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The Cult of St George in Medieval England

The Cult of St George in Medieval England

Jonathan Good
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    The Cult of St George in Medieval England
    Book Description:

    Shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Award 2010 Recently, St George has enjoyed a modest revival as a specifically English national symbol. But how became the patron saint of England in the first place has always been a mystery. He was not English, nor was his principal shrine there - the usual criteria for national patronage; yet his status and fame have eclipsed all others. Instead, it was Edward III's use of the saint in his wars against the French that really established him as a patron and protector of the king. Unlike other such saints, however, George was enthusiastically adopted by other English people to signify their membership in the `community of the realm'. This book traces the origins and growth of his cult, arguing that, especially after Edward's death, George came to represent a `good' politics (in this case, the shared prosecution of a war with spoils for everyone) and could be used to rebuke subsequent kings for their poor governance. Most kings came to realize this fact, and venerated St. George in order to prove their worthiness to hold their office. This political dimension of the cult never completely displaced the devotional one, but it was so strong that St. George survived the Reformation as a national symbol - one that grows ever more important in the wake of devolution and the recovery of a specifically English identity. JONATHAN GOOD is Assistant Professor of History at Reinhardt College.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-712-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    This book is about St. George in medieval England, in particular about the process by which he became the national patron in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. St. George was not of English origin himself – if he ever even existed, he would most likely have been one of the many Christians martyred for their faith in the Eastern Roman Empire sometime in the third or early fourth centuries. Thereafter, for various reasons, he became a patron of agriculture, of the Byzantine army, of crusading against non-Christians, and of the medieval ideal of chivalry (the main reason why he came...

  7. 1 George the Saint, England the Nation
    (pp. 1-20)

    The process by which St. George came to be the patron saint of England was convoluted and owed a great deal to chance. It also came relatively late in the day: other European polities had their patrons from as early as the tenth century, but the earliest possible mention of St. George being the “special protector” of the English came in 1351, and he did not replace any other saint in this category. In order to discuss why this was the case, some preliminary discussion of sainthood, and nationhood, in the late Middle Ages will be useful.

    Although popular, St....

  8. 2 The Cult of St. George: Origins, Development, and Arrival in England
    (pp. 21-51)

    Over the course of its existence, the cult of St. George acquired an impressive number of aspects. Originally celebrated as an exemplary martyr, St. George was also celebrated as a patron of agriculture, a patron of warfare and crusading, and a patron of chivalry. Although official ecclesiastical opinion was not always enthusiastic about the saint, popular opinion was, setting the stage for him to become the national patron of England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

    By tradition, St. George was a Christian army officer from Cappadocia in Asia Minor, who was martyred in the late third or early fourth...

  9. 3 Royal St. George, 1272–1509
    (pp. 52-94)

    St. George came to be associated with England through the initiative of the crown. This chapter uses court records, chronicle and literary sources, and artistic evidence to trace the story of how successive monarchs deployed him to consolidate their kingship. From the beginning, this deployment took place in a military context and was therefore something that the king shared with all ranks of his soldiers. Following the example of the crusading King Edward I, two other English kings widely regarded as “successful” (Edward III and Henry V) were especially devoted to St. George, while “unsuccessful” ones (such as Edward II,...

  10. 4 Popular St. George in Late Medieval England
    (pp. 95-121)

    From the reign of Edward I, St. George was prescribed for all levels of the English army, both knights and foot-soldiers. By establishing the Order of the Garter, Edward III made the veneration of St. George an activity that he shared with the nobility and knighthood of England. In the reign of his successor Richard II, St. George came to represent the “good” memory of the “Edwardian settlement,” which had been based on consultation with the nobility and joint prosecution of war in France, and was used as a rebuke to Richard’s novel idea of “regality,” expressed partly through his...

  11. 5 St. George’s Post-Medieval Career
    (pp. 122-154)

    St. George’s career in England since his advent as the national patron in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries has been varied. The sixteenth century saw the first major shift in that career on account of the English Reformation, which simultaneously denigrated traditional Catholic religion, and strengthened English national identity. Since St. George was a figure of both, it is no surprise that people no longer prayed to him, dedicated churches to him, or commissioned statuary of him for votive purposes. He endured, however, as a figure of chivalry and romance, one that still reflected well on the English. The advent...

  12. Appendix: Records of St. George in Medieval England
    (pp. 155-172)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 173-194)
  14. Index
    (pp. 195-198)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-199)