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Formal Robes of the Order of the Garter. The actual garter is worn below the left knee and above the left elbow for ladies.Founded in 1348, The Order of the Garter is the most senior and the oldest British Order of Chivalry and is said to have been inspired by an incident that happened whilst King Edward III danced with Joan, Countess of Salisbury.  The Countess's garter fell to the floor and after the King retrieved it he tied it to his own left leg. Those watching this were apparently amused, but the King admonished them saying, 'Honi soit qui mal y pense' (Shame on him who thinks this evil). This then became the motto of the Order.

Modern scholars think it is more likely that the Order was inspired by the strap used to attach pieces of armour, and that the motto could well have referred to critics of Edward's claim to the throne of France.  The Order, consisting of the King and twenty-five knights, was intended by Edward III to be reserved as the highest reward for loyalty and for military merit.

The patron saint of the Order is St George (patron saint of soldiers and also of England) and the spiritual home of the Order is St George's Chapel, Windsor. Every knight is required to display a banner of his arms in the Chapel, together with a helmet, a crest, a sword and an enamelled stall-plate (Coat of Arms).

These 'achievements' are taken down on the knight's death (and the insignia are returned to the Sovereign), but the stall-plates remain as a memorial and these now constitute one of the finest collections of heraldry in the world.
 
The insignia of the Order have developed over the centuries: starting with a garter and badge depicting St George and the Dragon. A collar was added in the sixteenth century, and the star and broad riband in the seventeenth century.  Although the collar could not be decorated with precious stones (the statutes forbid it), the other insignia could be decorated according to taste and affordability. George IV, well-known for his vanity, left 55 different Garter badges of varying styles.  The Mantle: of blue velvet, lined with white taffeta and the star is worn on the left breast.  The Collar: gold, consisting of twenty-six pieces, each in form of a garter, enamelled, azure and attached is The George. This is a figure of St George on horseback encountering the dragon.  The lesser George, a pendant, is worn over the left shoulder.  Over the years, a number of knights have been 'degraded' (for the crimes of heresy, treason or cowardice), the most recent example being the Duke of Ormond in 1715, or even executed - such as Lord Scrope of Masham (a childhood friend of Henry V), and the 3rd Duke of Buckingham in 1521. Charles I wore his Order (ornamented with over 400 diamonds) to his execution in 1649.

From the eighteenth century to 1946, appointments to the Order (and to the Order of the Thistle) were made on advice from government.  Today, the Order has returned to its original function as a mark of royal favour; Knights of the Garter are chosen personally by the Sovereign to honour those who have held public office, and have contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the Sovereign personally.  The number of knights is limited to 24 plus royal knights. For much of its history, the Garter was limited to the aristocracy, but today the knights are from varied backgrounds. If there are vacancies in the Order, appointments are announced on St George's Day (23 April).
 
On a Monday in mid-June, the Knights of the Garter gather at Windsor Castle, where new knights take the oath and are invested with the insignia. A lunch is given in the Waterloo Chamber, after which the knights process to a service in St George's Chapel, wearing their blue velvet robes (with the badge of the Order - St George's Cross within the Garter surrounded by radiating silver beams - on the left shoulder) and black velvet hats with white plumes.

The Queen (whose father George VI appointed her and her husband to the Order in 1947), as Sovereign of the Order, attends the service along with other members of the Royal family in the Order, including The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales and The Princess Royal. During the Middle Ages ladies were associated with the Order, although unlike today they did not enjoy full membership. One of the last medieval ladies to be honoured was Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII andThe Garter dark-blue velvet with the motto 'Honi soit qui mal y pense' (Shame on him who thinks badly of it). Worn below the left knee. grandmother of Henry VIII.  After her death in 1509 the Order remained exclusively male, except for reigning queens as Sovereign of the Order, until 1901 when Edward VII made Queen Alexandra a lady of the Order.

In 1987, The Queen decided that women should be eligible for the Garter in the same way as men. Women are therefore included in this number and currently Baroness Thatcher (formerly Margaret Thatcher, first female prime minister of Great Britain) and Lady Soames (the youngest daughter of Sir Winston Churchill, also a holder of the Order of the Garter) hold this honour. 

Since the early fourteenth century, foreign monarchs have been appointed to the Order, as a means of marking and securing alliances - one of the earliest such appointments was that of the Duke of Urbino by Edward IV in 1474.   Such appointments were and are occasionally made to non-Christian rulers (for example, the Shah of Persia in 1902), which prompted some debate over removing Christian imagery (the cross of St George) from the Order when it is given to non-Christian recipients; in the end, the design remained unchanged.  Foreign monarchs in the Order are known as 'Stranger Knights'. These knights are in addition to the number allowed by statute, and they include the kings of Spain and Sweden and the Emperor of Japan.  There are 24 Knights and Lady Companions, not including members of the Royal family.  As of June 2013 these are:

Knights and Lady Companions The Royal Family
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
The Lord Carrington KG, GCMG, CH, MC, PC, DL (23 Apr 1985)
The Duke of Wellington KG, LVO, OBE, MC, DL (23 Apr 1990)
Field Marshal The Lord Bramall KG, GCB, OBE, MC, JP (23 Apr 1990)
The Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover KG (23 Apr 1992)
Sir Ninian Martin Stephen KG, AK, GCMG, GCVO, KBE, QC (23 Apr 1994)
The Lord Kingsdown KG, PC (23 Apr 1994)
The Lord Ashburton KG, KCVO, DL (23 Apr 1994)
Sir Timothy James Alan Colman KG, JP (23 Apr 1996)
The Duke of Abercorn KG (23 Apr 1999)
Sir William Gladstone of Fasque and Balfour Bt, KG, JP, DL (23 Apr 1999)
Field Marshal The Lord Inge KG, GCB, DL (23 Apr 2001)
Sir Antony Arthur Acland KG, GCMG, GCVO (23 Apr 2001)
The Duke of Westminster KG, CB, CVO, OBE, TD, CD, DL (23 Apr 2003)
The Lord Butler of Brockwell KG, GCB, CVO, PC (23 Apr 2003)
The Lord Morris of Aberavon KG, PC, QC (23 Apr 2003)
The Lady Soames LG, DBE (23 Apr 2005)
Sir John Major KG, CH, PC (23 Apr 2005)
The Lord Luce KG, GCVO, PC, DL (23 Apr 2008)
Sir Thomas Dunne KG, KCVO, JP (23 Apr 2008)
The Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers KG, PC (23 Apr 2011)
Admiral The Lord Boyce KG, GCB, OBE, DL (23 Apr 2011)
Air Chief Marshal The Lord Stirrup KG, GCB, AFC, FRAeS, FCMI (23 Apr 2013)
Vacant
Vacant
Members Ex Officio

Her Majesty The Queen, 23 Apr 1947
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, 26 Jul 1958 

Royal Knights Companion

His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, 19 Nov 1947
His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent, 9 Oct 1985
Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, 23 Apr 1994
His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester, 23 Apr 1996
Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra, the Hon Lady Ogilvy, 23 Apr 2003
His Royal Highness
The Duke of York, 23 Apr 2006
His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex, 23 Apr 2006
His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge, 23 Apr 2008

 

   

Extra (Stranger) Companion Knights and Ladies

 Officers of the Order

His Royal Highness Grand Duke of Luxembourg, 14 Jun 1972
The Queen of Denmark, 16 May 1979

The King of Sweden, 25 May 1983
The King of Spain, 17 Oct 1988

Princess Beatrix of The Netherlands, 28 Jun 1989
The Emperor of Japan, 26 May 1998
King Harold V of Norway, 30 May 2001
Prelate: Timothy Dakin (Lord Bishop of Winchester)
Chancellor: The Duke of Abercorn KG
Registrar: The Rt Rev David Conner KCVO (Dean of St George's Chapel)
Garter Principle King of Arms: Thomas Woodcock CVO, FSA, DL
Sec: Patric Laurence Dickinson LVO (Richmond Herald of Arms in Ordinary)
Usher: Lt Gen David Leakey CMG, CBE(Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod)

The Investiture Ceremony

The investiture of new Knights is held in the Throne Room of Windsor Castle on the morning of the Garter Service.  Two Officers of the Order - Garter King of Arms and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod - bring the Knight or Lady elect.  The Knight or Lady is escorted to the Sovereign between two Knight sponsors.  The Sovereign personally invests the recipient with all the insignia of The Order.  For men, a garter is tied around the left leg and is held by Garter King of Arms whilst the admonition is read.  The admonition recalls an era when members of the Order of the Garter formed the backbone of the Monarch's military command:

"To the honour of God Omnipotent and Memorial of the Blessed Martyr, St George, tie about thy leg, for thy renown, this most Noble Garter. Wear it as a symbol of the Most Illustrious Order, never to be forgotten or paid aside, that thereby thou mayest be admonished to be courageous, and having undertaken a just war, with which thou shalt be engaged, thou mayest stand firm, valiant fight courageously and successfully conquer"

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