Ladies were first admitted as full members of the Order of the Garter in 1987, almost 540 years after the founding of the Order. The 1987 Statute effecting this change first refers to an earlier statute of 1954, which states that the Order comprises the Sovereign and twenty-five Knights Companion and “certain others” (additional royal members and hereditary rulers of other states). The new Statute then adds:
And whereas We the Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter are desirous of evincing in a fitting manner Our abiding sense of the virtues and worth of Ladies of eminence known to Us by making such of them as We are pleased to choose and select to be Companions of Our said Most Noble Order Now therefore in order the better to effect Our said purpose and by virtue of the power inherent in Us as Sovereign of Our said Most Noble Order We do ordain and declare that henceforth the Companions of Our said Most Noble Order shall be those of Our Subjects both Knights and Ladies as We or Our Successors are pleased to declare to be Knights Companions or Ladies Companions …
The Statute goes on to state that a female Companion of the Order will have the title “Lady” and the designation “L.G.” after her name.
Prior to 1987, female dignitaries could be admitted as ‘Ladies of the Garter’ In 1901, when King Edward VII revived the custom of appointing Ladies of the Garter and conferred the honour on Queen Alexandra, she was allocated a stall over which her banner was set up. Nine other Ladies of the Garter followed, the most recent being the present Queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy (2003). However, these Ladies were not true Companions of the Order and do not have stall plates affixed to the stalls they occupied in St George’s Chapel. In contrast, the three Ladies Companion admitted since the 1987 Statute – Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk (1990), Baroness Thatcher (1995) and Lady Soames (2005) – all have stall plates in the Quire.
Jill Hume (Archives Volunteer)