Thamesweb logo

Flag Staff Mystery title

The flags and flagstaff at Windsor Castle

The Royal Standard

Raising the flag at sunrise

Hoisting the Royal Standard at Windsor Castle at sunrise on the Prince of Wales's Marriage Day, an event not to be repeated for over 140 years!

The dramatic illustration above is taken from the front cover of The Illustrated London News of March 14th 1863 and was published at the time of the wedding of The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, on March 7th 1863 to Alexandra, the eldest daughter of King Kristian IX of Denmark. Their second son, George (1865-1936) was to become George V.

The Ceremonial Royal Standard in 2005

The massive ceremonial Royal Standard flies over Windsor Castle, April 21st 2005

In glorious weather, the great ceremonial Royal Standard flew over Windsor Castle on April 21st 2005 by way of a salute to Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of her 79th birthday. The photo above does not really do justice to this flag's immense size. It measures 38 feet (11.58 meters) across by 19 feet (5.79 meters) deep and flies only on very special occasions. Certainly the Queen's Birthday, her real birthday, is one such occasion, and another is the day of the Garter Service in mid-June. Also, earlier in April 2005, the flag had been flown to mark the wedding of HRH Prince Charles to the Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall. On other occasions a smaller version of the Royal Standard is flown.
  The Royal Standard is only flown when the monarch is actually present, either at one of her official residences such as Windsor or Buckingham Palace, on the Queen's car while undertaking official journeys and even on an aircraft, but only while taxiing! Other members of the Royal Family have their own variants of the Royal Standard plus versions for use in Wales and Scotland. When the Queen is not present at Windsor, the Union flag is flown, the size selected according to the strength of the wind.
  During the programme '
Windsor: The Queen's Castle' shown by the BBC in Spring 2005, the Flag Officer at Windsor, Tony Martin, is seen watching for the arrival of the Queen within the grounds of Windsor Castle. Her arrival is his signal to lower the Union flag and raise the Royal Standard. While being filmed Mr Martin was seen raising the huge ceremonial Royal Standard. "Some flag this," he says, "You can see this from Heathrow." Heathrow Airport is some 5 miles from Windsor Castle!
The Royal Standard is split into four quadrants. The quadrants at top left and bottom right represent England featuring three gold lions on a red field; the second quadrant (top right) represents Scotland and features a red lion rampant on a gold field; the third quadrant (bottom left) represents Ireland and features a gold harp on a blue field. Wales is not featured on the Royal Standard, as it is a Principality not a kingdom and as such predates the Union of Ireland, Scotland and England by several centuries. In Scotland the Royal Standard features two Scottish quadrants instead of the two representing England.

CU Standard

The Royal Standard is split into four quadrants described above

Royal Standard image

Flying the Union Flag at Half Mast

It is often believed that all flags should be flown at half mast on the occasion of the death of the monarch as a sign of mourning. This does not apply to the monarch's flag, the Royal Standard. It was therefore impossible for the flag to be flown at half mast on the occasion of Diana, Princess of Wales', death.
  "The King is Dead! Long Live the King." This apparent contradiction actually illustrates the point in that at the very moment of the passing of a monarch, his or her descendant immediately accedes to the throne, thereby ensuring uninterrupted monarchy and succession. On the day a new monarch is proclaimed, normally within a few days of the death of the preceding monarch, the union flag is flown 'full mast', from the top of the flag staff, from 11.00a.m. to sunset.
  On public buildings, flying a flag at 'half mast' indicates the death of the sovereign or funeral of members of the Royal Family, the funerals of foreign rulers and the funerals of Prime Ministers and ex-Prime Ministers. There can also be special commands from the sovereign altering these arrangements at times of national or international disaster such as following the events of September 11th 2001, pictured below.

September 11th Union flag at half mast

Following the terror attacks in America on September 11th 2001, the Union flag over Windsor Castle was flown at 'half mast' as a sign of national mourning.
More details.

Half mast means the flag is actually lowered by one third of the height of the flag staff. This can be seen clearly in the picture above. Whenever the Union flag is flown at 'half mast' it is first raised to the top of the mast and then lowered by one third of the height of the mast. It must remain moving throughout this procedure.

More about the Union Flag

Union Flag

The Union Flag is described as 'the people's flag' and is accepted worldwide as the national flag of the United Kingdom. The four countries comprising the United Kingdom are Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales, each of which have in addition their own flags. Since the creation of the Irish Republic, the Union flag now represents Northern Ireland which remains part of the United Kingdom. Although the Union Flag has never been officially declared to be the United Kingdom's national flag, it is of course the flag that is always waved at, say, The Last Night of the Proms or along processional routes and flown from flagpoles to mark a national event.
  The Union Flag was originally a combination of the red and white cross of St George (England) and the blue and white cross of St Andrew (Scotland). This form of the flag dates from, with some variations, the union of England and Scotland at the time of James I of England (who was also James VI of Scotland) in 1605. The red and white cross of St Patrick was incorporated in 1801 following the union with Ireland. The reason why Wales is not represented is that England and Wales had been an amalgamated kingdom since Edward I defeated Llewelyn resulting in the Treaty of Aberconwy in 1277.
  The prime purpose of the new flag at that time was to identify British ships at sea and so a proclamation was issued on 12th April 1606 that all ships shall fly a flag comprising the English cross of St George and the Scottish cross of St Andrew, and a design was created. This did not please everyone as the cross of St Andrew was thought to be obscured by the English flag, and similarly the English were unhappy at the loss of the white background for St George's red cross and so a number of variants were proposed but by 1801, upon the union with Ireland, the flag we know today was created. [More information].

Components of the Union Flag

The three component parts of the Union flag.
In this picture, the flag pole would be to the left to ensure that the flag is flown the right way up.

The British flag is sometimes referred to as the Union Jack. Many believe that this is wrong and that the term 'jack' should refer only to the flag when flown aboard ship. A little known detail dates from 1902 when the Admiralty declared that the flag could be known as both the Union Flag and the Union Jack, its first name from the earliest days in 1606.
  The Union flag takes precedence over all other flags and must always be flown from the 'senior' flag staff, i.e. the highest of a group, or the flag pole to the left.
  Flying one flag beneath another means that the lower flag has been defeated in battle.
  Flags flown upside down have always indicated 'I am in distress' and is primarily a naval signal. Other vessels in the area would then offer assistance if they were in a position to do so. In order to ensure that the flag is flown correctly, the broader diagonal white stripe should be to the left, at the top, nearest the flagpole.

Flag Days in the UK - Union Flag

January 20th Birthday of The Countess of Wessex
February 6th Her Majesty's Accession Day
  19th Birthday of the Duke of York
March 2nd Monday Commonwealth Day
  10th Birthday of the Earl of Wessex
April 21st Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen
  23rd St George's Day (St George's Cross)
June 2nd Coronation Day
  Variable Official celebration of Her Majesty's
  10th Birthday of Duke of Edinburgh
August 15th Birthday of The Princess Royal
November 2nd Sunday Remembrance Day
   14th Birthday of Prince of Wales
   20th Her Majesty's Wedding Anniversary

With thanks to Harrison External Display Systems for the above
Their web pages may be found at

Maintaining the Flag Staff

Elsewhere on The Royal Windsor Web Site we feature the story of Billy Wilkins who was to be seen every so often perched aloft suspended from the flag staff at Windsor, bees-waxing the flag pole! Despite this loving care, the flag staff has had to be replaced from time to time. One such occasion was in 1892. It is understood that the 'button', the large circular cap from the top of this flag pole was in the care of the Constitution Club in Windsor for many years.

Additional photographs and information about the flags and flag staff at Windsor are being prepared. The loan of your photographs, especially of Billy Wilkins, would be very much appreciated.

The Flag Staff Mystery of the 1890s

Flag Staff Mystery

In the autumn of 2002 we came across this image of the castle which so far remains a mystery. Why does the flag staff look like a ship's mast?

Flag Staff Mystery close up

The original image was published as a stereoview in the 1890s so suggestions that it was for Queen Victoria's 60th Jubilee in 1897, whilst possible, seem unlikely, especially as this particular aspect of the celebrations at Windsor was not otherwise reported or pictured, to the best of our knowledge. Could the flag staff have carried additional flags to mark the start of the new century? Probably not, as the trees are in leaf and so New Year was some months away. That leaves a less auspicious occasion that escaped the attention of picture editors. Perhaps the additional spars across the flag staff were somehow connected with the replacement of the flag staff itself in 1892. This too is unlikely as pictures of the replacement mast being erected show no such structures. Another clue as to the possible date lies in the work being undertaken along the riverside, during the construction of the promenade towards the end of the last century.
  So the mystery persists! We are currently investigating further and will report our findings here.


The Royal Windsor Home Page

The History Zone Index

Thamesweb logo
To contact us, email Thamesweb.