The Mercian flag was added to the Flag Registry in November 2014, as the traditional emblem of the former Anglo-Saxon kingdom and modern region. The earliest reference to the design is found in John Speed’s 1610/11 atlas of Great Britain (“The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine”) where it appears on the map of the seven kingdoms that make up the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy.
Mediaeval heralds attributed coats of arms anachronistically to all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, often it seems, based on local traditions and those attributed to Mercia were a gold diagonal cross or saltire, on a blue field.
These same arms were also attributed to the saint, Alban (the “Cross of Saint Alban”), a Roman era native of what would later become Mercia. The diagonal cross or saltire (derived from Middle French saultoir (stirrup), possibly owing to the shape of the triangular areas in the design) is generally held to refer to the fact that he was the first British Christian martyr and so entitled to bear a cross of martyrdom; however, as he was not crucified but beheaded, the cross is in an unusual diagonal form. Plausibly the “local tradition” on which Mercia’s attributed arms were based, derived from the fate of Saint Alban – the arms ascribed to the Mercian kingdom alluding to the fate of the renowned local saint. As a chapel of Saint Andrew was attached to the Abbey of Saint Alban it has also been mooted that Saint Alban’s symbol was influenced by the symbol of St Andrew, a white diaginal cross, on blue. However, it is not categorically clear whether the Dark Age Kingdom was awarded these arms first, which then became associated with the saint, or vice versa. Whatever the precise sequence and configuration, it is evident that Mercia, Saint Alban and the gold saltire on a blue field, have a long established linkage and usage.
It is recorded that King Offa of Mercia founded St. Alban’s abbey on the site of his martyrdom and the mediaeval town of Saint Alban’s grew up around it, named for the saint. In his “The Romance of Heraldry” G.W Scott-Giles writes on page 255 “Blue, a gold saltire…”, “…arms ascribed by the mediaeval heralds to the Kingdom of Mercia, appear to have been adopted by Saint Albans in consequence of the foundation, in 793, of the monastery to the memory of Saint Alban by Offa, King of Mercia.” which strongly suggests that the arms were defined primarily as those of the kingdom and of the saint and town, by association. This surmise seems substantiated by the date of the first record of the gold saltire on blue field as the arms of St. Albans town, 1634, some twenty years after their documentation as the arms of Mercia by John Speed.
The saltire then featured as the emblem of the Kingdom of Mercia in “Divi Britannici”
published in 1675.
Other towns in historic Mercia include a reference to it, by inclusion of the same gold saltire, as, for example, Tamworth, the historic capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom;
Blaby, which includes the gold saltire in its crest and a saltire in a different hue on its shield
and Leek, whose shield is also blue and bears a gold diagonal cross
Mercia’s flag also appears in the badge of Tamworth Football Club
In the modern era the gold saltire on blue design has tended to be seen predominantly as representing the town of Saint Alban’s but the seemingly older tradition of their usage as the arms of Mercia has not been forgotten and indeed it appears to be an ever popular trend. The midlands town of Tamworth was once the capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and the town’s castle today proudly hoists a flag based on the historic Mercian arms, namely a gold saltire on blue.
The website of the castle explains , “Mercian flag, Tamworth functioned as the Capital of this ancient Saxon kingdom from 527-918
In recent years the town itself has reasserted its glorious past. Inspired by the discovery of a vast hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure just ten miles away, new signs, bearing the flag of Mercia and a symbolic representation of an Anglo-Saxon warrior, celebrate Tamworth’s heritage as the ancient capital of Mercia
In 2009, whilst the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure was on display in the city, the Mercian flag also flew outside the Birmingham Council House
and the Mercian flag continues to be recognised as such on tee-shirts
and is used by various groups asserting the distinct character and identity of the region,
(this incorporates the double headed eagle arms ascribed to the Earl Leofric of Mercia)
Acknowledging this continued recognition and usage of the gold saltire on blue as the natural flag of the Mercia region, the Flag Institute duly registered the design. The dilemma regarding who had prior claim, Mercia or Saint Albans, was resolved by assigning a darker shade of blue to the background of the Mercia flag. In the majority of cases, especially where actual physical flags were flown, such as at Tamworth or in Birmingham, the flags flown for Mercia were demonstrably of a dark blue shade and accordingly this was the form registered for the region, a fitting development for this long associated, traditional Mercian emblem.
A large flag of Mercia displayed at a special ceremony at Tamworth Castle
and another is seen here
flying at a private residence in the town.
Regional and Island Flags