Tag Archives: royal arms

UK royal arms : ditch the harp?

vx-uk-shieldDespite the fact that most of Ireland left the UK in 1922, and became a republic in 1949, the British royal arms still uses the arms of Ireland (Azure, a harp Or stringed Argent), presumably on the grounds that it represents Northern Ireland; but perhaps also because of a conservative resistence to change (also seen in resistence to changing the UK flag if Scotland becomes independent).
But does it make sense to use the arms of the Irish nation to represent an entity which consists of only six of the nine counties of one of the four provinces of Ireland? Does it make sense when the reason for Northern Ireland’s existence is that its unionist majority wanted to be British rather than Irish? Would it not be more sensible to replace the Irish harp with something specific to Northern Ireland, and leave the harp to the republic?
The question is : what should replace the harp for Northern Ireland? The obvious place to go for arms is to the province of Ulster.
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The arms of Ulster

The ancient symbol of Ulster is the famous Red Hand of O’Neill, which dates back to pagan times. In the 13th century this was placed on a white shield on the red cross on yellow of Walter de Burgh, who had become Earl of Ulster. This remains the arms of the whole province (nine counties). 

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Northern Ireland government arms, pre-1972
The government of Northern Ireland which existed until 1972 used the hand on a six-pointed star (for the six counties) ensigned by a royal crown and placed on a St.George’s cross (red on white). The banner of these arms are still used (unofficially) as a flag of Northern Ireland today, but it is particularly associated with unionism (the English cross and royal crown are not exactly popular with nationalists!). What is needed now is something which is acceptable to the whole community.
The traditional arms of Ulster seem the obvious starting point, but they need to be modified to represent the six counties, instead of the whole province. Since the six-pointed star is fairly sectarian, another alternative would be to use a hexagon. The six sides still represent the six counties, but the shape also alludes to the basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway, a spectacular and thoroughly non-sectarian natural site in Northern Ireland.

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Northern Ireland: coat of arms idea

Giant’s Causeway, with its hexagonal columns

The would give us a nice, completely red-and-gold, royal coat of arms, with or without Wales:

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And if Scotland leaves the union:

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Copyright © 2014 Vexaldry,
except the image of the pre-1972 Northern Ireland arms is from Wikipedia by Adelbrecht, and the image of Giant’s Causeway is from Wikipedia by Chmee2; both reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

UK Royal Arms without Scotland

So what if Scotland votes for independence? Should the remaining UK (“rUK” for short) keep its flag? Should the Queen keep her present UK coat of arms?

There are those who say “yes”. Some want to keep the Union Jack because it is such an established, iconic and famous flag. I understand that sentiment. Others come up with arguments against change on the grounds that there is no need to change royal emblems because the Queen will still be Queen of an independent Scotland as well as the rUK. This idea may have made sense in past centuries, when a personal union of Crowns meant at least some degree of personal union of government too, as in the seventeenth century when the separate kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland shared a monarch.

We don’t live in that world any more. The Queen today is already Queen of sixteen different independent realms. Although one natural person, she is sixteen different legal personalities, with sixteen different crowns, different titles, different flags and different coats of arms. If Scotland becomes independent, it will become the seventeenth Commonwealth realm, no different in status from Canada, Australia or Jamaica. The Queen of Scots will become a separate legal entity from the Queen of the UK, and you can bet your life that she won’t be displaying the arms of England, Northern Ireland and Wales north of the border on the grounds that “she’s Queen of the UK too”!

If this logic was applied now, if the Queen’s other realms were to be represented in her British royal arms, we would have something like the image below. I didn’t attempt to include all the crests and supporters, and I can’t even imagine what the combined flag would look like!

queen-all-realms-small

If Scotland leaves, the remaining United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be a different realm from the UKGBNI, despite being its “continuator state”. Times will have changed. Just as the royal arms and national flag changed when England and Scotland united, and again when Ireland joined the union, so too they should change to reflect the new reality of a union without Scotland, and not try and cling on to a lost past. This didn’t happen when 26 counties of Ireland left the Union, but in that case the remaining six counties could be used to justify the retention of the Irish harp and St.Patrick’s Cross. That justification won’t exist if the whole of Scotland leaves.

There has been plenty of talk about a post-Scotland flag. I posted some ideas in a previous blog, and I’ll write another one about it shortly. The royal arms get less attention, though, but they should be an easier proposition. Without Scotland, Wales will be the second nation of the rUK, in size and population, and so it should take Scotland’s place. The Red Dragon would return to the royal arms for the first time since 1603, while Scotland would return to its pre-union arms:
uk-noscot-and-scotland


Copyright © 2014 Vexaldry,

Wales in the UK

For partly historic, partly spurious (“Wales is only a principality”) reasons, Wales is not represented in either the national flag or the royal arms of the United Kingdom. Since Wales was conquered by the English many centuries ago, it is supposedly covered by the English symbols, St.George’s Cross and the three lions. Whether the people of Wales ever felt that these were their symbols too is not for me to say, but regardless of the history they certainly don’t now, and in today’s Britian the idea is clearly nonsense.

Wales is one of the four nations of the UK. Although it is more closely linked to England than are the other Celtic nations (e.g. there is a common legal jurisdiction), nobody imagines that it is actually part of England. Even in law, the combined area has, for decades, been called “England AND Wales”, not just “England”, as it once was. Wales has its own devolved government and legislature, it’s own royally-designated capital city and national flag, national sports teams, and de jure official language.

Surely, therefore, it is time that our national emblems caught up with reality and gave Wales and the Welsh their proper recognition.

There have been suggestions, in Parliament and elsewhere, that the Welsh red dragon should be added to the Union flag. I can understand resistence to this, because the flag is so iconic and it is difficult to add anything new without undermining that internationally-famous image; an image which is present not only in the UK and its remaining overseas territories, but also in flags outside British jurisdiction (e.g. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and even a state of the USA). One could add a small dragon without doing too much “damage”:

uk-wales-dragon

However, I think the reality is that the existing Union Jack will remain the flag of the UK as long as the UK exists in its present form.

The royal coat of arms is another matter. Although famous, it is not as iconic, not as commonly used, and has, historically, been subject to more change than the flags, even though the last change was as long ago as 1837. Also, it has a space just waiting to be used for Wales! The fourth quarter of the arms duplicates the English first quarter, and could easily be replaced by the four lions of Wales : four quarters, four nations. It should be a no-brainer, shouldn’t it?

The royal arms of the UK as they are and as they should be (in my humble opinion!) :
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Copyright © 2014 Vexaldry.