2023 marks the 675th anniversary of the College of St George. In honour of the occasion, an exhibition of historical artefacts connected with the foundation of the College, the Chapel, the Military Knights of Windsor and the Order of the Garter will be on display in the south quire aisle of St George’s Chapel from April this year.
St George’s was founded by King Edward III on 6 August 1348. This miniature portrait from the Black Book of the Garter depicts him dressed in full armour, including a crowned helmet, carrying his sword and sceptre. He is dressed in a blue cloak adorned with the cross of St George and with a blue garter tied around one of his knees. This outfit alludes to his status as Sovereign of the Order of the Garter.
The King founded this new college as a group of people to live together and maintain a church – St George’s Chapel – with the intention that they would pray every day for the Sovereign and the Knights of the Order of the Garter. The community living and working within the College of St George continues to do this every day now and has done across the centuries. The only exception was a period of seventeen years during the English Civil War and Commonwealth when the members of the College had been evicted from Windsor Castle.
The community who ran the Chapel from the fourteenth century included a Warden or Dean, twelve canons and thirteen priest vicars; the choir of adult lay clerks and boy choristers; a virger; and a company of veteran soldiers known as the Poor Knights. They were given homes in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle so that they could come daily to pray in the Chapel. According to the original statutes, the Poor Knights were expected to do this eight times a day!
The original letters patent by which King Edward III established the College does not survive today, although there is a later copy in The National Archives. However, later documents which determined the details of how the College would run and how it would be paid for survive in St George’s Chapel Archives. In 1350, Pope Clement VI granted Edward III the right to draw up statutes, or rules, governing his new establishment. In 1351 the Pope gave permission for the chapel to be made a ‘Royal Peculiar’, operating outside the normal framework of the church and under the direct control of the King.
Further royal and papal grants followed, providing the new College with income from various properties around England. King Edward III and several of his knights of the Order of the Garter gave some of their own properties to fund the College.
The Chapel and the Order both have St George as their principal patron because he was considered the ideal model of a Christian soldier. The Order of the Garter is an elite order of chivalry, through which King Edward III honoured his most loyal knights, so he wished for St George to be an inspiration to them. The exact date of the foundation of the Order is not known, but because of its close ties with the College of St George, it is thought to have been around 1348.
Kate McQuillian, Archivist & Chapter Librarian