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Banners of English saints

Last modified: 2016-11-05 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)

    St. Aldhelm

    [Banner of St. Aldhelm] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 17 September 2016

    With white cross on red field, this flag looks like having been derived from the flag of St George by reversing its colours [1]. While this influence may not be completely excluded, it is in fact described as being derived from the coat of arms of Sherborne Abbey: gules a cross argent pierced through its dexter arm by a crosier Or [2, 3, 4]. The abbey church was originally the cathedral church of the Diocese of Sherborne, whose first bishop was St Aldhelm himself, hence the connection [5, 6]. The flag is used by local religious communities [7] and is also promoted by the Wessex Regionalists, the political party seeking devolution for the Wessex region, as an alternative to the Wyvern Flag [8, 9].

    [1] Hapmshire Flag Company website:
    [2] The Wessex Society at the Internet Archive - Wessex Flag Flying Days (captured on 2011-08-15):
    [3] Sherborne Abbey website: (coat of arms image:
    [4] Sherborne Abbey Insight Programme website: (large image:
    (larger image, in PDF format:
    [5] Wikipedia page about the Sherborne Abbey:
    [6] Wikipedia page about St Aldhelm:
    [7] Saint Aldhelm Orthodox Mission in Wessex website:
    [8] Wessex Regionalists website: (photo:
    [9] The Wall Street Journal website: (photo:

    About St Aldhelm
    St Aldhelm (Ealdhelm) is patron saint of the towns of Malmesbury, Wiltshire and Sherborne, Dorset. Unofficially, he is also considered the patron of Wessex region. He was born c. 639 in the royal family of Wessex. A monk in the Malmesbury Abbey since the unknown date, he was made its abbot in 675, making it an important centre of learning. His fame as a scholar spread to other countries as well, reaching even Rome, which he visited after the invitation by Pope Sergius I. When the Diocese of Sherborne was founded c. 705, he was made its first bishop, but kept his position as the Abbot of Malmesbury, too, at the request of the brethren, holding them both until his death in 709. He was revered as a saint after his death, his feast day being celebrated on May 25th (the day of his death).

    [1] Wikipedia page about St Aldhelm:
    [2] The Wessex Society at the Internet Archive - Wessex Flag Flying Days (captured on 2011-08-15):

    Tomislav Todorovic, 17 September 2016

    See also: