Last modified: 2023-07-03 by phil nelson
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by António Martins
Below is first the act of 1898 describing the flag (still in force). Note that it only relates to the merchant flag and the state flag(s). No mention of the flag being the national flag of Norway. I am quoting a brochure issued by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (no title, no date of publication), and the translation is theirs.
Act of 10th December 1898 relating to the Flag of the Realm of Norway
Norway's Merchant Flag shall be a dark blue cross, bordered with white, set on a bright red ground, its width in the proportion of 16 to 22 parts of its length. When flown from a mast or jack-staff, the two red quarters closest to the mast or jack-staff shall be squares, each with a side equal to six sixteenths of the width and six twenty-second parts of the length of the flag, while the two red rectangles furthest from the mast or jack-staff, both having the same width, shall comprise twelve twenty-second parts of the length of the flag. The width of the blue cross shall be equal to two sixteenths of the width of the flag, or two twenty-second parts of its length, while the width of the white border shall be equal to one sixteenth of the width of the flag or one twenty-second part of its length.
The flag as described in 1 above shall be used on merchant vessels whenever in foreign harbours they wish to remain under the protection, or obtain the services, of embassies, consuls or commercial agents. On public buildings, mail and customs vessels, the same flag, but with a swallow-tail and tongue, shall be used, with this difference, however, that a white field shall be inserted in the centre of the mail and customs flag, bearing respectively the words "Post" or "Told", surmounted by a crown.
This Act shall come into force one year after the day on which it is published in "Lovtidenden" (Gazette).
The act was gazetted on 15th of December 1898, and the flag was hoisted a year later. The act is still in force, and the flags described by it are still seen. According to the spelling reforms early this century ('purging' the most Danish words), the customs now has a flag with the word "Toll" on it.
The Norwegian flag did not originate with this act of 1898, but by a resolution by the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, in 1821. This was not sanctioned by the King, and a period of flag confusion started. As a merchant flag it could only be used on shorter distances, because of the threat from the pirates of North Africa. They did not recognize the flag, and having them do so would be too expensive for the young Norwegian state. On longer distances, therefore, the Swedish flag was used. From 1844 to 1898/99, the Norwegian flag was used, but with a Union mark in the upper hoist corner, consisting of the combined Norwegian and Swedish colours (the 'herring salad'). This was subject to great controversy and intense conflicts between Norwegian nationalists and unionists (and the Swedes). This was ended, for the merchant flag (that was what mattered most), by the Act quoted above. However, the state flag (flag for Government institutions/buildings and for the Navy and military installations) continued to bear the union mark until the dissolution of the union on 7th of June 1905. The "pure" Norwegian state and naval flag was hoisted two days later.
Until 1814 Norway was united with Denmark, and used the Dannebrog. In 1814 however, Norway went through a political revolution, declared itself independent and adopted a constitution. A flag was also adopted, adding only the Norwegian lion (facing the fly) to the Danish flag. It was used as a merchant flag on shorter distances (north of Cape Finisterre in Spain) from 27th of February 1814 until 6th May 1821, when the new 'pure' Norwegian flag took over. In 1815, Norway was forced to accept the decision of the great powers that Norway should enter into a union with Sweden (a personal union with a common king and foreign policy, amalgamation in most areas was resisted). From 1815 to 1838, a Swedish flag with the Norwegian colours, red with a white saltire, in the upper hoist corner, was used. Of course, the red and white colours were unpopular with the Swedes, who saw a design to reunite Norway with Denmark in the use of them. The uniforms of Norwegian civil servants were also red, but the Swedes replaced them with blue ones, in their efforts to eradicate any visible sign of Norway's Danish history.
The flag of 1821 was the idea of Frederik Meltzer, Member of Parliament from Bergen. He got the idea of adding a blue cross to the Danish flag during a meeting in the parliament. The discussion on the flag circled around considerations about reflecting the past, that is the Danish colours, which enjoyed great popularity, and considerations that the union with Sweden should also be reflected in the flag. So we can say that the red and white came from the Danish flag, the blue from the Swedish. At the same time, the colour combination red, white, blue was also attractive to the Parliament because it reflected the colours of liberty, as in the flags of France, the USA, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. A story, still told today, that it was Frederik Meltzer's young son Gerhard that came up with the idea of the flag, is not true.
Jan Oskar Engene, 30 August 1995
The red and white saltire design went out of use. It was never associated with a saint. The attribute of Norway's national saint, St. Olav, is an axe – the one seen on Norway's coat of arms, the royal banner, crown prince's banner, the flag of the Church of Norway, as well as some municipal flags. Thus the saltire could not really be called a national cross. It was just a practical design: a way to arrange the colours so that they were not similar in pattern to the Danish flag.
Jan Oskar Engene, 3 September 1995
* For the counties in the south (up to North Troendelag): From March until the end of October the flag is hoisted at 8 in the morning, and taken down no later that 9 in the evening (or when the sun is down). In the winter months the flag is hoisted at 9 in the morning and taken down at sunset.
* For the three northern counties (Nordland, Troms and Finnmark): From November until the end of February the flag is hoisted at 10 in the morning and taken down as soon as 3 o'clock. The rest of the year, the flag is up at 8 in the morning and down at 9 in the evening.
Jan Oskar Engene, 6 August 1996
Semi-official PMS matches recommended by the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
–For printing:Jan Oskar Engene, 10 June 1998Red: 032U–For textiles:
Blue: 281URed: 186