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Order of the Garter

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The Garter is one of the Order's most recognisable insigniaEnlarge

The Garter is one of the Order's most recognisable insignia

The Most Noble Order of the Garter is the highest order of chivalry in the United Kingdom, and represents the pinnacle of the British honours system. It is an exclusive body, consisting of the Sovereign and up to twenty-five Knights and Ladies Companions, as well as certain "supernumerary" knights (members of the British Royal Family and foreign monarchs). The Sovereign alone grants membership of the Order; he or she is not advised by the Government, as occurs with most other Orders. Knights of the Garter use the post-nominal "KG", while Ladies use "LG".

The Order of the Garter's primary emblem is the Garter, a strap bearing the motto of the Order (Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense) in gold letters. The Garter is an actual accessory worn by the members of the Order during ceremonial occasions; it is also depicted on several insignia. The arms of the Order are those of St George, England's patron saint: argent, a cross gules (a red cross on a white field).

The Order is the senior order of England; its equivalent in Scotland is the The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. The Order of the Thistle's date of foundation is unknown; it may have been established as early as the eighth century. The Order of the Garter's Irish equivalent is the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick, established in 1783. The Order of St Patrick continues to exist, but has no members. The last creation of a knighthood of St Patrick occurred in 1934, thirteen years after the Irish Free State gained its independence; the last surviving member died in 1974. The Order of the Garter has precedence over the Orders of the Thistle and St Patrick.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Compositon
3 Vestments and accoutrements
4 Chapel
5 Precedence and heraldry
6 Current Members
7 Notes
8 See Also
9 References


The Order was founded circa 1348 by Edward III as "a society, fellowship and college of knights." Various dates have been given, ranging from 1344 to 1351. The wardrobe account of Edward III, however, shows that Garter habits were issued in the autumn of 1348. The Order was most probably not constituted before 1346; the original statutes required that one be a knight before being admitted into the Order, and several original members of the Order did not become knights until the aforementioned year.

Several legends have been set forth to explain the origin of the Order. The most popular one involves Joan, Countess of Salisbury, who purportedly dropped her garter while dancing with the King. The King is said to have picked it up and tied it to his own leg, exclaiming "Honi soit qui mal y pense" (the French phrase may be loosely translated as "Shame on him who thinks evil of it"). According to another myth, Richard I, while fighting in the Crusades, was inspired by St George to tie garters around the legs of his knights; Edward III supposedly recalled the event when he founded the Order.


Sovereign and Knights

Since its foundation, the Order of the Garter has included the Sovereign and Knights Companions. The Sovereign of the United Kingdom serves as Sovereign of the Order. The
Prince of Wales is by convention created a Knight Companion; aside from him, there may be up to twenty-four other Knights Companions. Women were originally admitted as Ladies of the Garter, but were not considered full members; hence, they were not known as Ladies Companions. Henry VII, however, ended the practice; his last creation of a Lady of the Garter was that of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Derby in 1488. Thereafter, the Order was exclusively male (except for the female Sovereigns) until 1901, when Edward VII created his wife, Queen Alexandra, a Lady of the Garter. While several women continued to be admitted to the Order, they were not Companions, or full members, until the enactment of a statute by Elizabeth II in 1987.

The Order also includes Supernumerary Knights. Supernumerary Knights were introduced in 1786 by George III; at the time, the class was limited to sons of the Sovereign. In 1805, George III allowed all descendants of George II to be created Supernumary Knights. In 1831, the group was once again extended; all descendants of George I may be created Supernumerary Knights.

From time to time, foreign monarchs have also been admitted as Supernumerary Knights (such monarchs are also called Stranger Knights). Formerly, each such creation required the enactment of a special statute. The first use of such a procedure occurred in 1813, when Alexander I, Emperor of Russia was admitted to the Order. A statute enacted in 1954, however, authorised the regular admission of Stranger Knights without further special statutes. Individuals who are not British need not always be admitted as Stranger Knights; for example, The Rt Hon. Sir Ninian Stephen (Australia) and Sir Edmund Hillary are full Knights Companions.

Formerly, whenever vacancies arose, the Knights would conduct an "election," wherein each Knight voted for nine candidates (of which three had to be of the rank of Earl or above, three of the rank of Baron or above, and three of the rank of Knight or above). The Sovereign would then choose as many individuals as were necessary to fill the vacancies; he or she was not bound to choose the receivers of the greatest number of votes. Victoria dispensed of the procedure in 1862; thereafter, all appointments were made solely by the Sovereign. From the eighteenth century onwards, the Sovereign made his or her choices upon the advice of the Government. George VI felt that the Orders of the Garter and the Thistle had been used only for political patronage, rather than to reward actual merit. Therefore, in 1946, the Order of the Garter returned to the personal gift of the Sovereign.

Knights of the Garter could also be degraded by the Sovereign, who normally took such an action in response to serious crimes such as treason. The last degradation was that of James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde, who had participated in the Jacobite Rebellion and had been convicted upon impeachment, in 1716. During the First World War, Knights who were monarchs of enemy nations were removed by the "annulment" of their creations; Knights Companions who fought against the United Kingdom were "struck off" the Rolls. All such annulments were made in 1915; the Knights who were removed were: Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austria, William II, Emperor of Germany, Ernst August, 3rd Duke of Cumberland, Prince Albert William Henry of Prussia, Ernest, Grand Duke of Hesse and the Rhine, William, Crown Prince of Germany and William II, King of Württemberg. The only Knight Companion to be struck off the Rolls was Prince Charles Edward, 2nd Duke of Albany.

Poor Knights

At the original establishment of the Order, twenty-six "Poor Knights" were appointed and attached to the Order. The number was not always maintained; by the seventeenth century, there were just thirteen Poor Knights. After the Restoration of Charles II, increased the number to eighteen. After they objected to being termed "poor", William IV renamed them the Military Knights of Windsor.

Poor Knights were originally impoverished military veterans. They were required to pray daily for the Sovereign and Knights Companions; in return, they were lodged in Windsor Castle. The Military Knights, who are no longer necessarily poor, participate in the Order's processions, escorting the Knights and Ladies of the Garter, but are not members of the Order itself.


The Order of the Garter has six officers: the Prelate, the Chancellor, the Registrar, the King of Arms, the Usher and the Secretary. The offices of Prelate, Registrar and Usher were created upon the Order's foundation; the offices of King of Arms and Chancellor were created during the fifteenth century, and that of Secretary during the twentieth.

The office of Prelate is held by the Bishop of Winchester, the third Bishop in precedence in the Church of England (after the Bishops of London and Durham). The office of Chancellor was formerly held by a bishop (the Bishop of Salisbury or the Bishop of Oxford), but is now held by a member of the Order. The Dean of Windsor is, ex officio, the Registrar of the Order.

The Order's heraldic officer is the Garter Principal King of Arms. He is one of the three Kings of Arms who belong to the College of Arms, England's heraldic authority. The other Kings of Arms are the Clarenceaux King of Arms (who has jurisdiction over the southern England) and the Norroy and Ulster King of Arms (who has jurisdiction over northern England and Northern Ireland). Scotland has its own separate King of Arms, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, who does not belong to the College of Arms.

The Order's Usher is the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. He is also the Serjeant-at-Arms of the House of Lords, though his functions in regard to the same are more often performed by his deputy, the Yeoman Usher. The title of his office comes from his staff of office, the Black Rod.

Vestments and accoutrements

Sovereign and Knights

Knights of the Garter have distinctive habits, which in modern times are worn over normal suits or military uniforms. Nineteenth century fashion is depicted above
The most recognisable insigne of the Order is the Garter, a velvet buckled strap worn by men around the left calf by men and on the left arm by women. The Garter was originally light blue, but is now dark blue. Those presented to Stranger Knights were set with several jewels. The Garter bears the motto in gold majuscules.

Knights and Ladies Companions have worn mantles, or coats, since the reign of Henry VII. They were originally made of wool, but came to be made of velvet by the sixteenth century. The mantle was originally purple, but varied during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries between celestial blue, pale blue, royal blue, dark blue, violet and ultramarine. Now, mantles are dark blue in colour, and are lined with white tafetta. The mantles of the Sovereign and members of the Royal Family include trains. On the left shoulder, the arms of the Order, encircled by a Garter, are depicted; in the case of the Sovereign, the Star (see below) is shown instead. Attached to the mantle over the right shoulder are a crimson velvet hood and a crimson velvet surcoat. The mantle, which includes two large gold tassels, is worn over a military uniform or suit. A black velvet hat, which bears a plume of white ostrich and black heron feathers, is also worn.

Like the mantle, the Collar of the Order of the Garter was introduced during Henry VII's reign. The Collar is a chain of pure gold; it weighs 30 troy ounces (approximately 0.933 kilograms). It comprises gold knots alternating with blue enamelled garters encircling roses. During Henry VII's reign, each garter surrounded two roses—one red and one white—but he later changed the design, such that each garter now encircles just one red rose. The George, which comprises an enamelled depiction of St George on horseback slaying a dragon, is worn suspended from the Collar.

The Star of the Order, introduced by Charles I, is an eight-pointed silver figure. Each point appears in the form of a cluster of rays. The Star is worn on the left breast; it is depicted on the left shoulder of the Sovereign's mantle.

The Broad Riband, introduced by Charles II, is a four inch wide sash, worn from below the left shoulder to the right hip. The Riband's colour has varied over the years; it was originally light blue, but was dark blue under the Hanoverian monarchs. In 1950, the colour changed to kingfisher blue. On the Broad Riband at the right hip, the Badge (also called the Lesser George) is suspended from a small gold chain (formerly, before Charles II introduced the Broad Riband, it was around the neck). The Lesser George is of the same design as the George.

Poor Knights

Poor Knights originally wore red mantles, each of which bore the arms of the Order, but did not depict the Garter. Elizabeth I replaced the mantles with blue and purple gowns, but Charles I returned to the old red mantles. When the Poor Knights were renamed Military Knights, the mantles were abandoned. Instead, the Military Knights of Windsor now wear blue military uniforms. Military Knights also wear swords.


The officers of the Order also have ceremonial vestments. The Prelate and Chancellor wear blue mantles, while the other officers wear crimson mantles. The mantles of Officers, like those of the knights, are adorned with the arms of the Order on the left shoulder. Since the Chancellor is now a member of the Order, he wears he mantle of Knights, rather than the Chancellor's mantle.

The officers also wear distinctive badges, each of which is surrounded by a depiction of the Garter. The Prelate's badge depicts St George slaying a dragon; the Garter within which it is depicted is surmounted by a bishop's mitre. The Chancellor's badge is a rose encircled by the Garter. The Garter Principal King of Arms' badge depicts the royal arms impaled (side-by-side) with the Order's arms. The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod's badge depicts a knot within the Garter. The Registrar has a badge of a crown above two crossed quills, while the Secretary has a badge of a rose above two crossed quills.

The Chancellor of the Order bears a purse, embroidered with the royal arms, containing the Seal of the Order. The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod carries his staff of office, the Black Rod. The Garter Principal King of Arms bears several other insignia, most of which he shares with other heraldic officials. For example, Kings and Heralds of Arms became entitled to bear black ebony batons in 1906; in 1953, the batons were replaced white staves surmounted by blue doves (the blue dove is the symbol of the College of Arms). The three Kings of Arms are the only individuals, other than the Sovereign, Queen Consort and Queen Dowager, who may wear crowns in the United Kingdom. The crown of the Garter Principal King of Arms is made of gold, while the crowns of the other Kings of Arms are made of silver gilt.


The Chapel of the Order is The Queen's Free Chapel of St George (more commonly called St George's Chapel) in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle. It was founded for the Order in 1475. Services were once held often at the Chapel, but became more rare in the eighteenth century. They were discontinued after 1805, but in 1948, George VI restored the ceremony. Now, one day in each June, the members of the Order, preceded by the Military Knights, travel on foot from the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle to the Chapel for a religious service, wearing their full habits. If there are any new knights, they are installed at the service. Thereafter, the members of the Order return to the Upper Ward by carriage.

Each member of the Order, including the Sovereign, is allotted a stall in the Chapel, above which various heraldic devices are displayed. The banner bearing the arms of the member is hung from the top; below it, one finds a knight's helm, from which hangs a mantling. On top of the helm, the crest of the member in question is placed. Under English heraldic law, women other than the Sovereign may not bear crests; for a peeress, the coronet marking the appropriate rank may be used; Princes and Princesses also use coronets instead of crests1. The Sovereign and Stranger Knights who are monarchs both use crowns. Below the helm, a sword is displayed. To the back of the stall is affixed a stall plate displaying the member's name, arms and date of admission into the Order. Upon the death of a Knight, the banner, helm, mantling, crest (or coronet or crown) and sword are taken down. No other newly admitted Knight may be assigned the stall until a ceremony marking the death of the deceased Knight is observed. At some point after the funeral, the Military Knights of Windsor carry the banner of the deceased Knight and offer it to the Dean of Windsor, who places it upon the altar. The stall plates, however, are not taken down; rather, they remain permanently affixed to the back of the stall.

Precedence and heraldry

The Garter is depicted encircling the Royal ArmsEnlarge

The Garter is depicted encircling the Royal Arms

In the order of precedence, Knights and Ladies Companions of the Garter are outranked by (in no particular order) the Sovereign, members of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Great Officers of State, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England, peers, eldest sons of peers, younger sons of peers of the rank of Earl or above and officers of the Royal Household. (If a Knight or Lady Companion holds one of the aforementioned positions, he or she assumes the higher position in the order of precedence.) The Knights and Ladies of the Garter, as well as the Knights and Ladies of the Thistle, precede the Baronets and all other knights.

The only officer of the Order who is assigned precedence by virtue of his position is the Chancellor. The Chancellor ranks immediately below the Knights of the Garter, Knights of the Thistle and Privy Counsellors. Since modern Chancellors have been Knights of the Garter themselves, however, the special precedence accorded to Chancellors may be said to be obsolete.

The Sovereign, Knights and Ladies Companions and Supernumerary Knights and Ladies may encircle their arms with a depiction of the Garter. Stranger Knights, however, normally do not include the Garter in their heraldic achievements.

Current Members


1. The coronets of duchesses show eight strawberry leaves, those of marchionesses four strawberry leaves alternating with four raised silver balls, those of countesses eight strawberry leaves alternating with eight raised silver balls, those of viscountesses sixteen silver balls and those of baronesses and female holders of lordships of Parliament six silver balls. A coronet with four crosses-pattée alternating with four fleurs-de-lis, surmounted by an arch, is used by the heir-apparent; the same style, without the arch, is used for the children and siblings of Sovereigns. The coronets of children of the heir-apparent display four fleurs-de-lis, two crosses-pattée and two strawberry leaves. The children of the sons and brothers of Sovereigns use coronets displaying four crosses-pattée and four strawberry leaves.

See Also