Last modified: 2006-06-17 by rob raeside
Keywords: orkney islands | scotland | united kingdom | cross: scandinavian |
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by Vincent Morley
The unofficial flag of the Orkneys was mentioned to me in general terms by a Scottish visitor to one of the FOTW web sites. I have found some more details about it in NAVA News, November-December 1995, in a little piece by Bill Cogswell called "Flag of the Orkney Islands". The flag - with the nickname Cross of St Magnus - has a yellow field with a red Nordic cross (proportions unknown). St Magnus was Earl of Orkney from about 1080 and was killed by his co-ruler Hakon Palsson in 1115. He was declared a saint in 1135. Inspiration for the flag came from the unofficial flag of Shetland, which is a white Nordic cross on blue, and of course other Nordic flags. The colours are those of the Scottish royal banner and the arms of Norway.
Jan Oskar Engene, 20 February 1998
The flag of the Orkneys was in fact a joint suggestion by the late Allan Macartney (1941-98), who later became the Member of the European Parliament for the Highlands and Islands, and myself. We first thought of it not long after the Shetland flag was invented, about 1970. Our basis was that red and yellow are the colours of the royal arms of both Scotland and Norway, thus reflecting the islands' dual heritage. But it was not until 1994 (I think) that Allan persuaded the Orcadians to take it up and manufacture some. I have not been to Orkney since then and I do not know what success it has had.
Kenneth Campbell Fraser, 23 November 1998
Judging from the note in NAVA News, the flag has left the drawing board and sticker stage and is actually sold for local use but I am not sure how widespread the use is. The main source of the note was a discussion the note's author had with an Orkney business that sold the flag.
I can also add that a visitor to the FOTW site gave me some feedback in which he told me the Orkney flag is used on fishing boats in the islands.
Jan Oskar Engene, 20 February 1998
by Chris Pinette
This flag is probably unofficial.
Jon Scot, 19 March 2002
The 'lion rampant holding an axe' is not simply a lion but the Royal Arms of
Wolfgang Schlick, 1 May 2006
The lion is different from the arms of Norway only in two notable respects:
It is crowned by a closed crown and the blade of the axe is gold. In the arms of
Norway the crown is open and the blade of the axe is silver. Also, in the Orkney
arms the lion has a blue tongue and claws. These are gold in the coat of arms of
Norway. Nevertheless, it is the lion of Norway and one might wonder whether in
1931 Lord Lyon asked permission from Norway to use its national coat of arms.
Jan Oskar Engene, 8 May 2006
While it is not impossible that the then Lord Lyon did correspond with Oslo in 1930-31, there was no need for him to have done so. This is firstly because the arms granted to Orkney are not the arms of Norway. They contain the arms of Norway in part of the field (the sinister half, as I read the flag), but the composition as a whole is a different device. The differences in detail between the Orkney lion and that of Norway are questioned, but this is entirely routine in instances where different heraldic authorities deal with what is essentially the same device. Although the Orkney lion is drawn differently, has a different crown, has a blue tongue and blue claws and holds an axe where the colouring is different in detail, it is still a gold lion, rampant and crowned, on red, holding an axe - in other words, still the lion of Norway.
For an entirely distinct example I offer the arms of marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla (formerly Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall), which can be seen at Question 5 at http://www.baronage.co.uk/2005Q-Answers.pdf - this is The Baronage Press's Christmas 2005 quiz, with answers provided. On the dexter side of the shield (left as you face it) are the arms of the Prince of Wales. On the sinister are the arms of Camilla's father, featuring a boar's head. This is a typical Scottish charge (his family is Scottish), and in Scots usage a boar's head is usually shown erased (with a jagged edge below the jaw, indicating that the animal's head was hacked from its body). The College of Arms, however, prefers the neater severance of a straight line, called couped in armorial terminology. So these arms show a boar's head couped, since the arms of marriage of Charles and Camilla came from the College of Arms.
In the same way the Lyon Office has made its own interpretation of the
Norwegian lion, including the blue tongue and claws which are normal in a
British coat of arms showing a lion on a red field (or a red lion). Lyon's
authority extends over the entire Kingdom of Scotland as it existed in 1603,
when James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne - that includes Zetland
(the Shetland Islands) and Orkney. Both these island groups once belonged to
Norway, hence the significance of Norse symbols there. Since the Orkney flag as
shown above is an armorial banner, it clearly falls under Lyon's authority, and
if flown incorrectly it can be confiscated.
Mike Oettle, 13 May 2006
My reason for questioning whether Lord Lyon asked permission to use the
Norwegian lion in one of his grants has to do with what international traditions
or agreements there might be on the use of the national emblems of one country
in official (or private) emblems in another country. In some instances there may
be a long established and continuous tradition for such use, in other cases, and
in particular with respect to newly composed emblems, the situation may be
different. There is, for instance the Paris Convention (originally signed 1883)
that prohibits the use of national emblems in trademarks. What I am asking is
this: Is there an international understanding that it is inappropriate to
include the national emblems of a foreign country in newly created emblems such
as a coat of arms without asking permission? Does a country have exclusive
rights over its national symbols - a right to be asked for permission, a right
to demand its symbols removed from official emblems of public institutions in a
Jan Osker Engene, 14 May 2006
As stated, the convention concerns trade marks. The Orkney banner (or flag of
the arms) is by no means a trade mark. It is possible that Lyon Court might take
a different view of things today, but in 1931 I am sure there was no question
that it was appropriate to use the lion of Norway in Orkney's arms to represent
one-time Norwegian sovereignty in the islands.
Mike Oettle, 15 May 2006