Cry ‘God for Harry, England and St George!’
As patron saint of England, St George has inspired a range of stamp designs, directly and indirectly. To celebrate his feast day on 23 April here are just a few examples:
St George was born in the 3rd century in Cappadocia, Turkey and became a Roman soldier, where he worked his way up the ranks. His strong Christian beliefs opposed those of his pagan leader, Emperor Diocletian, and due to his protests against the Emperor’s rule he was imprisoned, tortured and finally beheaded.
St George is most famous for slaying a dragon. Legend speaks of a dragon terrorising the town of Silene by guarding their fresh water supply. To distract the dragon the townsman gave it two sheep a day, but when they ran out of sheep they began to sacrifice maidens. The next maiden drawn to be sacrificed was the princess. Against protests by the king she was offered to the dragon when St George came and killed the beast, thus saving the princess.
St George’s emblem is the red cross on a white background, which, among other things, became the flag of England. Soldiers in the 14th century wore his symbol as a sign of protection and he was even believed to have been seen fighting alongside them at Agincourt. The English flag was flown above many vessels such as the Mayflower and accompanied explorers Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh on their travels.
Edward III founded the Order of the Garter in 1348 under the patronage of St George, as the highest order of chivalry. Their medal, awarded by the reigning monarch on the 23rd of April, bears his emblem. A chapel dedicated to him was produced by Edward IV and Henry VII at Windsor Castle as a home for the Order, which you can see below.
George has been a popular name amongst royalty for many centuries, and is the name of one of the British Royal Family’s newest members. The below presentation pack from 2011 documents the four kings we associate with the Georgian period, ruling from 1714 to 1830. It was George VI who established the George Cross during the Second World War as the highest gallantry award for civilians.
Traditionally on St George’s day, people wore a red rose on their lapel, the English flag was flown, and church services would sing the hymn ‘Jerusalem’. Since the unification of Scotland and England in 1707, however, these tradition have lessened. As you can see below, St George’s cross forms part of the United Kingdom’s flag, or the Union Jack, along with St Andrew’s and St Patrick’s.
Although the image of St George slaying the dragon is one that most of us would recognise, it seems to me that people are increasingly unaware of his feast day. I for one would have struggled to name the exact date, now cemented in my memory. As a fellow George, I have very much enjoyed delving through our stamp archive to discover how our patron saint has been celebrated.
– Georgina Tomlinson, Curatorial Assistant