TODAY is St George’s Day when the name of the patron saint of England is invoked to celebrate Englishness.

Never mind the fact that England, like Scotland, is an increasingly secular nation, St George is still venerated by a great many English people even though he wasn’t English and never slew a dragon because such creatures are mythical.

If anything, St George’s Day has seen a revival in recent years, especially after Boris Johnson encouraged pageants while he was Mayor of London. The UK Government, however, has resisted calls to make it a public holiday.

April 23 really is England’s day. It is the date on which the Order of the Garter was founded in 1348 and both Charles II and Queen Anne were crowned as English monarchs on this date in 1661 and 1702 respectively. It is also the date traditionally celebrated as William Shakespeare’s birthday. He died on April 23, too.

One of Shakespeare’s most famous lines features the saint being hailed by King Henry V during the siege of Harfleur : “Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”


IF he existed, and there’s no absolute proof that he did, George was most probably one of a number of “military saints” who were martyred for their faith during the early years of Christianity.

Their number includes saints Theodore, Sergius, Bacchus, Demetrius, Mercurius and Varus who were all Roman soldiers put to death during the third and fourth centuries, with the Emperor Diocletian most active in having such Christian soldiers killed, usually for refusing to worship his gods rather than Jesus Christ.

St George was by far the most famous of these warrior saints. Tradition has it that he was born in Cappadocia in modern Turkey as the son of a Christian soldier who was also martyred.

The National:

Little is known of his life other than legends, but various accounts state that he was executed in modern day Israel during Diocletian’s persecution on April 23, AD 303. Diocletian’s wife, the Empress Alexandra, is supposed to have been so impressed by George’s courage that she converted to Christianity and was herself martyred.

George’s cult was well-established by the fifth century and numerous churches across the Middle East began to be dedicated to him. His fame spread as far as England and there were certainly churches in his name in the time of Alfred the Great.

The dragon-slaying legend did not surface until the 11th century and was embellished over the years so that George not only killed the nasty dragon but rescued a princess that was about to be eaten.

Ethiopia, Portugal, Malta, and Georgia, funnily enough, have him as a patron, as do the regions of Aragon and Catalonia in Spain.


BY the time of the Crusades, the myths and legends surrounding St George were well known to every soldier travelling to the Holy Land. Strangely, the Muslims who fought the Crusaders also venerated George with some regarding him as a prophet.

The flag of St George, a red cross on a white background, was worn by many Crusaders and was seen as a chivalric emblem. King Edward I, Longshanks, adopted it as his emblem.

Most English people acknowledged St Edward the Confessor as the country’s patron until the 14th century when King Edward III made George the patron saint of the Order of the Garter, which he founded in 1348. St George is supposed to have encouraged the English to beat the French at the Battle of Crecy in 1346, so Edward was probably reacting to that legend. St George allegedly repeated the feat at Agincourt in 1415.

READ MORE: The tale of Brexit: Saint George, a European dragon and a toxic debate

St George’s Chapel at Windsor, which is the home of the Order of Garter, was named in his honour, cementing his place as a “royal” saint.

During the English Reformation, Henry VIII made sure that George, who was his favourite saint, took precedence as England’s patron as all other saints’ flags were banned and his feast day was preserved when most others were suppressed.


IT is fairly certain that, in common with most saints, the religious cult of St George will attract fewer adherents in future, but his name and his flag will always be used in connection with expressions of Englishness.

Furthermore, if the UK was to break up, England would make even greater use of St George’s flag, and as Brexit stumbles on, there are a growing number of people who are calling for English independence.

Independence for England? Now wouldn’t that be a good idea. And what better day to celebrate it than St George’s Day.