Archive for May 31st, 2007

The Most Noble Order of the Garter

Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101.
In this episode, we’ll cover something that I personally find to be, above many other topics, quintessentially British – the oldest European order of knighthood in existence, The Most Noble Order of the Garter. Let’s get right to it.
Edward III, By the Grace of God King of England and France and Lord of Ireland, reigned for 50 years between 1327 and 1377, and was undoubtedly one of the most successful monarchs of the Middle Ages. Edward’s idol was the legendary King Arthur, and he had ambitions to institute something of his own court of the Round Table so famous in Arthurian lore. He ordered the construction of a round stone feasting hall in the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle, where the knights of a new “Round Table in the same manner and conditions as the Lord Arthur, formerly King of England, appointed it.” Those knights would be bound together by a badge of “unit and concord,” the garter. Edward’s version of Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table was thus created in The Most Noble Order of the Garter, commonly thought to have been established in 1348 (although records indicate that it’s possible it was in existence in 1346). The first knight given the honor of the Garter was Edward’s eldest son, Edward the Black Prince. The most famous legend, which recent research suggests may actually be true, gave rise to the Order’s motto. It is said that King Edward was dancing at a ball with Joan, Countess of Salisbury, when Joan’s garter fell off. The king bent over to pick it up, and several of the men around him began to tease Edward. Although Edward is thought to be the first king after the Norman Conquest to be able to speak English, he snapped at the men in French (which was his everyday language) “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” or “Shame on him who thinks ill of it.” Thus, the Order of the Garter gained a motto.
The Order of the Garter is still very much alive today. It is bestowed solely by the reigning monarch, known as the Sovereign of the Garter, as a personal gift of that monarch. It is limited to the reigning sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and 25 Knights or Ladies Companion. Not counting towards the limit of 25, however, are supernumerary Knights and Ladies, which would include members of the royal family and foreign monarchs, who are also referred to as Stranger Knights and Ladies Companion. Knights or Ladies may have they membership revoked by the sovereign in case of the commitment of severe crimes, and this was seen especially when Stranger Knights Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany and Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria had their memberships annulled during World War I. Emperor Hirohito of Japan had the unique honor of being appointed a Stranger Knight by two different sovereigns, as his membership was annulled due to World War II and he was later reinstated by Elizabeth II.
Traditionally, the monarch announces the names of those chosen to be new members of the Order on St. George’s Day, April 23. On Monday of Royal Ascot week each June, members of the Order meet in the state apartments of the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle, wearing their full regalia. They then process on foot through the Castle, led by the Military Knights of Windsor, to St. George’s Chapel for the Garter service, where new knights (if any) are installed by the Queen. Afterwards, the knights both old and new return to the Upper Ward by carriage.
Knights Companion of the Order attach “Sir” before their first name, and Ladies Companion attach the word “Lady,” not “Dame,” the word seen in other chivalric orders. The Wives of male members may use the word Lady before their names, but there is no such provision for the husbands of Ladies Companion. Members may use the letters “KG” or “LG” after their names. They may also surround their families’ personal arms with the garter, although this is not seen on the arms of Stranger Knights, as foreign sovereigns would not decorate their arms with English symbols.
The Most Noble Order of the Garter represents a fascination with an earlier time – a time of chivalry, of knights rescuing ladies in distress, of honor, of duty, and romance. It is a beloved tradition of England, and truly a modern day glimpse into a past of legend.
That’s all for this episode of British History 101. A transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast can be found at BritishHistory101.com. If you find time to visit the website, be sure to add yourself to the Platial map on the right hand side of the screen. Send suggestions, questions, comments, rants, and raves to BritishHistory101@gmail.com. I can also be reached via Skype, under the name British History 101. Our music tonight is “Joy After Sorrow,” performed by Shira Kammen and available on Magnatune.com. Magnatune is an independent online record label that equally shares all revenue from album sales with their hand-selected artists while allowing them to retain full rights to their works. Visit magnatune.com for great music at low prices and support the many wonderful artists hosted there. Thanks very much for listening, and have a wonderful day!

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