The Scots took great pride in their flag. Other countries, like Denmark and Sweden as well as England, had crosses on their flags, but the Scots knew that theirs was not only one of the oldest but also the most powerful. They believed that their flag put them under the special care of Saint Andrew. And it was theirs, the flag of the Scottish people. It flew from the masts of their ships, like Sir Andrew Barton's The Lion. Flying above the castles of Edinburgh and Stirling, the flag told the visitor, "You are in Scotland".
When the young Mary Queen of Scots returned from France to rule as queen of Scotland in 1561, it was the saltire flag that greeted her on a misty morning at Leith harbour. At that time, the Scots were changing in the way they thought about God and the church. They set up their own church, which disapproved of prayers to saints, and they broke up the holy pictures and statues in churches. The great cathedral built in honour of Saint Andrew was attacked and ruined. But the saltire cross still flew. Even though it was the sign of a saint, it had also become the sign of the nation, and no one tried to stop it being used.
In 1603, the King James the Sixth of Scotland also became the King James the First of England and went to live in London. Although Scotland and England remained separate, he was keen to turn them into a single country, and he asked for a flag to be designed that combined the crosses of Saint Andrew and Saint George. The Scots were not at all pleased about this. They did not want to lose their own flag, and the fact that the red cross of Saint George was laid on top of the silver cross of Saint Andrew made them angry. The Scottish parliament complained to the king and the Saint Andrew's cross continued to fly in Scotland.
In the seventeenth century, the Scots joined with the English parliament to fight against King Charles the First. They were called Covenanters, and they did not believe in saints. They would have been shocked at the thought that they needed the protection of a saint, but they carried the flag of Saint Andrew far into England. It stood above their camps and it led them into battle. To many people it became known as the Covenanters flag. About a hundred years later, when the flag of the United States was designed, its blue background was taken from the Scottish flag - "taken from the Covenanters banner in Scotland" wrote an American writer.
In the year 1707, Scotland and England finally joined together to become the United Kingdom. A new Union flag was designed, the first form of the "Union Flag" which is still the British flag. This flag has three crosses - the blue and white saltire of Saint Andrew, the red and white cross of Saint George, and the red and white saltire of Saint Patrick. It was ordered that the Union flag "be used in all flag banners, standards and ensigns both at sea and land". Official buildings, like Edinburgh Castle, now hoist the Union flag in place of the Scottish saltire. But the saltire was not forgotten. There were people in Scotland who did not want to be united with England. There were others who did not like the fact that the London parliament had brought in the German Prince George of Hanover to be king. They wanted the king to come from the Stuart family, who had been kings of Scotland and of England until King James the Second had been forced to give up the throne in 1688. They still saw Saint Andrew's Cross as the true flag of Scotland. The supporters of the Stuarts were called Jacobites (meaning "the people of James"), and they carried the saltire of Scotland but with a cross of gold, not white, as blue and gold were the Stuart colours. In this way, at battles like Culloden, the last battle fought on British soil (1746), the cross of Saint Andrew was carried by both sides. Scots fought alongside English and German troops for King George against other Scots who fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie for the Stuarts.
Scotland's cross can also be found in the flags of two Canadian provinces, both of which have many people of Scottish descent - Nova Scotia ( the name means New Scotland) and Newfoundland. In their case, the colours are reversed, with a blue cross on a white background.
Today the Scottish flag is on show more than ever before. It can be seen in hundreds of places throughout the country, from ancient buildings like Blair Castle to modern schools and offices and it flies above the Scottish parliament. But Athelstaneford, where it is still hoisted daily to remind us of King Angus and his dream, and his battle all those centuries ago