St George’s Day
Posted By Claire on April 23, 2018
Today, 23rd April, is St George’s Day. It commemorates the execution of St George, A Roman soldier who was imprisoned, tortured and finally beheaded for his Christian faith, on this day in 303 A.D.
St George is, of course, famous for the St George and the Dragon legend, a chivalric tale brought back to England by the Crusaders and telling of a man, St George, who saves a damsel in distress, and her town from a hungry dragon. There are various versions of the legend, but George is always portrayed as a great chivalric hero.
George was canonised in the 5th century and in the 14th century he became the patron saint of England, although he didn’t replace St Edward the Confessor properly in this role until Edward VI’s reign. St George is also the day for announcing new appointments to the Order of the Garter, the highest order of chivalry in England. The home of the order is, of course, St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Edward III had established the order under St George’s banner in 1348. Here is an explanation of how knights were elected to the Order of the Garter. It is about Elizabeth I’s reign, but worked the same in the reigns of the other Tudor monarchs:
“Selection of KGs worked in the following manner. Whenever a vacancy existed an election was held to select a new member, normally at the annual meeting or chapter on St. George’s Day, 23 April, at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Each KG present voted for nine men, three in each of the following categories: ‘princes’, ‘barons’, and ‘knights’. ‘Princes’ means earls, marquesses, dukes, and royalty (or, earls and above), while ‘barons’ and ‘knights’ are self explanatory. A viscount, who ranks between an earl and a baron, could be nominated under either category, ‘prince’ or ‘baron’. In Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the heir to an earl or above could be nominated under his courtesy title, while a duke’s younger son could be nominated as a ‘baron’. If ten Knights of the Garter were present at a given election, with each KG listing nine nominees, then as many as ninety names could be listed, though the more likely result would be about twenty. Then the votes were tallied and presented to the Queen, who picked whomever she pleased or no one at all.”
So, the votes were tallied but then the monarch had the final say.
In 1536, George Boleyn was expected to become a Knight of the Garter, but he was to be disappointed. Click here to read what happened in April 1536.
The Order of the Garter is still going! The website of the British monarch explains that “The Knights, now both male and female, used to be limited to aristocracy, but today they are chosen from a variety of backgrounds, in recognition for their public service”. You can see photos of the Order of the Garter service at https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishmonarchy/sets/72157644789764309.
Notes and Sources
Picture: “Earl of Lancaster and St George”, Book of Hours. Use of Sarum., 14th century manuscript, MS. Douce 231, Bodleian Library, Oxford.
- Ridgway, Claire (2016) “April Feast Days”, Tudor Society.
- Moore, Peter R. “The Earl of Oxford and the Order of the Garter”, Shakespeare Oxford Fellowhip
- The British Monarchy website – https://www.royal.uk/order-garter
8 thoughts on “St George’s Day”
That George Boleyn was voted against was a sign that the tide was turning. Nicholas Carew was a supporter and the man who coached Jane Seymour so I believe Henry was making his mind up to change his wife.
Saint George was a Greek in the Roman army and he is a very popular saint in many countries around the world. Just how he became associated with a dragon is another question, but that story was acted out for most of the Medieval period and still is at fairs around the country. Although the ideal of knighthood was chivalry, most failed to live up to this, but the Garter was meant to set them apart and reinforce high standards. Edward iii of course was into King Arthur and the idea of the Order came from those high ideals, but even Camelot fell in the end as its knights were far from perfect. Henry Viii was practically obsessed with the legends and tournament and saw himself as King Arthur. His version of Camelot was fatally flawed for too many even of those around him whom had shared his vision as knights. Even Sir Nicholas Carew, an old jousting partner, fell from grace in 1539, implicated in a fanciful plot and was executed.
His elder brother was named after King Arthur also, it’s true a lot of the ancient monarchs were interested in King Arthur and his Knights, Henry 11 and his queen Eleanor loved the tales of Camelot, it’s easy to see why as Arthur is called the once and future king, the ideal King who was honest just and fair, brave and loyal, I believe they all tried to follow him however many fell by the wayside, Henry V11 and his formidable mother I believe dreamed of a new race of kings that would go down in history that in years to come, people would talk about like King Arthur, Henry was proud of his Welsh roots and called his first born after that legendary king, so sure was he of his great future we can imagine his devastation when he died prematurely not long after his marriage, even today there are films made about Arthur and his disloyal wife Guinevere, I have Mallory’s King Arthur and it is beautifully illustrated with colour plates, I treasure it and would never part with it, having loved the Arthurian legends since childhood, there is Gawain and the green knight and Tristan and Isolde etc, regarding George Boleyn not getting his coveted knighthood yes I agree with Banditqueen, the tide was turning in the Seymour family’s favour, a year before I’m sure Boleyn would have got his knighthood but Henry was fed up with Anne and that extended to the rest of her family.
Prince Arthur was also born in Winchester, believed to be the site of one of the original centres of the ancient kings of Britain, the original Camelot and the old centre of power. Henry Viii was brought up on the legends and it became integrated into his life and ideals. One historian even wrote an article in History Extra saying that the reason Anne was beheaded with a sword had something to do with the Arthurian legend and Kingly honour and dignity and the betrayal of all that as in Geneviere. It may be far fetched because it was more likely because Henry had loved Anne so much for so long, that he chose a quick death, but then again the sword also represents magic, ancient power and Kingly/knighty power and justice. The sword is a big magical and powerful symbol in the Arthurian legend, so maybe unconsciously there is something in this theory.
Those old illustrated books are wonderful, like plates and are very beautiful. I have some of my early ones as well. They are quite dusty but very worth keeping and well loved.
That is an interesting theory really, Arthur had loved Guinevere and she betrayed him and Anne he believed had betrayed him, maybe he saw himself as King Arthur and Anne as Guinevere, since he was at heart a romantic and loved to think of himself as the chivalric knight and yes, the magical sword which according to legend Arthur draw out of the stone which proved he was England’s rightful king, when he died the sword was thrown back into the water and the lady of the lake caught it and took it down to her home in the watery depths, personally however I don’t really think Henry was thinking of King Arthur’s sword when he decided to order the headsman from Calais, more than likely he was just being merciful as he did not want Anne burnt either which was also the penalty for a treasonous wife, some say Anne requested the swordsman because he was skilled and everyone knew how deaths by the axe could be bungled, it was in keeping with her French upbringing elegant to the end she would die by the sword instead of the clumsy English axe, I too love my old books whenever in the past iv visited a stately home, I love the libraries they seem so restful and serene with the inevitable old globe standing somewhere in the room.
Hi, Christine, yes, I agree, it has more to do with Henry wanting to show he was being a just and merciful King, allowing his wife a swift and as painless a death as possible. Arthur reduced the death sentence from burning to exile in a convent for Guinevere, so I can see how someone may see this in Henry, but I really don’t think Henry was thinking anything other than how quickly he could do all this and move on to a new wife. Interesting theory, though.
I am currently reading ‘Winter King’ by Thomas Penn. After the death of Arthur Henry VII really started instilling in his surviving son all the great chivalric traditions. This wasn’t all that hard because young Henry was already showing a profound interest. As we know he never lost that interest.
I saw a series about Henry V11 called The Winter King on television I thought it was very good.
That’s how I found out about the book. The book has much more detail than the documentary did. I thought the documentary was excellent.