The history of the Norwegian flag is closely bound up with the nation's long struggle to achieve independence. From 1397 to 1523 Norway was part of the Kalmar Union and from 1536 to 1814 was united with Denmark in a "personal union," the two countries sharing the same monarch. Norway retained some separate institutions including its own army, but political power was largely concentrated in the hands of the Danish king. In 1814, however, the powers victorious over Napoleonic France forced Denmark, a French ally, to cede Norway to Sweden—this to compensate the latter for its loss to Russia of Finland. But Norway proclaimed its independence and a brief war with Sweden ensued. Ultimately the Norwegians accepted a personal union with Sweden, retaining its separate constitution and electing Charles XIII of Sweden as King of Norway. The new entity was officially titled the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway. Up to the 1860s the personal union proved reasonably popular but thereafter the growth of nationalist sentiment and the associated tensions between Norway and Sweden gradually undermined it. One sign of these tensions was the fight for a Norwegian flag symbolizing the nation's separate and distinct status—an ambition finally realized in 1898-99.

The personal union between Sweden and Norway came to a peaceful end in 1905, the Swedish king and government concluding that it could not be maintained by force. After some talk of proclaiming the country a republic, the crown of now-independent Norway was offered to Prince Carl of Denmark. After being elected by the Norwegian parliament and receiving approval in a national plebiscite, Carl accepted the crown, taking the traditional Norwegian name Haakon. He styled himself Haakon VII, in succession to Haakon VI, a fourteenth-century Norwegian king who had both Swedish and Danish connections.

See also The Scandinavian Cross and Flags of Sweden




Banner of the Kalmar Union  •  Fifteenth-Sixteenth Centuries 


The Dannebrog  •  Flag of Denmark-Norway 

The Kalmar Union (1397-1523) was a personal union of the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden (which at the time included most of present-day Finland) under a single monarch. The Union also embraced Norway's overseas possessions: Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the Northern Isles (the Orkney and Shetland Islands). After its demise Norway remained in personal union with Denmark. The flag of the Kalmar Union, "the Banner of the Realms" is described in letters of King
Eric of Pomerania  in 1430 as a red cross on a yellow field. The flag of Denmark-Norway was similar to the present-day Danish national flag.




Civil Ensign 1814-21  •  North of Cape Finisterre, Spain


Civil Ensign 1818-38  •  All Other Areas


Royal Flag for Sweden-Norway  •  1818-44


Civil Ensign 1844-98  •  All Areas


Royal Flag for Norway 


Diplomatic & Consular Flag of Sweden-Norway 

At the beginning of the personal union with Sweden, a so-called Union Flag for both countries was adopted: the blue and yellow Swedish flag with a red canton bearing a white saltire cross for Norway. But for Norwegian ships in local waters and the North Atlantic a variant of the
Dannebrog with the arms of Norway in the canton was permitted. Elsewhere the Union Flag had to be used. But this compromise was not to Norway's liking and in 1821 a distinctive Norwegian ensign (see below) was approved for limited use.
Designed by Frederik Meltzer, a member of parliament from Bergen, it was based on the Dannebrog, with a blue cross superimposed on the white one. Up to 1838 its use was restricted, but thereafter it could be used by Norwegian ships in all areas.

Technically these early flags were for use at sea only. On land there were no Swedish or Norwegian flags for general use, only official and royal flags. However, the Norwegian merchant ensign adopted in 1821 came to be viewed as the country's de facto national flag.

In 1844 the Union Flag was abolished and separate flags were prescribed for Sweden and Norway. Sweden kept its blue/yellow flag and Norway adopted a variant of its 1821-44 ensign. In the canton of both flags appeared the "Union Mark": the Swedish and Norwegian crosses conjoined. (This symbol came to be nicknamed the "herring salad" for its resemblance to a Scandinavian delicacy.) The new flag was popular in Norway at first since it gave the country symbolic equal status with Sweden in the personal union. But with the passage of time the union itself became steadily less popular and demands for the removal of the Union Mark from Norwegian flags grew more and more strident. This finally happened in 1898-99, the Union Mark being deleted from all Norwegian flags: a clear signal that time was running out for the personal union with Sweden.




Civil Ensign 1821-44 & Since 1898  • National Flag Since 1899


State Flag & Government Ensign


Postal Flag & Ensign


Royal Standard 


Crown Prince's Standard 

The 1821 civil ensign became the national flag of the Kingdom of Norway in 1899. Since 1905 the flag for state authorities the flag has been made with three "tongues," and in some cases a badge is authorized, as shown above for the postal ensign. (The tongued flag is also used by the armed forces.) The shade of blue used is somewhat darker than that of earlier flags. The Royal Standard is a banner of the ancient arms of Norway, used during the period of the Kalmar Union; the Crown Prince's Standard is the same with a fork.




Oslo County & Municipality


Nordland County 


Vestfold og Telemark County 

The administrative subdivisions of Norway are called counties or, in the case of major metropolitan areas, municipalities. Most have a flag based on their traditional coat of arms. In recent years certain counties have been merged, with new flags being adopted, e.g. Vestfold og Telemark County. The national capital, Oslo, has status as both county and municipality and its flag is exceptional: instead of being a banner of arms it displays the city's badge.