Order of the Garter
Berkshire SL4 1NJ
The Order of the Garter is the most prestigious and oldest Chivalric honour that the British Sovereign can award. It was founded in 1348 by King Edward III to honour the knightly virtues such as military merit and loyalty.
Edward founded a Royal College of Priests to look after the religious observances of the Order and its knights. He dedicated the Order to the greatest knight of all, and the patron saint of soldiers and England, St George.
The Royal College of St George is situated in the Queen’s Berkshire residence, Windsor Castle and the Service takes place in St George’s Chapel.
The Order consists of the Sovereign, Royal Knights and 24 Companion Knights. The Order of the Garter is the personal award of the Sovereign to honour persons in public office, persons who have contributed significantly to the national life of the country or who have served the Sovereign personally.
The honour allows the recipient to have their own carved stall in St George's Chapel surmounted by their own heraldic devices and banner. They also have the right to put the title ‘Sir’ or ‘Lady’ before their name and ‘KG” or ‘LG’ after their surname.
Insignia of the Order
Starting with a blue garter and badge depicting St George and the Dragon, the insignia has developed over a number of centuries. The modern insignia consists of the garter with the motto emblazoned on it, the Star with St George’s Cross in the centre, and the gold collar with a badge representing St George slaying the Dragon.
On the death of the Knight (or Lady) Companion the insignia have to be handed back to the Sovereign. The banner over the stall in St George’s Chapel is taken down and handed to the Dean who places it on the altar. All heraldic devices are removed but a small plate with the deceased incumbent’s name, date of installation and arms is placed on the back of the stall. The stall can now be assigned to a new Member.
Naming of the Order
No-one really knows how the Order got its name. The prosaic version is that the ‘garter’ refers to the strap used for attaching armour.
The much more romantic story is that King Edward III was dancing with an aristocratic lady during celebrations of the founding of the Order when the lady’s garter fell to the floor. The Court started to laugh at the poor woman’s plight. The King gallantly picked up the garter and put it on his own leg remarking in French “Honi soit qui mal y pense” which has been translated as ‘Shame on him who thinks this evil’. This became the motto of the Order and is seen on the garter itself and around the badge of St George in the star insignia.
Installation of Companion Knights
The Sovereign (currently Queen Elizabeth II) announces any new appointments to the Order of the Garter on St George’s Day (23 April). However, new installations and chivalric ceremonies are held over until the formal meeting of all Companion Knights at Windsor Castle in June.
Garter Day takes place on the Monday of Acot Race Week. If there are new Companions to the Order of the Garter, investitures take place in the State Throne Room in the Upper Ward of the castle. Members of the Order are then invited to lunch with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in the Waterloo Chamber in The State Apartments.
After lunch The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal,The Duke of York, The Earl of Wessex, The Duke of Gloucester, The Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra with the other Members of the Order walk in a wonderful, colourful procession to St George’s Chapel for a celebratory Service. After the Service they emerge from the Great West door and return to the Upper Ward by coach or car.
The procession is led by the Heralds, Constable and Governor of the castle and the Military Knights. The Monarch, Royal Knights and Members of the Order follow dressed in their blue velvet cloaks, black velvet plumed hats and insignia. White stockinged pages hold the royal cloaks off the ground.
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Apply to see the Garter Procession
Windsor Castle is closed to the general public on Garter Day. A limited number of tickets on a ballot system is available for members of the public (including overseas visitors) to watch the procession to St. George's Chapel from inside the precincts of Windsor Castle.
Applications must be sent between 1 January and 1 March each year to:
Windsor, Berkshire SL4 1NJ UK
Obviously demand for these tickets is high. To ensure that you stand a chance securing tickets, if you are from outside Britain, enclose International Reply Paid coupons for the return of your tickets.
To obtain details of these coupons, refer to the web site of your local postal authority and type the phrase ‘International Reply Paid coupons’ in that web site’s search box. Non-British postage stamps are not valid in the UK and not accepted as part of this purchase.
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