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Flags on the Royal Yacht Britannia, United Kingdom

Last modified: 2003-07-05 by
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The flags flown on Britannia were first specified in Regulations of 1824, confirmed by Order in Council 3 July 1833, but were based on a custom that probably began at the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Charles II returned to England in the Naseby flying, in addition to the usual flags, the anchor flag of the Lord High Admiral (LHA) at the foremast, the Royal Standard at the main, and the Union Jack at the mizzen (mast near the stern). The significance was said to be;

Lord High Admiral - I am the source, from which are derived the powers of the Lord High Admiral.
Royal Standard - I am Charles.
Union Jack - I am King of Britain.

At that time it was normal for ships above a certain size to have three masts, but when Britannia was built at least one otherwise unnecessary mast was added, in order that flags could be hoisted at three mastheads.

When no member of the royal family was on board, the jack and ensign were worn in the normal fashion whether at sea or in port. I believe the captain of the royal yacht was a commodore, so there was always at least a commodore's broad pennant at the fore mast. When a member of the royal family was on board the jack and ensign were flown night and day, whether in port or at sea. In addition the appropriate flags were flown at the mastheads. There were some interesting combinations when the Queen visited a Commonwealth country, or when the senior member of the royal family was someone other than the Queen.

Queen in Jamaica.
Lord High Admiral - Jamaican Royal Standard - Jamaican National Flag.

Queen in South Africa.
Lord High Admiral - Big 'E' - Union Jack

Prince Charles.
Vice-Admiral's Flag - Prince of Wales Standard - Trinity House Jack.
Charles is only a Rear-Admiral, so there must have been a Vice-Admiral on board who out-ranked him. See also our page on the Trinity House Jack for the use of this flag by the Prince of Wales.

Duke of Edinburgh.
Admiral of the Fleet - Duke of Edinburgh's Standard - ?
The Admiral of the Fleet's Flag is a Union Jack; I cannot identify the flag at the mizzen. It is the flag of St George with a yellow emblem in the centre of the cross.

David Prothero, 28 March 2003

I saw the same picture and went through the Duke of Edinburgh's listing of positions held (I just don't know how he finds the time!). The things that seemed possibly flag-related were:

And various appointments in different yacht clubs, including "admiral of the Royal Yacht Squadron" - again it would seem odd for these to be on the royal yacht.
Joe McMillan, 28 March 2003

I know that Joe put "jack" in inverted commas, but both the master and deputy-master of Trinity House do have their own flags separate from the jack. The master's flag in proportions of 1:2 consists of a Cross of St George on a white field with an 'antique' ship in each canton and a full achievement of arms in the centre. The deputy master's flag is in proportions of 2:3 and instead of the full achievement or arms has a roundel with lion. The jack is in proportions of 4:5 without either arms or roundel. There is also a Red Ensign defaced what is in essence the jack, and a burgee (or cornet). As far as I am aware, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh would only fly the master's flag when he was acting in that capacity, and would more likely to be aboard the Trinity House yacht than on Britannia.
Christopher Southworth, 28 March 2003

In 1955 the Admiralty reluctantly agreed that the flag of the Admiral of the Royal Yacht Squadron, a position held by the Duke of Edinburgh, might be flown at the foremast when he was on board Britannia in certain circumstances. I think that this is a St George's flag with a yellow royal crown in the centre. Presumably when the Duke of Edinburgh became a Flag Officer, his rank flag displaced the Royal Yacht Squadron flag, when worn, to the mizzen.
     It is possible that flags of other clubs of which he was admiral have been flown on very special occasions; House of Lords Yacht Club, Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club, Royal Motor Yacht Club, Royal Southern Yacht Club, Royal Naval Sailing Association and Sea Cadet Corps. [Public Record Office ADM 1/26072]
David Prothero, 29 March 2003

I have seen a book called Royal Yachts of the World by Tim Madge, and I can confirm that when HRH the Duke of Edinburgh was on board the Royal Yacht Britannia, the follow flags were flown:

Compare this to the flags used by HM the Queen:

As an earlier post mentioned, the Union Jack flown by HM at *mizzenmast* is meant to say that 'I am the [Queen] of Britain'. So what does the Union Jack flown by HRH the Duke mean? The foremast of Britannia was apparently reserved for naval rank flags. HM flew the Lord High Admiral flag, and when no Royal was on board, the Commodore broad pennant was flown. HRH the Duke, being the senior male in the Royal family, is by default an admiral of the fleet, a field marshal and a marshal of the RAF. So it's completely logical that he flew the Union Jack at the foremast as an admiral of the fleet.
Miles Li
, 28 June 2003

To quote from Barrie Kent's book 'Signal':
"When a member of the Royal Family, other than the Queen, is embarked, his or her standard is flown at the main. The flag of the Flag Officer Royal Yachts will be flown at the fore, and usually the White Ensign at the mizzen. However there are exceptions - the Duke of Edinburgh, as an Admiral of the Fleet, flies the Union Flag at the fore, and has the choice of several flags for the mizzen, for example that of an Elder Brother of Trinity House, Grand Master of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners, or the Admiral's flag of a yacht club."

He also recounts that when four foreign heads of state were embarked on Britannia at the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landings, in addition to the Royal Standard at the main, the Standards of King Olav of Norway and King Baudouin of Belgium were hoisted at the fore starboard and port halyards respectively, and those of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and the Grand Duke of Luxembourg on the starboard and port mizzen halyards.

The Union Jack as the flag of an Admiral of the Fleet should have proportions 1:2. It is a Union Jack and not an admiral's flag, and the rule that admirals' flags should be 2:3 does not apply.
David Prothero, 30 June 2003

See also: