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Robin Croft Bedfordshire Business School, University of Bedfordshire, England, and Heather Skinner Glamorgan Business School, University of Glamorgan, Wales
Robin Croft (corresponding author) Reader in Marketing University of Bedfordshire LU1 3JU, England firstname.lastname@example.org Dr Heather Skinner Leader, Postgraduate Programmes University of Glamorgan CF37 1DL, Wales email@example.com
Harry, England and St George: Ambivalent Brand Actors on a National Stage
Robin Croft Bedfordshire Business School, University of Bedfordshire, England, and Heather Skinner Glamorgan Business School, University of Glamorgan, Wales Abstract
Purpose – In this study we aim to show the ways in which the legend of St George was adapted, elaborated and executed by church, state and commerce in England, in order to achieve political, commercial and cultural objectives. By doing so we demonstre that what we think of as 20th century 'discoveries', social marketing and nation branding, were being used in all but name as far back as the medieval period. Design/methodology/approach — The paper draws on historical studies relatng to monasticism, pilgrimage and political changes, as well as social and cultural sources. These elements are examined in the context of contemporary approaches to nation branding and social marketing. Research limitation/implications — Most original manuscripts originating in the English church and monastic institutions were destroyed after the religious reformation of the 16th century, so to a degree the analysis relies on conjecture. Similarly, many of the elements of popular culture refereed to survived in the oral tradition for centuries and were only collected post hoc in the 19th and 20th centuries. Keywords: nation branding, social marketing, patron saints, pilgrimage, identity, nationality Paper Type: Full paper
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 St George! William Shakespeare (Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1)
Introduction Every spring in Britain there are calls for public celebrations on the 23rd April - the feast of St George, patron saint of England. Led by the popular press, and now evidently with some tentative government support, there are demands for the day to marked by public organizations including schools and hospitals, with the national flag being flown on public buildings and public servants encouraged to wear red roses as a sign of their engagement with "Englishness" (see for example, Wynne-Jones 2009). There have been moves in parliament for making the day a public holiday (Early Day Motion 1092, March 2009) while the press has highlighted the way in which St David's day is celebrated in Wales and St Andrew's day in Scotland. Both church and civic leaders focus on the potential of this kind of celebration in promoting national unity and in enabling citizens to identify with their common cultural heritage (see for example Walters 2009). Underlying these calls there are elements of the discourse of nation branding and social marketing: it is perhaps inevitable that in England, where St George's day is also regarded as the birthday of William Shakespeare, April 23 should trigger bouts of soul-searching about what distinguishes the English from their immediate neighbours. However, it is worth remembering that both Saints Andrew (Scotland) and George (England) were from the middle east and (despite the best efforts of medieval hagiographers), and were almost certain never to have come near the British Isles. And while St David's Celtic credentials have never seriously been questioned, the Welsh national emblem (a red dragon) has symbolic associations which make it at best an ambivalent 'brand actor'.
In exploring these questions we hope to contribute to the understanding of the ways in which nations can be conceptualized as brands: Informing the study is Hanna and Rowley’s 2008 study which usefully started to prepare the ground by identifying and classifying much of the terminology in this area, and by framing the debate around the concept of “brand terms”. Branding theory in general argues for clear, emphatic messages, and for unambiguous narratives, yet these conditions are rarely met in the field of nation branding. A second objective includes the hope of broadening out understanding of social brands by exploring the ways in which historically rulers have used the narratives associated with particular saints to introduce or encourage certain behavioural norms. Again, a new body of work is starting to form around the identification of ‘fakelore’ where the debate on the authenticity of the brand message (authors 2005, 2008) is particularly relevant to a study of the historical antecedents of national narratives (in our case, built around the figure of a national patron saint). In England successive kings switched support between different saints, as well as indulging in transformational marketing to re-brand existing national heroes according to the political imperatives of the day. The paper is working with material which is attracting increasing attention in the business and management field: a recent special edition of the Journal of Communication Management, for example (issue 12:4 in 2008), was entirely given over to research drawing on historical studies of what are recognisably public relations campaigns in business, politics and other fields, from as early as the 11th century. Studies such as these help to provide something of a methodological framework for this paper, where we identify historical narratives and attempt to understand their evolution in the context of the commercial, political and cultural realities of the time. St George Saint George is a problematic figure as a national and social brand. A common theme running through current popular debate is his mythical status. To an extent this is as a result of the accretion of layers of centuries of spontaneous and state-sponsored myth. Historians tend to place George's legends, in Lydda (Palestine), having been born in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey, Farmer 1977:177-8). The Golden Legend has the saint doing his valiant deeds in Libya, but when transplanted to England, local folklore has the saint fighting his battles in Herefordshire and Berkshire (Westwood & Simpson 735). A 16th century version of the tale recasts St George as a gentleman from Coventry (Simpson & Roud 2000:308). This problematic mythical status was further undermined when St George's official status as saint was reduced by the Vatican in 1969, to that of local importance only (Farmer 1977:177). Moreover, the very foreignness of St George further undermines the appeal of his brand - particularly when he supplanted two perfectly sound local national heroes in Saints Edmund of East Anglia and Edward the Confessor in 1422. Recent calls for a national day have suggested more acceptable national saints for England, such as Alban (said to be the first Christian martyr in the country, Doughty 2006), a saint with less mythical baggage. As if to emphasize the point, St George's cosmopolitan status is confirmed by his role as national patron of Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, and Russia, as well as being adopted by more than a dozen cities overseas. In branding terms, this relative ubiquity must surely undermine the potential value of St George as repository of exclusively English attributes? There are some more fundamental issues with the symbolism, though. Part of the problem is the core of the legend, the dragon - something that tends to undermine the Welsh national brand also. From the 18th century onwards a general admission that dragons were mythical creatures meant that they had to be reconceptualized as allegorical figures on a par with many of the monsters in medieval bestiaries. The problem for a brand is one of believability and trust in a set of values: St George appealed to medieval English rulers for a number of supposed attributes, and because he was surrounded by a powerful narrative that would disseminate successfully in largely illiterate societies. But when core elements of this narrative are identified as apocryphal, where does this leave the power of the brand? And can such a brand survive the transition from an agrarian, feudal society to then represent a post-industrial, post-empire, multi-cultural nation? Historical context: saints, symbols and nation states The adoption of saints as national symbols in western Europe started in about the 13th century, when the concept of the nation state started to gain ground. Rulers, having identified themselves through their relationship with other rulers and with Rome, came to redefine themselves as sovereigns in their own right, answerable to God and, inter-alia, the Pope. National groupings came to be recognized through diplomatic
representations and periodic councils of state: it was incumbent on a ruler to prove his or her case, that the 'nation' being defined had some sort of spiritual, cultural and historic hegemony (Geary 2002:19-21). Rome claimed to possess the resting place of St Peter, but this did not prevent a scramble by other putative nation states for the support of New Testament figures. The newly emerging kingdom of Spain, for example, claimed the patronage of St James - something that provided an enduring revenue stream in the form of centuries of pilgrimage to Santiago (said to be the saint’s final resting place). Venice also went to extraordinary lengths to obtain the relics of St Mark to underpin its aspirations. Likewise, the city of Bari revived its fortunes by obtaining the remains of St Nicholas from Smyrna. Similarly, but without the tangible evidence that Venice and Bari paid for, the Provence region and Catalonia were to benefit from legends suggesting that the siblings Mary Magdalen, Martha and Lazarus ended their days there (Farmer 1977: 2867): these narrative elements were to re-appear in the recent best-selling Da Vinci Code. Scotland claimed St Andrew, another apostle, not originally as a visitor, but through the medium of his relics being sent on to the eponymous city; in later years (perhaps in response to increasingly bizarre claims being made in England about St George and Joseph of Arimathea), legends arose that Andrew himself had visited Scotland (Farmer 1977: 18). Meanwhile St David's resting place in Wales proved to be a popular draw in the emerging destination tourism market in medieval Europe (Farmer 1977: 114-5), competing successfully with Canterbury and Bury St Edmunds. St George and the establishment of Medieval England St George came first to be associated with England at least two centuries before England itself began to be defined as a nation state. During the religious wars in the middle east which came to be known as the Crusades in western cultures, Christian troops were said to have been inspired to victory by a vision of St George, a local soldier-saint from several centuries before (Simpson & Roud 2000: 308). One important reason for his adoption on a local basis may have been symbolic - in the vision the saint apparently showed his watchers how to distinguish themselves from other soldiers by marking their shields with a red cross. This military branding enabled the troops loyal to the 'English' king (this term is used advisedly as Richard I had substantial possessions in France, spoke only French and had barely visited the British Isles), to distinguish themselves from others in the multinational forces besieging Jerusalem. Until the adoption of this uniform 'English' emblem, troops were confusingly identified according to the 'brand' or heraldic devices of their immediate overlords, rather than their national grouping. But as Geary pointed out, “The real history of the nations that populated Europe in the early Middle Ages begins not in the sixth century but in the eighteenth” (2002:15). Nevertheless, the Cross of St George became a powerful visual identity which proved to be valuable militarily, and the symbolism itself lent itself to further elaboration (centuries later propagandists at Glastonbury Abbey were to claim that Joseph of Arimathea himself revealed the 'logo' to St George, using his own blood to draw a red cross on the soldier's shield). (Carley 2001:74, 261, 274,) The adoption of St George was due also partly to the particular circumstances of Europe. The Crusades and frequent internecine wars meant that European courts were dominated by the military and by rulers who identified with historical aspirations for territory which bore little relation to modern-day nation states (Geary 2002:19, 54-5). Rulers found in the concept of chivalry a powerful social marketing tool with which to moderate the aggression of the fighting men in their retinues: during this time the legends of King Arthur were widely disseminated across Europe and it is perhaps no surprise that the so-called 'remains' of the mythical king were fortuitously discovered at Glastonbury Abbey in 1188 (authors 2008). Over the following two centuries, though, the English were increasingly isolated and forced to rein in their continental aspirations. Civil wars at home as well as vicious internal power struggles meant both a renewed focus on 'England' until the 14th century. During this period there seems to have been comparatively little interest in St George, so it can be suggested that it was the empire-building aspirations of Edward III (1327-1377) that triggered a 'brand revival'. Edward was said to have modelled himself on the mythical King Arthur (Carley 2001:288-9), and rather than re-establish the Round Table, he formed the chivalric Order of the Garter in 1348, with St George as its patron (Simpson & Roud 2000: 308). A series of famous English victories (Poitiers 1356, Crecy 1446) as well as the start of what came to be known as the 100 Years War ensured that military and chivalric values came to be valued once more. The attributes of the Georgian 'social brand' came to be known for the codes of behaviours it enjoined on what was now largely a professional, salaried army, with officers whose mercenary instincts were barely kept under control. However, there was still little suggestion that St George was anything more than a military symbol. Edward's successor, Richard II, had little interest in warfare, but during his reign other elements of the
Georgian narrative came to the fore in a society now dominated by ideas of courtly love. Whereas St George had hitherto been largely revered as a soldier and Christian martyr, in a widely read late medieval text, The Golden Legend, St George becomes known as a slayer of dragons (Farmer 1977: 177). Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine in about 1260, The Golden Legend was an early best-seller in the era of printing, with an English language edition from Caxton appearing in 1483. Significantly, in the so-called Wilton Diptych, a stylized portrait commissioned by Richard II and now in London's National Gallery, the young king is shown being presented to the heavenly powers by the older, Saxon saints Edmund and Edward; but in an interesting early example of co-branding, one of the heavenly angels is shown holding the banner of St George, while most of the supporting figures are depicted wearing the king's own logo, a white hart. The crucial 'tipping point' for St George as a national brand was the personal support of Henry V (Carley 2001:10). Once again this was triggered by a military resurgence, firstly with a fierce campaign against the Welsh (personally commanded by Henry while still a young prince), and then in a series of new wars with the French, culminating in the English victory at Agincourt. The cultus of St George was given strong royal encouragement, the Order of the Garter was revived and re-branded, and the older Saxon saints replaced in 1422 as national brands by the military hero from Palestine. Destinations for religious tourism such as Glastonbury ensured, through purchase, barter or fraud, that they were provided with relics of the latest saint to be in vogue with the king and then, by association, with the nobility and emerging middle classes (Carley 2001:283-4, 576). The reasons for Henry V's sudden veneration for St George are not clear. It may be that he was merely identifying with the soldier in the legends. Alternatively, it is possible to speculate that he was responding to the new elements in the narrative, the dragon-slaying reputation of St George: Henry's formative years were spent leading his father's troops in an effective campaign to crush Owain Glyndŵr's Welsh rebellion of 1400. Two aspects of Glyndŵr's tactics will have caught the attention of the young prince: firstly the former's unwillingness to engage in the sort of stylized pitched battle favoured by the chivalric tradition, and secondly the fact that the rebels marched prominently under the a dragon banner derived from early Celtic mythology. It may sound implausible that one prince would attempt to use the power of symbolism to counteract the mythology of another in war, but this was precisely what Henry's ancestor had done in 1278. Back then, Edward I had ended a campaign that militarily crushed Welsh resistance with what has been described as an early PR gesture, when he had King Arthur's supposed bones disinterred at Glastonbury Abbey in order to undermine Celtic beliefs in the return of the 'once and future king' (authors 2008). Now in the early 15th century, Henry V may have been demonstrating to the rebellious Welsh that whatever mythical powers they believed their golden dragon possessed, England was now looked over by a saint with well-known skills at crushing such beasts. In this way a new English brand was being deployed directly to counter the symbolism in a Welsh brand revival. With the renewed royal interest in the narrative, the story continued to evolve: at a late stage in the middle ages it became 'known' that at some point in his short life St George himself had taken time out to visit Britain (the story being part of diplomatic attempts to gain ownership of the 'brand' from competing nations and cities): George's landing point was said to be the area of the Pembrokeshire coast where Wales faces Ireland, and to this day that stretch of water is referred to on many charts by its old name, St George's Channel (Farmer 1977: 178). Such a choice of debarcation point, we suggest, may have been a deliberate attempt to provoke the Welsh, as it was suggested that George then made his way through the south of the country on his way to Glastonbury Abbey - presumably slaying dragons as he passed. There was a further possibly calculated insult to the Welsh, perhaps included for reasons of commercial rivalry between religious houses: St George's landing point was close to St David's, one of the Europe's premier pilgrimage destinations in the medieval period (and the resting place of the national saint): George's route to Glastonbury would have been along the south Wales pilgrimage trail familiar to thousands of early tourists in Britain. Although many elements of this analysis are speculative, we have already noted that Henry V had the precedent, means, opportunity and motive to have the narratives deployed in these ways. As we have observed elsewhere (author 2008), at points in history the interests of church, commerce and state co-incided to engender powerful narrative bodies which served the interests of all parties concerned. In the case of St George, his new pre-eminence as the national brand was exploited by Glastonbury as a way firstly of linking to a new emerging sub-brand there, the cult of Joseph of Arimathea, while at the same time undermining the brand equity of powerful commercial rivals at Westminster Abbey, St Davids, Canterbury and Bury St Edmunds, where the relics of Saints Edward the Confessor, David, Thomas à Becket and Edmund respectively were capturing increasing shares of the competitive religious tourism market.
By the middle of the 16th century St George's position as national patron was more or less secure. Having become the official national saint in 1422, royal patronage encouraged the formation of numerous civic guilds taking St George as their patron (Hutton 1993:26, 54). These guilds, as well as being a focus for private devotion, had the role of developing the brand in their communities through pageants and parades: this meant processions on April 23 complete with costumed actors and models of dragons and other elements. Guilds and street theatre of this kind proved extremely popular right up to the Reformation in 1546. In this way the national narrative was played out in the streets (Hutton 1993:55), counterpointing the visual representations in ecclesiastical wall paintings and underpinning a powerful national brand. From the early modern period All of this was to change as religious revolution swept Europe: England's Henry VIII had already embraced the ideals of chivalry in his personal identification with King Arthur (Hutton 1993:98). Once again, a useful conflation of myths, emanating much earlier from Glastonbury Abbey, provided the state with important new narrative elements with which to adapt the national brand (authors 2008). Post-reformation England justified its break from Rome as having re-established a direct 'historical' links to pre-Roman Christianity. The new Joseph of Arimathea legends, suggesting that Christ himself might have visited England, provided a protestant state with a new moral high ground to occupy: St George was part of this confusing melée, having fought for his beliefs in a time before the hated Church of Rome. Indeed, bogus Glastonbury scholarship had already started to link George to Joseph, narratives which in time found their way into popular legend (Carley 2001:285). However to the new protestant state the veneration of saints was anathema, resulting in a frenzy of iconoclasm with much of the religious imagery being erased from churches in the mid 16th century (Hutton 1993:82, 208). At the same time the religious guilds which focused veneration for the saints were disbanded. But as England became increasingly isolated and threatened with invasion from political and religious rivals in Europe, the establishment came to appreciate the propaganda potential of St George. With a huge Spanish fleet (the Armada) preparing for conquest in 1588 the state commissioned patriotic dramas and hired theatrical companies to perform these in the most threatened areas. Shakespeare himself was said to have been involved in this process early in his career (Wood 2002), but the programme also involved new ballads and other forms of public performance. The solution for St George was to strip the myth from its religious elements (Hutton 1993:115): Richard Johnson was able to do this successfully in 1596 in a widely disseminated tale called The Seven Champions, which repositioned George as an English knight, kept the chivalric elements but made no mention of Christianity or martyrdom (Simpson & Roud 2000: 308). It was largely this state-sanctioned version that was played out in street theatre in subsequent centuries (Hutton 1993:230). Anglican ambivalence towards saints in general was mirrored by a general lack of interest from England's new Hanoverian rulers in the 'brand values' of the English patron saint. However, there was something of a popular revival when St George's brand equity rose on the back of the spectacularly successful 1767 Shakespeare Jubilee. It is likely that the whole popular process represented the rediscovering a mythical 'Merrie England' symbolised by St George, and compensating for the increasingly embarrassing diplomatic and military reverses as England lost its colonies in America. However, it was perhaps not until the Anglo-Catholic revival of the mid 19th century that St George started to feature again in church imagery. Although other aspects of the 'cult' such as the Order of Garter had declined or fallen into disuse, St George's dual role as patron of England and of soldiers resonated well with Victorian audiences, seduced by the prospect of imperial power: depictions of him in the period up to the Great War (1914-8) invariably emphasize the warrior aspects of the brand. With the massive loss of life in the Great War, though, the imagery subtly changed: St George the conqueror was often then replaced with George the martyr. Finally, post second world war Britain saw a brand revival, once again championed by the monarch. George VI rejuvenated the Order of Garter, and St George became part of a huge nostalgic industry looking back at a mythical Merrie England once more: a land of thatched cottages, warm beer, parish churches, village greens and maypoles (Hutton 1993:198). In this, post-war England continued the process started with the Shakespeare Jubilee, a regret for the loss of a rural idyll that probably had never existed: in particular what has been termed 'Merrrie Englandism' reflects nostalgically on the loss of 'community' in the rush to industrialisation - communities bound by the clearly defined and inflexible social hierarchies (Simpson & Roud 2000:235) which by the time of George VI's revival of St George's brand had been undermined by two
world wars. Merrie Englandism from an early period had written a new narrative for itself which foregrounded morally uplifting pastimes such as the religious parades of the medieval guilds of St George (Simpson & Roud 2000:236). While such movements may appear trivial and insignificant to 21st century audiences, it is worth remembering that for Europeans, most of what we believe about our ‘nations’ is in some sense “imagined”, and that “‘many age-old traditions’… are the recent and cynical invention of politicians and entrepreneurs” (Geary 2002: 16). Analysis and conclusion What is perhaps unclear from the preceding sections is that promotion of St George as a national brand and as an instrument of social marketing was patchy and inconsistent. He had his major sponsors in Richard I, Edward III, Henry V, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and George VI, but other monarchs were at best lukewarm about the saint, and at worst promoted rival candidates. We also see a trend of brand adoption and promotion moving from official (royal) patronage in the medieval period, to more universal, popular support from the burgeoning middle classes. This perhaps reflected changing social, cultural and economic priorities. In the medieval period much of the economic power lay with the monasteries – not just in the religious tourism markets that we have touched on in this paper, but in the trade in wool and other commodities. Just as the abbeys realised the commercial advantages to be gained from a careful management of PR narratives, in later centuries (after the demise of the monasteries), new generations of professional traders adopted the national saint, and adapted his personal narrative to their own needs. Similarly, other players in the national cultural scene found elements there to explore. The key triggers for ‘brand revivals’ of St George as a national brand seem to be as follows: Territorial: including conquest (within the British Isles, France, British Empire) and loss of territory (French provinces, American colonies, British Empire). On the one hand territorial gains were attributed to the support of the soldier-saint, while on the other hand national loss became a catalyst for soul-searching, and a ‘re-discovery’ of the very Englishness that St George seemed to stand for. Military: St George provided symbolic elements for a new professional class of solider to identify with, something over and beyond loyalty to one’s immediate commanders (feudal or otherwise). In addition, codes of ethics were elaborated to govern behaviours in war (particularly the treatment of prisoners and the discouragement of looting) directed as much at the officer class as at the ordinary solider. All of these were validated in relation to the national brand. Chivalric: for various reasons medieval power brokers and their later counterparts needed to link the Arthurian legends to St George, and by association to the new concept of England as a nation state. This conflation of legends and myths enabled governments firstly to make a firm statement of their case for nationhood, and secondly to argue that their own variants of Christianity had a stronger case than the Roman equivalent abandoned by England. Economic and political: as with the problem of territorial loss, in times of crisis the broad population can be reassured by an appeal to national values, and the sort of nostalgic narratives that are embodied in the St George legends. In the case of St George, the national brand has not merely evolved: it was deliberately adapted and reshaped to suit the political, commercial and social agendas of the power elites of the time. This is not something unique to Britain, though, nor exclusively related to St George. The whole idea of the nation state is something of an artificial (and comparatively modern) construct, and as Geary observes, across Europe “Nineteenth-century scholars, politicians, and poets did not simply make up the past: they drew on preexisting traditions, written sources, legends, and beliefs, even if they used them in new ways to forge political unity or autonomy.” (2002: 17) We opened this paper with a brief review of contemporary popular calls for the re-invigoration of the St George brand, calls made by the mass media, church and by political class alike. Just as happened in earlier centuries, each group is able to identify in the national brand elements which appeal to them, and a recommended course of action which they argue emerges from an understanding of the brand. Similarly, we alluded to the contemporary debate about the potential problems of ensuring truthful representations, the representing of a culture that is central to much heritage tourism: Atkinson Wells, for example (1994) refers to
“the transformation of tradition … cultural appropriation … ‘fakelore’ … and cultural or heritage tourism”. Just as scholars are now identifying how political actors and commercial power-brokers in the medieval and early modern periods were evidently skilled at public relations, we believe that the evidence in the case of St George shows an appreciation by successive generations of the inherent power of what now would be called social branding.
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