The St Andrew’s Cross or Saltire is Scotland’s national flag. Tradition has it that the flag, the white saltire on a blue background, the oldest flag in Europe and the Commonwealth,  The Scottish flag is almost 500 years old, but the story of its origins pre-dates this; all the way back to biblical times. In 60 AD, Saint Andrew (later known as the Patron Saint of Scotland) was crucified. Legend has it that he felt unworthy of being crucified on a cross similar to one Jesus Christ had died on, so it was arranged he would be crucified on a diagonal cross, also known as a saltire. Some historians believe there is an alternative theory to this; that St Andrew was instead crucified by the Romans in Greece, where this diagonal cross was more commonly used. The story also has it that St Andrew commonly wore blue robes, and it was the blue robe against the white wood of the crucifix which inspired the design of the Scottish flag.

St Andrew and the Saltire

Fast-forward to over 700 years later, and to the battle that took place in the year 832AD. An army of Picts under Angus mac Fergus, High King of Alba, and aided by a contingent of Scots led by Eochaidh (Kenneth mac Alpin’s grandfather) had been on a punitive raid into Lothian (then and for long afterwards Northumbrian territory), and were being pursued by a larger force of Angles and Saxons under one Athelstan. The Albannach/Scots were caught and stood to face their pursuers in the area of Markle, near East Linton. This is to the north of the modern village of Athelstaneford (which was resited on higher ground in the 18th century), where the Peffer, which flows into the Firth of Forth at Aberlady, forms a wide vale. Being then wholly undrained, the Peffer presented a major obstacle to crossing, and the two armies came together at the ford near the present day farm of Prora (one of the field names there is still the Bloody Lands. Fearing the outcome of the encounter, King Angus led prayers for deliverance, and was rewarded by seeing a cloud formation of a white saltire (the diagonal cross on which St Andrew had been martyred) against a blue sky. The king vowed that if, with the saint’s help, he gained the victory, then Andrew would thereafter be the patron saint of Scotland. The Scots did win, and the Saltire became the flag of Scotland. When Kenneth mac Alpin, who may have been present with his grandfather at the battle, later united Picts and Scots and named the entity Scotland, Andrew did indeed become the patron saint of the united realm. The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath cites Scotland’s conversion to Christianity by Andrew, “the first to be an Apostle”. Depiction of the saint being crucified on a decussate cross was seen on seals in Scotland from 1180 onwards and was used on a seal of the Guardians of Scotland, dated 1286. Bishop William de Lamberton (r. 1297–1328) also used the crucified figure of the saint in his seal. The saltire (decussate cross, diagonal cross) was used as a field sign in the medieval period without any connection to Saint Andrew. The connection between the field sign and the legendary mode of crucifixion of the saint may originate in Scotland, in the late 14th century. The Parliament of Scotland decreed in 1385 that every Scottish and French soldier (fighting against the English under Richard II) “shall have a sign before and behind, namely a white St. Andrew’s Cross”  James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Douglas at the Battle of Otterburn (1388) reportedly used a pennon with a saltire at the hoist. Similarly, white saltire was shown in the canton of the “Blue Blanket of the Trades of Edinburgh”, reputedly made by Queen Margaret, wife of James III (1451–1488).

 This is the flag of the Incorporated Trades of Edinburgh, and the focal point of the Riding of the Marches ceremony held in the city each year. Use of the flag is first recorded with the illustration of a heraldic flag in Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount’s Register of Scottish Arms, c. 1542. It is possible that this is based on a precedent of the late 15th century, the use of a white saltire in the canton of a blue flag reputedly made by Queen Margaret, wife of James III (1451–1488 The heraldic term for an X-shaped cross is a ‘saltire from the French word saultoir or salteur  a word for both a type of stile constructed from two cross pieces and a type of cross-shaped stirrup- cord. Throughout the history of fabric production natural dyes would have been used to apply a form of colour, with dyes from plants including indigo from woad, having dozens of compounds whose proportions may vary according to soil type and climate; therefore giving rise to variations in shade. In the case of the Saltire, variations in shades of blue have resulted in the background of the flag ranging from sky blue to navy blue. When incorporated as part of the Union Flag during the 17th century, the dark blue applied to Union Flags destined for maritime use was possibly selected on the basis of the durability of darker dyes, with this dark blue shade eventually becoming standard on Union Flags both at sea and on land. Some flag manufacturers selected the same navy blue colour trend of the Union Flag for the Saltire itself, leading to a variety of shades of blue being depicted on the flag of Scotland. These variations in shade eventually led to calls to standardise the colour of Scotland’s national flag, and in 2003 a committee of the Scottish Parliament met to examine a petition that the Scottish Executive should adopt the Pantone 300 colour as a standard  Having taken advice from a number of sources, including the office of the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the committee recommended that the optimum shade of blue for the Saltire be Pantone 300.

Recent versions of the Saltire have therefore largely converged on this official recommendation. The flag proportions are not fixed but 3:5 is most commonly used, as with other flags of the countries of the United Kingdom  Lord Lyon King of Arms states that 5:4 is suitable. The ratio of the width of the bars of the saltire in relation to the width of the field is specified in heraldry in relation to shield width rather than flag width. However, this ratio, though not rigid, is specified as one-third to one-fifth of the width of the field. T he Saltire is one of the key components of the Union Flag which, since its creation in 1606, has appeared in various forms following the Flag of Scotland and Flag of England first being merged to mark the Union of the Crowns an event occurred in 1603 when James VI, King of Scots, acceded to the thrones of both England and Ireland upon the death of Elizabeth I of England. The proclamation by King James, made on 12 April 1606, which led to the creation of the Union Flag states :-

By the King: Whereas, some differences hath arisen between Our subjects of South and North Britaine travelling by Seas, about the bearing of their Flagges: For the avoiding of all contentions hereafter. We have, with the advice of our Council, ordered: That from henceforth all our Subjects of this Isle and Kingdome of Great Britaine, and all our members thereof, shall beare in their main-toppe the Red Crosse, commonly called St. George’s Crosse, and the White Crosse, commonly called St. Andrew’s Crosse, joyned together according to the forme made by our heralds, and sent by Us to our Admerall to be published to our Subjects: and in their fore-toppe our Subjects of South Britaine shall weare the Red Crosse onely as they were wont, and our Subjects of North Britaine in their fore-toppe the White Crosse onely as they were accustomed. – 1606.

— Proclamation of James VI, King of Scots: Orders in Council – 12 April 1606

However, in objecting strongly to the form and pattern of Union Flag designed by the College of Arms and approved by King James, whereby the cross of Saint George surmounted that of Saint Andrew, regarded in Scotland as a huge slight upon the Scottish nation, a very great number of shipmasters and ship-owners in Scotland then took up the matter with John Erskine, 19th Earl of Mar, and encouraged him to send a letter of complaint, dated 7 August 1606, to James VI, via the Privy Council of Scotland, stating :-

Most sacred Soverayne. A greate nomber of the maisteris and awnaris of the schippis of this your Majesteis kingdome hes verie havelie compleint to your Majesteis Counsell that the form and patrone of the flaggis of schippis, send doun heir and commandit to be ressavit and used be the subjectis of boith kingdomes, is very prejudiciall to the fredome and dignitie of this Estate and will gif occasioun of reprotche to this natioun quhairevir the said flage sal happin to be worne beyond sea becaus, as your sacred majestie may persave, the Scottis Croce, callit Sanctandrois Croce is twyse divydit, and the Inglishe Croce, callit Sanct George, haldin haill and drawne through the Scottis Croce, whiche is thairby obscurit and no takin nor merk to be seen of the Scottis Armes. This will breid some heit and miscontentment betwix your Majesteis subjectis, and it is to be ferit that some inconvenientis sall fall out betwix thame, for oure seyfairing men cannot be inducit to ressave that flag as it is set doun. They haif drawne two new drauchtis and patronis as most indifferent for boith kingdomes which they present to the Counsell, and craved our approbatioun of the same; bot we haif reserved that to you Majesteis princelie determination.

— Letter from the Privy Council of Scotland to James VI, King of Scots – 7 August 1606

Despite the drawings described in this letter as showing drafts of the two new patterns, together with any royal response to the complaint which may have accompanied them, having been lost, (possibly in the 1834 Burning of Parliament), other evidence exists, at least on paper, of a Scottish variant whereby the Scottish cross appears uppermost. Whilst, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, this design is considered by most vexillologists to have been unofficial, there is reason to believe that such flags were employed during the 17th century for use on Scottish vessels at sea  On 17 April 1707, just two weeks prior to the Acts of Union coming into effect, Sir Henry St George, Garter King of Arms, presented several designs to Queen Anne and her Privy Council for consideration as the flag of the soon to be unified Kingdom of Great Britain. At the request of the Scots representatives, the designs for consideration included that version of Union Flag showing the Cross of Saint Andrew uppermost; identified as being the “Scots union flagg as said to be used by the Scots” However, Queen Anne and her Privy Council approved Sir Henry’s original effort showing the Cross of Saint George uppermost. From 1801, in order to symbolise the union of the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland a new design, which included the St Patrick’s Cross, was adopted for the flag of the United Kingdom. Despite its unofficial and historic status the Scottish Union Flag continues to be produced by flag manufacturers and its unofficial use by private citizens on land has been observed. In 2006 historian David R. Ross called for Scotland to once again adopt this design in order to “reflect separate national identities across the UK”. However, the 1801 design of the Union Flag remains the official flag of the entire United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Its possible to sponsor our Saltire so if you have a mind to keep the Flag flying

Fact or Fiction

The Scottish Government has ruled that the Saltire should, where possible, fly on all its buildings every day from 8am until sunset. An exception is made for United Kingdom “national days”, when on buildings where only one flagpole is present the Saltire shall be lowered and replaced with the Union Flag. Such flag days are standard throughout the United Kingdom, with the exception of Merchant Navy Day (3 September) which is a specific flag day in Scotland during which the Red Ensign of the Merchant Navy may be flown on land in place of either the Saltire or Union Flag..

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. Combat and transport vehicles of these Army units may be adorned with a small, representation of the Saltire; such decals being displayed on the front and/or rear of the vehicle (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, plus those killed in operations in Afghanistan, have also been seen to include the Saltire being draped over the coffin of the deceased on such occasions

Immediately prior to, and following, the merger in March 2006 of Scotland’s historic infantry regiments to form a single Royal Regiment of Scotland, a multi-million-pound advertising campaign was launched in Scotland in an attempt to attract recruits to join the reorganised and simultaneously rebranded “Scottish Infantry”. The recruitment campaign employed the Saltire in the form of a logo; the words “Scottish Infantry. Forward As One.” being placed next to a stylised image of the Saltire The flag of the Church of Scotland is the flag of Scotland defaced with the burning bush.

In Scotland, the Saltire can be flown at any time by any individual, company, local authority, hospital or school without obtaining express consent. Many local authorities in Scotland fly the Saltire from Council Buildings. However, in 2007 Angus Council approved a proposal to replace the Saltire on Council Buildings with a new Angus flag, based on the council’s coat of arms. This move led to public outcry across Scotland with more than 7,000 people signing a petition opposing the council’s move, leading to a compromise whereby the Angus flag would not replace but be flown alongside the Saltire on council buildings

The Royal Standard of Scotland, also known as the Banner of the King of Scots or more commonly the Lion Rampant of Scotland, is the Scottish Royal Banner of Arms. Used historically by the King of Scots, the Royal Standard of Scotland differs from Scotland’s national flag, the Saltire, in that its correct use is restricted by an Act of the Parliament of Scotland to only a few Great Officers of State who officially represent The Sovereign in Scotland However, a 1934 Royal Warrant for George V’s silver jubilee which authorised waving of hand-held versions continues to be relied upon by fans at sports events and other public occasions It is also used in an official capacity at Royal residences in Scotland when the Sovereign is not present

The original church in Athelstaneford was built in 1176 by Ada, wife of Henry Prince of Scotland, and mother of William the Lion. The memorial to the battle  is located at the south east corner of the churchyard. Built in 1965 and restored in 1993, it consists of a battlescene carved in granite within a concrete plinth. The main panel shows the two armed hosts facing each other, the one about to claim victory, the other already accepting defeat, under the sign in the sky of the St Andrew’s Cross. Attached to the Memorial is a tall flagpole on which a Saltire is flown permanently, even during the hours of darkness when it is floodlit, as a reminder of the Flag’s origin

There are two flagpoles at the Athelstaneford site on which Saltires are flown permanently one at the Saltire Memorial close to Main Street on which a 5ft x 4ft Saltire is flown and floodlit at night, and one at the viewpoint next to the Heritage Centre on which a “skinny” 8ft long vimpel Saltire is flown. When these flags begin to show signs of wear and tear, they are replaced. Depending on the weather, flags can last for about 6 months.

Another version of the same story comes from a Latin history of Scotland, The Scotichronicon, written in the 1440s by Walter Bower. This has the key player the Pictish King Unust, who was fighting the Northumbrians: the story is otherwise the same. This would date the origin of the Saltire back as far as 761

There is an anomaly in the Scottish Saltire flag as the blue commonly used is of a lighter shade than the Pantone 280 of the Union Flag