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Gibraltar (United Kingdom)

British Overseas Territory, formerly United Kingdom Dependent Territory / Crown Colony of Gibraltar

Last modified: 2023-07-03 by eugene ipavec
Keywords: gibraltar | united kingdom | banner of arms | castle (red) | key (yellow) | ensign: red | ensign: blue | flag of convenience | coat of arms (castle: yellow) | castle (black) |
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[Civil and State Flag (Gibraltar, United Kingdom)] 1:2
image by Martin Grieve, 03 Apr 2005, and Eugene Ipavec, 28 Jul 2010, based on an official model supplied by Peter Canessa
Flag introduced 1966, adopted 8th Nov 1982, coat-of-arms adopted 10th Jul 1502

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Gibraltar has the same status as Bermuda, the Falkland Islands etc.: they used to be called Crown Colonies, but are now United Kingdom Dependent Territories. Gibraltar was never a Dominion; that is an almost term that used to be used in general for independent countries in the Commonwealth that retained the British monarch as Head of State. I think that only Canada has retained that title as such. The Isle of Man has a different constitutional relationship with the UK and is known as a Crown Dependency.

David Prothero, 09 Oct 1999

Please note that the term "Dependent Territory" is deprecated and the correct term for Gibraltar etc. is "British Overseas Territory."

Jim Watt, 02 Apr 2010

Correct, according to the British Government, but not the Gibraltar government. (Source: United Kingdom Government, Foreign & Commonwealth Office web site, updated 01 Mar 2010, stated to be "still current" as of 03 Apr 2010 and consulted 03 Apr 2010)

This just goes to show how these things shift in foreign policy and perception over the years. More than five years ago, at the time our page was edited, at least one official Gibraltar (not United Kingdom Government) web site was still describing itself as a "Crown colony", even though that term was then, no doubt because that is how the Gibraltar government wanted to see itself. Indeed, to read the official Gibraltar government political history of the island (which seems to stop at the end of 2006, as if nothing has happened since then) it is quite clear that the Gibraltar government line is that Gibraltar is a colony of the United Kingdom:

"Today Gibraltar is a surviving part of the British Empire and a Crown Colony."

Source: Government of Gibraltar, London Office web site, as consulted 02 Apr 2010

Colin Dobson, 03 Apr 2010

Wikipedia says: "Gibraltar's National Day commemorates the 1967 referendum when the people of Gibraltar voted to reject Spanish annexation by a massive majority. It is celebrated annually on September 10. The day is a public holiday, during which most Gibraltarians dress in the national colours of red and white and among other events, attend a rally. The rally culminates with the release of 30,000 red and white balloons representing the people of Gibraltar." See also an old (2002) BBC news story.

André Coutanche, 27 Sep 2007

Civil and State Flag

Gibraltar has a banner which shows the arms of the colony and is used as the colony's flag. The flag is white with a red stripe at the bottom with a three-towered, two-tiered red castle in the white section. Each tower has a door and a window and from the door of the middle tower hangs a gold key which mainly overlaps the red stripe.

Graham Bartram, 27 Sep 1996

Gibraltar's official flag is the Union Flag, though a banner of the original Spanish arms of the colony granted in 1502 has been in use by citizens since 1966. Crampton [Crampton 1990?] adds it was regularized in 1982. An unsubstantiated report I have read details that the British Government objects to a banner of Spanish arms over a British colony and has forbidden its use.

Steve Kramer, 27 Sep 1996

The city flag is a banner of the arms, and the arms are the flag badge for both the blue ensign and now the red ensign. However, the arms today are different from what they were traditionally – a white castle and gold key on red. The city flag, which was adopted in the 1970s [Ed. actually 1982], is a red castle on white but with a red stripe along the bottom into which the gold key hangs. It is this design that appears now as the flag badge, so presumably the regularisation Crampton speaks of was changing the arms to match the flag.

Mucha 1985 p. 55 confirms this. A heraldic purist would say that a change of this magnitude represents a whole new set of arms. I wonder if the College of Arms were involved or if it was a local change?

Roy Stilling, 28 Sep 1996

The Gibraltar blue ensign, used by the Government of Gibraltar vessels, used to be the official flag of the colony – Gibraltar is the only remaining Crown Colony, all the others are Overseas Territories – until the Gibraltar government decided to use the city flag instead.

Graham Bartram, 12 Dec 1998

According to notes by William Crampton (forwarded by Christopher Southworth), this flag was officially introduced in 1966, but had been in traditional use “for as long as anyone could remember.” It was formally established on the 8 November 1982 “for internal purposes and for continued use abroad, together with the Union Flag, on appropriate occasions when the specific identity of Gibraltar is being represented.”

Martin Grieve, 03 Apr 2005

Coat of Arms

[Coat of Arms (Gibraltar)]
image provided by Peter Canessa, 17 Nov 2003


[Badge (Gibraltar)]
image scanned from Evans 1970 by Ole Andersen

The arms of a key suspended from a chain from a three-towered castle were granted to Gibraltar in December 1501 by Queen Isabella – Gibraltar was Spanish territory until 1714. It can be seen frequently all over Gibraltar, not just in modern-day flags, but in old plaques dating back centuries.

Ken Ruiz, 19 Jan 1999

Gibraltar's coat-of-arms was adopted 10th July 1502. Source: Colonial Office 1932, supplementary page, volume II. The year, and information that the grant was made by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella seems to be generally accepted, but I have not seen the day and month quoted anywhere else.

David Prothero, 05 Sep 1999

The same badge is used nowadays on the blue ensign, different from [the coat-of-arms used] on the red ensign.

Santiago Dotor, 28 Sep 2002

[Original Grant, Coat of Arms (Gibraltar)]
[Click on image for full size]
The site is interesting in quoting the exact wording of the original blazon:
Granted in 1502 the warrant read; "... we grant you as Arms an escutcheon on which two thirds of its upper parts shall have a white field, in the said field set a red castle underneath the said castle, on the under third of the escutcheon which must be a red field on which there must be a white line between the castle and the said red field; on this a golden key which shall be on that with a chain from the said castle."
Source: Sir William Jackson, Rock of the Gibraltarians, ISBN 0-948466- 14-6

Željko Heimer, 24 Mar 2003
image provided by Tito Vallejo, 13 Jun 2002

New Flag Proposal and Reactions

In a 16 Oct 2007 Letter to the Editor of "," Edgar A. Triay claims that a new flag is needed for Gibraltar:

I am of the opinion that Gibraltar like any other territory that evolves to a new political status needs to amend its flag to one that reflects its new status and differentiates it to the past. Since our country is no longer a colony and we have maintained our links with the Crown (UK) (thanks to our new constitution), these sentiments also need to be transposed on our flag because our flag is our advert to the world.
Triay's proposal is shown as a graphic. As expected, this letter prompted several reactions, also published by "":

"New flag: why?," by Alfred Vasquez:

"Edgar proposes that Gibraltar should have a new flag - why? The current one does not represent or portray any colonial allegiances, so why the need to change it? This is not to criticise the one that he is proposing.

Is Edgar suggesting that we should get rid of the Union Jack and instead fly this 'new' flag of Gibraltar at the top of the Rock and at all official buildings except at the MOD and the Convent, the Governor's Official residence. I do not think this is likely to be acceptable to the British, unless they want to give credence to the untenable position adopted by those who believe that we have ceased to be a colony. We are still very much a British Colony and our new constitution reaffirms this status however modern our relationship with Britain. So I believe that the Union Jack is here to stay for a while longer yet. But I do look forward to being proved wrong."
"More on flag," by W.L. Chamberland:

"Far be it for me to disagree with either Alfred or Edgar but in retrospect I feel both have a point and therefore let me throw out the following. Let us go for one similar to the Australian or New Zealand because truthfully the present one's origin is too close for comfort although judging from remarks of some time ago we have to move fast before we once again get what we don't want."
"Keep our flag flying," by JV [including interesting historical and heraldic details]:

"[...] The flag we fly and refer to as 'the Gibraltar flag' is not and never was colonial in nature also it was not originally designed as a flag. The Flag of Gibraltar is an elongated banner of the Coat of Arms of Gibraltar, granted by Royal Warrant by Queen Isabella of Castile on 10 July 1502. It is described thus:

"An escutcheon on which the upper two thirds shall be a white field and on the said field set a red castle, and below the said castle, on the other third of the escutcheon, which must be a red field in which there must be a white line between the castle and the said red field, there shall be a golden key which hangs by a chain from the said castle, as are here figured"

The flag therefore could never have been colonial since it is a development of the Coat of Arms of the City which were granted when still a Spanish possession. This flag has been OUR flag through the days when we were Spanish and the days when we have been British; in fact, for 500 years. Why should we want to change it? This is not the case of a flag imposed by a colonial power which the people want to change as soon as independence or other enlightened status is achieved; this is a flag we have had through thick and thin, through our sieges and through two World Wars; this is the flag our evacuated forefathers flew in Madeira, Jamaica, London and Northern Ireland. Too much history, blood and tears are attached to this flag. We should not even dare to suggest we change it! Keep our flag flying, keep our Castle and Key for ever!"
"Leave the flag alone," by Ken Westmoreland:

Mr Triay's design is interesting, but the existing flag is just fine. Nevertheless, there might be a case for adopting a new coat of arms, like the one that he features on his proposed design. One model for this might be the cap badge used by the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, which features the Crown, but is otherwise distinct from the British Royal Arms.

However, the flag should be left alone - it represents Gibraltar unambiguously, and adding British heraldic symbols like crowns, lions and unicorns would detract from this, just as using a Blue or Red Ensign like other overseas territories would do.
"Our flag," by Rodney Pereira:

"Our flag is full of meaning, its not just a castle and Key on a red and white backdrop, but a symbol of pride, justice, strength and courage. I agree that our flag be somewhat modernised to reflect what would be our future status, but in keeping with the current design.

I suggest that we do not jump the gun, no matter how enticing it might be. We must first, wait for the resolution of the General Assembly on our International Status, which is somewhat unclear at present."
"Flag and colonialism," by Den:

"Edgar's design is, for me, a contradiction. On the one hand he argues that our alleged decolonisation should result in us having a new flag. On the other he suggests defacing the Castle & Key with a British coat of arms (a very colonial symbol). Our flag as it currently stands is ideal simply because there are no colonial symbols on it. Let's keep it that way.

Incidentally our red and white flag is not official. The official flag is the blue ensign with the Gibraltar coat of arms in the fly. Thankfully we never see or use this alternative flag, and the sooner we do away with it and keep our Castle & Key as the only official flag the better. And the sooner we see the Castle & Key flying above the castle and at the top of the Rock the better too...I just don't understand why we insist on flying the Union Jack to the detriment of our own flag from these locations!"
"I beg to differ," by JV:

"I beg to differ from Den. The red and white flag IS official. The flag was regularised on November 8, 1982 as the City flag and is formed, as all should know, by two horizontal bands of white (top, double width) and red with a three-towered red castle in the centre of the white band; hanging from the castle gate is a gold key centred in the red band. The flag differs from that of other British colonies, in that it is not a British ensign.

The defaced blue and red ensigns are the state and civil ensigns respectively; neither are in use as the flag of the City of Gibraltar."

Ivan Sache, 28 Oct 2007

Visual Storm Warning Signals

According to this WMO page (PDF), Gibraltar uses a few signals, none of which is a flag.

Jan Mertens, 08 Nov 2007

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