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Orkney Islands (United Kingdom)

Last modified: 2016-06-04 by rob raeside
Keywords: orkney islands | scotland | united kingdom | cross: scandinavian |
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[Flag of the Orkney Islands] image by Ivan Sarajcic, 26 August 2007

See also:

Description of the flag

Orkney's new flag has passed the first hurdle with Lord Lyon and won a referendum of several other designs. The winning flag is basically Norway with yellow instead of white fimbriations, and a Scottish Saltire blue. You can see it, and the other shortlisted designs at You can see a story with quotes from the designer, Duncan Tulloch, at
Graham Bartram, 10 April 2007

The relevant part of the June 26 2007 council meeting (taken from the PDF) is:

After consideration of a report by the Chief Executive, copies of which had been circulated, with reference to the Minute of the Meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee held on 27 March 2007, paragraph 6, the Committee:-
12.1 that the Lord Lyon King of Arms had granted the Council’s petition and had approved the design of the proposed community flag submitted by Duncan Tullock, Birsay;
12.2 that the next stage was the granting of Letters Patent;
12.3 that flagmakers and local suppliers would be invited to submit quotations for the provision of flags; and
12.4 that the Convener and the Chief Executive would make appropriate arrangements to publicly recognise Mr Tullock’s design and thank those schools whose pupils submitted entries to the competition.
The Committee resolved to RECOMMEND to the Council:-
12.5 that powers be delegated to the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Convener and the Vice Convener, to make appropriate arrangements to launch and promote the Orkney community flag.
Graham Bartram, 26 August 2007

My suspicion is that the new Orkney is designed with the ratios from the flag of Norway, that is 8:11 overall, and the internal parts being horizontally 6:1:2:1:12 and vertically 6:1:2:1:6 (which is another way of presenting the ratios Ivan gave). I base this on fitting a Norwegian flag design over the design number two in the ballot and the match was pretty good. It remains to be seen what is settled for in the end. I suppose after Lord Lyon gives his blessing the Orkney Island Council will adopt specifications of both internal measurements and colours, following the recent decision by the Shetland Island Council to adopt and specify the Shetland community flag.
Jan Oskar Engene, 11 April 2007

No official statistics are, however, known at the present time, and the specification given here (being based upon incomplete information) must be considered partially speculative". As a matter of interest, pending any official info to the contrary my spec reads 6-1-2-1-6 for the hoist and 6-1-2-1-14 for the length.
Christopher Southworth, 26 August 2007

Flag vote

The current design was chosen by election after a flag competition jury shortlisted the contestants to five, as reported by Graham Bartram. The ballot for it is at The five designs are below:

[Proposal for Flag of the Orkney Islands] [Proposal for Flag of the Orkney Islands] [Proposal for Flag of the Orkney Islands] [Proposal for Flag of the Orkney Islands] [Proposal for Flag of the Orkney Islands] images by António Martins-Tuválkin, 10 March 2016

The 1st design is a 3:5 flag with a thick white off-centered cross limiting two blue almost-square areas at the hoist and two red ones at the fly. Specs from PDF are (94+54+81):(81+54+212).

The 2nd design is a recolored Norwegian flag, with its specs (6+1+2+1+6):(6+2+1+2+12), with a slightly lighter blue and with yellow for white; this is the design that got eventually elected, but altered in its ratio and detailed cross specs.

The 3rd design is like the 2nd but the central cross is light green and the fimbriations are blue.

The 4th design shares the basic coloration and ratio with the 1st, but the cross is thinner and offset also towards the top. Specs from PDF are (68+34+114):(114+34+212).

The 5th design is like the 2nd but the central cross is light green and the fimbriations are white - an even less modified Norwegian flag.

Two remarks about all designs - first, that simpler figures for the specs of the non-Norwegian designs are likely, given more detailed images or better sources, and second, that the same color shades were used for all five images, in a total of five different hues.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 10 March 2016

Previous (Unofficial) Flag

[Flag of the Orkney Islands]

This unofficial flag of the Orkneys was mentioned to me in general terms by a Scottish visitor to one of the FOTW web sites. I have found some more details about it in NAVA News, November-December 1995, in a little piece by Bill Cogswell called "Flag of the Orkney Islands". The flag - with the nickname Cross of St Magnus - has a yellow field with a red Nordic cross (proportions unknown). St Magnus was Earl of Orkney from about 1080 and was killed by his co-ruler Hakon Palsson in 1115. He was declared a saint in 1135. Inspiration for the flag came from the unofficial flag of Shetland, which is a white Nordic cross on blue, and of course other Nordic flags. The colours are those of the Scottish royal banner and the arms of Norway.
Jan Oskar Engene, 20 February 1998

When I visited Orkney in 1999 I went on a guided walking tour of Kirkwall, the capital. Our guide, who was a native Orcadian, wore the Orkney flag as a lapel badge on her jacket. She also told me that it was flown on fishing boats based in the Orkneys, although I did not see it flown anywhere on land.
David Griffiths, 16 July 2004

The design referred to as the unofficial Orkney Flag was not granted permission by the Lord Lyon King. It is locally called St Magnus Cross and was refused due to the fact that a red Scandinavian cross within a gold field was granted as coat of arms to a noble family of Northern Ireland. This one is now under discussion and last week OIC started a new appeal for new designs in addition to those as published in the local press (The Orcadian & others).
Wolfgang Schlick, 29 April 2006

Origin of the flag

The flag of the Orkneys was in fact a joint suggestion by the late Allan Macartney (1941-98), who later became the Member of the European Parliament for the Highlands and Islands, and myself. We first thought of it not long after the Shetland flag was invented, about 1970. Our basis was that red and yellow are the colours of the royal arms of both Scotland and Norway, thus reflecting the islands' dual heritage. But it was not until 1994 (I think) that Allan persuaded the Orcadians to take it up and manufacture some. I have not been to Orkney since then and I do not know what success it has had.
Kenneth Campbell Fraser,
23 November 1998

Banner of Arms

[Flag of the Orkney Islands] image by Chris Pinette

When the Island Games were held in Guernsey (2003), the blue and red banner of arms was used by  (no longer available) to show results. However, BBC ( - no longer available) used the red cross on yellow flag.

My guess is that the banner of arms is probably official as the flag of the Orkney Islands Council - while the Scandinavian Cross is unofficial but widely used.
André Coutanche, 5 July 2003

The Banner of Arms was never used as a flag but is taken from the coat of arms for Orkney Island Council that was granted some time in the late 1970s I think. OIC refused to use it as a flag while the Magnus Cross was flown unofficially over private properties despite the harshest protests of the Lord Lyon King and his repeated announcements "that he could legally confiscate" all properties under the flag. You can see the OIC coat of arms in full design including the dolphin crown and "a udaller habited of the fifteenth century" and a Unicorn as supporters on The only case of the use of the banner of arms, which I can remember for the last 30 years was on a book cover (The History of Orkney by ... W. Thomson???).
Wolfgang Schlick, 29 April 2006

The 'lion rampant holding an axe' is not simply a lion but the Royal Arms of Norway.
Wolfgang Schlick, 1 May 2006

I was informed five years ago by an Orkney resident that the Orkney Island Council flag, the banner of arms, was used "over the Council Chambers" when the council was in meeting.

The supporter on the coat of arms is "a udaller habited of the fifteenth century", quoting from Urquhart (1979), that is a representation of a historical Norse inhabitant of the Orkneys.
Jan Oskar Engene, 1 May 2006

The lion is different from the arms of Norway only in two notable respects: It is crowned by a closed crown and the blade of the axe is gold. In the arms of Norway the crown is open and the blade of the axe is silver. Also, in the Orkney arms the lion has a blue tongue and claws. These are gold in the coat of arms of Norway. Nevertheless, it is the lion of Norway and one might wonder whether in 1931 Lord Lyon asked permission from Norway to use its national coat of arms.
Jan Oskar Engene, 8 May 2006

While it is not impossible that the then Lord Lyon did correspond with Oslo in 1930-31, there was no need for him to have done so. This is firstly because the arms granted to Orkney are not the arms of Norway. They contain the arms of Norway in part of the field (the sinister half, as I read the flag), but the composition as a whole is a different device. The differences in detail between the Orkney lion and that of Norway are questioned, but this is entirely routine in instances where different heraldic authorities deal with what is essentially the same device. Although the Orkney lion is drawn differently, has a different crown, has a blue tongue and blue claws and holds an axe where the colouring is different in detail, it is still a gold lion, rampant and crowned, on red, holding an axe - in other words, still the lion of Norway.

For an entirely distinct example I offer the arms of marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla (formerly Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall), which can be seen at Question 5 at  - this is The Baronage Press's Christmas 2005 quiz, with answers provided. On the dexter side of the shield (left as you face it) are the arms of the Prince of Wales. On the sinister are the arms of Camilla's father, featuring a boar's head. This is a typical Scottish charge (his family is Scottish), and in Scots usage a boar's head is usually shown erased (with a jagged edge below the jaw, indicating that the animal's head was hacked from its body). The College of Arms, however, prefers the neater severance of a straight line, called couped in armorial terminology. So these arms show a boar's head couped, since the arms of marriage of Charles and Camilla came from the College of Arms.

In the same way the Lyon Office has made its own interpretation of the Norwegian lion, including the blue tongue and claws which are normal in a British coat of arms showing a lion on a red field (or a red lion). Lyon's authority extends over the entire Kingdom of Scotland as it existed in 1603, when James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne - that includes Zetland (the Shetland Islands) and Orkney. Both these island groups once belonged to Norway, hence the significance of Norse symbols there. Since the Orkney flag as shown above is an armorial banner, it clearly falls under Lyon's authority, and if flown incorrectly it can be confiscated.
Mike Oettle
, 13 May 2006

My reason for questioning whether Lord Lyon asked permission to use the Norwegian lion in one of his grants has to do with what international traditions or agreements there might be on the use of the national emblems of one country in official (or private) emblems in another country. In some instances there may be a long established and continuous tradition for such use, in other cases, and in particular with respect to newly composed emblems, the situation may be different. There is, for instance the Paris Convention (originally signed 1883) that prohibits the use of national emblems in trademarks. What I am asking is this: Is there an international understanding that it is inappropriate to include the national emblems of a foreign country in newly created emblems such as a coat of arms without asking permission? Does a country have exclusive rights over its national symbols - a right to be asked for permission, a right to demand its symbols removed from official emblems of public institutions in a foreign country?
Jan Osker Engene, 14 May 2006

As stated, the convention concerns trade marks. The Orkney banner (or flag of the arms) is by no means a trade mark. It is possible that Lyon Court might take a different view of things today, but in 1931 I am sure there was no question that it was appropriate to use the lion of Norway in Orkney's arms to represent one-time Norwegian sovereignty in the islands.
Mike Oettle
, 15 May 2006

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