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THE PATRON SAINT OF ENGLAND
 IT is always amusing to stop and trace the
reason why at certain times children are called
by certain names. Often it is after somebody in a
story-book, or a hero, or a king or queen whose memory
has gone down through the ages. In the time of Henry I
a great many girls were called "Maud" or Matilda (for
it is the same name) after his mother and his daughter
and his wife; and then came in—from France and
Spain—Eleanors and Blanches, and Catherines and
Isabels, and these have never gone out of fashion for
long, as the Gladyses and Gwendolines are sure to do.
Again, if you notice, after Charles II's day a whole
quantity of new names came in from Germany and Holland.
Under the Hanoverians the young ladies were either
"Sophia" or "Charlotte" or "Caroline" or "Harriet"; and
their brothers "George" or "William" or "Augustus".
Augustus was perhaps not such a favourite as the rest,
and William had, of course, been known since the days
of the Conqueror. "George" was more rarely to be met
with, but has become firmly established since the
Elector of Hanover succeeded Queen Anne on the English
Now to-day, when I am writing, is St. George's Day,
April 23, 1911, and this year will see the coronation
of His Majesty King George V, so I think I ought to end
this book with a little sketch of St. George, who was
adopted long ago as the Patron Saint of England.
 There are a great many stories about him, of the horrible
things that he suffered, and the wonderful and quite
impossible things that he did, and he is often mixed up
with (a wholly different) George of Cappadocia, who was
a bishop and a heretic. But though our George's
sufferings for the Christian faith were exaggerated,
and his marvellous deeds a fairy tale, there really did
live once upon a time a man who grew famous as one of
the Seven Champions of Christendom, and when you have
heard the stories about him you can choose which of
them you would like to believe.
Of course you know that he is always spoken of as "St.
George and the Dragon," almost as if he and the dragon
made up one body, as the centaurs of old Greece were
composed of a man and horse. But the first tales told
of him from very early times make no mention of a
dragon at all. George was, they said, born in Asia
Minor, and his father, who was a Christian, was put to
death for his religion in one of the Roman
persecutions. His mother, in terror for the child's
life, fled with him to Palestine, and when he was about
fifteen or sixteen, he, like many other Christian boys,
entered the Roman Army and may have marched under the
eagles eastwards to the Euphrates and the Tigris, and
have made part of the force which besieged the splendid
cities of Ctesiphon and Seleucia. At any rate he
speedily became known to his generals as a soldier who
could be trusted, not only to attack but to defend,
which often needs very different qualities; and there
was no trained veteran among the legions who could bear
cold or heat, hunger or thirst, better than young
George. Then came the news that his mother was dead,
leaving him a large fortune.
George was now alone in the world, and, feeling
suddenly tired of the life he was leading, he bade his
 comrades farewell, and took ship for the West and the
court of the Emperor Diocletian. Here, he thought, he
could soon rise to fame, and perhaps some day he would
become the governor of a small province or the prefect
of a large one. But his hopes were dashed by the
breaking out of the persecution against the Christians.
The estates of many rich people were seized, and the
owners, if not condemned to death, were left to starve.
So George divided his money between those who needed it
most, and after that he went straight to Diocletian and
declared himself a Christian.
Up to this point there is nothing in the story that
might not have happened—which indeed did happen—to
hundreds of young men, but the chroniclers of St.
George were not content to stop here, and began to
invent the marvels that they loved. As St. George
refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods he was sentenced
to death, after first being tortured. Soldiers, so said
the monkish historians, came to his prison to thrust
him through with spears, but the moment the spear
touched him it snapped in two. He was bound to a wheel
which was set about with swords and knives, but an
angel came and delivered him, and no wounds were found
on his body. A pit of quicklime was powerless to injure
his flesh, and, after running about in red-hot iron
shoes, the following morning he walked up to the palace
unhurt and did homage to Diocletian. The emperor,
enraged at the failure of his plans, ordered him to be
scourged, and then given poisoned water to drink; but
as neither whip nor poison could injure him, his
persecutor, in despair, bade an officer cut off his
head with a sword, and so St. George obtained his crown
Such was the tale that was told with eagerness among
the Christians of the East, but quite another
 set of stories was accepted in the West, and written
down in the holy books, till in the sixteenth century
the pope Clement VII commanded them to be left out, and
ordered St. George to be set down in the calendar of
saints, merely as a holy martyr.
According to this western version George early left his
birthplace in Asia Minor and went to Africa, where he
settled in a town called Silene. Near Silene was a
large pond in which lived a dragon, with fierce eyes
that seemed starting out of his head, and a long,
thick, scaly tail which could curl itself up in rings
and look quite small, when it was not being used to
knock over men or houses or something of that sort; and
more to be dreaded than his tail was the breath of the
monster's nostrils, which poisoned everyone that
This horrible dragon was equally at home on land or
water, and great was the terror of the people of Silene
when they beheld the tall reeds that fringed the pond
beginning to wave and rustle, for they knew that their
enemy was preparing to leave his lair and seek his
dinner in the streets of the town. Hastily they swept
their children inside their houses and shut their doors
tight, but woe be to any man or woman who did not get
quickly enough under shelter! It was in vain that the
soldiers marched out to destroy him; his breath, or his
tail, or his long, iron claws slew those that were
foremost, and the others fled madly back to the
protection of the town.
At length the King of Silene summoned a council of the
wise men, and after much talk it was decided that two
sheep should every day be sacrificed to the monster, on
condition that he should allow the citizens to go free.
Unluckily, the sheep were few and the citizens many,
and by and bye there came a day when the sheep were all
gone and the reeds on the pond waved and
 rustled more wildly than ever. Then another council
was held by men with white faces and shaking voices,
and it was agreed that every evening the names of all
the young people belonging to the city should be placed
in a bowl, and a child with a bandage over his eyes
should pick one. The boy or girl thus chosen was to be
the victim of the dragon.
A month passed and thirty children had vanished from
the town, when one day the slip of paper drawn from the
bowl bore the name of the princess. The king had
known all along, of course, that it was likely to
happen, and the princess knew it too, but she refused
to be sent away to some other country as her father
wished, declaring she would stay and take her chance
with the rest. So the morning after the fatal lot had
been drawn she dressed herself in her royal robes, and
with her head held high went forth in the sunshine
alone to her doom. But as soon as she drew near to the
horrible shaking reeds and there was no one to see,
her courage gave way, and she flung herself down on a
stone and wept.
For a long while the princess remained thus, when
suddenly she sat up and looked about her. What was
that noise she heard? Surely it was a horse's tread.
And certainly that could be nothing but armour which
glistened so brightly in the sun! Had a deliverer
indeed come? And as the thought passed through her
mind the reeds shook more violently than ever, and
something large and heavy began to move among them.
But if the princess saw and shuddered, St. George had
seen likewise, and rejoiced. The story of the dragon
had reached to the far countries through which he had
been travelling, and he instantly understood what lay
before him. Yet, would he be in time? For the pond
lay near to the weeping girl and he must manage to
 get behind the dragon before he could strike, close
enough for the tail to have no power over him and not
so close as to be slain by the poisonous breath.
"St. George rescues the Princess from the horrible Dragon."
It was not easy—dragon-slaying never is—and if it had
been, the name of the dragon would never have been
bound up with that of St. George. So he rapidly unwound
a scarf that lay about his helmet to keep off the sun,
and tied it over his nose and mouth. Then, holding his
spear in rest, he galloped up to the monster who, with
a roar of anger and triumph, advanced to meet him. But
swiftly the knight sprang to one side, thrusting the
spear as he did so right down the throat of the dragon.
With a bellow that was heard far beyond Silene the
creature rolled over, and, though not actually dead,
was plainly dying.
"Take off your girdle," said St. George quickly, "and
pass it from behind over the head of the beast. He
cannot harm you now."
With trembling fingers the princess untied the long,
silken cord from her dress and did as the knight bade
her, and so they all three crossed the meadows to
Silene, where St. George cut off the head of the dragon
in the presence of the people, and at his urgent
request the king and the whole of his subjects
consented to become Christians.
But what, you will ask, has all this to do with England? And
why should St. George be our Patron Saint? Well, that
is another story.
According to this tale, it was the old city of Coventry
which gave birth to our national hero, who was born
with the mark of a dragon on his breast. As a baby he
was stolen away by a witch, and hidden in the woods
till he was fourteen, when he besought his captor to
tell him who he was and how he came there. For some
 time she resisted all his pleadings; she loved him
dearly and feared that if the youth discovered that he
was the son of a great noble he would never be content
to stay with her in the forest, but would ride away in
search of adventures and perhaps lose his life.
However, after working some spells she found that she
had no power to keep him, and very unwillingly she
answered his questions and then took him to a castle of
brass, where the Six Champions of Christendom were held
Can you tell me their names? If not, I must tell you.
The Six Champions St. George found in the brazen
castle, of whom he was to make the Seventh, were St.
Denis of France, St. James (or St. Iago) of Spain, St.
Anthony of Italy, St. Andrew of Scotland, St. Patrick
of Ireland, and St. David of Wales. In the stables
stood seven horses—the strongest and cleverest in the
world—and seven suits of armour against which every
weapon would fall harmless. The heart of St. George
beat high as he looked at these things, then he buckled
on the armour and mounted the steed pointed out by the
witch, and with his six companions rode away from the
The Seven Champions soon parted company and went in
search of their different adventures. This story also
tells how St. George slew the Egyptian dragon and
delivered the princess, and goes on to say what
happened afterwards. A black king, named Almidor, so
runs the tale, had fallen in love with the Princess
Sabra, who refused even to look at him. Mad with
jealousy at hearing that St. George had slain the
dragon—for he dreaded lest the king should give his
daughter in marriage to her deliverer—he first tried to
kill the young man by force, and failing, resolved to
com-  pass his death by poison. Fiercely his rage burned
within him as he stood by and beheld the rewards and
gifts heaped on the youth by the grateful father,
though the honour most prized by the victor was the
spurs of knighthood, but he did not see the princess
bestow a magic diamond on St. George as soon as the
ceremony was over and they were alone. Scarcely had the
ring been placed on his finger when Almidor entered,
bearing a wine cup, which he offered with fair words to
the new-made knight. St. George was thirsty and tired
with the day's excitement, and eagerly stretched out
his hand for the cup, when the princess observed all
the light fade out of the diamond and a cloud come over
it. At once she knew the meaning of these signs, for
her nurse had taught her magic, and how to detect
poison. Her shriek of horror caused St. George to let
fall the cup and reached the ears of her father, who
came running to see what was the matter; but so much
love did he bear Almidor that he would not believe he
had been guilty of so black a deed and told his
daughter she had been dreaming.
Though this attempt also had failed, the black king did
not give up hope; and the more clearly did he perceive
that the princess' heart was given to St. George, the
more determined was he to obtain her for himself. So he
visited the king her father, in his private rooms, and
told him, with tears, that he had discovered a plot
concocted by the princess and the foreign knight to fly
together to England, where Sabra would forsake the
faith of her country and be baptised. And once again
Almidor gained his ends. The king listened to his words
and was further persuaded to play the old trick, and to
send George to the Persian court with a letter,
containing a request to the King of Persia instantly to
put the bearer to death. He further persuaded the
young man to leave behind his invincible
 sword Ascalon, and his trusty horse, and to ride
instead a palfrey from the king's stables.
After all, the Egyptian monarch need not have troubled
himself to commit a crime, for St. George had scarcely
passed through the city gates when he beheld a
procession in honour of the Prophet Mahomet. This was a
sight no Christian knight could endure, and, dashing
into the midst of the worshippers, he tore down the
banners they carried and trampled on them.
In the uproar that followed many of the Persians fell
beneath the sword of St. George, but alas! it was not
Ascalon which he carried, and his enemies were too much
for him. Overpowered at last, he was dragged before the
King of Persia, who heaped reproaches on his head, and
then ordered him to be tortured in all manner of
dreadful ways. But St. George boldly answered that the
royal blood of England flowed in his veins, and he
claimed the right to challenge the king to single
Likewise, he said, he
had come there as ambassador
from the King of Egypt, and on that account, too, he
demanded protection. Then, drawing from under his
corselet the blood-stained letter, he held it out.
The eyes of the Persian king sparkled as he read it.
"So!" he cried, turning to the knight, standing tall
and straight before him. "The game which you thought to
play here, you have played in Egypt already! Know you
that the letter you have brought bids me put you to
death without delay? And by the Prophet, I will do it!"
As he spoke, he signed to his guards, who bore St.
George away to a dungeon, the knight marvelling all the
while at the treachery which had befallen him, and
wondering when he should again see the face of the
After letting loose two hungry lions into St. George's
dungeon, which the knight instantly strangled, the
 king desired that his captive should be left alone and
given barely enough food to keep him alive, for he had
changed his mind about killing him. For seven years St.
George lay there, and all that time the only pleasant
thing he had to think about was the princess as she
appeared to him during their stolen talks in the
If he had but known what had happened to her, he would
have slain himself from misery.
Day by day Princess Sabra grew thinner and weaker, and
could hardly be persuaded to eat and drink or to leave
her rooms opening on the river Nile. At length her
father, who in spite of what he had done loved his
daughter dearly, resolved to rouse her at all costs,
and, putting on an air of sternness which he was far
from feeling, told her that it was quite plain the
English knight had forgotten her for some other maiden,
and that by his orders preparations were even now being
made for her marriage with Almidor, the black King of
The poor girl did not attempt to oppose him. She was so
ill and unhappy that she really did not care what
became of her, and only murmured in reply that though
she might be the wife of Almidor, her heart would
always belong to the Champion of England. Perhaps the
king did not hear her words. At any rate he pretended
not to do so. The wedding festivities were hurried on,
and in a few days the Princess Sabra was the wife of
Seven years were past, and St. George still lay in his
Persian dungeon, when one night a frightful storm broke
out, which caused the men in the city to quake with
fear. Almost alone of the people, the unfortunate
captive was indifferent to the noise of falling towers
and the hissing of thunderbolts—if one fell into his
dungeon and put an end to him, so much the better!
 At times the floor seemed to rock beneath him, and
once he heard a rattle in the walls, but it was too
dark to see anything except for the vivid lightning.
When morning dawned the tempest died away, and the
knight sat up and looked about him. In one corner some
stones had fallen down, and among them lay a sort of
iron pickaxe covered with rust. It must have been left
in a niche on the other side by some workmen of former
days, and forgotten.
At this sight hope, which he had thought to be long
dead, revived in his heart. Without losing a moment he
fell to work, and though from weakness he was often
obliged to pause and rest, in the course of a few days
he had, by aid of the pickaxe, hewn a hole in the
loosened masonry big enough to pass through. Then he
waited till night came.
When everything was quiet St. George crept through his
hole, and found himself in a passage leading into a
large court which formed part of the palace. Before
venturing out of the shadow he listened carefully, so
as to make sure in which direction he had better turn,
for having been cast into the dungeon the very evening
of his arrival in the Persian city, he only knew the
road by which he had come. For awhile all was silent,
but at last he heard voices on the other side of the
courtyard, and stole cautiously in that direction. He
soon gathered from the talk that in two or three hours
the King of Persia was setting out on a hunting
expedition, and that the horses were being watered and
got ready. Rushing in, he laid about him with the
pickaxe so vigorously that the grooms, taken by
surprise, one after another fell before him. As soon as
all were dead, St. George put on a suit of armour and a
sword that hung in the furnishing room, and, mounting
the strongest horse he could find in the stable, rode
boldly to the nearest gate.
"Open, porter, in the king's name," cried he. "Know
 you not that St. George of England has escaped from his
dungeon, and that the whole city is seeking him? It is
thought he may have fled this way, and if you have let
him pass, your head will answer for it."
"Not so! not so! my lord," answered the porter,
fumbling at the lock with shaking fingers.
"I swear by the Prophet—" but St. George never knew
what he swore, for he was galloping westwards.
Many were his adventures before he reached the country
of Barbary, where few Christian knights had been before
him. For this reason St. George went there, thinking
thus to gain honour denied to other men. Near the
borders of the kingdom he paused to speak with a
hermit, who, he thought, might be able to tell him
somewhat of the customs of that strange land, and the
name of the city whose distant towers he saw.
"Those towers and walls," answered the hermit,
"surround the city of Tripoli, wherein is the palace of
Almidor, the black King of Morocco."
"Ah! you know him?" he added, as St. George started and
muttered something under his breath.
"Know him?" said the knight grimly. "I owe him a debt
which I shall hasten to pay! It is thanks to him that I
am here to-day, and that I have lost my bride, the
"Princess Sabra! But she is Queen of Barbary, and has
been these seven years and more," replied the hermit.
"Tell me, I pray you, how these things came to pass?" Then St. George sat down and told his tale, and in the
end besought the hermit to lend him his garments, and
to take care of his horse and armour till he returned
to claim them.
It was in this guise the knight approached the walls of
Tripoli, and found a hundred pilgrims kneeling before
 the palace gate. "What do you here, my friends?" he
asked in surprise, and the pilgrims answered:
"During seven years the Queen of Barbary has given us
alms every day for the sake of one St. George of
England, long since dead, whom she loved above all the
knights in the world."
"And when does she give them to you?" inquired St.
George, whose voice so trembled with joy that he could
"At sunset; and till then we pray on our knees for the
good fortune of the English knight."
"I will kneel with you," said he.
As the sun was sinking the queen left the palace and
moved slowly towards the gate. At the sight of her St.
George could have wept, so changed was she, yet still
how beautiful. Black robes were wound about her; her
hair had more in it of silver than of gold, and her
eyelids were red as are the eyelids of those who have
wept so much that they can weep no longer. Passing down
the row of pilgrims she held out her alms to each, but
when she came to St. George she stopped short, and
seemed as though she would have fallen. Then, with a
mighty effort, she continued her way till she had come
to the end of the row, after which she beckoned St.
George aside and questioned him as to who he was and
how he came there.
It did not take long for St. George to tell the story
of the black king's treachery, or to hear how Sabra had
always feared and hated him.
"Take me away, I pray you," she entreated, "for he is
now at the hunt, and before he returns I shall be safe
on the road to England. See, hidden in that stable is
the horse you were forced to leave, and your good sword
Ascalon. I will mount behind you, and follow you
wheresoever you go. For if he finds you here, he will
slay you, and me also."
 Therefore, within an hour St. George was riding through
the city gates with Sabra the queen, seated behind him.
Many adventures were still in store for them before the
shores of England came in sight. But not for long was
he suffered to rest. As happened to the six other
Champions, his help was sought from the ends of the
world, and the remainder of his life was spent in
warring in Europe and in Asia. In this warfare he grew
old and weary, till his heart drew him back to his
native city, Coventry, set in the green of
Warwickshire. Right glad were the people to behold him,
and a doleful story they had to tell of a dragon that
none could kill, which laid waste their lands.
Old though he was in years, the heart of St. George
burned as bravely as ever, as he rode forth to meet the
dragon. Fierce was the fight and long, yet in the end
the knight forced the monster on his back and thrust
him through and through with his lance. But with his
dying breath, the dragon cast his tail around the
Champion, and darted stings into every part of his
body, so that he was wounded even unto death. As the
tail unloosed again, he staggered, and for a moment it
seemed as though he would have fallen; yet he rallied,
and, gathering up all his strength, he cut off the
dragon's head, and, mounting his horse with an effort,
carried it back to Coventry, a trail of blood marking
his track. As he reached the gate a roar of welcome
greeted him, but he scarcely heard it, and, swaying,
would have fallen to the ground in his last agony, had
it not been for the arms stretched out to catch him.
Thus he died, and on account of his mighty deeds the
king ordered that April 23, the day of his burial,
should be named St. George's Day, and that a royal
procession should evermore be held upon it, in memory
of the Patron Saint of England.