Thursday, March 12, 2009
How did the 'Order of the Garter' come about?
Medieval knighhood is today associated with horsemanship and jousting tournaments but its beginnings boasted a code of honor that idealized such things as courage, strength, mercy and courtly love.
When Edward III returned to England from his triumph at Crecy and Calais, the enthusiastic welcome of the people encouraged him to establish a great and mysterious new order to succeed Arthur's Round Table.
Bound in black velvet, the official register of the Order was called the Black Book. The register was completed near the end of the reign of Henry VII although much of the facts of the order are vague and rely for the most part on heresay.
Members of the Order
Edward III announced his intention of establishing the Order at a feast held shortly after his victory in France. He planned to call the Order the Knights of the Blue Garter. It was once thought that the original members were some forty guests at the feast where the statement was made and all of the king's sons were included. However, it is now accepted that the original enrolment was twenty-five and included only one of the king's sons, the Black Prince.
Selecting a Name for the Order
Many explanations for the selection of the name of the Order have arisen but in THE FIRST VIAL I have used the legend that gained the most favor - the story of the Countess of Salisbury and the king.
A handsome man, Edward III had a roving eye and when he chanced to spend the night in Wark Castle, he succumbed to the charms of its lovely chatelaine, Countess of Salisbury. The countess was alone, her husband a prisoner in France at the time, and the king was inclined to take advantage of his absence. Gently but firmly, the countess refused him and begged him to consider her honor. The king respected her decision and left early the next morning.
On the night of the great ball held at Windsor Castle to inaugurate the order, the countess lost a garter during the dancing. The king retrieved the jewel-encrusted silken piece and put it on his own sleeve, saying loudly enough for all to hear, "Evil to him who evil thinks." This phrase became the motto of the Order.
The Order of the Garter remains a British tradition. The Garter is a dark blue velvet ribband buckled and edged with gold with the motto of the Order in gold letters, decorated with gold embroidered roses and gold chains.