The most noble Order of the Garter is the world's most ancient order of chivalry and was founded by King Edward III. It is the most senior order of knighthood in the British honours system.
The origins of the Garter as the order's emblem and for its motto, Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense, will probably never be ascertained with certainty, but King Edward III, inspired by chivalric tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, founded the order in 1348. The sovereign alone can grant membership. Legend relates that it began at a ball, when Edward III's dancing partner, perhaps Joan, Countess of Salisbury, dropped her garter to her great embarrassment. The King is said to have chivalrously retrieved it and tied it around his leg, uttering in French "Evil to him who thinks evil of it".The Garter Star.
A further legend states that King Richard the Lionheart (1189-1199) while fighting in the Third Crusade, was inspired by St George the Martyr to tie garters around the legs of his knights. Edward III was said to have recalled the custom in in the C14th when founding the Order. Founder members included King Edward, his eldest son, Edward, the Black Prince, the king's second cousin, Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster, Sir Roger de Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March, Thomas Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick and William Montagu, 2nd Earl of Salisbury.
The patron saint of the Order is St. George and its home St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, all members of the Order are entitled during their lifetimes to display their heraldic banners in St George's Chapel.
For ceremonial occasions, members wear the full vestments of the Order. A dark blue mantle or cloak, lined with white taffeta, with a red hood. The mantle bears the shield of St. George's Cross. The Garter Star is pinned to the left side of the chest, it is an enamelled heraldic shield of St. George's Cross encircled by a garter, which is encircled by an eight-point silver badge. A black velvet hat decorated with white ostrich and black heron feathers is also worn.
The gold collar bears knots and enamelled medallions showing a rose encircled by the garter. The George, an enamelled figure of St. George and the dragon is worn suspended from the collar. The ribbon, a wide blue sash, is worn over the left shoulder to the right hip. On its base is a badge showing St. George and the dragon. The garter itself, a buckled dark-blue velvet strap with the motto of the Order is worn on the left calf by knights and the left arm by ladies. Holders of the order add the initials KG after their names.
Many famous names have been granted the order over the centuries. However, some members have fallen from grace and forfeited the garter. The notorious King Henry VIII beheaded six garter knights.
George V ordered the name of his cousin, Charles Edward, Duke of Albany and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, removed from the register of the order during the First World War. Charles Edward had supported their mutual cousin, the kaiser and fought on the German side. He was the son of Queen Victoria's youngest son, Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. During the dark days of the 2nd World War, the crests of Emperor Hirohito of Japan and King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy were removed from the St George's Chapel.
Following the 2nd World War, when the Conservative party was voted from office, Winston Churchill refused the honour when it was first offered to him by King George VI, stating, “I can hardly accept the Order of the Garter from the king after the people have given me the Order of the Boot.” Churchill was finally admitted into the order in 1953.
The order today includes the Queen, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Charles Prince of Wales, and 24 Knights Companion. Saint George's Chapel, Windsor Castle plays host to the annual gathering of the order, which is held on a Monday in mid-June. If any new knights invested, a morning service is held in the Throne Room of Windsor Castle. Following lunch, a colourful procession with all members in their full regalia proceeds through the castle from Saint George's Hall to the chapel.