The Order of the Garter is the oldest British Order of Chivalry, founded in 1348 by Edward III. To become part of it you must be a) Queen Elizabeth, known as Sovereign of the Garter b) Prince of Wales, known as Knight Companion of the Garter or c) one of 24 companion knights hand selected by the Sovereign. The order also includes supernumerary knights and ladies, who may be members of the British Royal Family and foreign monarchs.
This number may never change and new members will be announced only when there are vacancies. The Queen holds full power in choosing those members, included in those decisions are Prince William who was named the 1000th member in 2008. Queen Elizabeth also chose to make make men and women equally eligible for the Garter in 1987. Queen Alexandra, however, was the first lady of the Order in 1901.
If you are lucky enough to be bestowed with the honour of joining the Garter, your name along with any others will be announced on April 23, St. George’s Day. St. George is the patron saint of the Order and thus the annual service is held in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Inductions to the Order take place at a later date in the Throne Room. Other members and officers of the order may also be there as invited by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. A celebration lunch will be held in the Waterloo Chamber.
Each June the Queen, along with the knights and ladies of the Order dress for ceremony. The robes are heavy and warm in the summer weather but the significance behind them is highly important. On the Queen’s right shoulder is a crimson sash, while white ostrich and heron feathers adorn her velvet Tudor bonnet.
The collar is made up of 26 red roses surrounded by blue garters, this is completed with a golden image of St. George on horse back. The collar is held on with large white bows on each shoulder. Her navy velvet mantle is lined with white taffeta, fastened with a blue and gold cord.
King George VI wore a badge with the picture of the St. George shield against a jewelled Georgian star. Queen Elizabeth chose to follow her fathers lead and wears the same one.
The Order’s motto is ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ or in case you haven’t brushed up on your Anglo-French it translates to ‘Shame on him who think this evil’. The motto appears on the knights’ badges, encircled by an image of the shield of St. George
With three opening to be announced this April, maybe (just maybe!) you will have the honour of joining the Order of the Garter.