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23 April 2014
Today is the feast-day in the Christian calendar of mythical dragon-slayer St George.
St George is the patron saint of England.
Today, therefore, will be an occasion for the celebration of Englishness by English patriots. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, washed down with English ale, will be the staple at dinners eaten tonight by chauvinists throughout the land.
It is customary on such occasions to cite an oft-recited passage from Shakespeare’s Henry V (Act 3, Scene 1). In this passage, the king (referred to demotically as “Harry”) gives a pep talk to his troops as they prepare to fight the French:
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’
However, England does not have a monopoly on St George.
Other nations too lay claim to his patronage.
Catalonia, for instance, the Spanish nation whose government is now actively seeking independence from Spain’s central Castilian government, to which it is subordinate.
However, today’s celebrations in Catalonia, one imagines, are more likely to involve “pan amb tomate” (bread with tomato) than Yorkshire pudding.
The United Kingdom is composed of three nations and part of another country: England, Scotland, Wales and six counties in the north of Ireland. Of these four entities, by far the most important is England.
However, this may be the last St George’s Day that the Kingdom dominated by England is so composed.
Because on 18 September this year the Scots – whose patron saint is not St George but St Andrew (feast day: 30 November) – will decide in a referendum whether they want to leave the United Kingdom and become an independent state.
Opinion polls suggest that this is unlikely but the odds are shortening as the date of the referendum approaches.
If the Scots do vote for independence, this will give a boost to separatist movements elsewhere in Europe, including Catalonia.
All this naturally poses a problem for St George.
The English, who have always been reluctant to relinquish their domination of subordinate countries, will look to St George to do what he can to retain Scotland within the United Kingdom.
The Catalonians, by contrast, will want the same saint to abet their move towards independence.
It’s no easy life being a saint!
Here at Antigone1984, for better or worse, we are not overly concerned with spiritual patronage.
However, in general we do support independence for small nations that seek to break out of the fetters of subordination to larger national groups. Small is beautiful.
Thus, we support independence for Scotland and for Catalonia. We also support independence for Spain’s Basque region and we think that Northern Ireland should be reunited with the rest of Ireland – from which it was artificially severed by the United Kingdom government in 1921.
For a less whimsical, if still partisan, reflection on this subject, readers might like to check out two of our earlier posts:
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
- Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.