Andy McSmith's Sketch: Who needs a dubious martyr to make them a proud Briton?


People do funny things on or around St George’s Day. There is the Great English Asparagus Run in the Vale of Evesham, which begins with morris dancers on parade outside the Fleece Inn, in Bretforton, at 8am. Plymouth also jingles to the sound of morris dancers, during a celebration in the city centre where local bands perform, and children and adults compete in a fancy-dress competition to be the best-dressed knight.

Last Monday, there was a traditional Feast of St George in Trafalgar Square, with stalls laid out with hog roasts, pies, cakes, lemonade and other delights. On Saturday, Mike the Knight will reappear in Leicester, along with Sir Aurelious Jones and his friendly 5m-long fire-breathing dragon, during a day of family entertainment to mark St George’s Festival.

All this for someone whose saintliness is disputed. The legend brought back from the Middle East by crusaders told that George was passing by as a princess was about to be sacrificed to a dragon, whereupon he fought the dragon, rescued the princess, and converted all the townsfolk to Christianity. Another version of his story is that he was a Roman soldier, born to Christian parents in Turkey, who was beheaded for his faith on 23 April AD303.

Edward Gibbon, the author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, took savage delight in debunking the legend. He claimed that “Saint” George was a shady character who started out by selling dodgy meat to the Roman army, tricked his way into becoming the Archbishop of Alexandria, and was then overthrown and lynched by his furious congregation. “This odious stranger… assumed the mask of a martyr, a saint and Christian hero; and the infamous George of Cappadocia has been transformed into the renowned St George of England,” he wrote.

David Cameron evidently does not buy Gibbon’s version. In his special St George’s Day video, the Prime Minister proclaimed: “Up and down the country the flag of St George is flying high and celebrations from the archaic to the eccentric are taking place. In Plymouth a patriotic festival; in London a great feast in Trafalgar Square; in Leicester a medieval re-enactment; and in Worcestershire an annual asparagus run.

“St George has been England’s patron saint since 1350. But for too long, his feast day – England’s national day – has been overlooked.”

That is probably not enough to win back all the English nationalists who have drifted away from the Tory party into the arms of Ukip, which appears to have been Mr Cameron’s intention. Paul Nuttall, Ukip’s deputy leader, wants nothing less than having 23 April declared a bank holiday, an idea also favoured by a small number of Tory MPs, notably Andrew Rosindell, who used to go out campaigning accompanied by a bulldog named Spike that was wrapped in a Union Jack waistcoat. Today, on the ConservativeHome website, Mr Rosindell promised to continue the struggle because “the people of England deserve a day to  feel proud”.

What I don’t understand is why we need someone who may or may not have died a martyr’s death somewhere in the Middle East to make us proud to be English on 23 April, when we have Shakespeare. A happy 450th to him.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral