Pages

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

STARS AND STRIPES | Scotland's Influence (Updated Jan. 18, 2016)

The U.S. Stars and Stripes and the
Scottish saltire of St Andrew.
Scotland's example and descendants played a crucial role in the independence from Britain of the American colonies.

How this evolved can be told through five stories associated with the Scottish flag. The first three of these stories are well known by vexillologists. The fourth and fifth stories and their implications represent my own contribution to explaining the origins of the Stars and Stripes.

St Andrew is martyred
in Greece. X=Ch[rist]
1. Why Is the Scottish Flag a White Cross on a Blue Background?

Scotland's flag is the cross of St Andrew, a white-on-blue saltire (i.e., a white X on a blue background).

St Andrew was the first Apostle and brother of Peter, who preached the Christian message in Scotland. By legend, he was crucified at his own request on a diagonal cross in Greece. Two explanations are offered: (1) The Greek letter Chi (X) represents the first letter of Christ's name; (2) St Andrew out of humility did not want to be crucified on the same kind of cross as Christ.

In AD 832, King Óengus II of Scotland had a dream the night before a battle, while encamped with his army of Picts and Scots facing the Angles under Æthelstan. St Andrew appeared promising victory to the Scots if Óengus promised to make Andrew patron saint of Scotland. The next morning, a white X cloud covered the blue sky. Awed, Óengus made his promise... and the Scots won the day.

Spooky! St Andrew's Cross over Sebastian, Fla. Photo by
JT Marlin on the Indian River.
So what do you make of the fact that the same day I wrote the previous paragraph I see a white "X" in the sky over Sebastian, Fla. (check out the photo)?

The town is named after another martyr who is usually depicted as being killed by arrows but actually survived this execution and was then clubbed to death at the order of the Roman emperor Diocletian.

The Scottish flag symbolizes what Óengus saw in the sky in 832, namely the white X cloud on a blue sky.

Keep that in mind as we continue this thread in the direction of understanding what is behind the Stars and Stripes.

2. The First Union Jack, 1707

English flag – St George's cross.
The original English flag was the cross of St George, patron saint of England–a red cross on a white background (much like the Swiss flag of today).  The origins of the flag are said to be the crusaders' flag, the first crusades having begun in the 11th century.

The flags of St George and St Andrew were combined in 1707 when Scotland was formally united with England (for 22 years, 1603-1625, England and Scotland had been only temporarily united under James I of England, aka James VI of Scotland). The official British Parliamentary history says that the 1706 deal traded a promise from Scotland to accept the Hanoverian dynasty when Queen Anne died in return for England's promise that Scotland would get access to colonial markets.

Combined crosses of Sts George and
Andrew; the original Union Jack. 
(This deal would be reversed by a vote on September 18 for Scotland's independence. Today the debate is more about the powers of the Scottish and British Parliaments than about royal succession, but the economic concessions to Scotland remain on the table.)

The Union Jack of 1707 is not the same as the one we know today, because it is lacks the red St Patrick's saltire, which was added in 1801, after the American Revolution.

3. The East India Company Flag


The "Cambridge Flag", identical to the
East India and Grand Union Flag, 1775.
Before 1707, the St George's flag was in the canton (upper left corner) of the East India Company flag and other colonial flags. The East India Company flag had seven red stripes and six white stripes, as noted in a 1937 exegesis by Sir Charles Fawcett.

The flag that was first raised to represent the 13 colonies in December 1775 had the Union Jack of the time in the canton. The rest of the flag was devoted to the 13 stripes that remain today, identical to the East India Company flag. Evidence for this includes six paintings from about 1732–numbers 36, 37, 40, 45, 46 and 48 in the Military Committee Room, #197, at the India Office in London. These sources are in the article by Fawcett.

The Red Ensign.
The East India Company flag could have been readily created by sewing white stripes on the more widely available Red Ensign. The flag was displayed in the American War of Independence as a symbol of the union of the 13 colonies. Since it included the Union Jack, it was not a symbol of rebellion against the Crown. It was flown by Lieutenant Paul Jones on the Alfred, the flagship of the Congress Navy, on December 3, 1775. On January 1 or 2, 1776 General George Washington raised this flag upon assuming command of the united forces of the 13 colonies at Cambridge, Mass. (hence it is called the "Cambridge Flag").

4. Scottish Influence on the Declaration of Independence

Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. This Declaration is modeled on the 1320 Scottish Declaration of Independence, during the time of King Robert the Bruce. It was a letter to Pope John XXII from the Abbot of Arbroath Abbey, supported by 39 nobles, with the seals of at least that many. It asserted Scotland's position as an independent kingdom against the Pope's recognition in 1305 of the claim of Edward I to rule over of Scotland, based on the idea  that independence was the prerogative of the Scottish people:
[F]or, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honors that we are fighting, but for freedom. (Translation from the Latin by Sir James Fergusson.)
It justified the rejection of King John in whose name William ("Braveheart") Wallace and others  rebelled in 1297. A contract between King and people was an explanation why Scotland did not accept rule by John de Balliol, whom the Pope favored. The Pope temporarily accepted the Arbroath request, doubtless hoping for Scottish knights'  supporting another Crusade. The Pope asked Edward II to make peace with the Scots.

Douglas (L) and Moray coats of arms.
The Good Sir James Douglas was
called "Black Douglas" in England. 
Edward II refused, and attacked Scotland multiple times, being again repulsed with heavy losses by armies led by the Good Sir James Douglas and Thomas Randolph, 1st Earl of Moray, who with his son Andrew, the 2nd Earl, supported King Robert the Bruce against Edward I and Edward II. They engaged in a "secret war"–i.e., a guerrilla war against numerically superior English troops. I have not been able to find any explanation for the use of the stars in the shields of the Douglas and Moray families, but it could refer to the "secret war" and the fact that they operated under the cover of darkness. In Scottish heraldry, stars are stars; they do not have to be"mullets", i.e., spur-revels on the heel of a knight.

Thanks to the secret warfare, Scotland prevailed against Edward II. After he died regents for young Edward III in his name renounced English claims to Scotland, via the treaty of 1328.

The military prowess of Douglas and Moray would have been known to many Americans. At least one-third of the signers of the American Declaration of Independence were of Scottish origin. The American Constitution was subsequently written, largely by people of Scots ancestry, and was modeled on the constitution of the Scottish Kirk (the Presbyterian Church).

Coat of arms of the Coldstream Guards,
southeast Scotland. Note stars on azure (blue)
and vert (green). Motto: "Second to None." 
George Washington's ancestors came from a part of England that is just south of the Scottish border, and when Washington was a Colonel in the French and Indian wars, he served under Scottish General Edward Braddock.

As Gen. Braddock was dying after the costly but tide-turning battle for Fort Duquesne (in the area that is now Pittsburgh), he gave his red sash to Col. Washington, the only senior officer who survived the battle. Washington proudly wore Braddock's sash in portraits  of him that were painted long after the Revolutionary War.

George Washington would also have been aware of the white stars on blue and green fields of Scotland's Coldstream Guards because General Braddock was a Coldstreamer.

5. The New American Flag, 1776

Washington shield (L) with red stars and stripes and the
U.S. Stars (white on blue) and Stripes shield at Sulgrave
Manor, Oxfordshire, UK.
After declaring their independence, the American colonies were now states in a new nation at war with George III.

The red stripes were fine, and the fact that there were 13 worked well with the fact that there were 13 colonies. All Congress had to do was change the canton.

Gen. George Washington presented a new flag to the Congress, substituting 13 white stars on a blue background for the Union Jack. So the   Stars and Stripes flag was created by resolution of June 14, 1777. Washington explained to Congress that the white stars represented "a new constellation".

Where did the stars come from? I believe fans of Scotland and of George Washington played a big part. The stars appear to have originated on the Scottish side of the border, as the shields of the Douglas and Moray families, who were most responsible for Robert the Bruce's military victories, the men who were innovators of the "secret [guerrilla] war"–Douglas and Moray. Both have white stars on a blue background (azure, stars argent in Scottish heraldic language). The blue likely came from the blue in the St. Andrew's saltire, which in turn represents the sky in Óengus's vision of the St. Andrew's cross.

Washington's ancestors were from near Durham, just 100 miles south of
Edinburgh. His family's coat of arms appears in a stained glass window in
the chapel of Selby Abbey. Changing the blue of the Douglas and Moray
arms to red would Anglicize the Scottish arms while honoring Douglas.

What role did George Washington's ancestral coat of arms, which were three red stars (or mullets) "in chief" above two white and two red stripes,  play in the decision to use the stars? In a late-19th century play, the character of Benjamin Franklin says that Washington's supporters (not Washington himself) advocated using stars along with the stripes in honor of Washington.  Washington's ancestors were from Durham, in northern England on the border with Scotland–just 100 miles from Edinburgh.

The origin of the five-pointed red stars in the Washington coat of arms seems to be the historic Battle of Crécy (August 26, 1346), in Normandy.

The battle of Crécy was one of the most decisive battles in world history. Edward brought with him 10,000 longbowmen, who outnumbered and outclassed the 4,000 Genoese crossbowmen brought by Philip VI of France. At the end of the battle, Edward III counted only 100 deaths out of his army of 14,000. Philip lost 1,500 knights and esquires; in all, one-third of his army. Edward continued his victorious march to Calais, which surrendered the following year. From this date, England became a world power equal to France and the knight became of decreasing importance in battle.

Records suggest that Edward III in 1346 awarded arms with three red stars and stripes (gules mullets and bars in English heraldry) to Washington ancestor Sir William De Wessyngton (or De Wessington), at the same time as the king awarded his son Edward (the "Black Prince") his knight's spurs. By that time, Scotland was no longer at war with England and it would not have been surprising for Edward III to acknowledge the battle skills of the Scottish soldiers who were now part of his army by awarding an officer from Durham a red (for the cross of St. George) version of the Douglas arms.

It was a small step in 1776 to put 13 white-on-blue stars in the canton of the Grand Union Flag, to pay homage to General George Washington and generate the Stars and Stripes. Forever.

Formally, the stars were proposed by General Washington to the Congress as signifying "a new constellation". But they also were reminders to the colonies of Scotland's history of both unity and independence:
  • unity in 1775 through the combination of the St. Andrew's saltire with the St. George's cross nearly 70 years before. Unity among themselves is what the colonists were seeking in 1775. 
  • independence in 1777 because the stars were reminders of the long wars of independence by gallant and resourceful Scots.