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The History of the St George Flag

10th Apr 2017
By sarah-jane grainger |
News |

The St George’s flag is the flag of England and is derived from the St George’s cross which dates back to the Middle Ages. The flag is a red-centred cross on a white background and was used as a component in the design of the union flag in 1606. More recently, many sporting events use the flag as a national symbol.

But where does the St George’s flag originate from?

In the King’s Crusade of Henry II of England and Phillip II of France in 1188, red and white crosses identified English and French troops. The red on white became a recognised symbol of the crusader, as did the Jerusalem cross. In the 13th century, numerous leaders of polities who wanted to associate themselves with the crusades started to use it as a standard emblem.

A historiographical tradition claims that Richard the Lionheart adopted the flag and the patron saint from Genoa during his crusade. Interestingly, we can trace this idea back to the Victorian era as a “common belief” that we still repeat today. However, one cannot validate it as historical.

We widely use the St George’s flag today. Church of England churches often fly the St George’s flag with the arms of the diocese in the top-left corner. The Earl Marshall officially requested this in 1938.

Comparatively recently, sporting events across the world use the flag. It’s the English national emblem at sporting events including the football and cricket World Cups, the Ashes, Six Nations, etc.

At the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations at Windsor, the St George’s cross flew from horseback alongside the flags of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The flag flies with the Union Flag every St George’s Day.

You can view more of the UK’s flag flying dates here.

Who is St George?

St George was born around the year 280 in what is now Turkey. He was a soldier and rose through the ranks of the Roman army. He ultimately became a personal guard to the Emperor Diocletian. St George was executed on April 23, 303, and is buried in Lod in Israel.

St George slayed a dragon, for which he is most know. According to legend, a dragon guarded the only well in the town of Silene. To get water, the people of the town had to offer a human sacrifice every day to the dragon. One day, they selected a princess to be killed. St George, a knight from the crusades, came into the town riding on his white horse. He dismounted, drew his sword and killed the dragon, saving the princess’ life.

In Britain, St George, a Christian martyr, now represents traditional English chivalry and has inspired medals for bravery. For example, King George VI created the St George’s Cross during the Second World War. It has become the highest award a civilian can earn.

St George’s Day

On 23rd April, Christian churches, nations, countries and cities that St George is the patron saint of, celebrate St George’s Day, the feast of St George. The Council of Oxford declared the day St George’s Day in 1222. Later, in 1348, St George became the Patron Saint of England. In 1415, England declared the day a national feast and holiday. After the union of Scotland at the end of the 18th century, the tradition diminished. There is no national holiday on this day anymore. For several years many people have been protesting for St George’s Day to become a national holiday again; just like how Ireland celebrate St Patrick’s Day and Scotland celebrate St Andrew’s Day.

The national holiday grew to be a big celebration across England. There were parties, parades, flying of the flag and people wearing a red rose on their lapel. These celebrations still happen across the country. Now, schools, shops, post offices and organisations are still open for business as usual.

This year it is on a Sunday. There are celebrations taking part all over the country with a gigantic feast in Trafalgar Square, medieval festivals at many English Heritage sites and street parties and parades across the country.

We hope we’ve given you a brief overview into the history of St George and the flag used to represent the saint. So, to make sure you are celebrating this St George’s Day check out our hand-sewn and printed St George’s Flag, with prices starting at £18.00.

Leave a Reply

Anonymus Commented:

03/09/2022 @ 17:54

naaa.. real story was that england had a weak fleet, and it was being constantly attacked by pirates in the meditarranean sea. They made a contract with the Republic of Genova for the use of their flag, by paying a yearly cannon. this contract is still in hands of the Genova city. The deal prooved convenient, and the english ships were not attacked no more. So they decided to stay with it! The Major of Genova wrote to the Queen of England claiming for the overdued payment. Astonishingly the Queen replied and excused herself.

Joe Commented:

31/07/2022 @ 11:41

It dates back to the crusades and 'stolen' from Genoa in battles against the Transylvanian armies..their flag has been dated back to the 13th Century..so the trying to claim it's British, still does not stand.

Kevin Dunbar Commented:

02/07/2021 @ 23:23

Absolutely brilliant write up about the flag, I feel very proud...

Kevin Dunbar Commented:

02/07/2021 @ 23:14

Absolutely brilliant write up, the History of the Fag makes me feel proud... .

John Commented:

27/06/2021 @ 17:24

Quite interesting story of the flag history, irs coulors and all about the National fest. on the 23rd of April.

John Commented:

12/02/2021 @ 4:17

Thank you. I was trying to discover how the ‘Union Jack’ flag originated and was very interested to find out about the three Saints involved. Thanks again, from Tasmania, Australia.

Erika Steinbrecher Commented:

23/05/2020 @ 1:29

Good information! Thank you from Argentina.

noah Commented:

15/05/2020 @ 9:59

good info thank you

Jeri Commented:

04/09/2019 @ 18:02

I took the most poignant photo of a St. George Flag. It was when I was taking my third boy to boarding school. I recognize their bravery, and I felt such peace from this symbol. THank you for the history.

Flag Geek Replied:

12/09/2019 @ 15:57

Thanks for your comment.

Brian Anderson Commented:

29/04/2019 @ 16:31

There is an alternative theory that the use of the flag was licensed to be used by English ships in the Mediterranean by the republic of Genova as they were the strongest navy in Mediterranean

Neil Commented:

23/09/2018 @ 23:50

I so pleased information i didn't no about. Thank you