Order of the Garter
English subjects who are entitled to wear the blue sash have given meritorious public service (the Duke of Wellington), contributions to the nation (Sir Edmund Hilary) or as a reward for personal service to the monarch.
The origin of the Order is not clear. The most popular version is, of course, the most romantic one and the only one I had ever heard before I began my research. During the dancing at a Ball, the king’s alleged mistress the Countess of Salisbury lost her garter. When people began snickering at the minor mishap the king picked up the garter and annoucned “Evil to him who evil thinks.” He decided than that he would make the garter “so glorious that everyone would wish to wear it.”
As charming as that story is there is a more practical explanation for the Order’s invention. In the period after the Crusades there were any number of fraternities of men who shared common interest and experiences. Edward III may have developed the Order of the Garter as a group that would support him in his belief that he was a rightful claimant to the throne of
There are two bits of evidence that support this idea. There were no French knights at the inauguration of the Order and the colors of the garter – blue embroidered with gold – are the colors of the French Royal Arms.
In fact couldn’t both stories be true? Edward was looking for a way to organize a group to support him in his efforts to claim the French throne. When his mistress lost her garter and he called out “Shame on anyone who thinks ill of this.” Later someone who had missed the “trivial event” but heard his words, commented, ”Oh I thought you were talking about your claim to the throne of
At about this time Edward declared St George as the patron saint of the country and, along with a blue garter worn just below the knee, a badge depicting St. George slaying the dragon became the official symbol of membership. In the 16th century a collar was added and in the 17th century the familiar blue sash and silver star badge featuring the red cross of St. George. Velvet blue robes complete the costume worn at the annual meeting and at coronations.
The list of members from 1348 to the present includes 998 names plus a long list of Ladies of the Garter which until 1901 were listed separately. Most of the family names and titles would be familiar to anyone who has read the history of
Numerous foreign nobles have been named to the order over the years. The distinction of membership helped cement foreign treaties and alliances. Foreign monarchs are known as "Stranger Knights" and their numbers are in addition to the normal quota of 24 knights (plus royals) in the order.
Do you think that the Order of the Garter is an outdated symbol of royal perogative or an useful way to recognize support and contribution? Is there anything comparable in the