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Norwegian Union Flags of 1844

Last modified: 2023-07-03 by
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Merchant Flag
[Norwegian Union Merchant Flag of 1844] by Zeljko Heimer

State Flag
[Norwegian Union State Flag of 1844] by Zeljko Heimer

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Description of the Flags

In a Royal resolution of 20 June 1844 Norway was given a new union merchant flag: The red-white-blue flag with a union badge combining the Norwegian and Swedish colours in the upper hoist flag (the flag of Sweden was altered along the same lines).

The state flag is marked by the swallowtail effect.

The union mark, or 'herring salad' (one of the nicer terms used) was introduced to the flags of Norway and Sweden in 1844. The purpose was to emphasize the equality of the two kingdoms. It remained in the Norwegian civil flag and ensign until legislation of 1898 removed it. In the state flag and ensign, and also military flag and naval ensign, it remained until the dissolution of the union in 1905. The change of flags took place on 9 June 1905, two days after the unilateral dissolution of the union was announced.
Jan Oskar Engene, 25 November 1995

I have a painting of my Great Grandfather's ship, and it shows the ensign rotated 90 degrees from the illustration above. If I am not explaining this correctly, picture the upper right hand corner of the flag consisting of 4 triangles two being "Swedish triangles" and the other being "Norwegian triangles". on the web site, the illustration shows the "Swedish triangles" pointing left and right, and the "Norwegian triangles" pointing up and down. The painting shows the "Norwegian triangles" pointing up and down.

It seems strange to me that a sea captain would commission a painting and accept it if the artist had got the flag wrong, so I wonder if the illustration is in error or the painting?
Roger Shoaf, 10 July 2000

The union badge always had the Swedish colours to the left and right, and the Norwegian ones pointing up and down.

What then about the painting our correspondent asks about. One possibility could be that the painting was made outside Norway, by an artist not quite familiar with the details of the flag design of the ensign he was painting. However, another possibility, which I find more attractive, is that the artist made a political statement by changing the order of the national colours in the union mark, maybe because the the person who ordered the painting wanted it.

This is because during the years of struggle for the "pure" Norwegian flag, that is a flag without a union badge, the composition of the union badge itself was also under criticism. Some people saw the position along the hoist of the flag as the position of honour. As the Swedish colours occupied this position, the union badge was seen as favouring Sweden. This lead some people to demand that the colours of the union badge change position in the Norwegian flag, so that Norway came to occupy the honorary position.

So, it might not be so strange after all, that a captain would commission a painting with an incorrect flag.
Jan Oskar Engene, 11 July 2000

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