Jersey flag

THE JERSEY flag is as much a mystery as it is a cause for debate and disagreement. Once referred to by an Island historian as 'the so-called Jersey flag' because he believed Islanders had cribbed it from 19th-century atlases, it is still the subject of many unanswered questions.

000448-1.jpgIn its current form, the flag could be seen as a compromise, combining the traditional diagonal red cross with the crest of the bailiwick, topped off with a crown. It was first flown in this form in 1981.

The States first put the notion of this revised flag forward in 1976. Until then, it had simply been recognised as a red diagonal cross on a white background. And it is this red saltire on a white backdrop - in heraldic language, 'argent, saltire gules' - that raises the first of many questions.

How and when the Jersey flag was first used is not known. It is thought that the Island developed its own flag during the period of neutrality in the Channel Islands during the wars between England and France which began in 1483. It is not known what the flag looked like because no early paintings of ships show it.

There are many theories surrounding how the flag first took shape. One such theory is that the red saltire is that of the Irish flag of St Patrick as incorporated in the Union Jack. Others believe it to be a red St Andrew's cross, first adopted as the Scottish emblem by King Achaius who died in AD 819.

Or it could be the cross of St George, who became the patron saint of England in 1277 and had his cross emblazoned on the braces of the English archers engaged in the wars with the Welsh during the reign of Edward I.

000448-2.jpgMajor N Rybot, who was president of the Societe Jersiaise from 1943 to 1945, believed it to have an altogether different background. It was the Major who referred to it as 'the so-called Jersey flag' in an article published in the Mariner's Mirror in 1951.

He believed that the Island had plagiarised flag atlases published in the 19th century and derived it from a comparison of illustrations taken from flag charts produced by Dutch cartographers.

The Major's argument centred around charts which show a red saltire on a white background attributed to Ierse. This was taken to mean Jersey.

In an attempt to end the confusion, discussions concerning a revised flag began in 1976. At the time, many Islanders felt it should have been left as it was. One man who believed so was Capt John Tessier-Yandell, who spent a year researching the flag before making his defence of the standing design in the Jersey Evening Post on 25 January 1978.

He said: 'It would appear that the claim that the red St Andrew's cross is the flag of the Island of Jersey has greater validity than had been previously supposed.

It would be a pity to cast all this away - let us keep it as it is and as, I think, it always has been.' But this was to no avail and the new flag was agreed to by the Queen in 1981, placing the arms of Jersey above the cross and surmounted them with a medieval crown.

So today's flag incorporates the Island's seal granted by Edward I in 1279. It shows three creatures traditionally known as leopards, although sometimes depicted as lions.

When putting up a Jersey flag, the leopards must face towards the flagpole. That way, the animals are going forward into battle with you as opposed to running from the field.

This article first appeared in the Jersey Evening Post as part of the Pride in Jersey series, marking the Island's 1204-2004 celebrations.