The Northumberland flag is based on an ancient design, the origin of which is buried deep in the Dark Ages – making it, most probably, the oldest flag design in Britain.
The Venerabale Bede, in his famous Ecclesiastical History of the English People, states that a banner of gold and purple hung over the tomb of Northumbria’s 7th century king, Oswald. During one of several moves of the saint’s remains, they were taken to Bardney Abbey in present-day Lincolnshire in 697AD:
… There is a noble monastery in the province of Lindsey, called Beardeneu, which that queen [Osthrida, queen of the Mercians] and her husband Ethelred much loved, and conferred upon it many honours and ornaments. It was here that she was desirous to lay the venerable bones of her uncle. When the wagon in which those bones were carried arrived towards evening at the aforesaid monastery, they that were in it refused to admit them, because, though they knew him to be a holy man, yet, as he was originally of another province, and had reigned over them as a foreign king, they retained their ancient aversion to him, even after death. Thus it came to pass that the relics were left in the open air all that night, with only a large tent spread over them; but the appearance of a heavenly miracle showed with how much reverence they ought to be received by all the faithful; for during that whole night, a pillar of light, reaching from the wagon up to heaven, was seen by almost all the inhabitants of the province of Lindsey. Hereupon, in the morning, the brethren who had refused it the day before, began themselves earnestly to pray that those holy relics, so beloved by God, might be deposited among them. Accordingly, the bones, being washed, were put into a shrine which they had made for that purpose, and placed in the church, with due honour; and that there might be a perpetual memorial of the royal person of this holy man, they hung up over the monument his banner made of gold and purple; and poured out the water in which they had washed the bones, in a corner of the sacred place. From that time, the very earth which received that holy water, had the virtue of expelling devils from the bodies of persons possessed.
Moreover, Wilfrid and other prominent Northumbrian clerics were known to have worn vestments of gold and purple.
In medieval times, the colours and the flag were adopted by the Earl of Northumberland. The flag is now officially registered as shown above, with eight alternate stripes of red and gold; and by official decrees in 1951 and 1995 was properly adopted by Northumberland County Council as their emblem.
Anyone in the county can fly it – but make sure you get it the right way up, with the gold panel at the top nearest the flagpole!