Britain’s flag was introduced by a gay or bisexual king
In the world of British party politics today, open homophobia is largely confined to the fascist fringe, represented most notably by the BNP. Over homosexuality, as over race and immigration, the BNP seeks to appeal to voters’ prejudices, with scare stories such as ‘”Gay Rights” Lobby Target [sic] School Children’. But is the BNP aware that we owe our national flag, the Union Flag or Union Jack, displayed prominently on the party’s website, to a king who was – depending on one’s definition – either gay or bisexual ?
As Nick Groom writes in ‘The Union Jack – The Story of the British Flag’ (Atlantic Books, London, 2007), after James VI, King of Scotland, became King of England as well in 1603, thefore uniting both countries under his personal rule, he commissioned his Lord High Admiral, Charles Howard, the Earl of Nottingham, to design what was to be called a ‘Flag of the Great Union’. After several designs were considered, the one that was eventually chosen involved the combining of the Scottish Cross of St Andrew with the English Cross of St George. In Groom’s words:
Although a formal Act of Union was not ratified until 1701, James nevertheless proclaimed the name Great Britain on coins and, despite parliamentary objections, he achieved a degree of economic union and some recognition of joint citizenship. His policy did have standing in common law, and so the two kingdoms were effectively, if precariously, united through much of the seventeenth century – which was itself a considerable achievement following hundreds of years of ireful feuding and outright warfare. And neither was the symbolic impact of the union confined to coins and to language: on 12 April 1606, James I of Great Britain flew the first Union Flag. (Groom, pp. 132-133)
The flag has been with us more or less ever since, though the existing version dates from 1801, following the union of Great Britain and Ireland, when the Cross of St Patrick was added to the design to represent the latter.
James VI and I was a gay or bisexual man. In the words of Michael B. Young in ‘James VI and I and the History of Homosexuality’ (MacMillan, London, 2000, p. 48):
Unlike most kings who have extramarital affairs, James had male favourites, not female mistresses. In fact, James might never have married if it had not been for the pragmatic need to produce heirs. His lifelong preference, which he expressed in his choice of sexual partners outside marriage, was for sex with males.
Young argues that James was homosexual rather than bisexual, though he notes that he did have regular sexual intercourse with his wife, Anne of Denmark, above all when he was less closely involved with his male favourites, and producing a string of pregnancies.
Come to think of it, James was a Scottish immigrant in England and his wife came from Denmark and was not even British.
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