Re-Imagining the Royal and Vice-Regal Flags of the Commonwealth

From the August 2017 Vexilloid Tabloid #65
By Max Liberman

Queen Elizabeth II reigns as monarch of 16 sovereign and independent countries.  Although they share the same person as queen, each country’s throne is legally distinct:  she is simultaneously and separately Queen of the United Kingdom, Queen of Australia, Queen of Papua New Guinea, etc.

Some of these countries have adopted royal standards for the monarch’s personal use, usually a banner of the national coat of arms, defaced with Elizabeth’s  personal badge of a crowned “E” in a wreath of roses.

The royal standard of New Zealand, shown below, is a typical example.

New Zealand royal standard.

Since the queen lives in the United Kingdom, in her other 15 realms she is represented by a governor-general, who fulfills the day-to-day functions of the head of state.

Most of these viceroys (governors-general) fly nearly-identical flags:  blue, with the lion-and-crown crest from the British royal arms above a scroll bearing the country’s name.

Flag of the governor-general of Belize.

The flag of the governor-general of Belize is shown above.

From a heraldic and constitutional perspective, the symbolism of all this is not very satisfying.  The crowned-“E” badge serves as an armorial mark of difference, indicating that someone other than the actual bearer of the coat of arms is represented.  But as monarch, the queen is the personal embodiment of the state; the nation’s arms are her arms, and there is no reason for a person to bear his or her own arms differenced.

In accordance with heraldic custom, I suggest that in each realm she should use a banner of the  national arms without defacement or difference—as illustrated by proposed standards for the Queen of Grenada, the Queen of Tuvalu, and the Queen of Canada below.

Proposed Grenadian royal standard.
Proposed Tuvaluan royal standard.
Proposed Canadian royal standard.

What of the governors-general? They do not represent the United Kingdom or the British government, so there seems little justification for their flags bearing the crest of the British monarch.  Rather, since each governor-general is the personal representative of his or her own country’s queen, I propose that he or she should fly a differenced version of that country’s royal standard.

A bordure ermine for difference might be especially suitable; this has often been employed in heraldry as a mark of difference, and is used today in the United Kingdom by members of the royal family without banners of their own.  Proposed flags for the governors-general of New Zealand and Barbados are pictured here.

Proposed flag of the governor-general of New Zealand.
Proposed flag of the governor-general of Barbados.

For the governor-general of Jamaica, ermine will not do, since the field of the Jamaican royal standard is already white.  In this case, I suggest a bordure compony of the national colors of green, gold and black.

Proposed flag of the governor-general of Jamaica.

Something similar could be done in the Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (see below), and St. Kitts and Nevis, where the same problem arises.

Proposed flag of the governor-general of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Australia (below) and Tuvalu present another problem—how should the vice-regal flag be differenced when the royal arms already have a bordure?

Current Australian royal standard.

The overall result, in my view, is a series of flags which clearly denote each realm’s independence and distinct national identity, combining existing national symbolism and centuries-old heraldic principles to accurately reflect today’s constitutional realities.

Queen Elizabeth II’s personal flag.

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