The Tudor Society

What is the Order of the Garter? By Sarah Bryson

St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

The Order of the Garter, officially known as The Most Noble Order of the Garter, is the oldest and highest British order of chivalry. The Order was founded in 1348 by King Edward III and consists of the King (or Queen), their spouse, the Prince of Wales and twenty four Knights. Other members of The Order are known as Royal Knights Companions and Extra or Stranger Knights.

While the members of the Order of the Garter are a small group a new member can be chosen if a vacancy becomes available. A new member of The Order is chosen personally by the ruling Sovereign and has to be someone who has served the Sovereign, held a public office or contributed to national life. Previously, only men were allowed to be Knighted with the Order of the Garter. Women had been associated with The Order but did not hold full memberships. For example, King Henry VII's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was invested as a Lady of The Order of the Garter but was not considered to be a full member of The Order. In 1987 the current Queen, Elizabeth II, decided that both men and women had equal rights at being elected as a Lady Or Knight Companion of the Garter.

Every person that holds an Order of the Garter is required to display their banner of arms, helmet, crest and sword as well as a stall plate within the stalls of St George's Chapel. Upon a Knight or Lady's death, their banner of arms, helmet, crest and sword are removed, leaving only the stall plate. The Stalls at St George's Chapel contain stall plates of previous knights dating back over six hundred years.

Previously, an appointment to the Order was only for aristocracy but in today's modern times a person can be from a non-royal background. If there are vacancies within the Order, appointments are made on 23rd April, which is St George’s Day in England. A person who previously held an Order of the Garter can have it removed if they do not honour the title. Under the rule of Henry VIII several members of the Garter lost their title, these include Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, who was executed in 1521 for treason, Sir Nicholas Carew, who was also executed for treason in 1539, and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who was executed for treason in 1547.
Many famous Tudor personalities have received the Order of the Garter, the most famous of these being King Henry VIII. On Saturday 1st November 1494 young Henry Tudor was created Duke of York in a lavish ceremony. Then on the 17th of May 1495 Henry was created a Knight of the Garter by order of his father King Henry VII. For the occasion, the young boy, only three and a half years of age, wore a crimson velvet gown and a bonnet of the same colour. It is most likely that the ceremony took place at St George's Chapel, the home of the patron Saint George. It is interesting to note that the traditional colour worn during the Order of the Garter ceremony is a mantle of blue and yet Henry VII chose for his son a crimson gown. Perhaps this was to signify his son's status as Duke of York and his royal lineage.

Other notable members of the Tudor family who were granted the Order of the Garter were Henry VIII's great Uncle, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke and Duke of Bedford. He was installed in 1459, degraded in 1461 and then reinstalled in 1485. This was during the turbulent time of the Wars of the Roses. Jasper opposed Edward IV when he came to the throne and this is the likely reason that he was degraded in 1461 and then reinstalled when his nephew Henry VII claimed the throne in 1485. Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, was invested on the 8th May 1491 and Charles Brandon in 1513, who the next year would be created Duke of Suffolk and would go on to marry Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s younger sister.

During his reign, Henry VIII granted the Order of the Garter, either as Knights Companion or Knights Extra, to fifty-three people, one of these being his illegitimate son. In 1519, Bessie Blount, mistress of Henry VIII, gave birth to a baby boy named Henry Fitzroy after his father. When Henry was only six years old he was invested with the Order of the Garter. It is interesting to note that while Henry VIII invested his illegitimate son with the Order of the Garter he never honoured his legitimate son Edward, born in 1537, with the same title. It could be that there were no openings in the Order at the time or perhaps quite simply Henry VIII died before he could invest his young son with the Garter.

The Patron Saint of the Order, St Georg, is the Patron Saint of Soldiers and of England. St George was a soldier in the Roman army of Emperor Diocletian. Diocletian was a pagan who hated Christians. St George was a devout Christian and ended up being tortured and beheaded by the Emperor for refusing to deny Christ. The image of St George battling a dragon represents fighting for God's holy truth against wickedness and evil.

The Order's motto: Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame on him who thinks this evil).
The Spiritual home of the Order: St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
The insignia of The Order: A blue garter with the cross of St George.

For a look at the Knights of the Garter appointed during King Henry VIII's rule follow the link, see

Notes and Sources

Photo taken by Sarah Bryson.

There are 4 comments Go To Comment

  1. D

    During my research on the Marquis and Marchioness of Exeter I discovered that while he was degraded from the Order when he was convicted of treason, they did not remove all traces of him from the Garter Chapel at Windsor Castle. Apparently the Exeter coat of arms remains on the fan vaulting in the the ceiling. Something I hope to look for the next time I am in England.

  2. L

    Thank you for that. I always thought that the Knights of the Garter, were a passing resemblance, to the days of King Arthur and the Knights of the round table. That these garter knights were chosen by the King or Queen, to be the loyal defenders of the King and Queen.
    I guess that a little bit of wishful romantic sort of thinking creeping in.

  3. B

    Wonderful article! Relative to the Tudor Era Knights of the Garter, I believe Thomas Cromwell was the first base born commoner installed as a Knight of the Garter. (I am happily corrected.) Whether he holds the “first base born KG” honor or no, the stripping of his status chain and garter by Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk in front of the Privy Council upon his arrest must have been quite the show.

  4. L

    I came upon this article years after its publication. The information was well written and answered all my questions. Unfortunately, I just cannot get over the disappointment I felt to find a typo in the spelling of George in this quote “The Patron Saint of the Order, St Georg, “ pasted from the second to last paragraph.

Leave a Reply

What is the Order of the Garter? By Sarah Bryson