(23 April) 1348 - The Founding of the Most Noble Order of The Garter
The Order, consisting of the King and twenty-five knights, honours those who have held public office, who have contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the Sovereign personally.
The patron saint of the Order is St George (patron saint of soldiers and also of England) and the spiritual home of the Order is St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
Every knight is required to display a banner of his arms in the Chapel, together with a helmet, crest and sword and an enameled stallplate.
The insignia of the Order have developed over the centuries, starting with a garter and badge depicting St George and the Dragon. A collar was added in the sixteenth century, and the star and broad riband in the seventeenth century.
Although the collar could not be decorated with precious stones (the statutes forbid it), the other insignia could be decorated according to taste and affordability. George IV, well-known for his vanity, left 55 different Garter badges of varying styles.
Today, the Order has returned to its original function as a mark of Royal favour; Knights of the Garter are chosen personally by the Sovereign to honour those who have held public office, who have contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the Sovereign personally.
The number of knights is limited to 24, plus Royal knights. For much of its history, the Garter was limited to the aristocracy, but today the knights are from varied backgrounds. If there are vacancies in the Order, appointments are announced on St George’s Day (23 April).
Every June, the Knights of the Garter gather at Windsor Castle, where new knights take the oath and are invested with the insignia. A lunch is given in the Waterloo Chamber, after which the knights process to a service in St George’s Chapel, wearing their blue velvet robes (with the badge of the Order - St George’s Cross within the Garter surrounded by radiating silver beams - on the left shoulder) and black velvet hats with white plumes.
The Queen (whose father George VI appointed her and her husband to the Order in 1947) attends the service as Sovereign of the Order. Other members of the Royal Family in the Order also attend, including The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales and The Princess Royal.
During the Middle Ages ladies 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, 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. Women are therefore included in this number and currently Lady Soames (the youngest daughter of Sir Winston Churchill, also a holder of the Order of the Garter) holds this honour.
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