalry on the Royalists right wing was almost immediately driven back and Rupert was forced to commit his reserve of cavalry there, far earlier in the battle than he would have liked. The fighting was fierce but Cromwell eventually broke Rupert’s men and the Prince himself only avoided capture by hiding in a bean field!

There was also success for the Parlimentarians in the centre although their right wing initially had more difficulty when some of Fairfax’s forces were caught in a ditch where they were an easy target for the Royalists who forced them back. The battle ebbed and flowed chaotically for a time; at one point during the confusion of battle and the thunderstorm a number of Fairfax’s infantry believed they had been defeated and fled the field. Yet the Parliamentary centre stood firm against repeated charges by Royalist cavalry.

Oliver Cromwell

By this point it was almost dark, but the full moon was rising and it was possible to see confused men from both sides running away across the field. Taking advantage of the confusion Cromwell led his cavalry in a last charge against the tired and disorganised Royalist cavalry which eventually withdrew and retreated towards York. The final desperate stand was made by Newcastle’s ‘Whitecoats’ who fought fiercely, giving no quarter and refusing to surrender until just thirty of their number remained. In just two hours the Royalist forces had been defeated and, although a number of areas such as Bolton and Scarborough still held for the king, the north belonged to the Parliamentarians.

In the course of a battle which only lasted for two hours the Royalists lost around 4,000 men killed with an estimated 1,500 taken prisoner. In contrast the Scottish and Parliamentarian loses may have been as few as 300 killed (although some historians put this figure at over 1,000). During the battle Oliver Cromwell was able to show how a well-trained, disciplined and well-equipped army could win against the more experienced Royalists, and cemented his reputation as a great commander.

Marston Moor was a pivotal point during the English Civil War and, as such, I felt that I could not write ‘The Cavalier Historian without a description of the battle as seen through the eyes of one of my main characters, Thomas Hardwyke, a member of the Royalist cavalry and staunch supporter of Prince Rupert and the King.