The flags of Norway developed from the age of the Vikings. A raven banner was flown by many Viking chieftains from the ninth century and was often used as ‘weather-vanes’ (a kind-of weather compass to show the direction of the wind) on Viking Longships.
In Old Norse the raven was a popular symbol and represented the power and wisdom of the mythological god Odin who would strike fear into the hearts of even the bravest warriors with his two fearless ravens sitting on his shoulders.
Since Saint Olav (the first King of Norway) sailed into the Battle of Nesjar with a serpent flag flying high on his ship, Norwegian Kings became a little more adventurous in their designs. Among them was Inge I of Norway who carried a flag of a red lion on gold. His successor, King Magnus Erlingsson, carried a flag with a golden lion, axe and crown on red. Since 1280 this flag has become a regular in Norwegian history and as in old Norse times, flies today for the King of Norway.
The flag of the King of Norway. This flag is also called the Royal Standard. It is flown on the top of the King’s Palace in Oslo (and signifies that the King is in).
From the 16th century, when Norway was united with Denmark, the Danish flag Dannebrog was used. In 1814, with Norway’s stand for independence, the ‘Norwegian Lion’ was placed in the top left corner (canton) of the Danneborg. However, from the ‘union’ with Sweden, Norway was subject to use the Swedish flag with a white cross on a red background in the canton.
17th of May 1893 by Norwegian painter Christian Krohg (1852–1925)
In 1821, a new flag was born that symbolised the hope and freedom of the Norwegian people. Fredrik Meltzer, one of the signatories of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814, made it his honour to design the flag of Norway (to bravely replace the modified Swedish flag). A businessman and a member of the Norwegian parliament, Meltzer drew inspiration from the old and new. He chose the Nordic cross, a symbol of Christianity – the union of divinity (the vertical line) and the world (the horizontal line) – to reflect Norway’s ties to Sweden and Denmark. The colours red, white and blue represent individual rights and equality of opportunity that were the driving force in the French and American Revolutions. The new Norwegian flag was adopted by parliament in May 1821, however the King (of Sweden) refused to sign the flag law, but, he did approve the flag for civilian use.
This depiction from 1370 is of a Nordic king holding the flags of Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
In 1844, a union badge was added to both the Swedish and Norwegian civilian flags (triangles of both the Norwegian and Swedish flags at the canton) to satisfy the laws for the war flag. This flag was used throughout Norway and obtained the nickname Sildesalaten (the herring salad) because it looked like a big mess of colours.
Union badge of Norway and Sweden 1844-1905, nicknamed ‘sildesalaten’ (Herring salad)
Because the flag represented equal status by the two states the flag, at first, was quite popular in Norway. When Norway yearned for independence again the flag lost its popularity. In 1898, the Norwegian parliament abolished the union badge from the flag (with disapproval from the Swedish king). The Norwegian flag was first officially flown in 1899. In 1905 Norway regained its independence and could now fly its flag openly to welcome its new Norwegian King (who was Danish).