The absence of sunshine and Prince Philip threatened to cast a shadow over the 2013 Garter Day at Windsor Castle. Thankfully both came out in time for the ceremony, although His Royal Highness couldn’t join The Queen due to his convalescence.
Knights of the Garter have joined the Sovereign at Windsor Castle for dedicated festivals and services for over 600 years, although they became less frequent by the nineteenth century. 65 years ago George VI held the first Garter Day as we know it, a tradition continued by his successor Her Majesty The Queen.
As in previous years, Her Majesty gave a lunch for the Knights and Ladies Companion of the Garter in the Waterloo Chamber of Windsor Castle, before a procession to St. George’s Chapel for the Garter Service. This year The Queen also formally invested a new Knight, former Chief of Defence Staff Lord Stirrup. Her Majesty presented Lord Stirrup with the insignia of the Order in the Throne Room of the Castle.
For those not invited to join the Knights at the service in St. George’s Chapel, Castle authorities hold an annual ballot which gives the public a chance to watch the procession and hear the service from within the Castle precincts. This year my application was successful and I joined other lucky onlookers to line the procession route through the Upper, Middle and Lower wards of the Castle to St. George’s Chapel. The atmosphere was similar to a day at an English Summer fair or county show, with ticket holders picnicking while Swallows darted between the ancient castle battlements above.
Seated in the Lower Ward outside the Chapel (we could bring our own folded chairs), I was able to see many of the preparations. Royal cars and carriages moving into position; Police officers and Castle Wardens managing guests; and Dismounted Troopers of the Household Cavalry moving into position. Mingling amongst the more casual picnickers were invited guests waiting to take their seats inside St. George’s Chapel for the service – gentlemen in morning suits and an array of ladies in hats that wouldn’t look out of place at any royal function.
At precisely 2:42 the colourful Royal Procession left the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle, led by Constable and Governor of the Castle. The procession was divided into groups; The Military Knights of Windsor; The Officers of Arms; The Knights and Ladies of the Garter; The Royal Companions and Officers of the Order; and The Sovereign. Polite applause rippled along the procession route as the Royal Knights and Her Majesty passed, this year accompanied by both her heirs, The Prince of Wales to her right and The Duke of Cambridge on her left. Perhaps looking at her most regal in the blue velvet robes and plumed velvet hat, it was a privilege to see Her Majesty The Queen in person, albeit very briefly.
The Garter Service itself is brief. The 30-minute service installed Lord Stirrup as a new Knight, who was conducted to his stall in the Chapel Quire by Black Rod, Lieutenant General David Leakey and Garter, Thomas Woodcock. It included two hymns, All My Hope On God Is Founded and O Worship The King. The Lesson was Ephesians 6. 10-18. Prayers for the Most Noble Order and Her Majesty were read by the Register and Prelate of the Chapel.
The climax of the day was the carriage procession from St. George’s Castle to the Quadrangle. The Queen was accompanied by Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall in the first carriage, followed by carriages carrying the other Royal Companions of the Order: Their Royal Highnesses The Duke of Cambridge, The Duke of York and The Earl and Countess of Wessex in the second carriage; The Duke of Kent and The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in the third carriage; and The Princess Royal and Sir Timothy Laurence in the fourth.
For anyone looking to enjoy a quintessential British summer afternoon filled with tradition and pageantry, I’d thoroughly recommend applying for tickets. You can apply between January and March each year, with successful applicants receiving tickets in May. More information is available at the official British Monarchy website.
All photos contained property of Rich Carter, all rights reserved.