During the Middle Ages, King Edward III was so inspired by the stories of King Arthur and the valor of the Knights of the Round Table that he formed his own body of honorary knights, the Order of the Garter.
Almost 700 years later, the order is Britain’s oldest and most senior order of chivalry. Knights, now both male and female, used to be restricted to the elite, but today they are chosen from a variety of backgrounds in recognition of their public service.
The patron saint of the order is St George (patron of soldiers and also of England) and if there is a vacancy in the order, the appointment is announced on St George’s Day (23 April).
The Order of the Garter is a 700-year-old tradition that recognizes great public service. Membership is limited to a maximum of 24 and is usually Lords and Ladies with the Queen, remaining in 2018, naming members as she sees fit. An ‘extra’ group of members who do not count towards the official threshold are the royal knights, including Prince William, while Prince Charles is an automatic first in line to the throne.
The Order’s spiritual home is St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Each knight must display a banner of his arms in the chapel, along with a helmet, crest and sword, and an enamelled stallplate.
These ‘feats’ are taken down on the knight’s death and the mark is returned to the sovereign. The stallplates remain a monument and are now one of the finest heraldry collections in the world.
Knights of the Garter are personally chosen by the sovereign to honor those who hold public office, who have contributed in a special way to national life, or who have personally served the sovereign.
As sovereigns and heirs, the Queen and Prince Charles are automatically granted membership of the Order and are considered ‘ex officio knights’. The Prince of Wales is known as a Royal Knight Companion of the Garter.
The Sovereign, known as the Sovereign of the Garter, has sole power to admit new members.
The Garter is open to British and Commonwealth citizens. Notable former members include Sir Winston Churchill, Stanley Baldwin and Sir Edmund Hillary.
The Field Marshal, Lord Bramall, former Chief of the Defense Staff, the Duke of Abercorn, the Duke of Westminster and Baroness Manningham-Buller, former Director-General of MI5, are among the current Knights and Ladies of the Garter.
There are also two orders of ‘extra’ knights. Members of the Royal Knights and Ladies include Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, Prince Charles, the Princess Royal and Prince William.
A second order, the Stranger Knights and Ladies, was awarded to foreign rulers such as Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and Harald V of Norway.
Although the new addition is christened on St. George’s Day, April 23, the initiation ceremony takes place at Junemantle during the traditional Garter Procession, where members parade through Windsor.
The annual iconic Garter Day procession, where queens and knights process in grand velvet robes, glittering insignia and plumed hats, is one of the most traditional events in the Queen’s calendar.
Every June, a grand procession of knights takes place at Windsor Castle, accompanied by a marching band and officers of the order, all in grand ceremonial dress.
The day begins with The Queen formally investing the new Companions with the insignia of the Order in the Castle’s Throne Room. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh entertained members and officers at a luncheon and then all proceeded on foot for a service at St George’s Chapel.
There is a brief service where any new companion is installed. The sovereign and other members of the order then returned to the upper wards of the castle in carriages and cars.
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