The Most Noble Order of the Garter is the pinnacle of the British Honours System. It was founded by Edward III, a king who loved knightly tournaments with their colourful ceremony and pageantry. As part of his Order, he constituted a uniform for its members, to be a stylish display of the importance of these his Garter Knights.
A document dated around 1687 for the investiture of the Earl of Sunderland and found in the papers of Sir Thomas St George, Garter King of Arms, describes the robes and regalia [SGC M.164/V/23]:
The M[aste]r of the Jewell house is to provide
A Great Collar and George
A Plaine Garter
The M[aste]r of the Great Wardrobe is to provide
A mantle of violet colored velvet lined with white Taffeta and on the Left shoulder is to be embroidered St Georges Crosse in a sheilde environed with a Garter
A surcoate of Crimson velvet lined with white Taffeta
The Register is to provide a booke of the Statutes
The knight to be installed is to provide
A Black velvet Cap and Fethers
A sword, the scabbard, gyrdle and hangers of Crimson velvet
A Crimson velvet Cushion fringed with gold & 4 Tassells of gold hanging at the 4 corners
Garter King of Armes is to Order for the knight to be installed
A Great Banner to be fringed about with silke fringe – 10 – 0 – 0
A Crest carved and guilt – 2 – 0 – 0
Two yards of cloth of gold for the Mantlings
Two yards of white satten to lyne the Mantlings
A Helmet of steele guilt – 3 – 0 – 0
Two large Tassells of silke and gold
Two knops guilt & making the mantlings – 1 – 10 – 0
A sword with a Crosse hilt guilt – 1 – 0 – 0
A plate of Copper wth his Armes and style engraven on it – 6 – 0 – 0
Three or fowre Escocheons of his Armes painted on paper on mettall with his style underneath at 15s a peice
A wreath of his colors – 0 – 5 – 0
The Armes to be painted in the books of the Statutes – 0 -10 -0
A Banner Staffe and a socket – 0 – 7 – 0
The Sovereign would provide the trappings of the Order, with the Jewel House in charge of the Great Collar and George, the most valuable part of the regalia, and the Garter itself, and the Wardrobe responsible for the mantle, surcoat and hood. These items would be worn by the Knight at the annual Garter ceremonies and on other occasions which called for the wearing of the robes as laid down by the Statutes. On the death of the Knight, the collar was to be returned to the Sovereign, with the mantle going to St George’s Chapel.
The banner, helmet, crest, mantling and sword make up what is known as the achievements of the Knight, a physical representation of the Knight’s readiness to defend the Church and to fight for his Sovereign. The Garter King of Arms would be responsible for the provision of these achievements, which would be offered at the altar on the death of a Knight and returned to the College of Arms. The stall plate, fixed to his stall in the Chapel, would serve as a permanent record of his membership of the Order.
The elaborate vestments and accoutrements would serve as a visual reminder of the knightly ideals of the tournaments so loved by Edward III, where honour, chivalry and service to the Monarch were the main order of the day.
Eleanor Cracknell (Assistant Archivist)