The Most Noble Order of the Garter is the oldest European order of chivalry, and the third most prestigious honour (after the George and Victoria Cross) in England.
It is a strange title really, what has a garter to do with chivalry you may ask …why not the Most Noble Order of the Handkerchief, for example!
The origin of this very prestigious Order goes back to the reign of Edward III in the fourteenth century.
There is an ancient font that now stands in the churchyard at Asperton, Herefordshire, and it was in this font that a lady called Katherine Grandison was christened.
This Katherine, Countess of Salisbury, is locally affirmed to be the lady whose garter slipped from her leg at a Court Ball in 1349 whilst dancing with King Edward III.
Tradition says that to cover the lady’s embarrassment King Edward picked up the garter, and with the words, ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’, (roughly translated as ‘shame on anyone who thinks evil of this’), buckled it on to his own leg. The phrase remains the motto of the Order.
This seems an odd thing to say, even for those far off days, and surprising that the dropping of a garter would ruffle the modesty of a fourteenth century lady of the court.
The true significance behind this well-known story may well lie in the fact that the ‘garter’ was widely recognised as the badge of a high priestess, or witch, and Edward’s action could therefore have saved Katherine from certain charges of sorcery!
What a ‘good’ king Edward was then …certainly brave, as dealing with a witch could have terrible consequences at a time when the Inquisition was raging across the rest Europe!
Today the Order is strictly limited and includes Her Majesty the Queen, Sovereign of the Order, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and 24 Knight Companions.
Any new appointments to the Order are always formally announced on 23rd April, St George’s Day, the patron saint of England.