The Red Ensign
Under the red ensign, many of England’s greatest admirals won the victories which made the island kingdom mistress of the seas.
The famous Meteor Flag of England was a modification of the King’s Colors, is a red ensign with the device of the crosses in the canton. The phrase,
“The Meteor Flag of England” has been a difficult one to explain for the flag does not in any way suggest a celestial meteor.
Far more appropriately could the term be applied to the Stars and Stripes,
for in it we have the cluster of stars at the head, on a blue background, followed by the streaming bands that in imagination can be likened to a meteor sweeping across the heavens.
In fact, Oliver Wendell Holmes speaks of the American flag as “that meteor
of the ocean air.” The phrase, however, has never been generally used in our country.
In the poem “Ye Mariners of England” by T. Campbell, written in 1801, reference is made to the “meteor flag of England” and it may, therefore, be assumed that this expression was first used and applied to the red ensign of the mother country.
This is the famous “meteor flag of Old England,” and until the union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland under one parliament, in 1707, it was the ensign of the English colonies in America. It was especially dear to the New England colonists, who cherished its brave traditions as their own.
Brief History of the Meteor Flag
In 1603 under James I, formerly James VI of Scotland, England and Scotland were united, and St. George’s Cross was later joined with the Cross of St. Andrew of Scotland to form what was called the King’s Colors.
The Cross of St. Andrew is a blue flag with a diagonal white cross extending from corner to corner. The combination of the banners of England and Scotland formed, therefore, a blue flag with a rectangular red cross and a diagonal white cross, the red showing entirely and the white being interrupted by it.
England and Scotland retained their individual flags for many purposes, and it is probable that the Mayflower on that memorable journey in 1620 bore the Cross of St. George at her masthead, for she was an English ship.
After King Charles I was beheaded in 1649, a partnership between England and Scotland was dissolved, and the national standard of England became again St. George’s cross.
In 1660, when Charles II ascended the throne, the King’s Colors again came into use. In 1707, when the complete union of the kingdom of Great Britain, including England, Scotland and Wales was established.
Great Britain adopted for herself and her colonies a red ensign also know as Meteor Flag with the symbol of the union of England and Scotland in the canton. This “Meteor Flag of England,” as it was sometimes called, continued to be the national standard until 1801, when the cross of St. Patrick, a red diagonal saltire on a white ground, was united with the other crosses to mark the addition of Ireland to the United Kingdom. This combination has formed the union in the flag of the kingdom of Great Britain Meteor Flag of England and Ireland down to the present day. The complete development of the British flag is shown on the preceding link, the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew at the top with their combination in the King’s Colors immediately beneath, followed by the cross of St. Patrick and the present Union Jack of England.
We are not concerned directly with the present British flag, however, because our American flag was established earlier.