It seems that the patron saint of England was never written in stone, but something that evolved over time and is a result of historical circumstance. Not only has the patron saints changed but there have been disputes, even today, as to who it should be. Recently, there have been people who wanted to replace Saint George as patron saint of England because of his warlike status might offend some Muslims!!! I’ve even heard some people say St. Edmund is the true patron saint of England. And others say Edward the Confessor should be patron Saint of England.
I often feel that the concept of a ‘patron saint of England’ is modern and was not necessarily the same as in the past. Maybe, perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that people in the past had a ‘preferred’ or ‘favorite’ saint that varied from person to person, time to time, and place to place. Nothing was set in stone. We know, for example, that Edward the Confessors favourite saint was St. Peter. We also know that King Henry III had a special reverence for Edward the Confessor. Edward III had a reverence for Saint George. And so on. It wouldn’t surprise me that the ‘patron saint’ as something ‘official’ didn’t appear til the appearance of the state in the past 300 years or so.
It appears that Edward the Confessor was often considered the ‘patron saint’ of England at first (if you can say that the concept of ‘patron saint’ existed then). Edward the Confessor was a very famous saint til Thomas Becket, who replaced him in popularity, though he did not become a ‘patron saint’. It seems that after Becket, Edward the Confessor faided into the background. But, soon, Becket would fade from view and be replaced by St. George.
My impression is that Saint George became associated with England, and subsequently turned into its patron saint, merely by coincidence. Saint George happens to be the patron saint of the highest Royal Order which is the Order of the Garter. Edward III created the order of the Garter in about 1348. Since he was fond of St. George he made him the patron saint of that order. Because of this, Saint George became associated with royalty. And since the royalty represented England, St. George ended up representing England. When parliament basically took over royalty (especially after the Glorious Revolution) he naturally became associated with the country as a whole.
I found an interesting statement in “A complete guide to heraldry” by A.C. Fox-Davies. In chapter XXX he writes “ . . . fighting was always done under the supposed patronage of some saint, and England fought, not under the arms of England, but under the flag of St. George . . .” He also goes on to mention the old battle cry: “St. George for Merrie England!”
St. George was used in battle as he was the patron saint of the highest chivalric royal order which is the Order of the Garter. As a result, many of the flags that were used in war had the cross of St. George on it.
This cross would later be incorporated into the Union Jack (along with the cross of St. Andrew and St. Patrick). As a result, St. George and his cross became more of an emblem of England than even the royal coat of arms! It’s really no wonder why St. George has become so prominent. It’s all because of historical circumstance that made him patron saint of England.
Basically, St. George was used by Edward III for his royal order, the Order of the Garter. Because of the Orders association with royalty and war he became associated with England, even being displayed on many of the countries flags. Over time this custom made the image of St. George prominent. As the country turned into a state it was only natural that St. George would turn into the patron saint of England.
My personal opinion is that a ‘patron saint’ of a country should of had direct involvement and made an impact on that country. St. George does not have this distinction. To me, it seems that Edward the Confessor should be the ‘patron saint’ of England. He stands at a very critical time in Englands history. He was a popular saint at one time. He is considered the ‘patron saint’ of British royalty even today. The abbey where the British kings and queens are coronated are in the abbey which he made and in which his tomb is prominent there. It seems to me that he would be the best candidate for ‘patron saint of England’.