Even though we're a nation in lockdown, I hope we can still take a moment to celebrate England's patron saint today. St George's Day is an opportunity to take pride in our country's achievements over many centuries, including the pivotal role England and its Parliament played in the birth of modern democracy.
From these small islands, we exported the principle around the world that no laws should be imposed except with the consent of our elected representatives. Principles like the rule of law, habeas corpus, trial by jury, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom from arbitrary arrest all emerged in England centuries before they took hold in other countries.
I would usually be watching parades of Barnet scouts which traditionally take place on St George's Day. Sadly these cannot happen because of the Covid emergency, but I pay tribute to all the community work done by scouts and scout leaders throughout the year. I very much hope that these parades will take place on St George's Day 2021 when life may have largely returned to normality. for now we need to #StayHome #ProtectTheNHS #SaveLives.
Although little is known about the historical figure of St George, and he never visited England, his cultural connection with our country dates back centuries. This connection deepened in 1415 when Henry V invoked George as England's patron at the battle of Agincourt. That speech was later immortalised by Shakespeare:
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!'