Flag of Sweden
The flag of Sweden is a Scandinavian cross that extends to the edges of the flag. The design and colours of the Swedish flag are believed to have been inspired by the present Coat of arms of Sweden of 1442, which is blue divided quarterly by a cross pattée of gold, and modelled on the Danish flag. Blue and yellow have been used as Swedish colours at least since king Magnus Birgersson's royal coat of arms of 1275.
State flag and civil ensign
The dimensions of the Swedish flag are 5:2:9 horizontally and 4:2:4 vertically. The dimensions of the Swedish flag with a triple-tail are 5:2:5:8 horizontally and 4:2:4 vertically. The colours of the flag are officially established through the Natural Color System to be NCS 0580-Y10R for the shade of yellow, and NCS 4055-R95B for the shade of blue. The Swedish law doesn't regulate the design of the Swedish pennant, but it's recommended that its colour scheme should correspond with that of the flag. The square-cut Swedish state flag is identical to the civil ensign. The original design of the flag is credited to Rachel Bomgren.
The triple-tailed flag (tretungad flagga) is used as a military ensign (örlogsflaggan). Its overall ratio, including the tails, is 1:2. The flag is also used as the Swedish naval jack (örlogsgösen). The jacks are smaller than the ensigns, but they have the same proportions. The Swedish swallow-tailed flag was originally the King's personal emblem, or the emblem representing a command conferred by the King. It was at first two-pointed, but by the mid-1600s, the distinctive swallow-tail-and-tongue appeared. The flag is also flown by the defence ministry, while civil ministries fly square flags.
The Swedish royal flag (Kungl. flaggan) is still identical to the triple-tailed military flag, but usually includes in its centre a white field with the greater or the lesser coat of arms with the Order of the Seraphim, which has the King of Sweden as its Grand Master. The King personally decides about the specific use of the royal flag.
According to the mythology, the 12th century Swedish king Eric the Holy saw a golden cross in the sky as he landed in Finland during the First Swedish Crusade in 1157. Seeing this as a sign from God he adopted the golden cross against a blue background as his banner. (The cross then became yellow, to make it easier and cheaper to make)
It has also been suggested that the Swedish flag might have been a resistance flag against the Danish flag, which is red with a white cross, and which has been known since 1219. According to this theory, the Swedish flag was created during the reign of King Charles Knutsson, who also introduced the Coat of arms of Sweden in 1442. The national coat of arms is a combination of King Albert of Mecklenburg's coat of arms of 1364 and King Magnus Birgersson's coat of arms of 1275, and is blue divided quarterly by a golden cross pattée.
Other historians claim that the Swedish flag was blue with a white cross before 1420, and became blue with a golden cross only during the early reign of King Gustaf Vasa, who successfully liberated Sweden from the temporary rule of the Danish King Christian II in 1521.
The exact age of the Swedish flag is not known, but the oldest recorded pictures of a blue cloth with a yellow cross date from the early 16th century, during the reign of King Gustaf Vasa. This flag was a swallow-tailed (double-tailed), and the first legal description of the flag was made in a Royal warrant of April 19, 1562, reading "gult udi korssvijs fördeelt påå blott", which translates to "yellow in the cross over the blue". As stipulated in a Royal warrant of 1569, the yellow cross was always to be borne on Swedish battle standards and banners. Prior to this, a similar flag appeared in the Coat of Arms of King John III's duchy, which is today Finland Proper. The same coat of arms is still used by the province. Not until the reign of King Gustavus Adolphus in the 1620s, there is reliable evidence of a double-tailed blue flag with a yellow cross being carried by Swedish ships.
By the mid of the 17th century, the double-tailed flag was changed into a triple-tailed. A Royal warrant of November 6, 1663, regulated the use of the triple-tailed flag, to be used only as a state flag and military ensign. According to the same Royal warrant, merchant ships were only allowed to fly square-cut city flags in their respective provincial colors. In practice, however, the merchant fleet began using a square-cut civil ensign of the state flag. In a government instruction of ship building of 1730, this civil ensign should have the same proportions and colours as the state flag, with the notable difference of being square-cut. In 1756, the use of pennants by private ships was prohibited. It should be pointed out that in the merchant fleet, there was also a common practice to illegally use the war ensign to incorrectly indicate that the ship was armed.
A Royal warrant of August 18, 1761, stipulated that an all blue triple-tailed flag to be used by the Arméns flotta (literary: the Army's fleet), an amphibious army division of small ships and rowing boats, patrolling the inner archipelago along the Swedish coast line. Curiously enough, the Commander of the Arméns flotta had the right to order the use of the ordinary war ensign instead of the blue ensign when that was "appropriate". The blue flag was used until 1813.
Union between Sweden and Norway
Union flag of 1815
On March 7, 1815, a common military ensign was introduced for the two united kingdoms of Sweden and Norway. This flag was identical to the former triple-tailed military ensign, with a white saltire on red to be included in the canton. Proposed by the Norwegian Prime Minister and unionist Peder Anker, the white saltire on a red background was supposed to symbolize Norway, as the country had previously been united with Denmark and initially continued to use the same flag as an independent country, but with the national arms in the canton.
Norwegian ships continued to use the Danish civil ensign distinguished with the national arms in the canton north of Cape Finisterre, but had to fly the Swedish civil ensign in the Mediterranean to be protected from pirate attacks. A common civil ensign for both countries was introduced in 1818, on the pattern of the naval ensign, but square-cut. This flag was optional for Swedish vessels, but compulsory for Norwegian ones in distant waters. In 1821, Norway adopted a new national civil ensign, identical to the present flag of Norway.
Following the adoption of a separate Norwegian flag, a Royal regulation of July 17, 1821, stipulated that ships of both kingdoms use the common square-cut civil ensign (with the saltire included) in "distant waters" (i.e. beyond Cape Finisterre). In "distant waters", they had the right to use any of the square-cut civil ensigns of their respective countries, or the uniform Union civil ensign. This system was in force until 1838.
Union flags of 1844
A Royal resolution of June 20, 1844, introduced new flags and heraldry to denote the equal status of the two kingdoms within the union. Both countries were granted civil and military ensigns on the same pattern, their respective national flags with the addition of a union badge in the canton, combining the flag colours of both countries. The naval ensign was based on the traditional triple-tailed Swedish model. In addition, the new union badge was to be used as the naval jack and as the flag for the common diplomatic representations abroad. The warrant also stipulated that the merchant fleet use their respective countries' square-cut civil ensigns, including the new union badge. Also, royal ensigns were introduced for both countries, their respective naval ensigns with the union badge, with the addition of the union arms at the centre of the cross.
The new union flags were well received by the Norwegians, who had demanded their own military ensign since the union was formed. In Sweden, however, the new union badge in particular became quite unpopular and was contemptuously nicknamed the Sillsallaten (Swedish) or Sildesalaten (Norwegian) after a colourful dish of pickled herring, decorated with red beets and apples in a radial pattern. It is believed that the name was first used in a speech by Lord Brakel in the Swedish House of Lords in Stockholm.
During the 19th century, a number of regulations were issued regarding the use of Swedish flags. The military ensign was also to be used by civil government ships and buildings, such as the Customs, Harbour pilots and the Royal Mail. For this use, the military ensign would have a white field included with a golden marker: For the Harbour pilots (as of 1881, based on a proposal of 1825) an anchor with a star; for the Customs (as of 1844) the letter "T" topped a royal crown; for the Royal Mail (as of 1844) a postal horn with a royal crown.
On May 7, 1897, an alternate State flag was introduced. This double-tailed flag was used by government owned ships and buildings, which did not fly the triple-tailed military ensign.
During the late 19th century, increasing Norwegian dissatisfaction with the union led to the demand for a return to the "pure" flag of 1821 without the union badge. Opponents of the union began to use this flag several years before it was officially recognized. During the 1890s, two consecutive sessions of the Norwegian parliament voted to abolish the badge, but the decision was overruled by royal veto. However, in 1898, when the flag law was passed for the third time, the king had to sanction it. On October 11, 1899, the union badge was removed from the Norwegian civil ensign. As the Norwegian military ensign according to the constitution of 1814 was to be a union ensign, the union badge remained on military flags until the dissolution of the union with Sweden. "Pure" military ensigns were hoisted on fortresses and naval vessels on June 9, 1905.
The union badge, however, remained a part of the Swedish flag until 1905, when a Law of October 28, 1905, stipulated the exclusion of the union badge as of November 1, 1905.
Flag of 1906
On November 1, 1905, the triple-tailed flag also became the Swedish naval jack. The Flag law of June 22, 1906 further regulated the use and design of the flag, notably e.g. was a lighter blue colour introduced than was used before. The Swedish state flag became identical to the square-cut civil ensign, and all private use of the triple-tailed flag was prohibited.
When used from a standalone flagpole, the size of the flag is recommended to have a width equaling a fourth of the height of the pole. When used from a flagpole extending from a building, the flag is recommended to have a width equaling a third of the height (length) of the pole. It is further recommended to fly the flag during daytime, and to lower it no later than 9 pm. Only when the country is at war is it recommended to fly the flag also at night.
The Swedish Marshal of the Realm (Riksmarskalken) has published a series of decisions regarding the royal flag of Sweden. In a decision of April 6, 1987, rules are defined on how to fly the royal flag at the Royal Palace of Stockholm.
* The royal flag with the greater national coat of arms is hoisted at the Royal Palace when H.M. the King is within the realm, and is upholding his duties as the Head of state.
* The royal flag with the lesser national coat of arms is hoisted at the Royal Palace, if by reason of illness, foreign travel or for any other cause, the King is unavoidably prevented from performing his duties; a member of the Royal House under the valid order of succession who is not prevented there from, assumes and performs the duties of the Head of State in the capacity of Regent ad interim.
* The "plain" triple-tailed flag (without the coat of arms) is flown at the Royal Palace when the Riksdag has appointed a person to serve, at a Government order, as Regent ad interim when no member of the Royal House under the valid order of succession is in a position to serve. The three-tailed war flag is also flown at the Royal Palace when the Speaker, or, in his unavoidable absence, one of the Deputy Speakers, serves, at a Government order, as Regent ad interim when no member of the Royal House under the valid order of succession is in a position to serve.
Under H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf, the present King of Sweden since 1973, the plain triple-tailed flag has flown at the Royal Palace only once. This occurred on July 2-July 3, 1988, when H.M. the King went on a private visit to Wuppertal, Germany; at the same time, H.R.H. the Duke of Halland was on a private visit to Sainte-Maxime, France. The Government therefore ordered the Speaker of the Riksdag, Ingemund Bengtsson, to serve as Regent ad interim for two days.
Private use of the State flag
There have been a few notable exemptions regarding the prohibition of private parties to use the State flag. All these privileges were terminated in accordance with the new specific flag regulation of June 22, 1906.
* According to a Royal warrant of October 31, 1786, the Swedish East India Company had the right to use the triple-tailed war ensign in "Indian waters", when not being under immediate protection by the Swedish navy. In the merchant fleet, there was a common practice to illegally use the war ensign to indicate that the ship was armed.
* In 1838, it was decided that private ships contracted by the Royal Mail were to fly a double-tailed flag.
* On February 27, 1832, the Royal Swedish Yacht Club received the right to use the triple-tailed war ensign, including a centred white field with a golden "O" topped with a duke's crown (as of 1878 a royal crown).
* On June 7, 1893, the Gothenburg Royal Yacht Club received the right to use the triple-tailed military ensign, including a centred white field with the golden "G K S S" topped with a star.
Use outside Sweden
The flags of Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the United States are modeled after the Swedish flag in remembrance of the short-lived colony of New Sweden. The cross is affixed with the seal of the city. According to a legend, the Argentine football team, Boca Juniors' flag and colors were inspired by the flag of Sweden.
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