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Shetland Islands (United Kingdom)

Last modified: 2010-12-29 by rob raeside
Keywords: shetland islands | scotland | united kingdom | cross: scandinavian |
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[Flag of the Shetland Islands] image by Marcus Schmöger, 15 August 2001

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Description of the flag

In the Flag Bulletin (vol. 40) is an article about the flag of the Shetlands, written by the designer of the flag. To summarize, the author Roy Grönneberg founded the Shetland branch of the SNP (Scottish National Party) in 1966 and was active towards increased autonomy of the islands. In 1969 he designed (together with a fellow student, Bill Adams) the flag of Shetland, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the transfer of the Shetlands to Scotland (from the king of Norway and Denmark).

The idea of the design was as follows: "Wishing to give equal symbolic weight to the fact that Shetland had been part of Norway for 500 years and part of Scotland for 500 years, we took the national colours of Scotland - blue and white - and inserted them into the offset cross design common to all Scandinavian countries."

For public relations the "Shetland Flag Society" was formed, and first day covers as well as vignettes with the flag were printed. However these could not be posted at the Post Office in Lerwick, Shetland's capital; therefore much of the wanted publicity was lost. Inspiration for the design of the flag stemmed from the fact, that also the Faroese flag had been designed by three Faroese students. From 1889 until 1975 there existed two local government bodies in the Shetlands, the Lerwick Town Council and the Zetland County Council (ZCC). The ZCC had its own flag, that flew when meetings were held. In 1975 the two councils were combined into the Shetland Islands Council (SIC).

Grönneberg wanted to establish his design as the official flag of the SIC; however, in a working group of five people (including Grönneberg), no decision was taken. A ballot proposed in 1985 on this issue never materialized.

On the actual use Grönneberg writes: "Although the blue and white flag is not officially recognized either by the United Kingdom government or even the local authority, the Shetland Tourist Office has printed it on its tourist literature for years and has sold thousands of Shetland flags to both locals and visitors alike. During the summer, hundreds of yachts from abroad hoist the Shetland flag at their masthead as a courtesy flag instead of the proper British Red Ensign. Local hotels fly it, the Shetland sports team (which takes part in the inter-island games) flies it, and cars display it. Thus our blue field and white Scandinavian cross design now seems - after a shaky start - to be accepted throughout Shetland."

Two comments:

  1. Grönneberg just shortly mentions that there have been two versions of the flag. The first had a very narrow white cross, the fields at the hoist were square (proportions of the flag 23:33). The second has a wider cross and the vertical bar of the cross is nearer to the fly, thus giving the blue fields at the hoist a rectangular pattern (proportions 2:3). The latter variant has been in use since about 1975.
  2. The blue used in the flag is patterned after the blue of the Scotland flag. However, neither does Grönneberg give any colour designation nor do the colour images in Flag Bulletin fully convince me regarding the shade of the blue. The Flag Institute recommends Pantone 300 for the Scotland flag, so I decided to use the next BS colour (RGB=0,102,204) for the Shetland flag.
Marcus Schmöger, 15 August 2001

Status and use of the flag

This flag is definitely in use (though I understand the Scottish heraldic authority is not happy about it). I have seen several of them on boats in the harbours here in Norway.
Jan Oskar Engene
, 7 March 1996

My understanding is that the Shetland flag has not been formally accepted by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the legal authority in Scotland on Heraldry, and as such is not "legal". However, the flag is now widely used by Shetland people and this use is entirely harmless as is the similar use of the Orkney flag. Indeed, it can be used positively to promote the islands' identities.
Jim Wallace, Deputy First Minister of Scottish Parliament, as reported to Jon Scot, 17 January 2002

Shetland's flag now official

Hans J Marter, 2 February, 2005

SHETLAND'S flag has been officially sanctioned and can now be flown as a community flag to represent the islands. Council convener Sandy Cluness has received confirmation from the Court of the Lord Lyon that the isles' combination of the Scottish colours and the Scandinavian cross had been accepted. The news was welcomed by councillors at yesterday executive committee meeting as it means that the Shetland flag can now officially been used by the Shetland sport team at the forthcoming International Island Games. The Court of the Lord Lyon is the heraldic authority for Scotland. It deals with all matters relating to Scottish Heraldry and Coats of Arms.
contributed by Graeme Storey, 7 February 2005

A similar report in the Shetland Times stated, "The flag will now join the Union Jack, the saltire and the council's coat of arms as the standard flags flown above the Town Hall." This implies that one of the standard flags flown above the Town Hall is the council coat of arms. A banner of arms? Or a shield on a bedsheet?
André Coutanche, 10 February 2005

Shetland Flag Day

Quoting "The Shetland Times", 8 June 2007:

"For the first time ever Midsummer Day on 21st June is being recognised as Shetland Flag Day, with everyone encouraged to fly the isles' emblem. The day will coincide with the beginning of Flavour of Shetland, making it a real cause for celebration. Renowned flag expert and author of Flags of the World, Jos Poels, will deliver an illustrated short presentation on flags at the new Shetland Museum and Archives. The talk will have a particular focus on Scandinavian flags and the Shetland flag. SIC principal marketing officer Neil Henderson said: "The Shetland flag was designed in 1969 and in February 2005 was officially sanctioned by the Court of the Lord Lyon as a community flag for the islands.
The Shetland flag presentation takes place at 7.30 p.m. (doors 7 p.m.) at the Shetland Museum and Archives. It is a free event and no advance booking is required."

Ivan Sache, 11 June 2007

1969 Early Variant of the Flag

[Flag of the Shetland Islands]  image by Marcus Schmöger, 15 August 2001

Coat of Arms

[Coat of arms of the Shetland Islands] image located by António Martins-Tuválkin

Originally from (no longer available) - see also

A google on "Shetland coat of arms" gives, which differs from that shown above in (a) not having the raven on the sail, and (b) having a rose-and-crown crest instead of a dolphin crest. However, the website of Shetland Islands Council ( shows the coat of arms exactly as it appears on, so this must be definitive.
André Coutanche, 10 February 2005

History of Shetland

The Shetland islands belong to the United Kingdom. Formerly, they were a part of the kingdom of Norway and this is probably why the Scandinavian cross design was adopted. The islands were annexed by Scotland in 1472. During World War II people escaping from Norway landed in the islands because they are the part of the United Kingdom closest to Norway.
Jan Oskar Engene, 7 March 1996

Self-proclaimed Crown Dependency of Forvik

[Flag of the Shetland Islands] image by Ivan Sache, 7 July 2008

The flag is described on the Forvik "official website" as follows:
"The Forvik flag uses as its background the white cross on blue background of the Shetland flag. This is to emphasise the fact that Forvik is intended to provide a model on which Shetland could work. The shield contains the rampant lion of Norway (without crown), holding aloft a legal scroll. The motto 'Með løgum skal land biggja' is that used by the Shetland Islands Council. It is in old Norse and means 'With laws the land will be built'. [...]"

The flag graphic shown on the "official" website is in proportions 2:3 (like the Shetland flag) but the real flag hoisted by Stuart Hill is more elongated, rather in proportions 1:2.
Ivan Sache, 7 July 2008

Here's a capture from a series of TV programmes called 'Martin Clunes Islands of Britain' which was broadcast on the ITV network in the U.K. in May of this year (2009). The metal 'flag' is 'flying' from a pole on Forvik. The website of Stuart Hill, the man who 'owns' Forvik, is at An 'opposition' website is at What seems to me to be a balanced account is at
   So it is a flag and it is flown. It is made of metal rather than cloth.
André Coutanche, 13 September 2009