English land law works on the basis that all the land of England belongs to the Sovereign by right of conquest as Duke of Normandy. Those who ‘own’ land do no such thing but rather ‘hold’ it of the good Duke either directly ‘fee simple absolute in possession’ or from such a freeholder as a leaseholder ‘term of years absolute’ or as part of a chain of such leases going back to a freeholder and then the Sovereign. Should a freeholder die intestate and without heirs then his rights perish and his land reverts to its owner: Elizabeth, Duke of Normandy. As Rousseau pointed out the right of conquest is a most unsatisfactory form of title. “As long as a people is compelled to obey, and obeys, it does well; as soon as it can shake off the yoke, and shakes it off, it does still better; for, regaining its liberty by the same right as took it away, either it is justified in resuming it, or there was no justification for those who took it away.” But Duke William had another string to his fatal bow, a claim that justified his war and made it more than merely an argument of force. He appealed to a higher judge to justify that claim and received his approbation. According to the theory I am about to expound this extraordinary arrangement lies at the root not only of English property law but of an even more fundamental symbol of national identity.

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It is not my theory but that of an old school friend and historian. I hope he will forgive me for airing it. No one knows when or how the St George’s Cross was adopted unofficially as the English Flag. It is found upon an official document in this capacity in 1277. There are claims that English (or rather Norman) Crusaders as early as the eleventh century when asked to wear a white cross on a red background to distinguish them from the French, refused on the grounds that a red cross on a white background was ‘their’ cross.
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When St Edward the Confessor died the Witenagemot elected Harold Godwinson as King. It has been suggested to me (by a Mediaevalist of substance) that St Edward had intended that Edgar Ætheling (grandson of Edmund Ironside and heir of King Alfred the Great) should succeed him and that Harold should merely guard the realm until the fifteen year old was of age, that the Witenagemot had feared to place a child upon the throne with two invasions pending and successfully persuaded Harold to accept the throne. He was crowned the following day (Epiphany) in the newly constructed Westminster Abbey.

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However, according to Norman sources after being shipwrecked in Normandy in 1064 Harold swore an oath upon relics to Duke William to support his claim to the English throne. If this is true then by accepting the offer of Witenagemot Harold perjured himself. Whether or not this did indeed happen William’s emissary Lanfranc of Bec was able to persuade Pope Alexander II that Harold had indeed perjured himself. Harold was excommunicated and the banner of the Roman Church was sent to William to carry into battle. William wore the relic of St Peter on which the Harold swore his oath around his neck at the Battle of Hastings.

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The first crusade reached Jerusalem in 1099 only thirty three years after the conquest of England. The Anglo-Norman Knights were led by Robert III Duke of Normandy and eldest son of William the Conqueror. The patronage of St George was adopted on the campaign when the Martyr’s tomb was liberated from the Mohammedans. Why did the Anglo-Normans believe the red cross on a white background was ‘their’ flag. None of the flags depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry look particularly as if they are supposed to represent specific designs actually used at the battle. However, we know that Pope Alexander II also sent the “Vexillum Ecclesiae” to Milan, which was fighting for the Papal cause in Italy, in the very same year 1066. We know what that flag looked like because it became the arms of Milan.

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So this, the theory goes, sent in the same year for the same purpose to show the favour in battle of the Holy See, is the banner that William carried into Battle at Hastings. Not originally intended to signify St George but St George’s own captain, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the Successor of Peter. And this is why the Anglo-Norman knights identified it as their flag when they went on the Crusade. Most fitting therefore that it should have become the flag of England the property of St Peter and his successor and that now it should be united with the emblem of his brother, fellow apostle and martyr in the Union Jack.

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