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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

National ceremonies and symbols

The union flag, the national anthem, currency, stamps and other national events help identify and symbolise what it is to be British and to live in the United Kingdom.


The Union Flag, or 'Union Jack', is the national flag of the United Kingdom and is so called because it embodies the emblems of the three countries united under one Sovereign - the kingdoms of England and Wales, of Scotland and of Ireland (although since 1921 only Northern Ireland, rather than the whole of Ireland, has been part of the United Kingdom).

The term 'Union Jack' possibly dates from Queen Anne's time (reigned 1702-14), but its origin is uncertain. It may come from the 'jack-et' of the English or Scottish soldiers; or from the name of James I (who originated the first union in 1603), in either its Latin or French form, 'Jacobus' or 'Jacques'; or, as 'jack' once meant small, the name may be derived from a royal proclamation issued by Charles II that the Union Flag should be flown only by ships of the Royal Navy as a jack, a small flag at the bowsprit.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport provides information on how and when the Union Flag can be flown as well as information on which way up to fly it.

The Royal Standard represents the Sovereign and the United Kingdom. The Royal Standard is flown when The Queen is in residence in one of the Royal Palaces, on The Queen's car on official journeys and on aircraft. It may also be flown on any building, official or private (but not ecclesiastical buildings), during a visit by The Queen.

National anthem

'God Save The King' was a patriotic song first publicly performed in London in 1745, which came to be referred to as the National Anthem from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The words and tune are anonymous, and may date back to the seventeenth century. There is no authorised version of the National Anthem as the words are a matter of tradition.


The armed forces are often involved in many of the great ceremonies of state. The Army website gives details of events such as trooping the colours, the state opening of Parliament, Remembrance Sunday and state visits.

Currency, coins and banknotes

The Bank of England has issued banknotes since it was founded in 1694. Its website provides information on the history and design of banknotes.

The Royal Mint can be traced back more than a thousand years and is still a department of government. Its main responsibility is the provision of the United Kingdom's coinage. The Mint's website sells coins and related collectables.


The Royal Mail publishes stamps for the UK.

Symbols of the royal origins of the UK's postal system remain: a miniature silhouette of the Monarch's head is depicted on all stamps.

Great Seal

The Great Seal of the Realm is the chief seal of the Crown, used to show the monarch's approval of important state documents. In today's constitutional monarchy, the Sovereign acts on the advice of the Government of the day, but the seal remains an important symbol of the Sovereign's role as Head of State.

Royal Coat of Arms

The function of the Royal Coat of Arms is to identify the person who is Head of State. In the UK, the royal arms are borne only by the Sovereign. They are used in many ways in connection with the administration and government of the country, for instance on coins, in churches and on public buildings.

The coat of arms are familiar to most people as they appear on the products and goods of Royal Warrant holders.

The Crown Jewels

The crowns and treasures associated with the British Monarchy are powerful symbols of monarchy. For over 600 years kings and queens of England have stored crowns, robes and other valuable items of ceremonial regalia at the Tower of London. Since the 17th century, at least, this collection has been known as the 'Crown Jewels'.

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