Saint George: a very old PR poster boy

Saint George has been a well exercised PR tool for arguably hundreds of years, dating back as early as the eleventh century. Though it is believed he was a Roman soldier who lived approximately late-200AD, Saint George today is honoured throughout England as our patron saint, a figurehead protecting the Royal family, and figurehead of England’s prestigious Order or the Garter.

Why and how was it that a soldier from Roman Palestine came to embody so much of English pride and custom? Well there were many hands who played their role in George the martyr’s rise to English patriotism, but none as supportive as King Edward III.

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George, a Christian soldier living during Roman paganism, refused to renounce his faith despite many bribes and torture from those who admired and respected his skills on the battlefield.  His martyrdom combined with his victory over the dragon – for which he triumphed using the Holy Cross – provided George with a Medieval Christian celebrity for his devotion twinned importantly with his skills in combat.

This handy combination of holy appraisal and battlefield ability was the ideal poster to rally behind for medieval figures such as Edward III. Edward’s claim to the French throne in the twelfth century was the core to his use of Saint George during the Hundred Year’s War, and his later patronisation of the Saint of England, replacing the less combat-hardy Edward the Confessor. Edward III believed it was his divine birth right to rule France, and therefore required a figurehead that would bridge Christian faith and war. Edward utilised Saint George as a Medieval PR campaign, making the saint a sign of England against the French – a necessary symbol of differentiation at a time when let’s face it most of the English aristocracy’s heritage, and Edward’s own family, was actually from across the channel!

Today, once again George’s official celebrations have come around, and once again this historical figure is being utilised for a sign of ‘us and them’ – this time however, far from encouraging disparity and enmity, Prime Minister David Cameron is using the saint to evoke unity.

David Cameron’s message to the British people contains all the patriotic chest-swelling language expected from any acknowledgment of Saint George’s day. The film has led to a fair few accusations in Dave’s direction that he is simply attempting to ‘woo’ the current UKIP voters back into the Conservative fold, but that’s not what I am interested in here.

By referencing the “5 months” before the Scottish people go to the polls within his Saint George’s day speech, David Cameron is quite simply recycling the tactics of his historical predecessor almost 600 years before him. Even the imagery of the English flag emblazoned with Saint George’s cross, which is extremely prevalent throughout the film, draws an exact comparison to Edward III’s banners during the Hundred Year’s War.

David Cameron stresses that although each country of Britain has its unique strengths we are all better United and together.  It appears that on the battlefield for Scottish votes, there is a use for every trick in the history book.

 

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