Tomorrow is St Georges Day in England however it is a date I have come to associate more with the Knights of The Order of the Garter, the oldest and most senior British Order of Chivalry, founded in 1348 by one of my historical heroes King Edward III.
The Sovereign and twenty-five knights make up The Order. It is an honour bestowed upon those who have: held public office, contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the Sovereign personally.
In centuries gone by the day was marked by a jousting tournament and great celebration. The patron saint of the Order is St George, and the spiritual home of the Order is St George's Chapel, Windsor.
Every knight of The Order displays a banner of his arms at St Georges Chapel, along with a helmet, crest, sword and stallplate. These items are taken down on the knights death. The insignia are returned to the Sovereign and the stallplates remain as a memorial. (The insignia have developed over the years and now consist of a garter and badge, a collar and a star riband.)
Several knights have been stripped of their ‘Garter’ status over the years for the alleged crimes of heresy, treason or cowardice, or even executed such as Lord Scrope of Masham. Lord Scrope was a childhood friend and later an advisor of Henry V wrongly accused and disposed of in my opinion. Lord’s Scrope’s loyalty came into question at a time when Henry was planning his invasion of France and was desperate to avoid further delays, as such a speedy outcome to the trials of Lord Scrope and his ‘associates’ was needed and I believe it was easier for Henry to assume Lord Scrope's guilt in order to achieve this. (Sorry Henry!)
Where vacancies in the Order arise, through death or dicreditation, new appointments are made and announced on St George's Day.
In the Middle Ages women 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, the mother of Henry VII and 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.
The Motto of The Order is: Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame on him who thinks this evil)
(Sources: The British Monarchy)