Articles

Why St George’s Day should be a public holiday in England

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2021 by kmflett

Why St George’s Day should be a Public Holiday in England

Unlike Billy Bragg I’ve never felt particularly tempted to try and wrestle St George, what is known of his actual existence or his myth, from the political right in the UK.

Why the right want St George, who wherever he was born, was certainly not English, is perhaps less obvious. He was a military saint and he was a Christian. Plus he has been around as an icon for a long time in English history.

Shakespeare’s Henry V contains the still oft repeated phrase ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George. As a military and a religious man St George fitted the ideology of the Crusades well

We can agree then that if the reasons for George becoming an English saint, along with being the saint of numbers of other countries, are a little obscure, given the length of time he has been at it he at least has squatting rights to the title.

St George was a soldier in the Roman Army of Emperor Diocletian and was persecuted and killed for refusing to give up his Christian faith.

Given that the Romans had occupied Britain, and that there was some Christianity in the country some kind of connection can be seen.

That said the slaying of the dragon was not a reflection of some ancient English rivalry against Wales but mythic.

Leaving aside an argument about whether the left have not, in the main, been as patriotically English as the right [whether they should have been is another matter] and hence have equal claims to St George, it is also possible to see him as a symbol of the oppressed and poor- which was certainly what the majority of Christians were during the time of the Roman Empire.

I think however that in pursuing that argument the left has the weight of some centuries against it.

In the 1890 preface to the German edition of Marx’s Capital, Engels dealt with the case of Professor Brentano, who had accused Marx of making up a quotation from Gladstone in the book. Engels refers to the Professor as the ‘St George of the German Manufacturers Association’ engaged in slaying the ‘infernal dragon’ of Marx.

In 1941 in the Journal of the History of Ideas we find Goldwin Smith writing an article on Marx and St George. On the face of it the piece is a puzzle as it contains no actual reference to the Saint. The point is of course that St George stands for England, and Smith while finding Marx’s ideas interesting concludes that they weren’t really the thing for the English.

I wish those still trying to reclaim St George from the traditions of the right good luck but I think there is another way in which we could usefully proceed.

There is some evidence that going back to medieval times 23rd April was a feast day as people celebrated St George. This year the pubs in England, unlike in 2020 will see people toasting the dragon slayer with beers of that name or similar, albeit outside only.

Why not however make St George’s Day a national holiday in England as Labour once proposed?

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