Known the world over as a symbol of the United Kingdom, the Union Jack is an intricate construction based on the crosses of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick. Used by everyone from the royalty to the military, pop stars and fashion icons, the Union Jack has a long and fascinating history steeped in heraldic and dynastic symbolism. From the development of the Royal Standard as English kings laid claim to the throne of France and Ireland, to the seventeenth-century battles over the precise balance of the English and Scottish elements of the first Union Jack, today's well-known flags are a product of the complex interactions of politics, history and circumstance. Nick Groom's original history takes into account the continuing controversy, first as a symbol of Empire - a fact still in evidence today on the flags of New Zealand, Australia, Tuvalu and Fiji - and latterly as a symbol cynically exploited by ultra-rightwing political groups.
As the four nations within the union are gaining increasing autonomy and the EU is expanding its influence on British politics, the Union Jack must find a new role as a positive symbol in national life or be doomed as the emblem of underwear manufacturers, celebrity starlets and skinheads.
Nick Groom is Reader in English at the University of Bristol. He took a double first in English at Oxford, worked unsuccessfully as a rock musician, wrote a doctoral thesis on eighteenth-century ballads, and since then has published widely on literature, music, and contemporary art in both academic and popular publications, from the Times Higher Education Supplement to the Erotic Review. He is also the author of Introducing Shakespeare. He lives on Dartmoor and in London.