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The Most Noble Order of the Garter
St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, showing the banners of
the Knights of the Garter hanging over their stalls
The Knights of the Garter since 1348
The Order of the Garter was founded in 1348 by King Edward III as a noble fraternity or Chapter consisting of the King, the Prince of Wales and 24 Knights Companion. No change in the numbers was made until 1786, when King George III added four extra Garter stalls to the quire of St George's Chapel, Windsor, and extended membership of the Order to sons of the Sovereign, additional to the 24 Knights and the Prince of Wales. A further change was introduced in 1805 when the Order was extended to include lineal descendants of George II. In 1831 it was decided that all direct descendants of George I should be accorded the same privilege.
From the earliest times ladies were received into the Order as "honorary members" but this practice died out under Henry VIII. It was not until the reign of Edward VII that the King's Consort was automatically a "Lady of the Garter". The Statutes of the Order have recently been amended to allow admission of females as Ladies Companion. The first such admission was that of Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk, in 1990. Foreign royalty are appointed as "Extra Knights and Ladies of the Garter" and they are in addition to the twenty six Knights or Ladies Companion. Non-Christians cannot become one of the twenty six Knights or Ladies Companion of the Order, but this restriction does not apply to Foreign Royalty.
There are several versions of the origin of the Order. The most picturesque is the anecdote concerning King Edward at a Court ball, where a lady, maybe the Countess of Salisbury, lost one of her garters. Bending down and picking it up, the lady blushing and those present laughing, he tied it around his own leg, with the remark, "Honi soit qui mal y pense. I shall turn it into the most honoured garter ever worn".
The Order is the highest English Order of Chivalry and is one of the most important of all such Orders throughout the world. The conferment of the Order entails adoption into knighthood and, for the Knights Companion, the right to use the title "Sir" before their Christian names, and for the Ladies Companion a similar right to use the title "Lady". Further, the holders of the Order are entitled to add the letters "K.G." or "L.G." after their surnames or title.
The banners and crests of the Knight Companion are hung in the Chapel of the Order, St. George's Chapel at Windsor. A stall plate showing the name and arms of the occupant are attached to each stall. The banners and crests remain above his stall during his lifetime and are taken down at his death. The cost of preparing the banners, crests and stall plates is borne by the Order. The reigning monarch is The Sovereign of the Order, and 23rd April, St. George's Day, is the Day of the Order.
The Garter Star
The insignia consist of the Collar and Badge Appendant known as the George, the Star, the Garter and the Sash with the Investment Badge, called the Lesser George. The Collar with the George is only worn on Collar Days or on special occasions commanded by The Sovereign. At ceremonies in St. George's Chapel the Knights and Ladies Companion wear the Mantle and Hat of the Order. The Collar with the George is worn outside the Mantle and fixed to the shoulders with white satin bows.
HM Queen Elizabeth II, Sovereign of the Order of the Garter, wearing her Garter Robes
There are several Officers attached to the Order of the Garter. They wear special robes for ceremonies of the Order:
This office is held ex officio by the Anglican Bishop of Winchester. The Prelate wears a blue robe with the shield of St George within a Garter on the right shoulder. His badge of office is the George and Dragon device encircled by the Garter and ensigned by a mitre.
This office is always held by one of the Knights Companion. He wears a crimson robe with the arms of the Order on the right shoulder. He carries a purse bearing the arms of the Sovereign. His badge of office is a red rose within the Garter.
This office is held ex officio by the Anglican Dean of Windsor. He wears a crimson robe with the shield of St George on the left shoulder. His badge of office is a closed book charged with two quill pens saltirewise within the Garter.
He wears a crimson robe bearing the shield of St George on the left shoulder. His badge of office is the shield of St George impaling the arms of the Sovereign, all within a Garter. He carries a Sceptre of Office which has four faces, two of which show the Sovereign's arms, the other two the arms of the Order. It is ensigned by the Royal Crown.
The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod wears a crimson robe with the shield of St George on the left shoulder. His badge of office consists of a double knot encircled by the Garter. The black rod he carries is ensigned by the Royal Lion bearing a shield of St George.
He wears a crimson mantle. His badge of office is a rose upon two quill pens saltirewise within the Garter.
As part of the original establishment of the College of St George, twenty six Poor Knights were required to pray daily for the Sovereign and the Knights Companion during life and for their souls after death. In return they received lodgings in Windsor Castle and maintenance. They wore a red cloak with a shield of the arms of St George on the left shoulder. During the early years of the nineteenth century, the Poor Knights (who were all retired army officers) objected to being termed 'poor' and petitioned William IV to be allowed to change the name and wear a uniform. In 1834 the name was changed to Military Knights and the members were allowed to wear the uniform of unattached officers. This uniform is still worn today.
Last updated 25 Mar 2003
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