Tuesday, 23 April 2013
St. George's Day after Dinner speech in Leeds 2013
Ladies & Gentlemen, we are gathered here this evening in a celebration of St George and many thanks indeed are due to our hosts the Leeds branch and Joanne and Chris Beverley in particular for organising such a superb event.
Now I know that we English are traditionally known as being a bit stand-offish and for sometimes being a bit kill-joy and not keen on celebrations.
But ladies and gentlemen I think this is a celebration worth making something of. Let me explain.
The fact is that St George as the patron saint of England is a reflection of the history of our country, but I think he is a good patron saint for England, not least because of his visually striking red cross on a white background, an emblem which for 700 years has adorned our English flags.
In history St George seems to have been a Roman soldier, indeed it has been said that he was of the rank of Legate in the Emperor Diocletian’s Pretorian Guard. If so, that makes him not only a career soldier, but roughly equivalent in status to the Lieutenant Colonel in Command of my old regiment of the Coldstream Guards.
The Roman Empire had been going through a terrible period in the run up to Diocletian’s seizure of power in which Emperors came and went kaleidoscopically in bloody civil war. The Empire seemed to be tearing itself apart whilst it was also under almost constant attack from the barbarian hordes outside of the Empire. By this stage the Roman Empire was less heavily populated than the barbarian lands on the other side of the Rhine in what is now Germany.
The General who was to become the Emperor Diocletian had commanded the Roman armies in the Roman province of Britain, a province which then was made up of most of England and Wales but not that part north of Hadrian’s Wall. The Roman province of Britain was frequently the source of rebellious and ambitious Generals seeking to become Emperor. The usual pattern would be that he would get the army in Britain to acclaim as Emperor and he would then march on to wherever the then current Emperor was and seek to defeat him in battle. If he succeeded in doing so, or succeeded in getting the current Emperor murdered, he was then in a good position to have himself accepted as Emperor, at least until the next rebellious General came along.
Usually the legion that had been most supportive of the new Emperor became his Pretorian Guard and, accordingly, if the story about St George being the Legate of Diocletian’s Pretorian Guard is true, then St George probably did do a considerable period of time serving in Roman Britain and therefore in what is now England.
St George appears to have come from what is now either Turkey, Lebanon or Israel. He would appear to have been a Hellenistic Greek. Some oddball commentators have talked about his being Turkish, but the Turks did not actually arrive in that part of the world for another 500 years because it appears that St George was martyred in 303. 303 is a number with other associations.
Those with an army background will recognise 303 as being the calibre of the British army rifle bullet from late Victorian times until the 1950’s. British soldiers sometimes referred to applying Rule 303 when they were talking about shooting the enemy, such as shoot to kill policy against Boer guerrillas in the Boer War or indeed the shooting of British deserters.
The lawyers amongst us will recognise Rule 303 as being a rule in company law which allows for shareholders to fire the directors of companies.
As I say it is also the year of St George’s martyrdom and the anniversary date is of course the 23rd April.
The story goes that St George had either always been or had became a practising Christian. Diocletian was the last of the successful pagan emperors and introduced a new system of rule which is known in history as the Dominate in which the Emperors became much more like oriental despots and the last vestiges of the old republic were shed. Diocletian also sought to support the established pagan religions and issued an edict of persecution against the religion which was increasingly challenging paganism within the Roman Empire, that is Christianity. It appears that St George sought to personally argue with Diocletian about this. If he was the Legate of the Pretorian Guard then St George may have thought that Diocletian would listen to him. In the event it appears that St George was tortured to death.
Ladies & Gentlemen you should remember that the Romans were probably the most accomplished torturers ever and indeed Latin is the language that has the most words of all languages in human history for executioner and torturer because they had so many specialisms.
There is a lurid tale from Roman history of a Carnifex, a maker of meat, who received a standing ovation in that most impressive Roman public building the Amphitheatre for removing every last piece of meat from his still conscious victim over the course of an hour or so.
St George’s tomb is in what is now Israel in Lydda (Lod) is approximately 25 miles from Jerusalem. His tomb is in the Christian church and next door is a mosque and the Palestinian Christians and Muslims of Lydda jointly venerate him and maintain his tomb. In Islamic tradition he is thought to be Al-Khidr, a white knight.
The legend of the dragon and the knight is a medieval morality story. St George who is the classic military saint is here depicted as fighting against Evil and the classic image of the dragon is the emblem of Evil. The image of Goodness is dramatically represented as the virgin princess whom he saves. This story has all the elements of such a visual story that it has remained fixed as the myth of St George ever since but it was a moral allegory rather than ever intended to be a description of history.
St George has a long history in England and indeed the original Anglo Saxon Church in Doncaster was dedicated to St George. So it is particularly appropriate that we are holding our dinner not that far from Doncaster and also during our campaign to win back the Mayoralty of Doncaster.
It is also interesting that there is such a hatred of St George and all he stands for in the ranks of our opponents and in a way it is symbolic that the Welsh born, leftist, milksop, Marxist Curate of St George’s Minster Doncaster is trying to strip out all reference to St George from the church and that David Allen, our candidate, is determined to reverse this. So here we are ladies and gentlemen gathered – despite our English reserve - to celebrate a brave soldier and Christian martyr who through history has become an emblem of our English Nation.
St George became increasingly popular as a saint during the Crusades and its said to have fought for them when the crusaders were attacked outside Antioch and helped to bring the crusaders to the sensational victory of taking back Jerusalem from the Muslims who had then occupied it.
After this the Genoese adopted St George as their patron saint and as they regularly transported crusaders to the Holy Land, his red cross on its white background became increasing associated with crusading.
Richard the Lion Heart adopted him and then eventually he was formally adopted as England’s patron saint in 1325 and his feast day as the 23rd April.
Edward III’s armies in his three famous victories against the Scots at Halidon Hill and the French at Crecy and Poitiers were emblazoned with the Cross of St George and English armies ever afterwards until the Act of Union in 1707 always carried the Cross of St George which then became incorporated into the new Union Jack.
Ladies and gentlemen, England has three patron saints, the traditional patron saint of the English monarchy being Edward the Confessor, the last King of the Saxon Royal Family and St Edmund, who was the much earlier King of East Anglia, who was shot to death with arrows by Vikings. St Edmund is traditionally the patron saint of the English as a Nation, folk, or people. Some people say that St Edmund should be treated as England’s patron saint, others St Albans and various others like St Cuthbert but I think that somewhat misses the point and is really a diversion from what needs to be done politically in England.
The issue isn’t which patron saint we support, or what the emblem of England is, but to try and concentrate on what we can do to celebrate our English Nationhood.
Our history has given us St George and his visually striking red cross on a white background as the patron saint and the emblem of England.
It would appear that he actually has more connection with England and English history than St Andrew, who after all certainly never visited Scotland and one of Jesus’ Galilean and Disciples.
St David was actually Welsh. It is unusual for a patron saint of a country to be of the same national origin as the country he is the patron saint of.
St Patrick came from somewhere near Bristol but was captured by slavers and taken to Ireland.
All in all I think England is fortunate to have St George as our patron saint but there is certainly no reason why other days should not be celebrated, some want to celebrate St Edmund and I would encourage that. I would also encourage the celebration of the anniversary of the Union of England into a single united nation state when King Athelstan became King of all England on the 12th July 927.
So here we are ladies and gentlemen at a feast organised by our Leeds hosts to celebrate St George and so ladies and gentlemen I give you the toast:- England and St George!