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Banners of English saints

Last modified: 2013-11-12 by rob raeside
Keywords: england | st. edward | st. edmund | st. george | saint | church of england |
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Perrin (1922) wrote in "British Flags", page 40:
"When the Prayer Book was revised under Edward VI (1547-1553), the festival of St. George was abolished, with many others. Under the influence of the
 Reformation the banners of his former rivals, St. Edward and St. Edmund, together with all other religious flags in public use, except that of St. George, entirely disappeared, and their place was taken by banners containing royal badges."  

In connection with flags ordered for ships in the 15th century he mentions, the gittons of Holy Trinity, Holy Ghost, St. Mary, St. Edward, St. George; the streamers of Holy Ghost, St. Katherine, St. Nicholas; banners of St. Peter, St. Katherine, St. George, St. Edward, St. Anne; standards of St. Mary, St. George, Holy Ghost, St. Edward; plus non-religious flags in various forms bearing, royal arms, ostrich feather, swan, antelope, pomegranate and rose, rose of white and green, dragon, lion, greyhound, portcullis and red lion.
David Prothero, 3 July 2002

St. George

[Flag of England] by Vincent Morley
The St. George's flag is also the flag of England.

Although St. George was known in England in the 5C and his legend was brought back to England by stories from the 1st crusade, there is no mention of the "Cross of St. George" if as I am led to believe that Richard the Lionheart saw a vision of St. George with a red cross banner, I can only assume that Richard brought back the red cross. But this seems to be at odds with the history of the Genoa flag where one correspondent gives information that English ships bore the cross so as to have safe passage into the port of Genoa, subsequently paying the King for this safe passage, the correspondent gives the year 1190 some 9 years before Richard returned, so if our Italian correspondent is correct then the "Cross of St. George" would have been seen in England before the second crusade.
Barry Hamblin, 1 July 2002

There is a chapter on this subject in British Flags by W.G. Perrin who was Admiralty Librarian in the early 1900's. He wrote that although St. George was popular among crusaders there was no particular connection with England at that time. St. George was a foreign saint and it was many years before he came to be regarded as similar in importance to the English saints Edward and Edmund.

Briefly he wrote that:

  • England as a nation state did not exist until the reign of Edward I (1272), all previous kings having been Norman or Anglo-Norman.
  • The earliest reference to the cross of St. George as an English emblem (not flag) was in a roll of account relating to the Welsh War of 1277.
  • Although the banner of St. George was flown when the castle of Caerlaverock was taken in 1300, it was in company with those of St. Edward and St. Edmund.
  • Edward the Confessor was "patron saint" of England until 1348 when the greater importance of St. George was promoted by the establishment of the Chapel of St. George at Windsor. It was not until 1415 that the festival of St. George was raised to the position of a "double major feast" and ordered to be observed throughout the Province of the Archbishop of Canterbury with as much solemnity as Christmas Day.
  • St. George's cross did not achieve any sort of status as the national flag until the 16th century, when all other saints' banners were abandoned during the Reformation. The earliest record of St. George's flag at sea, as an English flag in conjunction with royal banners but no other saintly flags, was 1545.
    David Prothero, 1 July 2002

    St. Edward

    [Banner of St. Edward]

    Plate 6 from Perrin (1922)

    St. Edmund

    [Banner of St. Edmund]

    Plate 7 from Perrin (1922)

    See also: