Removing the banner of James II

The documents that are kept in the St George’s Chapel Archives arrive here from a huge variety of sources, both internal and external to the College of St George, and for a huge variety of reasons. In the case of the order given and signed by William of Orange for removing the Garter banner and achievements of the former King James II from St George’s Chapel [SGC M.1142], a copy found its way into the Archives almost by chance.

In 1984 a series of letters were written between the Windsor Castle Librarian and the Dean of Windsor and an academic living in New York. These letters are now kept in the Archives with a photocopy of the document they discuss. In August 1984 the Procedure for Removing the Banner of the Sovereign had been “recently acquired” by the American academic who sent a photocopy of it to the Windsor Castle Library, enquiring if it was of any interest to them, given that it referred to the “Chapel Royall of Windsor”. The librarian passed this on to the Rt. Revd. Michael Mann, then Dean of Windsor, who acknowledged that the document was of some interest to the College of St George because of its connection with the Order of the Garter. The final letter in this series is an offer to sell the document to St George’s for $1250 (then approximately £1000). Scribbled at the foot of this is a handwritten note: “Archivist, Is it worth it? MAM” and as no more is known of the fate of this record than that it is not held in the St George’s Chapel Archives, we can only assume that the archivist’s answer was “No.”

While perhaps not worth an expenditure of £1000, the document in question is quite significant. It represents actions taken at an unusual juncture in the history of the British Monarchy. That is, following the overthrow of King James II by his son-in-law and eventual successor, William of Orange, in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The actions taken by William, a confirmed Protestant, were prompted by English nobles who feared that James II had been going to found a new Roman Catholic dynasty in England. The document is dated 18th April 1689, two months after James II was declared to have abdicated the throne by his attempt to flee the country and only one week after William and James’s daughter, Mary, were crowned joint monarchs at Westminster Abbey. It is signed at the top “William R” (the R stands for Rex, the Latin word for king) and gives orders that “the Banner and other Atcheivements of King James the second late Sovereigne of the Most Noble Order of the Garter are to be taken downe and Ours placed in there Room”. At this date, James II was living in exile in France. According to Peter Begent’s work on the Order of the Garter, he continued to act as Sovereign, or head, of the Garter while over there and even created a number of supposed Garter Knights at his court in St Germain-en-Laye.

However, this document clearly demonstrates that although James II was never officially degraded from the Order, his position was considered terminated from the time that Parliament declared he was no longer king. The “Atcheivements” referred to in this order would have been the helmet, crest, mantling and sword that were set up above the Sovereign’s stall for King James II along with his banner. It is usual for these achievements to be taken down following the death of a Knight of the Garter, as they then cease to be a member of the Order, but in this case the action was taken more than a decade before James II’s death in 1701. The position of Sovereign of the Garter was then surrendered to William of Orange, as were all of the symbols of kingship of England.

It is not known to us what became of the original document after 1984, though it probably now forms part of a private collection. The photocopy has been kept here because it is in itself a useful document from which information can be gained that provides insight into events at a period of change and turmoil in British royal and political history.

Kate McQuillian, Assistant Archivist

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