The ceremonial dress and accoutrements of the Most Noble Order of the Garter

first part originally published (1999) 22 Heraldry News, the Journal of Heraldry Australia Inc. 6-12

second part in (2000) 23 Heraldry News, the Journal of Heraldry Australia Inc. 7-11

Garter Banners in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

The most distinctive of the various accoutrements of the Knights of the Garter is the Collar. This is worn on Collar days with the George since the time of King Henry VII. This is composed of alternate gold knots and 26 enamelled blue garters enclosing red roses. In King Henry VIII's decree the roses were double roses, red and white, and roses alternated with gold knots, though this apparently did not survive him. However, a similar design was worn by Queen Victoria. The combined weight is 30 oz troy in pure gold, though King Charles II's collar weighed 35 oz..

The emblem of the Order, the Garter, is a blue ribbon, worn around the calf by men. Queen Anne wore the Garter on her left arm, setting the style for ladies. Later ladies have worn the garter nearer the elbow than the shoulder.

This garter, bearing the famous legend HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE ("Shame on him who thinks evil of this") was, by tradition, inspired by a garter dropped by Joan, Countess of Salisbury, at a ball in Calais, which the King retrieved and bound around his own leg.

The Garter is made of deep blue velvet about 1" wide, edged with gold, and letters of pure sheet gold.

The Garters were originally light blue, possibly of silk, and embroidered in gold with the motto. Those presented to foreign rulers, and to princes, were often jewel-encrusted and heavily gold mounted. King Charles II's garter contained 250 diamonds. No private insignia has been made since before the Second World War.

As late as the sixteenth century garters were not always returned to the Sovereign. Today the garter, collar and George are returned to the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood. The badge and star are returned to the Sovereign personally by the nearest male relative of the dead knight. In rare cases the Sovereign has permitted the family to retain some insignia.

The George, which is worn suspended from the Collar, is an enamelled and gold model of St George on horseback, spearing the Dragon, which is lying underneath the horse's forefeet. The majority of representations show St George as a conventional Roman soldier.

A smaller badge, known as the Lesser George, is worn attached to a 4" blue riband or sash, which is worn over the left shoulder. The figure was often richly jewelled at the owner's expense, though not the figure worn on the collar. It is worn suspended from a chain or riband, generally of plain gold, often embellished with jewels or actually cut out of precious or semi-precious stones. The garter surrounding the figure is often similarly treated. Most are of the same design as the George, with St George despatching the dragon with his spear, in plain gold.

The riband was introduced by King Charles II, to take the place of a narrow blue ribbon hung round the neck and from which was suspended the Lesser George in earlier days, and as a substitute for the garter used from King Henry V to King Henry VIII. There is some evidence that the first riband was black, though it is certain that it has been blue since 1622. It was once narrower, broadening under the Stuarts.

The colour of the riband has varied over the years, the Stuarts having a light blue, the Hanoverians a dark blue. The colour was last altered in 1950 to kingfisher blue.

The riband passes across the body but not over the shoulder. It is buttoned to the waistcoat at the left armhole and at the right hip, where the Lesser George conceals the button.

The Crest of Sir Edmund Hillary, KG ONZ KBE

White silk satin(1) ribbon knots are attached to each shoulder of the mantle. These are to support the collar, and were introduced in the seventeenth century. They are now in the form of a flat bow of wide (1") white satin ribbon with vandyked ends.

A breast star, which is worn on full dress uniforms, court dress, morning coat, full evening dress coat, or dinner jacket, was introduced by King Charles I in 1629.

The Star comprised clusters of rays at the four cardinal points, larger than the intermediate clusters. The vertical axis was longer than the horizontal. At first, the star was embroidered, but fairly soon it was made of silver and enamel, and in some cases acquired diamonds and rubies. The Hanovarian style was squarer. In 1946 the original Stuart shape was re-introduced, though the Georgian pattern is still worn by Her Majesty on her mantle.

At Garter Ceremonies, the Knights and Ladies Companions of the Most Noble Order of the Garter wear mantles of the finest quality deep-blue silk velvet(2), with a lining of white taffeta(3). These date from the time of King Henry VII, knights originally wearing fine blue woollen stuff(4), powdered with garters embroidered in silk and gold, and lined with miniver fur(5). By the sixteenth century they were of velvet, lined with white silk- a "taffaty" by the seventeenth century. Some modern mantles are of nylon, which is considerably less weighty than the older pure silk velvet examples. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the mantle was slit down the right hand side.

Ladies of the Garter wore robes decorated with embroidered garters and fur lined.

From King Edward VI to King Charles I the mantle was purple, but a "rich celestial blue" was adopted c.1637. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the colour varied, from ultramarine, pale greenish-blue, royal blue, sky-colour, dark blue, and (at least in a written description) violet.

Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh at a Garter Service

The Sovereign's mantle (and those of princes) have had a train since at least as early as King Charles II, whose train was two yards long. His mantle contained some 20 yards of velvet, compared with 15 yards for a Knight Companion (and another 15 yards of white lining taffeta).

On the left breast of the mantle is a badge comprising a white shield of St George Cross, surrounded by a garter with the motto, all embroidered in gold, silver and silk. In the past this was often embellished with gold plate, jewels and pearls. Her Majesty does not wear the badge, but a Georgian pattern star, as did King George V and King George VI.

The Officers of the Order, Garter King of Arms, Registrar, Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, and the Secretary all wear crimson mantles, lined with white taffeta adorned on the left shoulder with the shield of St George (like the knights). The Prelate and Chancellor each wear blue velvet mantles.

After the Restoration officials wore murrey velvet mantles, lined with white sarcenet. In 1673 these were changed to purple, lined with white taffeta. The garter was embroidered on the right rather than the left breast, except for the Chancellor, who had the style of the knights. The Officers' mantles were of scarlet after King Charles II. The Secretary, only relatively recently created, has a similar robe, with a St George's shield of arms without the surrounding garetr embroidered on the left side. The Chancellor's mantle is not now worn.

The mantle is fastened by two long and imposing blue and gold cords, which are attached to the front of the neck. These end in massive tassels. These are variously described as cordons, robe-strings, or laces, and date from the Restoration at the latest. A gold hook and eye at the neck can reinforce the cords.

Originally a blue woollen stuff hood with liripipe was worn, powdered with garters embroidered in silk and gold. A new design was introduced by King Henry VIII, based on the fifteenth century chaperon. This was a circular roll around the head with a flopping crown and a liripipe either twisted around the head or left hanging down.

By the late sixteenth century the hat was worn over the right shoulder, the liripipe in the form of a flat streamer coming down the front of the body and passing underneath the girdle.

In the seventeenth century the padded ring became smaller, the liripipe streamer narrower, and either passing behind or looped around the girdle or sword belt. This was crimson velvet, and lined with white silk, matching the surcoat.

This residual crimson or red velvet casting hood, lined with white taffeta, is worn by Knights and Ladies, attached to the right shoulder of the mantle. The Officers wore no hoods.

The hat began as a fairly low soft crowned cap of black velvet decorated with white feathers set not to come above the top of the crown. Under King Henry VII it was a blue velvet hat. The present design dates from 1556, and by the time of King Charles II a narrow brimmed hat with a stiff pleated crown, and of black velvet, and a towerign plume of white ostrich and black heron's feathers was worn. The King's hat was 6" high, with a plume about twice that height. Jewelled bands and brooches were often added. By the early nineteenth century the present hat was in use, with only three plumes.

The Companions now wear a flat black velvet cap, lined with white. The modern hat has a wide brim, and is lined with white taffeta, and bears a plume consisting of a white ostrich feather and a tuft of black heron's feathers in the centre. The plume was formerly fastened with a diamond buckle, now a badge.

Today, a normal uniform or suit is worn beneath the mantle. The Officers of the Order all wore service or 3rd class Household uniform.

The surcoat was once a close-fitting tunic of wool, lined with fur and decorated with embroidered garters depending upon rank. The colour changed annually. In the sixteenth century the fabric became crimson velvet, lined with white silk. The embroidered garters were discontinued, and the surcoat was quite plain. In the seventeenth century the surcoat was simply cut, widening from the shoulders to the hem, with plain square fronts and hanging sleeves slit at the shoulder and down the front seam. The length varied from knee to mid-calf, and it was unfastened, secured at the waist by a girdle or sword belt. The surcoat (also called the gown or kirtle) died out towards the end of the nineteenth century and it is no longer worn.

The surcoat is now represented by a broad sash of crimson velvet lined and edged with white taffeta, and worn attached to the hood on the right shoulder over the mantle, and passing under it on the left side.

The white knee breeches of white satin are no longer worn. Introduced by King Charles II as trunk hose, they were of cloth of silver. These were a sort of short skirt with no division between the legs, and were worn over white silk drawers with white silk stockings sewn to them.

A doublet or vest of white satin was still worn at the beginning of the twentieth century. As with the surcoat, since the Second World War this is now no longer worn.

This was introduced by King Charles II, of cloth of silver, heavily trimmed with silver-gilt and silver bobbin-lace and silver buttons. It was short and skimpy, open in front from chest downwards and with elbow length sleeves slit down the front seam. It survived at least into the eighteenth century.

The white chamois leather shoes with red heels and white knots and rosettes were introduced by King Charles II, but are no longer worn.

The white kid gloves were introduced by King Charles II, but are no longer worn.

The plain cross-hilted sword in a crimson velvet scabbard, and similar girdle and hanger was introduced by King Charles II. These are no longer worn, and in the twentieth century a service sword is worn with uniform..

Every knight is required to display a Banner of his armorial bearings in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, together with a helmet and sword, a carved, painted and gilt crest, and an enamelled stall plate. The Banner is 5' (152 cm) square, and is made of silk or similar material, emblazoned in oil, and gold leaf.

Garter Banners in St George's Chapel, showing the location of the carved crests

The Chancellor wore a badge from at least the time of King Charles I, consisting of a rose surmounted by the garter. He also carried a Purse (for the Seal). The Prelate has a badge of St George and the dragon, surmounted by a mitre. Garter Principal King of Arms has a badge with royal and St George's arms within a garter surmounted by a crown, introduced by Queen Elizabeth I. This is worn from a gold chain. Black Rod has a badge comprising a garter knot within a garter. The Secretary has as his badge two gold pens in saltire surmounted by a red rose encircled by the Garter and ensigned by a royal crown. The Registrar has a badge of two crossed pens, the royal cypher, and crown.

A Black Rod is carried by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

The Seal of the Order is carried by the Chancellor in a Purse.

The Kings of Arms have worn crowns from early times. From the time of King Charles I onwards this was of conventional leaves set on an engrailed rim. After 1720 the rim ceased to be engrailed. The Crown of Garter King of Arms, the herald of the Order, has been gold since before 1636, those of Clarenceaux and Norroy and Ulster are silver-gilt. Each bear the neck-verse (psalm 51, i): miserere mei deus secundum magnam misericordiam tuam ("After thy loving-kindness, Lord, have mercy upon me").

Kings of Arms also wear the collar of SS. This comprises the letter "S" in gold, linked by Tudor roses, with a joining clasp in the form of a portcullis. This collar was revived by King Henry VII to replace the Yorkist "Roses and the Sun" collar, and is believed to symbolise the House of Lancaster. It is believed the "S" may stand for "Seneschallus" (steward, after that office held by the Lancastrian Kings). However, it may stand for "Sanctus Spiritus".

By Tudor times at the latest the Kings of Arms bore long white staffs or staves, as did the Great Officers of State. Garter apparently had two. One (after 1522) was white, silver or gilded, and bearing a small banner of St George impaling the royal arms. This staff symbolised joy. The second was black, and had its own Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. This staff symbolised punishment. By the end of the sixteenth century they were silver-gilded at both ends, and by the eighteenth century were of gold, as now. Other Kings of Arms bore white rods silvered, with a badge of a martinet.

In 1906 all Officers of Arms were granted a short ebony black baton, gilt mounted, surmounted by a badge emblmatic of the particular office. In 1953 for the Coronation white staves with gilt metal handles and at the tp a gilt coroneted blue dove were introduced. These are now used.

The Military Knights of Windsor have been attached to the Most Noble Order for many centuries. There were originally 26 Poor Knights, though the number sank to 13, and was raised to 18 after the Restoration. From the fifteenth century not necessarily knights. They were renamed in 1833.

The Military Knights wore a red mantle with the arms of St George, without a garter. Under Queen Elizabeth I the mantle was of blue or purple cloth, embroidered with the arms of St George on the left sleeve. Underneath was worn a gown or surcoat was of red cloth. King Charles I reverted to red gowns in 1637. The old mantle was abolished 1833.

The old mantle and gown was replaced by a blue-faced scarlet coat with blue trousers with three 1" red stripes. This was worn with a black cocked hat with 8" red and white swan's plume; epaulettes with St George's shield and badge of rank; garter buttons; blue cloak, lined scarlet, with cape but no sleeves.

The modern undress uniform of a military knight is a single-breasted dark blue frock coat, gilt buttons, embroidered St George's arms and badges of rank on shoulders, a blue forage cap with a scarlet band and trousers as above (blue, with three 1" red stripes).

A cross hilt, gilt mounted sword is worn with a black leather scabbard. A white patent leather shoulder belt 3" wide, with sword frog of the same material, is worn. The belt is fastened with a breast plate of gilt metal 4" by 3", with silver cut Garter Star and Crown mount. In the centre of the Star there is a St George's Cross within the Garter.

The Knights and Dames Companions of the Garter, and the Military Knights of Windsor, add greatly to pageantry in the United Kingdom. As a personal honour of the Queen, Australians and New Zealanders continue to receive the award, and it has always been greatly prized by its recipients. Current members include the Rt Hon Sir Ninian Stephen, KG AK GCMG GCVO KBE QC KStJ, Sir Edmund Hillary, KG ONZ KBE, and past members have included five Governors-General of Australia: the Rt Hon Sir Paul Hasluck, KG GCMG GCVO, Lord Casey, KG GCMG CH DSO MC PC, Viscount de L'Isle, VC KG GCMG GCVO PC, Field Marshal Viscount Slim, KG GCB GCMG GCVO GBE DSO MC, and HRH the Duke of Goucester, KG KT KP GCMG GCVO PC. Only one New Zealand Governor-General has yet been appointed to the Order, the Rt Hon Sir Keith Holyoake, KG GCMG CH.

Procession for the Garter Service


(1) Satin, with a glossy surface and dull back, is a closely-woven silk fabric showing much of the warp. Satinette, or satinet, is of a cotton warp, and woollen weft.

(2) Velvet, the most elabor ate of the plain weaves traditionally made from silk, has a short plush pile surface, and is used for the gowns of some office-holders, and for the hats of some doctors. Velveteen is a cotton or mixed cotton and silk imitation.

(3) Also called tabby, taffeta weave, linen weave, cloth weave, checker weave and so on. There is no clearly discernible right or wrong side. It includes batiste, billiard cloth, calico, cambric, canvas, chintz, gauze, grosgrain, handkerchief linen, hessian, holland, lawn, muslin, pana ma, poplin, and most shirting, taffeta. Some 80% of all fabrics made are plain weave. It is strong and durable, but soils most readily of the principal weaves.

(4) Stuff is a material which does not contain silk or silk-like fibres in its composition.

(5) Ermine for the Sovereign.

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