|Type Dynastic order|
Sovereign Queen Elizabeth II
|Status Currently constituted|
|Motto Middle French: Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame on him who thinks evil of it)|
Awarded for At the monarch's pleasure
Chancellor James, Duke of Abercorn
The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry and the third most prestigious honour (inferior only to the Victoria Cross and George Cross) in England and the United Kingdom. It is dedicated to the image and arms of Saint George, England's patron saint.
- List of Founder Knights
- Legendary origins
- Ladies Companion of the Garter
- Supernumerary members
- Degradation of members
- Military Knights of Windsor
- Orders ceremonial occasions
- Other occasions
- Stall plates
- Precedence and privileges
- Investiture ceremony
It is awarded at the Sovereign's pleasure as a personal gift on recipients from the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms. Membership of the Order is limited to the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and no more than 24 members, or Companions. The order also includes supernumerary knights and ladies (e.g. members of the British Royal Family and foreign monarchs).
New appointments to the Order of the Garter are always announced on St George's Day (23 April), as Saint George is the order's patron saint.
The order's emblem is a garter with the motto Honi soit qui mal y pense (Middle French: "shame on him who thinks evil of it") in gold lettering. Members of the order wear it on ceremonial occasions.
King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter around the time of his claim to the French throne. The year is usually presumed to be 1348; however, the Complete Peerage, under "The Founders of the Order of the Garter", states the order was first instituted on 23 April 1344, listing each founding member as knighted in 1344. The list includes Sir Sanchet D'Abrichecourt, who died on 20 October 1345. Other dates from 1344 to 1351 have also been proposed. The King's wardrobe account shows Garter habits first issued in the autumn of 1348. Also, its original statutes required that each member of the Order already be a knight (what would now be referred to as a knight bachelor) and some of the initial members listed were only knighted that year.
The earliest written mention of the Order is found in Tirant lo Blanch, a chivalric romance written in Catalan mainly by Valencian Joanot Martorell. It was first published in 1490. This book devotes a chapter to the description of the origin of the Order of the Garter.
List of Founder Knights
At the time of its foundation, the Order consisted of King Edward III, together with 25 Founder Knights, listed in ascending order of stall number in St. George's Chapel:
They are all depicted in individual portraits in the Bruges Garter Book made c. 1431.
Various legends account for the origin of the Order. The most popular legend involves the "Countess of Salisbury", whose garter is said to have slipped from her leg while she was dancing at a court ball at Calais. When the surrounding courtiers sniggered, the king picked it up and returned it to her, exclaiming, "Honi soit qui mal y pense" ("Shame on him who thinks evil of it."), the phrase that has become the motto of the Order.
According to another legend, King Richard I was inspired in the 12th century by St George the Martyr while fighting in the Crusades to tie garters around the legs of his knights, who subsequently won the battle. King Edward supposedly recalled the event in the 14th century when he founded the Order. This story is recounted in a letter to the Annual Register in 1774:
The motto in fact refers to Edward's claim to the French throne, and the Order of the Garter was created to help pursue this claim. The use of the garter as an emblem may have derived from straps used to fasten armour.
Medieval scholars have pointed to a connection between the Order of the Garter and the Middle English poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In Gawain, a girdle, very similar in its erotic undertones to the garter, plays a prominent role. A rough version of the Order's motto also appears in the text. It translates from Old French as "Accursed be a cowardly and covetous heart." While the author of that poem remains disputed, there seems to be a connection between two of the top candidates and the Order of the Garter. Scholar J. P. Oakden has suggested that it is someone related to John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and, more importantly, a member of the Order. Another competing theory is that the work was written for Enguerrand de Coucy, seventh Sire de Coucy. The Sire de Coucy was married to King Edward III's daughter, Isabella, and was given admittance to the Order of the Garter on their wedding day."
Ladies Companion of the Garter
Soon after the founding of the Order, women were appointed "Ladies of the Garter", but were not made companions. King Henry VII discontinued the practice in 1488; his mother, Margaret Beaufort, was the last Lady of the Garter before Queen Alexandra. Except for female sovereigns, the next Lady of the Garter named was Queen Alexandra, by her husband King Edward VII. King George V also made his consort, Queen Mary, a Lady of the Garter and King George VI subsequently did the same for his wife, Queen Elizabeth. Throughout the 20th century, women continued to be associated with the Order, but except for foreign female monarchs, they were not made companions. In 1987, however, it became possible to install "Ladies Companion of the Garter" under a statute of Queen Elizabeth II.
Membership in the Order is strictly limited and includes the Monarch, the Prince of Wales, not more than 24 companion members, and various supernumerary members. The monarch alone can grant membership. He or she is known as the Sovereign of the Garter, and the Prince of Wales is known as a Royal Knight Companion of the Garter.
Male members of the Order are titled "Knights Companion" and female members are called "Ladies Companion". Formerly, the Sovereign filled vacancies upon the nomination of the members. Each member would nominate nine candidates, of whom three had to have the rank of earl or higher, three the rank of baron or higher, and three the rank of knight or higher. The Sovereign would choose as many nominees as were necessary to fill any vacancies in the Order. He or she was not obliged to choose those who received the most nominations. Candidates were last nominated in 1860, and appointments have since been made by the Sovereign acting alone, with no prior nominations. The statutes prescribing the former procedure were not amended, however, until 1953.
From the 18th century, the Sovereign made his or her choices on the advice of the Government. In 1946, with the agreement of the Prime Minister Clement Attlee and the Leader of the Opposition Winston Churchill, membership of the United Kingdom's highest ranking Orders of Chivalry (the Order of the Garter, the Order of the Thistle and the dormant Order of St. Patrick) became a personal gift of the Sovereign once again. Thus, the Sovereign personally selects Knights and Ladies Companion of the Garter, and need not act on or solicit the advice of His or Her Government.
In addition, the Order includes supernumerary members, who do not count towards the limit of 24 companions. Several supernumerary members, known as "Royal Knights and Ladies of the Garter", belong to the royal family. These titles were introduced in 1786 by King George III so that his many sons would not count towards the limit on the number of companions. He created the statute of supernumerary members in 1805 so that any descendant of King George II could be installed as such a member. In 1831, this statute was extended again to include all descendants of King George I.
With the installation of Emperor Alexander I of Russia in 1813, supernumerary membership was extended to foreign monarchs, who are known as "Stranger Knights and Ladies of the Garter". Each such installation originally required the enactment of a statute; however, a 1954 statute authorises the regular admission of Stranger Knights or Ladies without further special enactments. In lesser orders of chivalry, such foreign members would be regarded as having received honorary knighthoods.
Traditionally, reigning European monarchs are admitted to the Order as Strangers. Constantine II, King of the Hellenes, neither in his short reign nor since he was deposed in 1973, has succeeded his father Paul of Greece as a member of the Order. Similarly, Albert II, King of the Belgians and his son and successor Philippe are the only Belgian monarchs to date not to have been admitted to the Order. For a time, both Juliana, Queen of the Netherlands and her successor, Queen Beatrix were concurrently members of the Order as Stranger Ladies of the Garter.
Degradation of members
The Sovereign may "degrade" members who have committed very serious crimes, such as treason or fleeing the battlefield, or those who have taken up arms against the Sovereign.
From the late 15th century, there was a formal ceremony of degradation, in which Garter King of Arms, accompanied by the rest of the heralds, proceeded to St George's Chapel. While the Garter King of Arms read aloud the Instrument of Degradation, a herald climbed up a ladder and removed the former knight's banner, crest, helm, and sword, throwing them down into the quire. Then the rest of the heralds kicked them down the length of the chapel, out of the doors, and into the castle ditch. The last such formal degradation was that of James, Duke of Ormonde in 1716.
During the First World War, two Royal Knights and six Stranger Knights, all monarchs or princes of enemy nations and including Wilhelm II, German Emperor and Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria were struck off the roll of the Order or had their appointments annulled in 1915.
The banner of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy was also removed from the chapel after Italy entered World War II against the United Kingdom and her Allies. The banner of Emperor Hirohito of Japan was removed from St. George's chapel when Japan entered World War II in 1941, but that banner and the Japanese monarch's knighthood were restored by Elizabeth II in 1971, when Hirohito made a state visit to the United Kingdom. The Emperor was particularly pleased by the restoration of his banner as a Knight of the Garter.
The Order has six officers: the Prelate, the Chancellor, the Register, the Garter Principal King of Arms, the Usher, and the Secretary. The offices of Prelate, Register, and Usher were created on the order's establishment; those of Garter Principal King of Arms and Chancellor, in the 15th century; and that of Secretary, in the 20th century.
The office of Prelate is held by the Bishop of Winchester, traditionally one of the senior bishops of the Church of England.
The office of Chancellor is now held by one of the companions of the order. For most of its existence, the Bishop of Salisbury has held the office, although laymen held it from 1553 to 1671. In 1837, after boundary changes made Windsor Castle fall in the diocese of Oxford, the Chancellorship was transferred to the Bishop of Oxford. A century later, the Bishop of Salisbury challenged this transfer, on the grounds that the Chancellorship had been attached to his office regardless of the diocese in which the chapel of the order lay; and that, in any event, St George's Chapel, as a Royal Peculiar, was not under diocesan jurisdiction. The office of Chancellor was removed from the Bishop of Oxford (the outgoing bishop, Thomas Banks Strong, had been outspoken in the abdication crisis of Edward VIII), and so it was withheld from his successor, Kenneth Kirk, and has since been held by one of the Knights Companion. Since 1937, the following members have held the post of Chancellor:
The office of Register has been held by the Dean of Windsor since 1558. The Garter Principal King of Arms is ex officio the senior officer of the College of Arms (the heraldic authority of England), and is usually appointed from among the other officers of arms at the College. As the title suggests, Garter Principal King of Arms has specific duties as the Order's officer of arms, attending to the companions' crests and banners of arms, which are exhibited in the chapel. The Secretary, who acts as deputy to Garter in the ceremonial aspects of the Order, has since 1952 also been selected from the other officers of the College of Arms. The office of Usher is held by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, who is also the Serjeant-at-Arms of the United Kingdom House of Lords (although his functions are more often performed there by his deputy, the Yeoman Usher).
Military Knights of Windsor
At the founding of the Order of the Garter, 26 "poor knights" were appointed and attached to the Order and its chapel. This number was not always maintained, and by the 17th century, there were only thirteen such knights. King Charles II increased the number to 18 (in large part because of funds allocated from Sir Francis Crane's will) after his coronation in 1660. After the knights objected to being termed "poor", King William IV redesignated them in the 19th century as the Military Knights of Windsor.
The poor knights were impoverished military veterans, required to pray daily for the Knights Companion. In return, they received a salary and lodging in Windsor Castle. The knights are no longer necessarily poor, but are still military pensioners. They participate in the Order's processions, escorting the members, and in the chapel services. However, they are not considered members of the Order.
The poor knights originally wore red mantles, each of which bore St George's Cross, but did not depict the Garter. Queen Elizabeth I replaced the mantles in the 16th and 17th centuries with blue and purple gowns, but the red mantles returned in the 17th century under King Charles I. When the knights were renamed, the mantles were abandoned. The military knights now wear the old military uniform of an "army officer on the unattached list": black trousers with red stripe, a red double-breasted swallow-tailed coat, gold epaulets and brushes, a cocked hat with a plume, and a sword on a white sash.
Order's ceremonial occasions
For the Order's ceremonial occasions, such as the annual Garter Day, the members wear elaborate vestments and accoutrements, which include:
Up until the middle part of the 20th century, it was customary to wear Tudor style under-dress, consisting of white silk embroidered doublet, breeches, full hose, white doeskin pumps with satin bows and a sword belt with sword, under the robes. Nowadays, morning dress or a lounge suit is worn, except for coronations when Tudor under-dress is worn by the canopy-bearers.
On other occasions when decorations are worn, the members wear simpler insignia:
On the death of a member, the Lesser George and breast star are returned personally to the Sovereign by the former member's nearest male relative, and the other insignia to the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, save the riband, mantle and hat.
For ceremonial occasions of the Order, the officers wear the following garments and accessories:
The chancellor carries a purse, which is embroidered with the royal arms impaled by the Cross of St. George. The purse contains the seal of the Order. Garter Principal King of Arms carries his baton of office. The usher carries his staff of office, the Black Rod.
Heraldry plays an important role in the Order of the Garter. This is reflected in the fact that the order has its own King of Arms. The position of Garter King of Arms has existed since 1415. The incumbent of this office ranks as the senior Officer of Arms at the College of Arms, the heraldic authority with jurisdiction over England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In their heraldic achievements, members of the Order of the Garter may encircle their escutcheon with the Garter. Knights and Ladies Companion are also entitled to receive heraldic supporters, a privilege granted to few other private individuals. While some families claim supporters by ancient use, and others have been granted them as a special reward, only members of the Royal Family, peers, Knights and Ladies Companion of the Garter, Knights and Ladies of the Thistle, and Knights and Dames Grand Cross of the junior orders of chivalry are automatically entitled to them.
During their lifetime, all members of the Order of the Garter are entitled to display their heraldic crests and banners in St. George's Chapel, Windsor. While the Garter stall plates (see below) stay in the chapel permanently, the crests and banners of deceased knights are, following presentation at the High Altar, removed from the chapel. Sometimes they are then given to institutions that were connected with the late knight, or kept privately depending on family wishes. Originally after a knight's death, the crests became the property of Garter King of Arms, and these crests have been the subject of occasional exhibitions in the Earl Marshal's Court at the College of Arms.
Garter stall plates are small enamelled and engraved brass plates located in St George's Chapel as memorials to Knights of the Garter. They are inscribed with the knight's name, and generally with his titles, offices, and motto. In most cases his heraldic achievement is depicted.
Precedence and privileges
Members are assigned positions in the order of precedence, coming before all others of knightly rank, and above baronets. The wives, sons, daughters and daughters-in-law of Knights Companion are also assigned precedence. Relatives of Ladies Companion are not, however, assigned any special positions. (Generally, individuals can derive precedence from their fathers or husbands, but not from their mothers or wives.) The Chancellor is also assigned precedence, but except for the period between 1553 and 1671 when the office was held by a layman who was not necessarily a member of the Order, this precedence has been purely theoretical. As a member of the Order, the Chancellor has a higher precedence than that attached to the office, and when the office was filled by a diocesan bishop of the Church of England, the holder again had a higher precedence by virtue of that office than any that the chancellorship could bestow.
Knights Companion prefix "Sir" and Ladies Companion prefix "Lady" to their forenames. Wives of Knights Companion may prefix "Lady" to their surnames, but no corresponding privilege exists for husbands of Ladies Companion. Such forms are not used by royalty, peers, peeresses, or Anglican clergymen, who instead use only the post-nominal letters.
Knights and Ladies Companion use the post-nominal letters "KG" and "LG" respectively. When an individual is entitled to use multiple post-nominal letters, those of the Order of the Garter appear before all others, except "Bt" or "Bart" (Baronet), "VC" (Victoria Cross) and "GC" (George Cross).
The Order of the Garter once held services at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, but they became rare in the 18th century. The annual Garter Services, discontinued in 1805, were revived by King George VI in 1948 and have become an annual event. Each June, on Garter Day, the members of the Order, wearing their habits and garter insignia, meet at Windsor Castle. When any new Knights of the Garter are due for installation, an investiture ceremony is held in the Throne Room of Windsor Castle on the morning of Garter Day. This ceremony is attended by all Knights Companions of the order, wearing the ceremonial habits and garter insignia, and also by their wives. The wording of the oath sworn by the new knights at this ceremony and of the Admonitions addressed to them in turn by the prelate and chancellor of the order when the several items of insignia are placed upon them are extremely similar to the traditions of the past.
At the investiture ceremony the Admonitions are read in turn by the prelate and chancellor of the order and several insignia are offered on a cushion to the Sovereign by Garter King of Arms, Black Rod, and the secretary of the order, in turn, so that the Sovereign may perform the ceremony of investiture. Two senior knights of the order assist the Sovereign in these ceremonies by placing the garter around the left leg of the new knight and by assisting the Sovereign in the fastening of the riband and Lesser George about the body of the new knight, and in the adjustment of the mantle and the collar. After the investiture ceremony at Windsor is concluded, a state luncheon is held in the Banqueting Room. This is attended by the royal family, by all the Companions of the Order and their spouses, and by the Officers of the Order. After the banquet all the knights and ladies of the order, together with the prelate, chancellor and other officers of the order, in their mantles and ceremonial robes, led by the Military Knights of Windsor, move in procession, watched by a great crowd of spectators, through the castle, down the hill, which is lined with troops, to Saint George's Chapel for a worship service, before which the formal installation of the new knights takes place.