Staffordshire is associated with an emblem of some antiquity, the Stafford Knot
This anicent local emblem is present on an artefact amongst the famous Staffordshire Hoard, unearthed in July 2009, suggesting a link with the county of some twelve hundred years!
Another early example of the knot is on the shaft of an Anglo-Saxon stone cross located in the churchyard of Saint Peter Ad Vincula (Stoke Minster)
There are a number of stories relating to its origin.
The knot was said to symbolically bind three different local areas which joined to form what is now known as Staffordshire when Ethelfleda, eldest daughter of Alfred the Great,
who defended a stronghold at Stafford, symbolically took off her girdle and said to the local lords: “With this girdle, I bind us all as one”, and the three areas became Staffordshire. The anniversary of this event was celebrated in 1913, a thousand years after it was said to have happened.
Another theory holds that the Knot forms the shape of a double ‘S’ representing ’’Stafford-Shire’’. There is also a popular notion that the Knot originated when a Stafford County Sherriff invented it to hang three criminals at the same time. He only had one piece of rope but could not just hang one of the criminals as it would be unfair to the other two to give precedence to only one of the condemned! He therefore tied his single rope into three loops and dispatched of all three criminals at the same time.
The Stafford Knot later appeared on the seal of Joan Stafford, Lady of Wake, who died childless in 1443. A descendant of Hereward the Wake, she may have inherited the device, described as the “Wake Knot”, from past generations. This artefact, now in the British Museum, passed upon her demise to her nephew, Humphrey, Earl of Stafford. He adopted the knot, henceforward to be known as the Stafford Knot, as his badge, probably just preceding his creation as Duke of Buckingham in 1444 and it appears coloured gold, in abundance on his standard.
The townsmen of Stafford, “liegemen” of the de Stafford family, also made use of the Stafford Knot badge. As the days of feudalism passed and individual and civic liberties grew, it was gradually adopted by the Citizens, Freemen and Burgesses of the county. Accordingly by 1611 when John Speed published his Atlas of Great Britain, he included a map of the locality
The knot has since become the ubiquitous symbol for Staffordshire.
In late 2015 Staffordshire County Council released its banner of arms
for use by the general public and applied to the Flag Institute for registration of the deisgn as the county flag of Staffordshire. Many were unhappy with this proposal because
- Staffordshire County Council administers approximately only 40% of the population of the county, using its banner to represent the entire county is not appropriate
- the design includes a large lion, representative of the council’s authority, as handed by the crown but neither representative of Staffordshire nor remotely unique, it is an extremely common charge on flags and arms across the country and the world
- by contrast the unquestionable county emblem, the unique Stafford Knot, is barely visible on the council’s design and disappears from view when the flag is in motion
- local tradition holds that “there are no leftovers in Staffordshire”, referring to the orientation of the Knot, this is incorrect on the council’s design
ABC conducted a campaign to bring these deficencies to people’s attention and received fulsome agreement from a host of local heritage and history group under the umbrella of the Staffordshire Heritage Group (SHG)
The SHG submitted an alternative design, using the pattern of chevron and knot found on the John Speed map, associated with the county for centuries and the actual basis of the county arms. The Flag Institute hosted a poll on its website
for Staffordshire residents to choose between the two proposed designs, for one to be registered as the county flag. The vote ran through March with the winning SHG design declared the winner on March 28th, having achieved 72.84% of the vote.