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?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot