The Cantons of the Flag

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous Flag Discussion' started by Jamest1942, Mar 28, 2008.

  1. Jamest1942

    Jamest1942 New Member

    I have a question about the four cantons of our Flag. What is the order they are numbered is it clockwise or in two rows?
  2. on the US flag - there is actually just ONE canton - the top left -

    on a flag split into 4 - there is 4 cantons
    the top left canton of a flag split into 4 - eg the maryland state flag and the Union flag of the UK
    is always the number 1 spot- and the most important
    this is the postition of honor and it is most high and most right on a flag on its own right

    2nd most important is the bottom right

    3rd most is bottom left

    least important is the top right

    so basically it is in diagonals

    this explains why the Union flag of the UK is the way it is-

    the old Union flag consisted of the crosses of st George - England and st Andrews cross of Scotland - till 18o1 - when St
    Patricks cross of Ireland was added to it


    so now we have out Union Flag! - ^^^^^^^ that 1 in case you didnt know ;P

    Ok so the dilemma was - fixing St Patricks cross into the Union flag without giving Scotlands cross pure prominance

    so they used the 4 cantons and split it as fairly as possable
    in terms of height and right being prominent places

    it was decide as Scotland had been on the flag longer - that their cross may have the highest position on Canton 1

    so on canton 2 - they put Irelands cross above Scotlands

    Canton 3 bottom left went Scotland

    and Canton 4 to Ireland

    this ended up being the fairest way to do it - and why our flag looks a bit weird :D - its a nice design though in my opinion

    note - if the Union flag is turned upside down - Cantons 1 and 3 end up having Irelands cross at the top above Scotland - but i often see upside down Union flags - that are put that way up completely unaware that they were upside down!!!

    there you go - a bit of flag history - whether u wanted it or not! :p
  3. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    on a flag split into 4 - there is 4 cantons

    Well . . . not exactly. The problem is that we're confusing two different things here: cantons and quarters. Both come originally from the world of heraldry (coats of arms and such). Quarters are just what the name suggests -- the shield is divided into four parts by vertical and horizontal lines through the middle. A canton, however, is a small square in the corner of the shield -- typically it is 1/3 the width of the shield. Usually, a coat-of-arms has doesn't have more than one canton -- it's possible to have more, but not usual. A canton was often added to a coat-of-arms to symbolize a major achievement, such as a victory in battle.

    When describing a coat of arms, the quarters are numbered starting with the upper right quarter (as viewed from behind the shield -- it's the upper left of the viewer), and continuing in a sort of "Z" pattern. From the viewer's perspective, the upper right is the 2nd quarter, the lower left is the 3rd and the lower right is the 4th. Thus, in the British royal arms, the 1st and 4th quarters are the English arms (three lions passant guardant), the 2nd quarter is the Scottish arms (lion rampant) and the 3rd quarter is the Irish arms (harp).

    Flags originated from heraldry, so it was natural to apply heraldic terms to them. The presentation of the union crosses in the corner of British flags dates back at least to the 17th century; a royal proclamation of 1674 referred to "the Ensign Red, with a [St. George's] Cross in a Canton White, at the upper corner next to the staff." (This was before the 1707, when the St. George's cross was replaced by the union crosses). The proclamation referred to a canton, not a quarter, and it had to specify that it was next to the staff because a canton could be on either side of a heraldic shield. Generally, the cross or union was much smaller than 1/4 of the flag, and it was natural to call it a canton. When the British fleet sailed into New York harbor in July 1776, a British officer described the Americans' flag like this: "Their colours are thirteen strips of red and white, alternately, with the English Union cantoned in the corner." (He was describing the "Grand Union" flag, of course.)

    By the time of the Revolution, the pattern of the British ensigns (the union crosses in the canton) was so well known that the terms "union" and "canton" came to mean pretty much the same thing when applied to flags. The flag resolution of 1777 refers to the blue star field of the new American flag as a union rather than a canton, and the two terms are have been used interchangably ever since.

    So -- it's correct that our flag has only one canton. However, flags like Maryland's do not have any cantons; they have quarters. Maryland's flag shows the quartered arms of Calvert (1st and 4th quarters) and Crossland (2nd and 3rd quarters).

    Peter Ansoff
  4. oooOOOo - wel i had remembered my sources from a flag book i had read - so the book was obviously wrong!

    i m currently leafing my way through a new book i just got

    - the biography of the American Flag by Marc Leepson

    i had previously heard very good review of this book from vexillologist friends of mine - and grabbed a copy I saw that was on sale on eBay UK!
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2008
  5. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    - the biography of the American Flag by Marc Leepson

    That's a pretty good book. The author lives not too far from me here in Virginia, and I have met him several times. Unfortunately, some of the material about the origins of the flag repeats the usual legends.

    After writing my last email, I got curious about the actual definition of the British Union flag, and looked it up. Here is what the Proclamation of 1801 actually said:

    " . . . the Union Flag shall be azure, the Crosses Saltires of St Andrew and St Patrick Quarterly per Saltire, countercharged Argent and Gules; the latter fimbrated of the Second surmounted by the Cross of St George of the Third, fimbrated as the Saltire."

    The blazon is written in heraldic language, with is kind of obscure. Here is my line-by-line interpretation:

    . . . the Union Flag shall be azure,

    "Azure" is the heraldic term for blue

    the Crosses Saltires of St Andrew and St Patrick

    A "saltire" is a diagonal cross.

    the latter fimbrated of the Second

    "the latter" refers to the St Patrick's cross, which is the latter of the two crosses mentioned. A fimbration is a narrow band of contrasting color. The "Second" refers to the second color mentioned in the blazon, which is argent (white). This is saying that there will be a thin strip of white along the side of the St. Patrick's cross where it would otherwise touch the blue. The general rule of heraldry is that "colors" (blue, red, green and black) should not touch "metals" (yellow and white). The St. Andrew's cross does not need a fimbration, because it's white to begin with.

    Quarterly per Saltire, countercharged

    This is the tricky part. "Quarterly per saltire, countercharged" means that the two crosses are spread across the quarters of the flag, with the colors reversed in alternately, quarter by quarter. There's a good illustration on page 4 of Graham Bartram's book "British Flags & Emblems" that shows how this works.

    Argent and Gules;

    Argent and Gules are the heraldic terms for white and red. Argent is mentioned first, so the St. Andrew's cross is above the St. Patrick's cross in the first quarter, symbolizing the fact that Scotland was "senior" to Ireland as a member of the UK. Thus, in the first quarter the white is above the red, and the other three are red/white, white/red and red/white.

    surmounted by the Cross of St George of the Third,

    The St. George's cross is on top of the other two. The "Third" is the third color mentioned -- gules or red

    fimbrated as the Saltire.

    The red St. George's cross also has a white fimbration to separate it from the blue background.

    Speaking of off-topic . . . <BG>

    Peter A.
  6. lolwll thqat eplaniation may be helpful to others reading this thread p- but i actualy understood the origional text as it was :D

    hoping to go to an FI meeting in may again so il try and get one of grahams books on the cheap :p
  7. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    i actualy understood the origional text as it was

    I figured that you did, but I thought it would be good to clarify how the numbering of the quarters related to the design. And besides, other folks reading this may not be familiar with terms like "gules" and "countercharge"!

    Peter A.


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