On St George’s Day in the 22nd year of the reign of King Edward III of England, there took place at Windsor Castle the first ceremonial meeting of a society that was destined to become the premier English Order of Knighthood, known today by the formal title of ‘The Most Noble Order of the Garter’.

It was not always known by this title: indeed originally it was not even known as an Order, but rather as a Brotherhood, a Company, a Confraternity or a Society. At that first meeting of this Brotherhood there were present the founder Edward III King of England, his eldest son Edward Prince of Wales, later to be called the Black Prince, and four noble English Earls, with other Barons and ordinary Knights “whose tried worth associated them with the noble earls”: in all there were 26 founder members.[1]

Geoffrey le Baker, a contemporary chronicler, described the first ceremony in colourful terms: They were all clothed like the King in cloaks of russet powdered with garters, dark blue in Colour, and also had similar garters on their right legs, with blue mantles bearing the shields of the arms of St. George. Dressed like this, they heard mass bare-headed, celebrated by the Bishops of Canterbury, Winchester and Exeter, and similarly they sat at table together in honour of the holy martyr, from whom they especially took the title of this most noble brotherhood, calling the company of these men of ‘St. George de la Gartiere’[2]

Jean Froissart, writing a quarter of a century later, also recorded the foundation of the Order, describing it as:
”La Confrairie Sainct George, que le Roy Edouard establit a Windsore and describing its members as “Les Chevaliers du Bleu jartier.”[3]

Subsequent records confirm that the dedication to
 St. George was deeply rooted not only in the ceremonies of the Order but also in its title and its institutions. The original record of the Statutes is no longer in existence, but according to Ashmole,[4] an early transcription of them was recorded in the reign of King Henry V (1413-1422), in a book called Registrum Ordinis Chartaceum. The first scribe of this book was John Coryngham, registrar of the Order, and it was continued by successive scribes up to the death of Richard Sydnor in 1534. Although this Register was in the Paper Office at Whitehall in Ashmole’s time (1672), it had disappeared by the time that Anstis published his transcript of the Black Book of the Order in 1724.[5] Fortunately the Appendix to Ashmole’s famous History of the Order contains a re-transcript of these early Statutes, in which Article I leaves no doubt as to the titular status of St. George, since it states :

Concordatum est quo Rex Angliae, qui pro tempore Fuerit, in  perpetuum erit Superior huius Ordinis Sancti Georgii, sive Societatis Garterii [6]

It is agreed that the King of England for the time being shall in perpetuity be the Superior of this Order of Saint George, otherwise the Society of the Garter

Article XXVIII repeated the Georgian designation of the Order :

Item, concordatum est, quod nullus Militum Ordinis Sancti Georgii & de societate Garterii exeat regnum Angliae absque (q) situ & licencia dicto Superioris

I t is agreed that no Knight of the Order of Saint George and of the society of the Garter shall leave the Kingdom of England without the approval of the said Superior

Revised Statutes were issued by King Henry V himself, and were also recorded in Registrum Ordinis Chartaceum. None of these stated specifically the title of the Order, but in several of the Articles the Knights were described as “Compagnons de Saint George” or as “Chevaliers de Saint George”. In Article XXIX, which corresponds with Article XXVIII of the original Statutes, they were described as ‘Chevaliers de Saint George de la Compagnie du Gartier’. In 1426, the 4th year of the reign of King Henry VI, who was then an infant, the Regent John Duke of Bedford published his Commission” to act on behalf of the King in matters pertaining to the Order. He prefaced his statement with the formal phrase:

Henry Dei gratia Rex Angliae & Franciae, & Supremus Ordinis Georgiani, cunctis Comilitoribus nostris salutem

Henry by the grace of God King of England and France, and Sovereign of the Order of St. George, to all our fellow Knights, Greetings

About a century later, King Henry VIII again revised the Statutes. The revised version was issued under the title: “The Statutes and Ordinances of the most Noble Ordre of Saint George, named the Gartier ”

Article I of these revised Statutes stated :

First, it is Ordered and accorded, that the Kyng, and his Heirs and Successors Kyngs of England, shall be for evermore Soveraynes of the saide most Noble Order and amiable Companye of Saynt George, named the Gartier[7]

Article XXXVIII still further emphasised the Georgian dedication by decreeing that the Knights Companions should at all times wear a figure of St. George pendant on either a ‘coller’, a ‘small Chayne of Gold’ or a ‘lase of sylke’. So after two full centuries during which the Order was explicitly and officially entitled “The Order of St. George”, the emphasis on that title was formally reinforced by mandatory display of the figure of St. George as an external emblem of the Order.

There were nevertheless many recorded examples of usage of the alternative designation “Order of the Garter”, in both Tudor and pre-Tudor times. In those days there was no established protocol of agreed terminology or spelling, and many documents can be found which use the Garter designation. Sometimes this seems to have been due to a desire to shorten the otherwise rather cumbersome double title which refers both to St. George and to the Garter. For example, Sir John Fastolf’s ‘deputation’ concerning his election in 1436 to membership of the Order under King Henry VI opens as follows:

A tous ceulx, qui ces lettres verront ou orront, Johan Fastolf salut. Savoir veilles que comme il ait pleut a nostre Seigneur le Roy de Fraunce & D’engleterre, come Soverain & et primer de L’Ordre Monsieur Seint George, de la Compaignie du Jartier, me faire tant de honnure que de me vueiller eslier & resseiver en un des Compaignons du dit Ordre du Jartier[8]

Here the scribe ‘cut corners’ to save himself work. Instead of repeating the lengthy full double title of “L’Ordre Monsieur Seint George, de la Compaignie du Jartier”, he compressed it in the last line to ‘dit Ordre du Jartier’.

In some records of events concerning award and acceptance of membership of the Order, the two designations were sometimes used side by side with an implicit distinction of meaning. For example, a memorandum of 1535, concerning the award of membership of the Order by King Henry VIII to King James V of Scotland, starts by relating how:

departed forthe of London the Lorde Wyllyam Howard to the Kinge of Scottes as Enbassitor from the Kynge owr Sovereigne Lorde, and with hym went by the Kynges Commandment Thomas Hawley alias Norroy Kinge of Armes the which bare with hym the Gowne, Hoode, Mantle, Coller and Garter, the Abiliments of thorder of Sainte George named the Garter[9]

After they reached the Scottish Court, the ceremony of award took place, with:

the saide Lorde Wyllyam declaringe to his Grace the pleasure of the Kinge owr Sovereigne Lorde, and also presentinge to him thorder of the Garter, the Which his Grace receyved with a very Good and Pryncelye Countenance. Item: After Certaine Articles of the saide Order of the Garter red to the Kynge, then the Norroye Kinge of Armes presented the Garter to the Kinges grace, the Lorde Wyllyam receyving the saide Garter, the Kynge setting forthe his left legg, the Lorde Wyllyam puttinge the Garter about it in the place accustomed

After this event, the recipient took an oath, saying:

James Kynge of Scotland promisseth by the faithe and Word of a Kyng, that we shall fulfil and keepe at oure powre poynments and Ordinances of the right Noble Order of Sainte George named the Garter

Here the designation “Order of Sainte George named the Garter” seems to have been used when referring to the Order as an institution, as the fellowship of the Knights; whereas the designation “thorder of the Garter” seems to have referred to the insignia presented to the recipient.

There were other practical reasons for the “Order of the Garter” designation. Over several centuries, many orders of Knighthood were dedicated to St. George in different European countries, some preceding the English Order, others emerging during its formative years. There was the Order of 
Constantinian Knights of St. George founded in 1191 by the Byzantine Emperor Angelus Comnenus; the Order of St. George in Venice, founded in 1200; the Order of St. George of Montesain Valencia, founded in 1317; the French Order of the Star, dedicated to Our Lady and St. George in 1344; the Order of Knights of St. George in Austria and Carinthia, founded in 1344; the Order of St. George at Genoa, foundedin1 472; and the Order of Knights of St. George at Rome, founded in 1498. None of 
these orders flourished for long, certainly not to a degree which can compare with the long and unbroken history of the English Order of St. George, but in the 14th and 15th centuries the simple fact of their existence pointed up the need for a distinctive title and emblem for the Order founded by Edward III of England.

Edward’s choice of an article of clothing as an emblem for his Order may have been influenced by the choice of a similar article of clothing as the emblem for the short-lived ‘Order of the Sash’ (‘de la Banda’), initiated around 1330-1340 by Alfonso of Castile, with whom some of Edward’s founder Garter Knights had diplomatic contact in those formative years.[10] Everything points to the emblem of each of these Orders as having been an important element of external distinction in a world of conflicting claims, alliances and patronages. This was probably a compelling reason for the choice of the Garter as a distinctive emblem for Edward’s Georgian Order, and a contributing reason for the later trend towards describing the Knights of this Order as Knights of the Garter rather than as Knights of St. George.

In later centuries a third and most powerful factor emerged to encourage still further emphasis on the Garter emblem of the Order, rather than on St. George as the Patron and Titular Saint of the Order. This was the growing tide of the Protestant Reformation, which brought in its train a strong reaction against medieval practices of devotion to saints and veneration of their images, and which came to a head soon after the death of King Henry VIII and the accession to the throne of his son, the boy King Edward VI.

Even before Henry’s death, the tide was mounting strongly, much to the distress of some who saw the old practices as essential to the maintenance of the status quo. Stephen Gardiner, Archbishop of Winchester, held forth on the subject in 1547. He was alarmed that iconoclasm might damage the political system that relied to a considerable degree on visual symbols, pointing out their importance for a person who:

cannot read the scripture written about the king’s great seal yet he can read St. George on horseback on the one side and the king his majesty on the other [11]

NPG 5511; King Edward VI by Unknown artist, after  William Scrots
Edward VI wearing the collar of the Order of St George bnknown artist, after William Scrots, oil on panel, circa 1547. National Portrait Gallery, London

Edward’s reign must have confirmed his worst fears, for despite his youth, the young king had acquired a precocious fanaticism in his Protestant views. During the early years of his reign, while Somerset was Protector, the official attitude towards the Order of St. George named the Garter remained largely unchanged. Several new members were elected to the Order, and the Statutes and insignia inherited from Henry VIII were still maintained, as evidenced by a portrait of Edward wearing the Collar of the Order carrying the ‘George’ and by an anti-papist allegorical picture (c.1548) which depicts Edward and his Council, watched by the dying King Henry VIII, ‘confounding’ the Pope (Plate xxx ). Leading members of the Council, Somerset, Warwick and Bedford, are all shown wearing the collar of the Order with the dependent figure of St. George, in accordance with Henry’s Statutes.

NPG 4165; King Edward VI and the Pope by Unknown artist
Edward VI Confounding the Pope by Unknown artist, oil on panel, circa 1575 National Portrait Gallery, London.  Three of his councillors are wearing the Collar of the Order of St George

Somerset himself, despite his Calvinistic leanings, seems not to have had very strong feelings on the subject of 
St. George, whom Calvin regarded as a ‘mere larva’. In a letter to Bishop Gardiner, dated May 1547, Somerset wrote: [12]

Some men have thought the Image of Bellerophon or Perseus, was turned first and appointed to bee Saint George; and that of Poliphemus, or Hercules or some such other Colossus, to bee Saint Christopher: because Authentick Histories have not fully proved their two lives. But these bee indifferent to bee true, or not true, and whether it were so or not, it makes no great matter

Somerset’s young protégé Edward was however rather more critical of the Saint’s credentials. Foxe[13] records an incident at Greenwich, on St. George’s Day 1551, in the 4th year of Edward’s reign, when he demanded of his Lords, including the Dukes of Somerset and Northumberland, what this Saint George was, whom they were so greatly honouring. The Treasurer replied that he had:

never reade of any George, but of him onely, who in the Legend is reported manfully to have drawne his sword, and killed the Dragon with his speare :

To which the King replied, ‘being great with laughter,
’”I pray you my Lord, what did hee with the sword the while?”

Most iconographers have managed to dispose of the logistical problem which caused Edward such hilarity by showing the shattered remnants of the spear lying by the Dragon, while the saint delivers the coup de grace with his sword, but that solution evidently did not satisfy Edward.

In a diary entry on January 22nd 1552, the young king recorded with cold precision that “The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning”.[14] Warwick, now Duke of Northumberland, who had succeeded Somerset as Protector, seems to have been more in tune with Edward’s iconoclastic prejudices. On April 24th 1552, shortly after Somerset’s death, and immediately following the yearly formal meeting of members of the Order, Edward recorded in his diary that “the Order of the Garter was wholly altered, as appears by the new Statutes”.[15]

This statement was somewhat premature, for the proposed new Statutes could only have been in embryo at that time. Their first draft[16] in the handwriting of Sir William Cecil, then Chancellor of the Order, did not emerge until 29th December 1552, and they were finally issued in completed form under the Seal of the Order, on 17th March 1552-3. In the preamble to these new Statutes Edward declared:

that olde serpent Satan filled and stuffed the very statutes and ordinances of this fellowship with many obscure, superstitious and repugnante opinions [17]

He intended:

to defeate this so great malayse of that subtil enemy …. by reducing (the Order) to his original estate and pristyn fundacion

In the very first Article (Caput Primum) he ordained :

First of all be hit decreed, that this order from hensforth shall be cauled the order of the Garter, and nat of Saynte George, lest the honor which is dew to God the Creator of all things might seme to be given to any creature

Later in these new Statutes it was decreed that the figure of St. George should no longer be part of the insignia, but should be replaced by a mounted figure of an anonymous horseman; and that the main feast should henceforth be held at Whitsuntide instead of on St. George’s Day.

Edward’s intentions were never put into effect. He died a few months later, on 6th July 1553, and within a few days was succeeded by his sister Mary. She promptly rescinded the new Statutes, declaring in no uncertain terms that they were “in no sort convenient, but impertinent and tending to novelty”.[18] Sir William Petre, who replaced Cecil as Chancellor of the Order, was directed to expunge them from the Record, which was done with the words:

Omnia ista novitia Statuta e Statutorum Libro illico eximeret, ac prorsus expungeret & deleret, ne ulla unquam eorum memoria apud posteros extaret

…should raze and sponge them all out of the publicke registers; that no memorial of them might be transmitted to posteritie[19]

Philip and Mary
Copy (with some differences) of the panel painting of Philip and Mary ascribed to Lucas de Heere 1558 hanging at Woburn Abbey.   National Maritime Museum, London.  Philip is wearing the Order of the Garter

During her brief and troubled reign Mary I seems to have observed scrupulously the practices and ceremonies of the Order as instituted by her father Henry VIII. On the eve of his landing in England for his marriage to Mary, Philip II of Spain accepted the Insignia of the Order from the Queen’s emissary, the Earl of Arundel, before disembarking from his ship, the Espiritu Santo.[20] In the well-known portrait of the Royal couple in the Woburn Abbey collection, Philip is shown standing with the Garter on his left leg. The Great Seal of State of Philip and Mary shows them seated together beside the Orb of State, which is surmounted by the Royal Arms encircled with the Garter, while each of them wears the Collar of the Order with the dependent figure of St. George.[21]


Later deserted by Philip, beset by hatred and intrigue, and dogged by ill health, Mary died in 1558. Her successor Elizabeth I was undoubtedly much more sympathetic to her brother Edward’s religious leanings than to her sister’s; but she was above all a mistress of political compromise, and during the early years of her reign she trod warily, careful not to antagonise any of the Court factions. She made no move to restore the Edwardian proposals for revision of the Statutes of the Order of St. George named the Garter, and maintained in principle the Statutes established by her father, Henry VIII.

Elizabeth was nevertheless strongly critical towards both private and public devotions to the saints. Her private reactions are well illustrated in an anecdote recited in Nicholl’s ‘Progresses of Queen Elizabeth’,[22] regarding a book which the Dean of St. Paul’s had caused to be richly bound and placed on a cushion for her use. When she opened the book and saw the pictures, she frowned and blushed, then shut it. Later she said to the Dean:

You know I have an aversion to idolatry, to images and pictures of this kind …. Have you forgot our proclamation against images, pictures and Romish relics in the churches … Pray let no more of these mistakes, or of this kind, be committed within the churches of our realm for the future[23]

Her public attitude to the saints, in the persons of
 St. George and Saint Margaret of Antioch was made clear in her decree regarding the activities of the Norwich ‘Gild of Saint George’. As recounted in Chapter 9, she reinforced the decrees of her brother Edward, by forbidding all representations of these saints in the famous annual procession, leaving only ‘Snap the Dragon’ for popular entertainment. In view of this background it is not surprising that in 1567 Elizabeth formally discontinued the historic practice whereby the ‘Order of St. George named the Garter’ regularly observed the Feast of St. George at Windsor, on April 23rd. Nor is it surprising that during her reign the Order was invariably referred to officially as ‘The Order of the Garter’. All formal documents relating the affairs of the Order, signed by Elizabeth, used this title.

Foreign potentates were not however subject to Elizabeth’s rulings, and some of them persisted with the Georgian title of the Order when they were elected to membership during her reign. Thus the oaths sworn by the French King Henry III in 1585, and his successor King Henry IV in 1596, both used the title “tres noble Ordre Monsieur Saint George, nomine l Jarretiere”.[24] William Shakespeare, like foreign Kings and Princes, also exercised independence of expression, in several references to the Order of St. George in his historic plays, such as:

The thrice-victorious Lord of Falconbridge, Knight of the noble order of St. George

Henry VI Part 1 Act IV Scene VII

It is also interesting to find that one of the bound manuscript books with Latin text, kept in the Garter Chest in the Aerary at St.George’s Chapel, Windsor (No.X5), is entitled ‘Statutes and Register of the Order of St. George from the Institution 1348 up to the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, 1602. 22. Another such book in the same chest (X8), with contents almost the same as those of X5, is entitled ‘History of the Order of the Garter, Statutes and list of Knights to the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign’. [25]

It is thus clear that at the time these books were prepared, apparently just after the Queen’s death, which is recorded at the very end of Book X8, the Georgian title was still being used alongside the Garter title, by officials of the Order. This practice is also confirmed by the wording of the copy of the Statutes of the Order presented to Robert Cecil in 1606 at the time of his election to membership under Elizabeth’s Stuart successor King James I . This book is currently on display at Hatfield House, open at the title page which gives the full wording of the Title of the Statutes of King Henry VIII: ‘The Statutes and ordinances of the most noble order of Sainct George named the Garter’, followed by the preamble which refers to: “the blessed martyre St. George, patron of the right noble Realme of England”

After his accession to the throne James I promptly restored the annual feast of St. George at Windsor, and both he and his son Charles I encouraged and enhanced both the prestige and the splendour of the Order. Nevertheless, they both continued the practice of their immediate Tudor predecessor in generally using the designation ‘Order of the Garter’ in their official correspondence, though some of their letters concerning the affairs of the Order do contain phrases which imply reservations regarding this title. For example, in letters of invitation to Christian IV of Denmark (1603),[26] Maurice, Prince of Orange (1612),[27] James used the phrase “illustrissime Garterii (ut appelatur) Ordine”; and his son Charles I used the phrase “celeberrimum Ordinis Garterii (ut vocatur)” in a letter written in 1627 to Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden,[28] The ‘so-called’ implication of “ut appelatur” and “ut vocatur” seems to suggest a certain lack of enthusiasm for the Garter title.
 In another letter of invitation, sent to Charles, Prince Elector in 1633[29], Charles used the phrase “Periscelides Ordinisque Georgiani Supreme” to describe his position as Head of the Order: an elegant even-handed way of recognising both the Georgian and the Garter designations.

History of St George
History of St George of Cappadocia by Peter Heylyn 1633

In that same year, 1633, Peter Heylyn published “the second, corrected and enlarged” Edition of his “Historie of That most famous Saint and Soldier of Christ Jesus, Saint George of Cappadocia”, including among its sub-titles “The Institution of the most Noble Order of S. George, named the Garter”. On p.322 he states explicitly:

This order is called properly of Saint George, but commonly called the Garter. The order of Saint Georges Knights, because that King [Edward III] had chose Saint George to be the Patron of both his Kingdom and his order

As evidenced by numerous records and portraits, observance of the ceremonies and customs of the Order flourished during the early years of Charles I’s reign, but the hey-day was short lived. With the onset of the Civil War, which culminated in Charles’ execution, the Order plunged to the nadir of its fortunes. Although four of the Earls who supported the Parliamentary cause were members of the Order, the new regime under Cromwell had the fullest intention of eliminating all its activities. St. George’s Chapel at Windsor was stripped bare by the Puritans, though fortunately the fabric and fixtures were unharmed. The Canons and ‘Poor Knights’ were expelled, and all records there ceased until after the Restoration.

Continuity of the Order was nevertheless maintained at the Court of the King in exile, Charles II, proclaimed as King in Jersey after the execution of his father. In 1649, the very first year of his exile, he sent letters from the Castle of St. Germain, near Paris, to Edward, Count Palatine of the Rhine, and to James, Marquess of Ormond, inviting them to accept membership of the Order. Although he started by describing himself as “Soveraign of the most Noble Order of the Garter” in these letters, he went on to recall the historic origins and title of the Order, saying:

Whereas our Royal Progenitors the Kings of England have in all times, since the institution of the most noble Order of Saint George, called the Garter, by our most Noble and Virtuous Ancestor King Edward III, elected and chosen into the fellowship thereof, such Princes etc[30]

In another letter of invitation, sent to Count Marchin from his Court in exile in the city of Antwerp in 1658, just two years before the Restoration, Charles described himself as ‘Soveraign of the most Noble Order of St. George called the Garter’[31] After the Restoration, which also included full restoration of the Order at Windsor, he still occasionally used the Georgian title. Thus, in a letter sent to Charles, King of Sweden in 1668, he described himself as ‘Praenobilis Georgiani Ordinis, vulgo a Perescilide Nuncupati’[32] a phrase reminiscent of that used by Charles I in his letter to Charles, Prince Elector, clearly recognising the primacy of the Georgian designation.

Such examples of usage of the old title of the Order by Charles II were however rare, and towards the end of his reign he seems to have become fully attuned to the new appelation of ‘The Order of the Garter’, without any recognition of the association with St. George.

Elias Ashmole

Indeed, in an introductory statement of approbation for Elias Ashmole’s famous treatise on the “Institutions laws and ceremonies of the most Noble Order of the Garter”, published in 1672, Charles himself described it unequivocally as ‘Our most Noble Order of the Garter’. It seems probable that the very title of Ashmole’s monumental history of the Order, which overshadowed the more modest contribution of his predecessor Peter Heylyn, was itself a contributing factor in completing the transition of the title of the Order. 
In 1724, in the reign of George I, John Anstis published his noted transcript and translation of the 16th century ‘Black Book’, the register of the Order compiled by John Aldrydge. Despite the internal evidence of the Black Book itself, Anstis, like Ashmole before him, ignored the Georgian title of the Order, and entitled his book “The most Noble Order of the Garter”. It seems clear that by this time the transition to the new title was effectively complete.
 Precisely when the designation ‘Order of St. George’ was last used in the affairs of the Order is difficult to
 determine. Presumably it was sometime in the late 17th or the early 18th century. Almost certainly the old title had disappeared by the early 19th century, for in 1818 ‘The Most distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George’ was founded by the Prince Regent as an award for services rendered in connection with the Ionian Islands and Malta. It is highly unlikely that this title for the new Order would have been adopted if the earlier, senior Order had still been officially known as the ‘Order of St. George’.

Ticket for the installation of the Order of the Garter in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, April 1805

In 1841 George Frederick Beltz, Lancaster Herald, published his ‘Memorials of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, from its Foundations to the Present Time’. This weighty volume is a worthy and valuable contribution to our records of the Order, but despite its titular claim to extensive historic coverage, it is virtually silent regarding the original Georgian designation of the Order. It contains only one or two minor footnote references to St. George as the titular saint. Even the Statutes of Henry VIII are reproduced by Beltz without their original heading and preamble which so clearly recognised the status of St. George in the title of the Order.

Today, nearly one and a half centuries after Beltz’s publication, few people have the slightest idea that the well-known ‘Order of the Garter’ was originally entitled ‘The Order of St. George’, and that it bore this title continuously for the first two and a half centuries of its existence.

Despite the progressive decline in explicit declaration of the patronage of St. George in the title of the Order, his patronage was nevertheless always explicitly declared on its insignia and robes, and in the forms of services and ceremonies on the occasions of formal meetings of the members, at the Chapel of St. George’s at Windsor, and at banquets in St. George’s Hall within the Castle. Indeed, the history of development of these insignia and robes affords a curious contrast with the history of titular patronage of the Order. While the name of St. George was being progressively eliminated from the title of the Order, the images and symbols of the Saint displayed on the insignia and robes of the Order became ever more complex and magnificent, and they remain so today.

Even the original ceremony in 1348 was colorful enough, as evidenced by the description given by Geoffrey le Baker, though the insignia were then much simpler than today. They consisted of the dark-blue garter worn on the leg, the shield of St. George embroidered on the blue mantle, and the powdering of blue garters in the russet cloak worn beneath the mantle.

There has been much speculation about the significance of the blue colour for the garter and the mantle, and of the gold used for embroidery of the motto on the garter. One proposed explanation is that like the motto itself, these colours may have related to Edward Ill’s claim to the arms of France, the colours of which were gold and blue: gold fleurs de lys powdered on a blue field. But Edward had already adopted the French arms as his own, in association with the lions of England, so there was no compelling reason for him to challenge or match those arms with a secondary colour-related design.

There is in fact a much more obvious and appropriate explanation for the choice of blue as the dominant colour of the Order. Blue is, and was then, the traditional colour of Our Lady, who was named by Edward as Patron of the Order, second only to the Trinity. What could be more appropriate as a background for the red cross of St. George on its silver field, than the blue raiment of the other great patron, the Mother of our Lord ? All the noted historians, Aldrich, Selden, Ashmole and Anstis, have dwelt at length on the significance of the patronage of Our Lady in the origins and practices of the Order.

Chapter 10 Plate 3
Richard II clothed in gold kneeling before Our Lady clothed in blue.  The Wilton Diptych. National Gallery, London

In the famous Wilton Diptych we see Edward’s grandson, Richard II , kneeling before Our Lady, who stands clothed in robes of deep blue beneath the red cross banner of St. George. Here surely is the true origin of the blue colour of the garter and mantle worn by members of the Order of
 St. George named the Garter. As for the gold of the motto, gold is the colour of Kings, as in the golden robe of Richard in the Wilton Diptych. The motto was King Edward’s personal contribution to the Order, so 
it is fitting that it should be stitched in the colour of a King.

Geoffrey le Baker’s chronicle gives no indication as to whether the shield of St. George, the red cross on a silver field, was originally encircled with the Garter. Certainly, however, this practice must have been adopted at an early date, judging by the evidence of early 15th century records. Ashmole’s transcription of the Registrum Ordinis Chartaceum, the earliest available version of the Statutes of the Order, contains some indirect references to this practice. It is not mentioned in the Article dealing with the habits of the Knights of St. George themselves, but is referred to indirectly in Articles dealing with the habits of the Canons of the College of St. George, and those of the ‘Poor Knights’ who were established by Edward III as resident proxies for the Knights proper, to attend regularly the services at the Chapel of St. George.

Article V, dealing with the habits of the Canons, states:

Item concordatum est, quod praedicti Canonici habeant suam mantellum de panno coloris purpuris, cum una circumferencia Armorum Sancti Georgii

It is agreed that the aforesaid Canons have their mantles of purple coloured velvet with a surround of the Arms of St. George

Article VII, dealing with the habits of the Poor Knights, states:

Item concordatum est, quod dicti Milites veterani habebunt sua mantella de rubro cum uno Scuto Armorium Sancti Georgii carente tantum tamen Garterio

It is agreed that the aforesaid Veteran Soldiers have their mantles of red with a Shield of the Arms of 
St. George but however without the Garter

The Statutes of King Henry V tell a similar story. Article V states:

Item est accorde, que les Chanoines auront leurs Manteaux de Murrey, avec un Rondelet des armes de Saint George

Article VII states:

Item est accorde, que les pauvres Chevaliers auront leurs Manteaux de Rouge, & un Escusson des Armes de Saint George, sans Gartier

We cannot be certain of the date of the Statutes in Latin cited above: they may date back to the initiation of the Order in 1348, or to some later year in the reigns of Edward III, Richard II, and Henry IV. We can however be quite certain that the Statutes in French cited above were in force during the reign of Henry V, which lasted from 1413 to 1422.

The insistence in these Statutes that in the case of the Poor Knights the Arms of St. George were not to be encircled with the Garter, implies that they were so encircled in the case of the Knights Companion of the Order. In the case of the Canons, the words ‘circumferencia’ and ‘Rondelet’ may imply either a simple roundel, or the Garter itself.

Illustrations in the Register of the Order compiled by William Bruges, who was appointed first Garter King of Arms in 1415, depict standing figures of Edward III and all the other founder Knights of the Order, wearing mantles which all carry on the left shoulder the shield of St. George encircled with the Garter. As earlier recounted in Chapter 9, Bruges was also responsible for the installation of a set of stained glass windows in the church of St. George in Stamford, depicting Edward III and the founder Knights kneeling before St. George. The Dugdale drawings of these windows, which are still extant, show the arms of St. George on the left shoulder of each knight, surrounded by a roundel, which in two cases is clearly seen to be the Garter.

Edward III wearing the mantle of the Order of St George with the garter encircled Arms of St George. William Bruges Garter Book c. 1430
Chapt 9  Pl 10
The Dugdale drawings of the Knights of St George from windows in the church of St George, Stamford, England

Although both of these sets of drawings purport to depict the original members of the Order, as elected in 1348, they do not however prove conclusively that Edward III and his Companions did so wear the Garter encircled shield on their mantles during their lifetimes, for old historians and artists, like modern ones, were prone to rewrite history by attributing to earlier times the practices of their own time. But they certainly indicate that the practice of encircling the shield with the Garter on the left shoulder of the habits of the Knights was firmly established within the lifetime of William Bruges, who died in 1450.


Bedford Book of Hours
Duke of Bedford kneels before St George.  15th century Bedford Book of Hours, British Library

Another early 15th century illustration, dated between 1423 and 1430, in the famous Bedford Book of Hours, also in the British Library, shows John, Duke of Bedford, uncle of Henry VI and Regent of France, kneeling before St. George, who is clothed in a surcoat bearing his red cross, and a blue mantle carrying his Garter encircled shield on the left shoulder.

Other early examples of the practice of encircling the shield of St. George with the Garter can be seen on the tombs, at the monastery of Batalha, of early 15th century Portuguese Kings and Princes who were allied and related to the English royal family, and who were made members of the Order by the Plantagenet Kings.[33] King JoaoI, who married Philippa, daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and fourth son of Edward III, was made a member of the Order by King Henry IV in 1400. He died in 1433, and one of the coats of arms on his tomb carries the shield of St. George encircled with the Garter. The same coat of arms can also be seen on the tombs of two of his sons, Pedro and Enrique (Henry the Navigator), great grandsons of King Edward III, who were also made knights of the Order.

Tomb of Henry the Navigator
Tomb of Henry the Navigator, Batalha, Portugal ( drawing                 C.  Raymond Beazley)

This Portuguese practice of displaying a coat of arms with the shield of St. George encircled with the Garter, in addition to the personal coat of arms, was not followed by the English Knights of the Order. Instead, they gradually adopted the practice of using the Garter as a surround for their own personal arms. The development of this practice has been described in a detailed and comprehensive study of the subject presented by Begent.[34] He makes it clear that although the practice had already started in the second half of the 14th century, it developed somewhat spasmodically over a period of around 150 years, and did not become normal protocol until the reign of Henry VIII.

Begent lists early examples of such practice (1351-1355) in which the King’s arms on Pennoncels and on pavises (square shields) were encircled with the Garter, but such practice is not found in formal heraldic representation of the Royal arms at that time. He also lists early 15th century examples of the carving of Garter encircled arms on tombs of Knights of the Order. There are some 15th century manuscript examples of such practice, of which the most impressive is the genealogical chart demonstrating the rights of King Henry IV to the thrones of France and England, in the Earl of Shrewsbury’s Book (c 1445) which is now in the British Library. This beautifully executed chart is decorated by both initials and arms encircled with the Garter. The tree is literally held up by the two regents of the infant King, Richard Duke of York and Humfrey Duke of Gloucester. Beside these two Regents are their coats of arms, both encircled with the Garter.

Chapt 10 Plate 6
The Arms of St George encircled by the Garter, as a device of the English throne. 15th century Earl of Shrewsbury’s Book, British Library

This chart carries at its base two shields with the coat of arms inherited by Henry VI, quartered with the Fleur-de-Lys of France, and the three lions of England. These are not encircled with the Garter. At the head of the tree however are two devices, the one on the left being a shield representing the throne of France, with three Fleur-de-Lys on a blue field. The one on the right which represents the throne of England is not, as might be expected, a shield with the three lions of England on a red field, but the red Cross of St. George (not the shield of St. George), encircled with the Garter. So at that time (1445) this version of the Garter encircled Cross of St. George was displayed as a device of the English throne, even though the Royal arms as such were not then customarily being encircled with the Garter.

The practice of encircling with the Garter the personal arms of members of the Order was not officially adopted by the Sovereign Heads of the Order as an embellishment for the Royal Arms, until the reign of Henry VIII. As described in Chapter 9, the public and official inauguration of the Garter-encircled Royal Arms of the reigning monarch was consummated when the stone masons completed in 1528 the stone vaulting at the crossing of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. There we can still see, in the very centre of the vault, the Garter-encircled Arms of their Royal Master, surrounded within an inner circle by the shields of St. George and the three foreign potentates who were members of the Order at that time. In an outer circle the Garter-encircled shields of all the other Knights of that year confirm and establish this heraldic practice for all members of the Order of St. George named the Garter.

Even before the reign of Henry VIII, however, the simple devices of the red cross and the Garter had been joined by other insignia. The first of these emerged in the 15th century as a practical alternative to the Garter which Knights of the Order were at all times required to wear about their right leg as a sign of their membership. Article XII of King Henry V’s Statutes laid down that:

Item est accorde, que si aucun de ladite Compagnie soit trouve en appert sans Gartier, qu’il paye, tantost apres l a chalange, au Gardien & College, demi Marc; excepte quand i lest house pour Chevauchier,
que adonques i lsera tenu porter, soubz son houseau, en significance du Jartier, un fil bleu de soie … [35]

Item it is agreed that if any one of the said Company shall be found without a Garter, he shall pay, as soon as possible after the challenge, to the Guardian and the College, a half-mark; except when he is gaitered for riding, in which case he must wear, under his gaiters, in place of the Garter, a blue riband of silk

Evidently the buckle of the Garter proper would have caused uncomfortable pressure beneath the tight leather strapping of medieval gaiters, and as a consequence we have “un fil bleu de soie” which can probably be seen as the historic forerunner of the ‘Blue riband’ which in later centuries was to become semantically equivalent to membership of the Order.

In later centuries, other and more decorative insignia were added to the Cross of St. George, the Garter, and the Blue Riband. Most important of all these was the Collar, to which was attached a figure of the equestrian Saint in combat with the dragon. Although this was not formally defined until the promulgation of revised Statutes under Henry VIII, various versions of it had already been worn during the reigns of earlier monarchs, and indeed it was commonly worn during the reign of Henry VII, as can be seen in several contemporary portraits of members of the Order. Article 38 of the revised Statutes which were issued in the 11th year of Henry VIII’s reign, sets out the official rulings regarding use and design of the Collar, reading thus:

Item for to have better knowledge of the Knyghts that shall be of the said Order, the Soverayne of it wylleth and ordereth by the Willes and contentment of the hole Company, that from hensforth, that every Knight of the said Order shall have and were apertly and openly a Coller of golde about his necke, waying thyrty ounces of Troy weyght and not above, the whiche Coller shall be made by pieces in fashion of Garters, in the middes of which Garters shall be a double Rose, the one Rose of Red, and the other within White, and the other Rose White, and the other Rose within rede, and at the end of the said Coller shall be put and fastned the Image of Saynt George. The which Coller the said Soverayn,his Successours, and amiable Companye of the said Order shall be bound to were, and in especiall, in principall and solemne Feastes of the yere, and in other days of the yere shall be holden to were a small Chayne of Gold with the Image of Saynt George depending at the ende of the said Chayne, except in time of Warre, sickenes, long viage; Then it shall suffice hym to were alonely a lase sylke with the said Image of Saint George.

And if the said Coller have any need of reparation, it may be put in the handes of the Goldesmyth and workemen unto the tyme that it be repared, the which Coller also may not be made richer with stones or other thynges, reserving the said Image: The which may be garnished and enryched at the pleasure of the saide Knyghte: Also the said Coller may no be solde, engaged, alienated, nor given, for any nede, cause or necessity whatsoever it may be.

Henry VIII and his knights
Henry VIII and the Knights of the Order of St George. Black Book of the Garter, St George’s Chapel, Windsor


The need for such official rulings regarding the design of the collar is made clear by the picture in the Black Book, earlier described, showing Henry VIII with the assembled Knights. In this picture the badges in the Collar comprise the Arms of St. George encircled with the Garter, instead of alternate red and white roses encircled with the Garter. And even after the official rulings were promulgated, some Collars omitted the alternate white roses, their wearers perhaps preferring to recall memories of Lancastrian ambitions.

An auxiliary Decree promulgated in the 13th year of Henry VIII’s reign, in a Chapter held at Greenwich just after St. George’s Day, specified that the lesser George should be encircled with a Garter[36] saying:

That every Knight of the Order, should wear loosely before his breast, the Image of St. George in a Gold Chain, or otherwise in a Ribband, the same to be thence forward placed within the ennobled Garter; to the end a manifest distinction should thereby appear between the Knights-Companions and others of the Nobility and Knights

The Lesser George was generally an enamel representation of the equestrian Saint, and the ‘ennobling’ involved embellishment of the Garter with precious stones, which usually obscured the motto ‘Honi Soit Qui Mai Y Pense’

There was no official specification for the weight of either the ‘Great George’, which depended from the full dress Collar, or the ‘Lesser George’, which depended from a gold chain or a blue riband, depending on the circumstances of the occasion. Ashmole however records[37] that the Great George worn by the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus weighed 7 ounces. The Lesser George sent to the French King Charles 9th weighed one and three quarters ounces. Portraits of members of the Order wearing the Collar indicate considerable variations in the size of the Great George, which may partly account for the fact that the gross weight of some of the Collars considerably exceeded the total specified weight of 30 ounces. That worn by Gustavus Adolphus weighed more than 34 ounces, while that worn by King Charles I weighed 35 ½ ounces.

All of the insignia were naturally made from gold, and all excepting the Collar itself were set with precious stones. The resplendent extravagance of these reached its zenith in the reign of Charles I. The magnificence of the insignia worn by him personally, and of those sent by him to Gustavus Adolphus, exceeded all others. There were altogether 412 diamonds in Charles I’s own Garter, just exceeding the 411 diamonds in the Garter sent to Gustavus Adolphus: 292 of these made up the words of the motto, the rest being in the buttons, borders, buckle and hinges, and the Cross itself. The Great George sent to Gustavus Adolphus was set with 87 large and resplendent diamonds.

Star and garter ccommissioned by Victoria and presented to albert 1840
Star and garter commissioned by Queen Victoria and presented to Prince Albert as a wedding present in 1830

All this magnificence eventually came to naught. Charles’ Garter, which he wore at the time of his execution, was sold for £205 to a Mr John Ireton, one time Lord Mayor of London. That of Gustavus Adolphus, which had been returned to Windsor after his death, was buried for safety during the Commonwealth, but was eventually discovered, and dug up and sold by the Trustees to their then clerk, a Mr Thomas Beauchamp.[38]

Lesser Geroge c 1820
Lesser George c 1820 presented by Queen Elizabeth by her father King George VI

During the reign of Charles I there appeared yet another item of regalia, the Star of the Order. In the second year of his reign, it was decreed that members of the Order, when not wearing the mantle of the Order, with its Garter encircled Cross, should in lieu wear a similar cross upon their outer garment to indicate their status. The Decree reads:[39]

That the Knights and Companions of the Order … shall … wear upon the left part of their Cloaks, Coats, and Riding Cassocks, at all times when they shall not wear their Robes, and in all Places and Assemblies, an Escotcheon of the Arms of St. George, that is to say, a Cross within a Garter, not enriched with Pearls of Stones; that the wearing thereof may be a testimony apert to the world, of the honor they hold from the said most Noble Order, Instituted and Ordained for persons of the highest honor and greatest worth

Ashmole records that it was not long before “the Glory or Star (as it is called) having certain beams of Silver that spread in the form of a Cross, was introduced and added thereto, in imitation (it is thought) of the French, who after that manner wore the chief Ensign of the Order of the Holy Ghost, being the resemblance of a Dove, irradiated with such beams”.[40]

Star made for Queen Victoria 1838
Star commissioned by Queen Victoria 1838

He goes to say that some painters censured this practice, as being a glorification of a worldly symbol, the Garter, which should not be put on the same plane as a sacred symbol like the Dove of the Holy Ghost; but he rebuts this criticism by pointing out that the “beams and rays” in the Star of the Order spread not from the Garter, but from the Cross of St. George.

There was yet another item of regalia to be introduced before the protocol of current usage was established. This was the wide blue sash worn diagonally across the body, carrying the Lesser George. The decree concerning this item was issued by King Charles II on 19th November 1682. It states,

That whereas King Charles the First had ordained that every Knight-companion, not wearing the mantle, should nevertheless wear, upon the left side of his under-habit or cassock, the cross of St. George encompassed with the Garter: and whereas, it has also been customary to wear the George in a blue ribband, over the habit, it is now agreed by the Sovereign and companions in chapter, that the ribband, with the George, should be worn over the upper habit, belt ways, over the left shoulder and under the right arm in such a manner as it may best be seen.

Queen Elizabeth July 1952
The first official photograph of Queen Elizabeth II in July 1952

The Blue Sash is thus an evolutionary variant of the ‘fil bleu de soie’ which was originally established by Henry V as an emergency alternative to the wearing of the Garter, and of the blue ribband that was later decreed in Henry VIII’s Statutes as an means of wearing the lesser George in special emergencies (in times of ‘Warre, sikenes, long viage’). Today this broad blue sash carrying the lesser George is perhaps the most commonly recognised sign of membership of the Order, as exemplified in the first official photograph of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 following the end of her period of mourning for her recently deceased father, King George VI.



The Membership. Aims and Ideals of the Order

The grand title of King Henry VIII’s ‘Most Noble Order of St. George named the Garter’, and the grandeur of the rich clothing and insignia whose magnificence ever increased through the centuries, were but the external trappings of the Order. In essence it was originally a small, closely knit society of Knights Companions, personally dedicated to the aims and ideals of their leader, King Edward III. Surprisingly, the Order has externally survived the political and religious hazards of more than six centuries, but it is relevant to ask how much of its essential character also has survived. How well have members in later centuries preserved the high ideals of their patron St. George, and of their royal founder and his knightly companions of medieval days?

To answer these questions one needs to trace the changes in the constitution and membership of the Order that took place in succeeding centuries. The unique characteristic that originally set it apart from all other medieval Orders of Chivalry was its exclusivity. It was a very small society, consisting of only twenty-six Knights-Companions, headed by the King of the Realm and the Prince of Wales. The prime qualification for membership was that each should be a “Chevalier sans Reproche”. Initially, the membership was by no means dominated by the greatest and most powerful members of the nobility. Only four earls were on that first list of members, and some fairly humble knights were included. Most of the members were younger than the King, who was then only 36 years old, and they were drawn from the new generation of military commanders in the field, many of them associated with the Prince of Wales, the Black Prince.

Quite early on a few overseas ‘Strangers’ were admitted to the Order. At first these were knights of French birth who were companions in arms with the English knights. Later, selected Kings and Princes of other nations became members. The first of these were friends and relations from the royal family of England’s first ally, Portugal, but as the years passed they were selected from nations throughout Christendom, and later even from as far away as Japan. Quite apart from the obvious political implications of each invitation and acceptance of such membership, the admission of a few such carefully selected Strangers naturally increased significantly the international prestige of the Order, without changing its essential character.

Indeed, the essential character of the Order survived unchanged for more than three centuries, weathering the storms of both the Reformation and the Commonwealth in the 16th and 17th centuries; and when Charles II finally emerged triumphant at the Restoration of the monarchy, the scene seemed set fair for corresponding restoration and renewal of the Order. Initially, at the height of all the excitement and pageantry which accompanied the Restoration, the affairs of the Order were certainly given high precedence. On the very day after his triumphant arrival at Dover, Charles presented the Garter and the ‘George’ to General Monck at the first meeting of his Privy Council, held at Canterbury en route for London, and in the following year his Coronation in London was preceded by several days of elaborate ceremonies at Windsor.

The traditional procession of the Order took place on 15th April, but there were so many new Knights to be installed that the subsequent ceremonies were spread over three whole days. 
The Knights’ robes and accoutrements had been redesigned on much more elaborate lines than formerly, apparently being modelled on the pattern of the ceremonials of the French Ordre de Saint Esprit, which had deeply impressed Charles during his years in exile at the French Court. The Windsor pageantry was indeed a fitting prelude to the triumphant progress of the Coronation itself, on St. George’s Day, 23rd April 1661.

There was now every expectation for full renewal of both the protocol and ceremony of the Order, but sadly this was not to be. Despite Charles’ evident pleasure in the display of the external trappings of the Order, the records from now on suggest a progressive waning of its inner spirit, and of its status as a genuine Brotherhood of Knights dedicated to St. George. The most evident external sign of this change was the abandonment of the annual solemn convention of the Knights of the Order on the Feast of St. George, which, apart from the few years of 
Edward VI’s reign, had been continuously observed ever since the institution of the Order by Edward III in 1348. 
 Even Elizabeth’s decree of 1567, which repealed observance of the Feast at Windsor, did not break that continuity, for that decree allowed for the annual meeting to be held on the Feast day of the Saint at whichever place the Sovereign might chance to be in residence. After Elizabeth’s death, James I had restored the traditional observance at Windsor, but under Charles II the annual meeting on the Feast Day of St. George was allowed to fall completely into desuetude, despite the formal injunctions of the Statutes. There is no record of it having been observed in any year of his reign after1667.

Another important change took place in 1680, a change which was more subtle than the abandonment of the annual meeting, but much more significant. An official resolution of the Chapter of the Order, dated 31st August of that year, declared “That the will of the Sovereign , whatever he should command to be done, was the law of the Order” Although, as Beltz[41] records, the immediate occasion for this resolution was a fairly trifling matter of procedure, It challenged the essential character of the Order as a Society whose affairs had hitherto been administered by common consent of the Sovereign and the member Knights.

“Concordatum est” had been the phrase that introduced the key articles of the original Statutes, and even the revised Statutes of the autocratic King Henry VIII acknowledged “the advice, counsel and assent” of the Knights Companions. From this time on, however, the Order was changed from a consenting confraternity of dedicated Knights into a society of arbitrarily chosen members, henceforth to be governed by monarchic decree. The wearing of external insignia, coupled with pomp and circumstance, was now becoming more important than the sense of personal devotion and dedication which had been the essential characteristic of the Order for more than three centuries.

During the 18th century, the Hanoverian Kings progressively extended the process and scope of absolute monarchic control over the affairs of the Order, while allowing the traditional observances still further to decline. In 1749, by the Sovereign’s warrant (George II), it was ordained that in the oath to be administered to new Knights at their installation, immediately after the words “Wittingly and willingly you shall not break any oath of the said Order”, there should be added the words “except in such, as you shall have received a dispensation from the Sovereign”. George III acceded to the Crown in 1760, and after a few installations of new members in the early years of his reign, there were no further installations until 1801. 
As a consequence, all of the traditional procedures, including Chapter meetings, were for more than forty years denied to the Knights who were elected from time to time.

Until Hanoverian times the number of members had still been strictly limited to the original complement of twenty-six, but George III and William IV used their absolute authority to modify the Statutes further to accomodate the ambitions of their Hanoverian relatives, culminating in an edict which ruled that all lineal descendants of George I were eligible for membership. This naturally put a strain upon the logistics of accomodation of members, and to relieve the pressure, all foreign entrants were from then on made supernumerary members.

Later still, in Victorian times, many supernumerary subiect knights were also created. Beltz records the “State of the Order” on 23rd April 1841. At that date there were no fewer than forty members, including the Sovereign and Prince Albert, ten foreign members, seven of whom were Hanoverian relatives, and twenty eight subject members, all of whom were Earls, Dukes and Marquesses, some of whom were evidently supernumeraries.

The only name among them which arouses memories of great achievement is that of the Duke of Wellington. It seems that by this time the great ideals of the Founder of ‘The Order of St. George named the Garter’ were now virtually forgotten, buried beneath a pile of worldly ambition and external display. In the 20th century there was to be a revival of those great ideals, and many truly great men were to be awarded the ‘blue ribband’. But the significance of award of the ‘Garter’ in the early 19th century was perhaps best summed up in some cynical words attributed to William Lamb, later the 2nd Viscount Melbourne, private secretary to Queen Victoria, and Prime Minister of her Government in 1839: “What I like about the Order of the Garter,” he once remarked, “is that there is no damned merit about it”.[42] Large-scale creation of supernumerary members would certainly seem in principle to be contrary to the provisions of the original Statutes, and a departure from the character of the Order created by Edward III. But at various times in the history of the Order there was on occasion a much more seemly
 and chivalrous departure from the provisions of the Statutes regarding membership, i.e. the de facto admission of a few selected ladies to some form of supernumerary associate membership. Although it was entirely within the remit of the original Statutes that reigning Queens should be both members 
and Sovereigns of the Order, there was in fact no provision for formal membership of other ladies. Nevertheless, even in the earliest years of the Order there was some kind of informal associate membership for selected ladies.

In his authoritative paper on ‘Ladies of the Garter’, Begent[43] records in detail the evidence for instances of such associate membership for ladies in the 14th & 15th centuries, when they were variously referred to as ‘Ladies of the Society of the Garter’, Ladies of the Fraternity of St. George’, and ‘Ladies of the Fraternity and Brotherhood of St. George’. He emphasises that despite these designations, there was no provision for such a class of members in the Statutes, nor was there any record of either the election or installation of lady members. Most of the information concerning these ladies relates to the issue of robes or surcoats, generally powdered with Garters, for use on certain feast days. There is no record of a Mantle of the Order ever having been assigned to a lady associate member in that period, but Garters were sometimes assigned to them, and there are several tomb effigies on which the lady ‘member’ wears a Garter on her left arm.

There is also evidence of royal ladies attending formal ceremonies of the Order. In the 17th century Charles I initiated consultations regarding a renewal of this old custom of allowing ladies of the Knights Companion to wear Garters and appropriate robes, but the proposal was aborted by the outbreak of the Civil War. Nothing further happened until the start of the 20th century, when King Edward VII commanded that a special Statute be issued conferring on Queen Alexandra the title and dignity of a Lady of the Order of the Garter, with full rights to wear all of the regalia. In subsequent correspondence he made it clear that he intended this to include the installation of a Stall Plate and Banner in
 St. George’s Chapel. Eventually all his wishes were conceded, apart from the erection of the Stall Plate, which might have precipitated eviction of some other member of the Order.

Since 1901 six other ladies, all members of the British or Foreign Royal Families, have been similarly admitted. These include Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, the most notable Lady Companion apart from the Sovereign herself. These six Lady Companions have all been supernumerary to the normal complement of 26 Knights Companion of the Order. In 1987 however the Queen decided that ladies should be eligible for admission as full Companions of the Order, in exactly the same way as men, within the complement of the Sovereign and 25 Knights, and not only as supernumeraries. A Statute to that effect was promulgated, and a stall in St. George’s Chapel displaying both a Banner and a Stall Plate will be allocated to any Lady Companion so admitted.

In the years following the 2nd World War, many of the great wartime leaders of the British armed forces were elected Knights of the Order. The list includes the household names of Alexander, Portal, Montgomery, Mountbatten, Brooke, and Slim; and above all, the name of Sir Winston Churchill, the greatest of them all. This was truly a reversion to the flavour of the earliest days of the Order of St. George named the Garter, the days of the Black Prince and his knightly companions.

Stall plate Windsor
Stall plate for Winston Churchill at St George’s Chapel, Windsor

Finally, what of the original spiritual dedication of the Order to the patronage of St. George, as typified by that first seal of the College of St. George, showing Edward III kneeling before the Saint? Today there are very few who boast strong personal devotion to any Saint, and it would be foolish to hanker for a return to the spiritual climate of medieval society. But even though the name of St. George is no longer in the formal title of the Order, the Saint has by no means been forgotten. Appointment of new knights to the Order is normally announced on April 23rd, St. George’s Day, and a formal Service of the Order takes place annually at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, having been re-instated by King George VI in 1948, on the 600th anniversary of the initiation of the Order of St. George by King Edward III.

In years when there are new knights-elect to be invested and installed, the ceremonies of investiture take place before the Service. These traditional events no longer take place on the Feast Day of Saint George, but fittingly perhaps for a Patron Saint whose legend and iconography display extraordinary equestrian prowess, they normally fall on the Monday before the Royal Ascot Race Meeting. Investitures take place within the Throne Room of the Castle, where the Knights Companion and Officers of the Order are joined by the Sovereign. After the Lord’s Prayer has been recited, Garter and Black Rod, with the two knights designated to support the knight-elect, leave the Throne Room to summon him. When they return, Garter hands the blue velvet garter of the Order to the Sovereign, who goes through the motion of buckling it on the left leg of the knight-elect. The Prelate of the Order, the Bishop of Winchester, then solemnly pronounces the Admonition:

O the Honour of God the Omnipotent, and in Memorial of the Blessed Martyr, St George, tie about thy leg, for thy Renown, this Most Noble Garter; wear it … that hereby thou mayest be admonished to be
courageous and having undertaken a just war … thou mayest stand firm, valiantly fight, courageously and successfully conquer[44]

Then the Sovereign places over the left shoulder of the knight-elect the Blue Riband of the Order, the wide blue sash carrying the Lesser George, which under Charles II replaced the narrow blue ribbon earlier carrying this image of the Saint. This is followed by pinning on the left breast the Star of the Order, with its rays of glory radiating out from the arms of 
St. George. The Mantle is next placed on the shoulders of the knight, and then the Collar of the Order, from which the equestrian group of the Greater George depends, is placed over the Mantle. The presentation of each item of the Investiture is accompanied by an Admonition similar to that cited above, referring to the memory of St. George. Finally, the new Knight swears to obey the Statutes of the Order, and the Laws of the Realm.

Lunch is served to the Sovereign and her guests in the Waterloo Chamber, after which the formal Procession and Service takes place in the afternoon. As the Knights emerge, they are helped into their blue velvet Mantles, lined with white taffeta, and bearing the garter-encircled arms of St. George on the left shoulder. The heralds then marshal the procession in
St. George’s Hall, arranged so that when the Queen and members of the Royal Family enter at the far end of the Hall, they are led by the Knights down the staircase to the Great Entrance.

There they are joined by the Constable and Governor of the Castle, and by the Military Knights of Windsor, successors of the original ‘Poor Knights of Windsor’ established by Edward III to fulfil the religious obligations of the Knights Companion of the Order. Their splendid scarlet uniforms, together with the richly embroidered tabards of the heralds, and the uniforms of a detachment of the Yeomen of the Guard, add a blaze of colour to the grandeur of the procession of the Knights Companions.

The Garter Procession
The Garter Procession, Windsor Castle

The whole entourage proceeds between lines of foot guards and dismounted troopers of the household cavalry, through the Norman Gate, and the Middle and Lower Wards of the castle, to the steps of the West door of St. George’s Chapel, where they are met and preceded by the ecclesiastical procession of clerics, choristers and canons of the College of St. George. This great pageant is witnessed by massed crowds of onlookers, and, on their television screens, by millions of viewers at home and around the world.

Inside the Chapel, the Service proceeds with an act of worship within which the whole congregation kneels facing the altar, beneath the cross of St. George painted on the stone vaults of the roof high above them, and at the very apex of the arch of the great West window. Towards the end comes the solemn prayer:

…To the Companions of this most Noble Order give such virtue and grace, that thy name may be thereby magnified, the commonwealth may be served, and their good fame remain to their posterity

Whatever may be the private dispositions of individual participants and spectators, this great occasion is surely a most solemn and public re-affirmation of the cherished ideals of the Sovereign Founder of the “The Order of St. George and Society of the Garter”, Edward III, King of England.































[1] Barber R                  The Reign of Chivalry, p 166, St Martin’s Press, New York 1980

[2] Barber R                  op cit n 1

[3] Anstis J                     The Register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter usually                                           called the Black Book. Vol 2 p 94 London 1724

[4] Ashmole E                Institutions, Laws and Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of                                      the Garter, p 161, London 1672

[5] Anstis J                     op cit n 3, Vol 2, p 24

[6] Ashmole E                op cit n 4, Appendix following p 720

[7] Anstid J                    op cit n 3, Vol I p 94

[8] Ashmole E                op cit n 4, Appendix Num L.

[9] Anstis J                     op cit n3, Vol I, Editors Appendix xxxviii No XI

[10] Barber R                 The `knight and Chivalry, pp303-306, Harper, London 1974

[11] Cressy D                 ‘Spectacle and Power, History Today Vol 32, 1982, p 16

[12] Heylyn P                 The Historie of St George of Cappadocia, Part 3, p 109, London                                                 1633

[13] Fox (Bishop)          Book of Martyrs, cited by Heylyn op cit Part 3

[14] Falkus C (ed)         Private Lives of Tudor Monarchs, p 57, Folio Soc London 1974

[15] Falkus C                  op cit n 14

[16] Beltz G                     Memorials of the Most Noble Order of the Garter p xcvii,                                                Pickering London 1841

[17] Anstis J                    op cit n 2, Vol I Appendix Num XIV, p xlvi

[18] Beltz G                     op cit n 16

[19] Heylyn P                 op cit n 12, Part 3, p 311

[20] Grierson E              King of Two Worlds: King Philip of Spain, p 43, Collins London                                                 1974

[21] Brooke-Little J        Royal Heraldry, Plate on p 5 Pilgrims Press 1978

[22] Falkus C (ed)         op cit n 14

[23] Heylyn P                 op cit n 12

[24] Ashmole E              op cit Appendices Nums CVLI and CL

[25] Dalton J N               The Manuscripts of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle p 6,                                           Oxley & Sons, Windsor 1957

[26] Ashmole E              op cit Appendix Num LXX

[27] Ashmole E              op cit Appendix LXXII

[28] Ashmole E              op cit Appendix LXIII

[29] Ashmole E              op cit Appendix Num LXXIV

[30] Ashmole E              op cit Appendix Num XX and CII

[31] Ashmole E              op cit Appendix Num CV

[32] Ashmole E              op cit Appendix Num LXXV

[33] Davies T R              Coat of Arms Vol VI, No 46, pp 233-235

[34] Begent P                 A Note on the Practice of Encircling Arms with the Garter in Coat                                     of Arms NS Vol VII, No 141, 1989, pp 186-195

[35] Ashmole E              loc cit n 5

[36] Ashmole E              Ibid p 202-224

[37] Beltz G                     op cit n 10, Preface p cxv

[38] Ashmole E              op cit n 36

[39] Ashmole                  ibid

[40] Belz G                      op cit n 37

[41] Belz G                      ibid

[42] Begent P                 Coat of Arms NS Vol VIII No 1, 1989, pp 16-22

[43] Begent P                 ibid

[44] Brooke-Little J        Royal Ceremonies of State, Country Life Books, 1980