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Order of the Garter

Most Noble Order of the Garter
Awarded by

Sovereign of the United Kingdom
Type Dynastic order
Motto French: Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame on him who thinks evil of it)
Awarded for At the monarch's pleasure
Status Currently constituted
Sovereign Queen Elizabeth II
Chancellor James, Duke of Abercorn
Grades (w/ post-nominals) Knight/Lady
Royal Knight/Lady
Stranger Knight/Lady
Established 1348
First induction 1348
Last induction 2014
Total inductees
Distinct recipients 1,005
Next (higher) Eldest sons of Barons[1]
Next (lower) Order of the Thistle
Riband of the Order of the Garter
Representation of the garter on a Knight's mantle
Henry of Grosmont, Earl of Lancaster (d.1361) (later Duke of Lancaster), the second recipient of the Order, shown wearing his garter robes in an illustration from the 1430 Bruges Garter Book made by William Bruges (1375–1450), first Garter King of Arms

The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest patron saint.

It is awarded at the Sovereign's pleasure as a personal gift on recipients from the United Kingdom and other patron saint of England.[2]

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.


  • History 1
  • List of Founder Knights 2
  • Legendary origins 3
  • Ladies Companion of the Garter 4
  • Order 5
    • Members 5.1
    • Supernumerary members 5.2
    • Degradation of members 5.3
    • Officers 5.4
    • Military Knights of Windsor 5.5
  • Habit and insignia 6
    • Members 6.1
      • Order's ceremonial occasions 6.1.1
      • Other occasions 6.1.2
    • Officers 6.2
  • Heraldry 7
    • Achievements 7.1
    • Banners 7.2
    • Stall plates 7.3
    • Gallery 7.4
    • Armorial 7.5
  • Precedence and privileges 8
  • Investiture ceremony 9
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14


King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter around the time of his claim to the French throne.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

The earliest written mention of the Order is found in Tirant lo Blanch, a chivalric romance written in Valencian mainly by 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:[6]

They are all depicted in individual portraits in the Bruges Garter Book made c. 1431.

Legendary origins

Statutes of the Order of the Garter

Various legends account for the origin of the Order. The most popular legend involves the "Countess of Salisbury" (either Edward's future daughter-in-law Joan of Kent or her former mother-in-law, Catherine Montacute, Countess of Salisbury). While she was dancing at a court ball at Calais, her garter is said to have slipped from her leg. 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.[3]

According to another legend, 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.[5] This story is recounted in a letter to the Annual Register in 1774:[7]

Another explanation is that the motto 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.[3]

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."[8] 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. 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."[9]

Ladies Companion of the Garter

Soon after the founding of the Order, women were appointed "Ladies of the Garter," but were not made companions. 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.[10] In 1987, however, it became possible to install "Ladies Companion of the Garter" under a statute of Queen Elizabeth II.[11]


Knights Companion in the procession to St George's Chapel for the Garter Service


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.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14]:198

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 and the Order of the Thistle) became a personal gift of the Sovereign once again.[10] 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.[15]

Supernumerary members

Emperor Taishō in the robes of the Order of the Garter, as a consequence of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance

In addition, the Order includes

See also

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.[37] 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 ladies, 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.[38]

The Order of the Garter once held services at Royal Ascot week (also known as Garter Day), the members of the Order, wearing their habits and garter insignia, meet in the state apartments in the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle. When any new Knights of the Garter are due for installation, an investiture ceremony is held at a Chapter of the Order in the Throne Room of Windsor Castle on the morning of Garter Day.[34] 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.[35][36]

Investiture ceremony

[33] 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 "Btss" ([15] Knights and Ladies Companion use the post-nominal letters "KG" and "LG" respectively.

Knights Companion prefix "Sir"[30] and Ladies Companion prefix "Lady" to their forenames.[31] Wives of Knights Companion may prefix "Lady" to their surnames, but no corresponding privilege exists for husbands of Ladies Companion.[32] Such forms are not used by royals, peers, peeresses, or Anglican clergymen, who instead use only the post-nominal letters.[30]

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.[29]

Precedence and privileges



heraldic achievement is depicted.

Stall plates

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.[27]


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.[26]

In their heraldic achievements, members of the Order of the Garter may encircle their escutcheon with the Garter, and, if they wish, with a depiction of the collar as well.[26] However, the Garter is normally used alone; the more elaborate version is seldom seen. Stranger Knights and Ladies do not embellish the arms they use in their countries with English decorations.


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.

Arms of the Order of the Garter.


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.[23]

  • The mantles for the prelate and chancellor are dark blue like those of the members (as a member, the chancellor wears a member's mantle), but the mantles for the other officers are dark red. All mantles are embroidered with a heraldic shield of St George's Cross. For Garter ceremonies, Garter Principal King of Arms wears this red mantle rather than the tabard of the royal arms worn for other State ceremonial occasions.[23]
  • Officers wear badges of office suspended from a chain worn around the neck. The badge for the prelate shows the Lesser George encircled by the Garter, which is surmounted by a bishop's [23]

For ceremonial occasions of the Order, the officers wear the following garments and accessories:


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.[23]

  • The collar is worn on designated collar days over military uniform or morning dress by members attending formal events. The collar is fastened to the shoulders with silk ribbons (or gold safety pins when worn with morning dress). Since the collar signifies the Order of the Garter, members can then wear the riband of any other order to which they belong.[23] The collar is only worn at specific occasions that warrant it.
  • The star, which is worn pinned to the left breast, was introduced in the 17th century by [23]
  • The riband is a four-inch (10.16 cm)-wide sash worn over the left shoulder, or pinned beneath it, to the right hip, and was introduced in the 17th century by King Charles I. The riband's colour has varied over the years: it was originally light blue, but was a dark shade under the Hanoverian monarchs. In 1950, the colour was fixed as "kingfisher blue". A member will wear only one riband, even if he or she belongs to several orders.[23] The riband is not used when the collar is worn.
  • The badge is worn suspended from a small gold link from the riband at the right hip, and is sometimes known as " [23]
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge wearing Garter Riband and Star

On other occasions when decorations are worn, the members wear simpler insignia:

The Garter "Star" above, and "George" below

Other occasions

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.[25]

  • The collar is an accessory worn around the neck, over the mantle and secured with white ribbons tied in bows on the shoulders. Like the mantle, it was introduced in the 15th and 16th centuries. Made of pure gold, it weighs 30 troy ounces (0.933 kg). The collar is composed of gold knots alternating with enamelled medallions showing a rose encircled by the Garter. During King Henry VII's reign, each garter surrounded two roses—one red and one white—but he changed the design such that each garter encircled the Tudor rose.[23]
  • The [23]
  • The Garter is worn on ceremonial occasions around the left calf[24] by knights and around the left arm by ladies, and is depicted on several insignia. The Garter is a buckled dark-blue (originally light-blue) velvet strap, and bears the motto in gold letters. The garters of Stranger Knights and Ladies were once set with several jewels.[23] Two styles have been used: one is a working garter where the end slips through the buckle and then is tucked in a specific way and the other style is a 'pre-made' one that has the buckled and tucked end pre-fashioned and is fastened with a clip attachment.
The insignia of a knight of the Order of the Garter
  • The mantle is a vestment or robe worn by members since the 15th century. Once made of wool, by the 16th century it was made of surcoat, which have lost all function over time and appear to the modern observer simply as a splash of colour.[23]
  • The hat is a Tudor bonnet of black velvet with a plume of white ostrich and black heron feathers.[23]

For the Order's ceremonial occasions, such as the annual Garter Day, the members wear elaborate vestments and accoutrements (accessories), which include:

The garter of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria

Order's ceremonial occasions


Mantle and hat of the Order

Habit and insignia

The poor knights originally wore red 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.[23]

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.[22]

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.[22]

Military Knights of Windsor in the procession to the Garter Service

Military Knights of Windsor

The office of Register has been held by the Dean of Windsor since 1558.[14]:116 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.[14]:122 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.[14]:143 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[14]:132 (although his functions are more often performed there by his deputy, the Yeoman Usher).

The office of Chancellor is now held by one of the companions of the order. For most of its existence, the 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.[14]:109–112 Since 1937, the following members have held the post of Chancellor:

The office of Prelate is held by the Bishop of Winchester, traditionally one of the senior bishops of the Church of England.[14]:105

The Order has six officers: the Prelate, the Chancellor, the Register, the Garter Principal King of Arms, the Usher, and the Secretary.[20] 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.[21]

Officers of the Order of the Garter (left to right): Secretary (barely visible), Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, Garter Principal King of Arms, Register, Prelate, Chancellor.


The banner of Elizabeth II in 1971, at which time he 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.[19]

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.[16]

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 out 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.[17]

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.

Henry, Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyme

Degradation of members

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, although acceding to the throne in 1993, is the only Belgian monarch 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.

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".[16] 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.[16] In lesser orders of chivalry, such foreign members would be regarded as having received honorary knighthoods.


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