23rd April 1550. The Garter.
Battle-cry of Henry V before Harfleur: ‘God for Harry! England! And St. George!
Five years before the Norman Conquest there was a church dedicated to George in Doncaster and in 1222 a Synod at Oxford declared 23rd April a lesser holiday in his honour and raised to the status of a major feast like Christmas Day by Archbishop Chichele in 1415-Agincourt year.
‘My Lords, I pray you what saint is St George that we here so honour them?’ King Edward VI addressing the Knights gathered at Greenwich Today April 23rd 1550.
As a Puritan, the King would know only of the Biblical Saints and he promulgated statutes which severed connections between the Order and notions of sainthood, only to be reversed by the catholic Queen Mary I, (1)
In medieval times a landless knight was able to find service in the superior nobility, as ‘knights bachelor’, and some might later inherit land.
By the 12thc social habits became more elaborate and knighthood, chivalry and nobility of birth became associated, with the appropriate ceremony marking the apprenticeship to arms.
A description of the knighting by Henry I of the young Geoffrey of Anjou, at the time of his marriage to the King’s daughter in 1127 shows the dignity and importance of the act which included a church vigil and ceremonial ritual of a bath.
The Order of the Knights of the Garter, whose home is at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, was founded by Edward III on St. George’s Day in 1348, stemming from which George became a cult figure with the return of Crusaders, with its motto ‘Quis Separabit’(2)
It is from this period and the Battle of Crecy, that St. George really takes over from St. Edmund as England’s Patron Saint, but Edmund’s glory was to die slowly, with perhaps his last official appearance on the Wilton Diptych in the National Gallery. (3)
Henry VII preferred to honour servants and faithful followers with the Garter rather than handing out new titles of nobility, one such being John Cheney who fought at Bosworth in 1485.
At the time of the dispute between Hanoverian and Stuart claim to the throne it was decided to draw a line between the two Houses, so it was decided to change the colour of the Garter Ribbon to a lighter blue.
The ribbon was always worn in a ‘V’ shape, the ‘George’ the jewelled portrait of St George, being pendent from the ‘V’ in the middle of the breast.
There is a facility for an Instrument of Degradation if a Knight is convicted of Treason, the last one being James Duke of Ormonde in 1716 who supported the Jacobites.
His banner, crest, helm and sword were taken down by the Chief Herald and kicked down the Chapel into the ditch.
The Order of the Garter is restricted as to number and comes third after the Victoria and George Crosses. Many would say this constant concern with honours and medieval ceremony is out of kilter in the modern age, but the tourists love it and it is good for foreign exchange!
(1) Ref: Chris Howse. Sacred Mysteries. Daily Telegraph. 16.4.2011.
(2) One of the original founders and knights was Sir James Audley (1316-1369) who had distinguished himself at Crecy, Poitiers on September 19th 1356.
Christopher Wren during Interregnum protected the Garter Records, handing them back to Charles II on the Restoration in 1660.
(3) Richard II is shown with his personal patron, St. John the Baptist; with St Edward the Confessor patron of the Royal family and with St. Edmund patron of England itself.