Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Order of the Garter - Part three of the Windsor Castle trilogy by Diana Milne

Arms of the Order of the Garter: A cross of St George, circumscribed by the Garter
The Order of the Garter is one of the oldest and most important chivalric orders in the world. It was founded by Edward III in 1348 upon his return from France, following his incredible victory at Crecy in 1346 and capture of Calais in 1347.
A fine Victorian period Most Noble Order of the Garter.

The order now comprises of the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and twenty four Knights Companion. At the time of its foundation, the Order consisted of King Edward III, together with 25 Founder Knights, many of whom had been by Edward's side in France. They are listed in ascending order of stall number in St George's Chapel:

King Edward III (1312–77)
Edward, the Black Prince, Prince of Wales (1330–76)
Henry of Grosmont, Earl of Lancaster (c. 1310–61)
Thomas de Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick (d. 1369)
Jean de Grailly, Captal de Buch (d. 1377)
Ralph de Stafford, 1st Earl of Stafford (1301–72)
William de Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury (1328–97)
Roger Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March (1328–60)
John de Lisle, 2nd Baron Lisle (1318–56)
Bartholomew de Burghersh, 2nd Baron Burghersh (d. 1369)
John de Beauchamp, 1st Baron Beauchamp (d. 1360)
John de Mohun, 2nd Baron Mohun (c. 1320–76)
Sir Hugh de Courtenay (d. 1349)
Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent (1314–1360)
John de Grey, 1st Baron Grey de Rotherfield (c. 1300–59)
Sir Richard Fitz-Simon (b. 1295)
Sir Miles Stapleton (d. 1364)
Sir Thomas Wale (d. 1352)
Sir Hugh Wrottesley (d. 1381)
Sir Nele Loring (d. 1386)
Sir John Chandos (d. 1369)
Sir James Audley (d. 1369)
Sir Otho Holand (d. 1359)
Sir Henry Eam (d. before 1360)
Sir Sanchet D'Abrichecourt (d. 1345)[3]
Sir Walter Paveley (d. 1375)

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

It is thought that the iconic emblem of the new Order developed from a strap or band worn in battle, maybe for identification of ones own side. The motto, Honi soit qui mal y pense, (the translation from Old French being "Shame be to him who thinks evil of it") has been interpreted as relating to Edward III's claim to the throne of France.

Historian David Nash Ford observes:
''Edward III may outwardly have professed the Order of the Garter to be a revival of the Round Table, it is probable that privately its formation was a move to gain support for his dubious claim to the French throne. The motto of the Order is a denunciation of those who think ill of some specific project, and not a mere pious invocation of evil upon evil-thinkers in general. 'Shame be to him who thinks ill of it' was probably directed against anyone who should oppose the King's design on the French Crown.''
An alternative explanation suggests that he uttered these words when stooping to pick up a garter of a lady of the court and wore it upon his own person. The lady is said to be Joan of Kent, his first cousin and daughter-in-law. Allegedly her garter slipped down to her ankle causing those around her to chuckle at her humiliation.In an act of chivalry Edward placed the garter around his own leg saying, "Honi soit qui mal y pense. Tel qui s'en rit aujourd'hui, s'honorera de la porter." The two phrases are often translated as follows: "Shame on him who suspects illicit motivation," followed by, "Those who laugh at this today, tomorrow will be proud to wear it."

Edward III - looking stony faced.
On foundation of the order, twenty six 'poor knights' were appointed to pray for the Sovereign and the twenty six knights of the Order and a three day festival for the new Order was observed regularly at Windsor for 200 years. Charles I placed new emphasis on the order adding the star badge to the insignia.The Military origins of the Order are represented by the Military Knights of Windsor, retired members of the armed services who live within  the Lower Ward and represent the Garter Knights at services in the chapel.

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.

Just as the appointment is in the gift of the Sovereign, The Sovereign may also "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.

Today the Order is still a very important honour and also never exceeds the original number of recipients.

© Diana Milne October 2017

Photo 'A fine Victorian period Most Noble Order of the Garter'  from:

1 comment:

  1. Well, it *almost* never exceeds the original number: in 1786, a special decree was issued to allow all the male descendants of George II to be added to the original number of 25 + sovereign (this was because George III had so many sons).