The 1805 Garter Installation

23 April 1805 was the last instance of a ceremony for the installation of Knights of the Garter held in St George’s Chapel before 1948, when King George VI resurrected the ceremony as an annual occurrence. In the intervening 143 years, Knights of the Garter continued to be regularly appointed, but they were all installed “by dispensation” – which is to say that the statutes which required them to be physically present in Windsor in order to be installed were suspended and it was done merely as a formality.

Throughout the 18th century, installations at Windsor had been quite infrequent, but one might wonder what caused them to come to a halt altogether. Looking at sources in the Archives that describe the 1805 ceremony, it seems quite possible that the sheer chaos of the event put everyone off trying it again for a long time!

According to Memorandums and Observations relative to the Installation. 1805. [SGC X.23*], a record that survives in the Archives, King George III declared in January 1805 that he wished to hold an installation at Windsor that year. There had not been a ceremony since 1771, in fact in 1801 twenty-one Knights had been installed by dispensation in order to get through the back-log! However, 1805 was a special year for the Order of the Garter because the King introduced a new statute declaring that all linear descendants of King George II elected to the order would be counted as additional to the statutory twenty-five Knights. In effect, that meant that he could appoint as many members of his large family as he wished, without filling up places that could be offered to his most loyal subjects.

Seven new Knights were to be installed at the 1805 ceremony and it was planned to be an elaborate occasion, celebrated with much grandeur. Preparations within St George’s Chapel included the construction of additional Garter stalls in the quire in order to accommodate the increased numbers in the Order, re-gilding all of the communion plate, and purchasing new prayer books and velvet cushions for the Knights to use.

On the 23 April, after meeting in the state apartments to attend on the Sovereign in the Presence Chamber, the Knights and Officers of the Order processed through Windsor Castle to the Garter Chapter Room at St George’s Chapel (what is now the Chapel’s vestry). There they held a meeting at which the new Knights and Officers were introduced and took their oaths of allegiance to the Sovereign. Then, proceeding to the quire, a service was held in which the achievements of all recently deceased Knights were presented at the altar.

After that, the ceremony of installation itself was able to begin. One by one, beginning with the most senior, the seven men waiting to be installed were fetched from the Chapter Room by a procession consisting of two senior Garter Knights, the Poor Knights of Windsor, the Officers of Arms, Deputy Black Rod, the Register of the Order and the Garter King of Arms. The new Knight was brought into the quire and invested with the regalia of the Order. He was then escorted to his stall and seated in it, before immediately rising again to bow to the altar and to the Sovereign before finally taking his seat.

Once all seven new Knights of the Garter had been installed, divine service was held before the company processed back to the state apartments. The entire proceedings were expected to take over four hours and would be followed by dinner in St George’s Hall that night.

In their preparations for such an event, the Dean and Canons of Windsor found it necessary to contact Richard Guise, who had retired in 1794 after forty years’ service as a Lay Clerk. In exchange for all the information he could recollect about the 1771 ceremony, he was granted two free tickets to attend this one.

The allocation of tickets seems to have been almost as complicated to arrange as the ceremony itself. The Lay Clerks and the Minor Canons were given permission to arrange the erection of scaffolds for seating within the Chapel – six rows on either side of the nave and two large galleries in the quire – and to sell tickets for these. The organist erected a separate scaffold in the organ loft and sold his own tickets (at a different price) for these.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Office claimed 120 tickets for the galleries at a reduced price and it was agreed that these would include the tickets allocated to foreign dignitaries. However, on the day, the foreign dignitaries arrived without tickets and the Lord Chamberlain’s Office had assigned all 120 of its tickets to others and seats had to be found for all of them. The Lord Chamberlain – who, incidentally was the Earl of Dartmouth, elder brother of the Dean of Windsor, Edward Legge – later acknowledged this error and made an additional payment for the extra seats.

The majority of the seats in the nave went unfilled, which was taken to indicate that the prices asked for those tickets had been too high. Meanwhile, some reports were made of chaos in the galleries in the quire after ticket-holders refused to surrender their tickets on entry and instead threw them down to the ground beneath the gallery so that they could be re-used by people who had not bought one. The result was that both the view and movement in the quire were much restricted.

This behaviour did not stop once the ceremony began. The Memorandums and Observations relative to the Installation tells us that the south doors of the Chapel were thrown open to admit the procession at 11am and that a great crowd of pages, gentleman pensioners and officers of the guard tried to force entry to the Chapel behind it. Some of the officers even drew their swords and assaulted those who tried to stop them coming in.

The following day, the Dean and Canons received letters of complaint from some of those who had gained entry, claiming that they had been treated disrespectfully by the stewards who had tried to control the crowds inside the Chapel!

Kate McQuillian, Archivist & Chapter Librarian

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.