The Story of Scotland's Flag


The Beginnings of the Flag

Although the saltire was Scotland's special sign, there was still no flag. Flags had not yet been invented, but there was a need for something like a flag. Often there was fighting between Scotland and England. Men needed to be able to tell who was a friend and who was an enemy. If they were separated from their group, they needed to see where the others were. Each king or captain had his own badge, and his followers looked out for it and often wore it themselves. The same badge, embroidered on a pennant or banner, might be attached to a long Battle Scenespear and held up above the heads of the soldiers. Or it might be set in the ground in order to provide a rallying point for soldiers who might otherwise spread out and lose themselves in a battle. From this eventually came the flagpole.
One of the many battles happened in 1138 and was called the Battle of the Standard. Some people think that the Scottish king, David the First, used a lion as his personal sign for the first time here. Later in the same century, the Scottish king was called William, and after his death he was called William the Lion. You will find out more about the Scottish lion later. But we do not know what sign was on William's standard.

When King Robert the First defeated the English army at Bannockburn in 1314, there was still no saltire flag, but undoubtedly many Saint Andrew's Crosses were embroidered on the tunics of his men, not only to proclaim thier loyalty but also in the hope that the saint would ensure their safety in the fight. In the fourteenth century, Scottish soldiers had a white saltire on the front and back of their tunics. There is a very old flag in the National Museum of Scotland, called the Douglas Standard. It was said to have been used at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388. It was the personal flag of the Scottish Earl of Douglas, and it was green, with a saltire cross. Otterburn was a famous battle between the Douglases and the English Percy family from Nothumberland. It was won by the Scots, though Douglas himself died in the fight.
It was probably sailors, with their skill in sewing and working with canvas, who first made the kind of flag that can be hoisted on a rope and pulled down again.
By this time, the cross of Saint Andrew was already used in many different ways to represent the kingdom of Scotland. It was used on coins (King David the First in the thirteenth century introduced the first Scottish coins). The saltire was already the symbol of the Scottish nation, and when national flags became used, during the fifteenth century, the saltire was the obvious and natural thing to show it on.
The colours, silver on blue, take us back to the story of King Angus's dream, when he saw Saint Andrew bearing a silver cross against the blue of the sky.

How then did St Andrew become Scotland's Saint?

After Andrew's death, his body was taken away by his fellow Christians and buried. Because he had been an Apostle his fame was vey great, and people wanted to visit the place where he was buried. Andrew's grave was in Greece, in a place called Patrae. Then, nearly four hundred years after his death, the Emperor Constantius decided that a little place like Patrae was not suitable for keeping the remains of such a great saint as Andrew. He ordered that the bones of the saint be brought to his capital, Constantinople, the greatest city in the world at that time.
The keeper of the saint's remains was a man called Regulus who had a strange dream in which he was visited by an angel. The angel told him that the bones of Saint Andrew should be taken, not to Constantinople, but to a far away country at the edge of the world. Regulus should take them there and build a church. Regulus obeyed the angel rather than the Emperor. He travelled across Europe, with the remains of Saint Andrew kept in a chest. It was a long, difficult journey. At last he came to the east coast of Caledonia. There, at a place called Muckros, he and his companions landed and set up his church. Beneath the altar, it is said, he buried the chest containing the bones of the Apostle. As the years went by, the name of the place was changed. Regulus himself had been named as a saint, and Muckros became known as Kilrymont - the hill of the church of Regulus. Later still, the fame of the greater saint overtook that of Regulus, and the place became known as Saint Andrews. Where his little church, made of wood, mud and turf, had been, a splendid stone cathedral was built. You can still see the ancient tower called Saint Rule's Tower (Rule is English for Regulus) beside the now ruined catherdral in Saint Andrews.
It was a proud and very unusual boast for a small country on the edge of Europe to claim that it was the last resting place of one of the Twelve Apostles. Perhaps it was not surprising that the people in Scotland should feel that Saint Andrew was very close to them. In fact, at that time Scotland was not a single country but divided into four separate kingdoms. One of these kingdoms was Pictland, and in the year 761, the Picts were fighting the Anglo Saxons, who lived in the north of England (England was also divided into several kingdoms at that time). The two armies were very near each other when King Angus of the Picts had a dream. He saw Saint Andrew appear to him, bearing his saltire cross.
The battle took place on the following day, near the village in East Lothian called Athelstanefors, and the Picts won a great victory. From then on, the saltire was taken as the badge of the Picts, and they adopted Andrew as their protecting saint. Even when the Pictish kingdom ended and Scotland became a single country, the fame of Saint Andrew was such that he became the patron saint of the whole country.
That is the story. Of course it was not written down until much later, and it is not the kind of story that can be proved. But there were other saints who might have become the patron saint of Scotland, like Saint Columba, who set up the famous abbey on the island of Iona and taught Christianity to the Picts. The story of Saint Regulus and Saint Andrew must have seemed very real to the Scottish people for them to choose Andrew rather than Columba as their protector.


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