Command flag, Admiral of the Fleet, RN (before 1801) (AAA0730)
The collections I look after, as the NMM's Curator of Antiquities, include over 1000 flags. Amongst the most important, if not the most important is Earl Howe's command flag at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, 1 June 1794. This is a complete example of an 18th- century Union Jack without the red diagonal cross of St Patrick added after 1801.
It's a very rare survival, although there are parts of captured 17th- century British flags preserved in the Netherlands. Seeing it fully unrolled is quite an experience, because of its size and the fact that it is clearly painstakingly hand-made and so different from machine-manufactured modern flags.
Unfurling the command flag on the floor of the Queen's House
Since 1977 the flag had been on loan to the museum from the family of Lieutenant William Burgh who had saved it as a souvenir of an action in which he personally took part. Its picture appeared in several publications including Timothy Wilson's Flags at Sea and it was the star of the TV documentary What the Stuarts did for us. This sea-going ancestor of our national flag was a must-have. If the museum was going to purchase it, timing was important given the fluctuating demands upon a tight acquisition budget. We finally secured it in the face of well-funded competition from North America where there is considerable interest in historic flags. It was felt to be too important to leave the country.
In the news: 'Oldest Union command flag revealed', Guardian Unlimited
Would you like to know more about the unfurling of the command flag? If so, click here
View command flag, Admiral of the Fleet, RN (before 1801) in Collections Online.