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Subject: ‘Flags’

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The tricolour of the Republic of Ireland symbolises a unified island

Posted in Flags, Historical articles on Monday, 13 May 2013

This edited article about Ireland originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 252 published on 12 November 1966.

William of Orange, picture, image, illustration
The landing of William of Orange

The national flag of the Republic of Ireland has broad vertical stripes of green, white and orange. This is more strange than it might seem at first sight, for the Irish Republic is predominantly Roman Catholic, and orange is recognised in Ireland as the traditional colour of militant Protestantism.

Green is the colour usually associated with the Emerald Isle and, in fact, a banner that used to be the national flag is wholly in green except for a golden harp, another symbol of Ireland, displayed on it.

Green is the colour of old Ireland and the Catholic Irish: orange is the symbol of later arrivals, the Irish Protestants. In particular, orange commemorates Holland’s William, Prince of Orange who, as England’s King William III, was the leader of Protestant Europe against Catholic France and her King, Louis XIV.

William was flying his orange banner the day his soldiers defeated Catholic James II in Ireland in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne. James hoped to use Ireland as a base from which to recover the crown of England which he had abdicated two years before in the face of William’s invasion of England.

The white band on the tricolour, between the green and the orange, is the symbol of brotherhood. So the three colours together express the hope for a united Ireland.

The flag seems to have first appeared in the early 1840s and was almost certainly influenced by the French tricolour – the flag of the Great Revolution. Irish sympathisers, looking forward to their own freedom, adapted the French revolutionary banner and, sometimes it seems, even flew them side by side.

Taking the form of the French flag in acknowledgment of common aims, the Irish substituted their own colours for the French red and blue.

The tricolour flew in the Easter Rising of 1916 and it is now the proud emblem of a free nation.

The Great Exhibition celebrated man’s ingenuity and imagination

Posted in Architecture, Art, Arts and Crafts, Famous landmarks, Famous news stories, Flags, Historical articles, History, Industry, Leisure, London, Royalty, Science on Thursday, 21 March 2013

This edited article about the Great Exhibition of 1851 originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 207 published on 1 January 1966.

Great Exhibition, picture, image, illustration

The Palace of Glass for the Great Industrial Exhibition, 1851

A New Britain appeared before the world at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London, in 1851. The idea of the exhibition seems to have originated with the Prince Consort, and in July, 1849, he invited some members of the Society of Arts to Buckingham Palace to hear their views. What he had in mind was to show the world what Britain was doing in the way of manufactures. His enthusiasm proved catching, and he easily converted the others to his views.

But the Prince had also to win the manufacturers round to his way of thinking. They were frightened that trade secrets would be given away, but he made an appeal to them on the ground that the profit of the individual must be sacrificed for the good of the world, and to their credit many of them agreed to support him. The Prince was careful to keep his own name out of the project as much as possible, and he was annoyed when, as he said, it looked as if he were “to be advertised, and used as a means of drawing a full house.”

At first the public did not take the Exhibition very seriously, but the Prince was persistent, and in the winter of 1849-50 after five thousand guarantors had been somewhat reluctantly enlisted, a Royal Commission was set up. Sixteen acres of land on the southern side of Hyde Park were secured, and a design for a monster palace of glass was accepted from Joseph Paxton, who had built the conservatories at Chatsworth for the Duke of Devonshire. It was this glass palace which excited the most ridicule, and it was freely prophesied that it would prove impossible to erect.

Other criticisms were made, too. It was feared that the Exhibition would attract enormous crowds of very undesirable people, who would trample all over the flower-beds in Hyde Park, and as likely as not finish up by pillaging the houses in Belgravia and Kensington. This would be bad enough, but there would be sure to be hordes of very dubious foreigners, and at that time foreigners were regarded with grave suspicion. Colonel Sibthorpe, M.P., whom we have already seen, was a violent opponent of the railways, even went so far as to get up in the House of Commons and pray that “hail or lightning might descend from Heaven” to defeat Prince Albert’s plans. The American press foretold general massacre and insurrection.

One critic wrote to The Times to point out that when the guns in Hyde Park fired a Royal Salute the glass of the building would crash to the ground.

In spite of all opposition and sneers the glittering Palace steadily rose above the green spaces of Hyde Park, and Thackeray in his May Day Ode wrote:

A blazing arch of lucid glass
Leaps like a fountain from the grass
To meet the sun.

Two thousand workmen were employed on the building which was over six hundred yards long, containing nearly a million square feet of glass and providing over eight miles of table space for the exhibits.

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Triumph and tragedy – the death of Admiral Lord Nelson

Posted in Famous battles, Famous Last Words, Famous news stories, Flags, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Wednesday, 7 December 2011

This edited article about Admiral Lord Nelson originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 869 published on 9 September 1978.

Death of Nelson, picture, image, illustration

The Death of Nelson by Benjamin West

With a tremendous roar, the French ship Achille, which had been burning for an hour and a half, blew up. Her wreckage rapidly vanished beneath the waves and the Battle of Trafalgar was finally over. It was the greatest naval victory in British history since a combination of English sea dogs, fine ships and a friendly wind beat the Spanish Armada. That had been in 1588, but now it was 5 o’clock in the afternoon of 21st October, 1805, and the combined French and Spanish fleets had suffered a decisive defeat.

It was difficult in the confused aftermath of victory for the British ships to communicate with each other, but when night came a shadow fell across the hearts of every sailor in the fleet.

No admiral’s lights were to be seen aboard the flagship Victory, and soon everyone from senior captains to humble powder monkeys – the boys who carried powder to the guns – knew that their beloved commander, Admiral Lord Nelson, had been killed.

A musket ball from a French sniper, perched high in the mizzen mast of the Redoutable, had struck the Admiral’s shoulder and finally lodged in his spine; but he had lived long enough to know that his ships were completely victorious.

The consternation and grief around the fleet was best summed up by an ordinary sailor writing a letter home, which, far more than more august efforts, shows what he and his comrades had felt about Nelson:

I never set eyes on him, for which I am both sorry and glad for, to be sure, I should like to have seen him; but then, all the men in our ship who have seen him are such soft toads. They have done nothing but blast their eyes and cry ever since he was killed. God bless you chaps, that fought like the Devil and sit down and cry like a wench.

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The League of Nations

Posted in Anniversary, Flags, History on Sunday, 5 June 2011

16 June marks the anniversary of the first public meeting of the League of Nations council in London in 1920.

picture, League of Nations, flags

Flags of members of the League of Nations. Illustration by Frank Collins

Founded on anti-war sentiments after the First World War, the potential remedy to global conflict was an international organisation whose aims were disarmament, open diplomacy, international cooperation, restrictions on the right to wage war and penalties that made war unattractive to nations.

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was promoting the idea of a League of Nations to Congress in 1918; the Paris Peace Conference approved the proposal to create such a League in January 1919 and, in June, 44 states signed the Covenant. Despite Wilson’s efforts to establish and promote the League, for which he was awarded the Novel Peace Prize, the U.S. did not join.

Meetings were held around Europe in 1920, the first in Paris on 16 January; in November, the headquarters of the League were moved to Geneva.

The League of Nations was replaced after the Second World War by the United Nations.

Many more pictures relating to the history of war can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The Red Cross is created

Posted in Flags, Historical articles, Medicine, War, World War 1, World War 2 on Thursday, 2 June 2011

This edited article about the Red Cross  originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 957 published on 12 July 1980.

Red Cross, picture, image, illustration

The International Red Cross Flag

The Red Cross has been in existence for well over a hundred years. The inspiration for it came in 1859, when a Swiss banker named Henri Dunant was witness to the appalling suffering of war at the Battle of Solferino, in Italy. After helping to care for the injured, he decided that “voluntary aid societies” should be formed to help care for the wounded of war – whatever side they fought on. Dunant formed a committee in Geneva, and the first “Geneva Convention” was signed on 22nd August, 1864. The emblem adopted was the Swiss flag in reverse – a red cross on white.

The Flag of Italy

Posted in Flags, History on Wednesday, 23 March 2011

This edited article about the Italian flag originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 923 published on 29 September 1979.

The flag of Italy consists of three vertical stripes, the first being green, the second white, and the third red. This flag first appeared in a student demonstration in Bologna on 14th May, 1795.

Italian aerobatic team painting the colours of the Italian flag

Italian aerobatic team painting the colours of the Italian flag

Two years later, the newly-formed Cisalpine Republic adopted the flag as colours for its troops taking part in campaigns against the Austrians.

The Cisalpine Republic united Italy (with the exception of Venice and Sicily) for the first time under French rule. In 1806, however, Napoleon replaced the Cisalpine Republic with a monarchy by crowning himself king of Italy.

He took the flag for his new kingdom, but after his downfall in 1815, Italy was again broken up into independent states and the flag ceased to exist.

Charles Albert, King of Sardinia, resurrected the flag in the first half of the 19th century, and when Italy was again united under his son, Victor Emmanuel II, in 1861, it became the emblem of the whole country. During the reigns of Victor Emmanuel II and his successors (Umberto I, Victor Emmanuel III, and Umberto II) the royal coat of arms was borne on the white stripe of the flag. This disappeared after Italy was declared a republic in June 1946.

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Flags: Code of Signals

Posted in Boats, Flags, History, Sea, Ships, War on Tuesday, 22 March 2011

This edited article about flags used as signals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 922 published on 22 September 1979.

From very early times, flags have been used as a means of conveying orders and information between ships at sea, but it was only in comparatively recent times that flag signals were codified. The first code to be widely used was drawn up in 1817 by a Captain Marryat, and this formed the basis of what has now become the International Code of Signals.

Signal flags

Signal flags

This international code provides one flag for each letter of the alphabet, a pennant for each of the ten digits, three triangular “substitutes” to prevent the need for duplicating the other flags, and an answering pennant. When flown singly or in pairs, the flags represent specific signals. For example, the flag for D is also a warning that a ship is manoeuvring with difficulty, and the two flags that represent N and C when hoisted together signify that a ship is in distress and requires immediate assistance.

Flags have, of course, also been used on land as a means of signalling, and during the American Civil War an excellent system of signalling in Morse Code by means of flags was developed and used by both armies.

Since ancient times, a crude form of semaphore signalling – whereby each letter or message is indicated by the position of wooden arms on a tower or pole or by hand-held flags – has been in use. Today, most Scouts and Guides learn the modern semaphore alphabet.

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The Red Flag

Posted in Flags, History, Revolution on Wednesday, 16 March 2011

This edited article about the history of the red flag originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 921 published on 15 September 1979.

Strange as it may seem, the red flag, the flag most often used as the symbol of revolution, insurrection and terrorism, originally had a different significance from that which the revolutionaries intended it to have. In the Roman Empire it signified war and was used as a call to arms, and in France under Louis XVI it was used by the authorities as a sign that martial law had been declared.

The red flag in the Russian Revolution. Illustration by Ron Embleton

The red flag in the Russian Revolution. Illustration by Ron Embleton

Just before the French Revolution, terrible riots frequently occurred in the streets of Paris and martial law had to be declared. However, on 17th July, 1791, when several hundred demonstrators failed to disperse after a riot in the Champs de Mars, they were killed by the royal troops.

Popular indignation with the system of rule which allowed the people no share whatever in the government of the country strengthened the extremists. In the following year they used as a banner when they rioted a red flag which had inscribed on it “Martial law of the people against the revolt of the Court”. By this they meant that the people were the sovereign power of the state and that when the Royal Court opposed the will of the people it was revolting against them and that they had the right to declare martial law against it.

Similar incidents with the red flag occurred both in France and elsewhere – notably in Russia, where it was used during the October Revolution of 1917, and has since then, with the addition of a hammer and a sickle, become the national flag of the USSR. It had the effect of establishing the red flag as the world-wide symbol of socialist revolution.

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The Flag of the Admiralty

Posted in Flags, Sea, Ships on Tuesday, 15 March 2011

This edited article about flag of the Admiralty originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 920 published on 8 September 1979.

The flag of the Admiralty is a plain red flag with a clear anchor in the centre in yellow. First flown by James, Duke of York, when he was Lord High Admiral, the flag was adopted by the Board of Commissioners which was appointed in 1628 to carry out the office of Lord High Admiral. In 1691 the Commissioners directed that “a red silk flag with the anchor and cable therein” be made for the Board’s barge.

The anchor symbol is still seen on navy uniforms

The anchor symbol is still seen on navy uniforms

Thirty-four years later, the flag showed the anchor cable twisted around the stock of the anchor. This change was made presumably to produce a more pleasing design, but it had the effect of producing a most unseamanlike object – a fouled anchor – as the symbol of the Admiralty. This was very strange indeed, since the First Lord of the Admiralty was himself an experienced sailor.

It was not until 1815 that the design of the flag was made more seamanlike by clearing the cable from the anchor. And the fouled anchor is still used to decorate the buttons and badges of Royal Navy uniforms!

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