Copenhagen 1892: Flags at the Royal Golden Wedding Anniversary

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The last time there was a royal golden wedding anniversary in Denmark was in 1892. A flag decorated Copenhagen celebrated the happy marriage of King Christian IX and Queen Louise. Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, their daughter, may have inspired a peculiar Saint Andrew’s cross flag: a merger of a Nordic swallow-tailed flag and a Russian naval ensign.

This photograph from 1892 shows a festively decorated building on the corner of Vesterbrogade and Frederiksberg Allé, two streets in Vesterbro close to the centre of Copenhagen. A number of different flags can be detected, some of them quite out of the ordinary.

Most of the flags are Danish flags, a number of them swallow-tailed. These are not naval or state flags, though. Since the 19th Century the swallow-tailed Dannebrog (the so-called splitflag) has been in wide-spread unofficial use at wedding parties, birthday celebrations etc.

There are also Norwegian and Swedish swallow-tailed flags in the black and white photo (Sweden’s blue and yellow appear a little lighter than Denmark’s red and white). Erroneously, the Norwegian and Swedish flags have two swallow tails like the Danish flag. In Norway and Sweden three tails is the norm.

The white flags with a Saint Andrew’s cross appear to be some sort of Russian flags. A white flag with a blue saltire is the naval ensign of Russia. On the building in the picture, these unofficial Russian flags are swallow-tailed like the Nordic flags.

On 26 May 1892, Christian IX and Louise had been happily married for 50 years and had been King and Queen of Denmark for more than half that time. The golden wedding celebrations in Copenhagen lasted for days. Photos and paintings from the time show that streets and houses and ships were decorated with literally thousands of flags, put up by the authorities and by private citizens.

King Christian IX and Queen Louise were known as “Europe’s parents-in-law” because their children married into prominent royal families all around the continent.

Their eldest sons became King Frederik VIII of Denmark and King George I of Greece. Their youngest son, Prince Valdemar, was suggested as a possible king of Bulgaria in 1887 and of Norway in 1905. Among their three daughters, Alexandra was married to Britain’s King Edward VII and Dagmar was married to Russia’s Emperor Alexander III. She was known as Maria Feodorovna in Russia and was the mother of the last tsar, Nicholas II.

A large number of King Christian’s and Queen Louise’s children, grandchildren, relatives and in-laws as well as foreign dignitaries gathered in Copenhagen for the celebrations. The Russian imperial yacht, the Polar Star (in Russian, Полярная звезда), lay at anchor in the harbour. The vessel was in Copenhagen not only at this occation, but rather often in fact, as the Empress loved to visit her parents and always travelled from Saint Petersburg to Denmark by ship.

Manned and commanded by the Russian Navy the imperial yacht of course flew the Russian naval ensign. This fact may explain why the Saint Andrew’s cross would have been known and used by Copenhageners to represent Russia in flag decorations in 1892.

125 years later, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, a great-great granddaughter of King Christian IX and Queen Louise, celebrates her royal golden wedding anniversary. It was on 10 June 1967 that Princess Margrethe, then heir to the Danish throne, married Henri de Laborde de Monpezat, today known as Prince Henrik of Denmark.

Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik have decided to celebrate their wedding anniversary in private with their family away from rolling TV cameras. So, there will be no public festivities in Copenhagen today and, it’s safe to say, far fewer flags than in 1892.


Saint Andrew’s Day


30 November is celebrated as Saint Andrew’s Day by Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant denominations. According to legend Andrew the Apostle, brother of Saint Peter, was crucified on an X-shaped cross. Today, Saint Andrew’s cross feature on flags all over the world.

Happy Saint Andrew’s Day to the Scots! Saint Andrew’s Cross, also known as Saint Andrew’s Saltire, has been the national flag of Scotland since the 15th Century.

Across the Atlantic, the flag of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia resembles that of Scotland. The flag, created in 1858, is a banner of the province’s coat of arms from 1625: the colours of the Scottish flag are reversed; in the middle the Royal Arms of Scotland.

In 1606, King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England and a new flag was designed joining together the blue-white Saint Andrew’s cross of Scotland and the red-white Saint George’s cross of England. This Union Flag became the national flag of Great Britain in 1707 after the Acts of Union. In the 17th and 18th Century a Scottish version of the Union Flag was in unofficial use. Unlike the official version, it had the Scottish cross superimposed on the English cross.

On the European continent another version of Saint Andrew’s cross also originated in the 15th Century. The Cross of Burgundy is a red, knotted Saint Andrew’s cross on white. In the 16th Century the lands of the Burgundian dukes in present-day France, Belgium and the Netherlands were inherited by the Habsburg dynasty. Since 1506 and the first Habsburg king in Spain, the Cross of Burgundy has been a part of Spanish history.

The City of Huesca in Aragon, Spain has a flag with the Cross of Burgundy dating back to 1707. From Spain the Cross of Burgundy spread to all parts of the Spanish Empire.

The flag of Alabama is from 1895. It is codified as “a crimson cross of St. Andrew on a field of white”, but its creators also ment for it to suggest the Confederate Battle Flag. The flag of Florida is from 1900. It has the state seal and a red cross on white. The flags of Alabama and Florida recall the Cross of Burgundy of those Spaniards who were the first Europeans to reach their shores 500 years ago.

In two of Spain’s autonomous communities the capital city feature a red cross of Saint Andrew on its flag. The City of Logroño is the capital of La Rioja. The City of Vitoria-Gasteiz is the capital of the Basque Country.

The flag of Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, is similar to the Scottish flag, but the blue colour is of a darker shade. The white of the cross symbolizes the snow on the Teide volcano which gave the island its name: Tenerife means “the white mountain”.


This is part 1 in a series about Saint Andrew’s crosses in flags. Read also The Russian Connection.

State of the Union: What About Wales?


The flag of the United Kingdom combines elements of the flags of its constituent countries. But Wales is missing. In 1801 the Union Flag was updated to reflect constitutional changes. Two centuries later it seems fair to ask: What would the British Union Flag look like if Welsh elements were incorporated too?

The flag of England, Saint George’s Cross, was combined with the flag of Scotland, Saint Andrew’s Cross, for the first time in 1606. This first version of the Union Flag was ment for maritime use only. It wasn’t a national flag. In 1603 King James VI of Scotland had succeeded to the English crown and had become King James I of England, but Scotland and England remained two kingdoms, each with its own parliament.

A hundred years later the Acts of Union 1706/1707 united the two countries into one Great Britain, with only one parliament. Through yet another Act of Union in 1800 the Kingdom of Great Britain was united with the Kingdom of Ireland. A royal decree on 1 January 1801 changed the Union Flag, combining it with the flag of Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Cross.

Saint George’s Cross is a white flag with a red cross. It has been the flag of England since the Middle Ages, its origins going back to the Crusades of the 12th Century. Saint Andrew’s Cross is a blue flag with a white saltire. It has been the flag of Scotland since the 15th Century. Saint Patrick’s Cross is a white flag with a red saltire. It has been used to represent Ireland since the late 18th Century.

The British Empire spread the Union Flag to dominions, colonies, protectorates and dependencies on all continents. Today, the British Union Flag is still part of the flags of some independent Commonwealth countries as well as several overseas territories and states or provinces of former British dominions.

At the beginning of the 20th Century Ireland was partitioned, and today only the six northernmost counties of Ireland are part of the United Kingdom. At the end of the 20th Century considerable powers were devolved from the British parliament to new parliaments established in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Further devolution and future changes to the constitutional set-up of the United Kingdom are expected. The UK flag hasn’t changed since 1801, though.

Both before and after the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, flag enthusiast have speculated how the Union Flag would look without the Scottish blue-white Saint Andrew’s Cross. At the same time it has been suggested that elements symbolizing Wales should be incorporated into the Union Flag in order to reflect that country’s equal status with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.

The flag of Wales, the Red Dragon, was adopted in 1959. On two horizontal stripes of white and green it has the red dragon of King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd. Another flag is also used in Wales: Saint David’s Cross is a black flag with a yellow cross.