When Edward III founded the Order of the Garter in or about 1348 (the exact date remains uncertain), he included his eldest son, Edward, Prince of Wales, better known as the Black Prince, amongst the Knights of the Garter. This has led historians and other commentators to assume that, from the outset, the eldest son of the monarch was automatically admitted to the Order on his creation as Prince of Wales. However, the late Peter Begent disputed this in his seminal work, The Most Noble Order of the Garter: 650 years, written jointly with Hubert Chesshyre and published in 1999. He provided evidence that prior to 1805 not all Princes of Wales were appointed Knights of the Garter and that those who were had been elected in the same way as other Knights, often some years after their Welsh investiture. Neither Henry VI’s son, Edward, nor Richard III’s son, Edward, were Knights of the Garter, although they were both created Princes of Wales, whilst the Garter Statutes of 1415 specifically mention the term ‘elected’: ‘[the] Prince of Wales … shall always hold the Stall opposite that of the Superior of the Order after he has been elected’.
In 1786, George III, wishing to appoint all nine of his sons to the Order, increased the number of Knights by means of a new Garter statute. In addition to the Sovereign and his twenty-five Knights Companion, the number at which the Order had been fixed since the fourteenth century, the Monarch could appoint ‘Supernumerary Knights’. At this point the Prince of Wales, already elected a member of the Order, was removed from the ‘Companionship of the twenty-six’ and became one of the new ‘Supernumerary Knights’ along with his brothers. However, in 1805, a further Garter Statute reversed this decision, restoring the Prince of Wales to the inner fold. Since this time, the eldest son of the Monarch ipso facto on his creation as Prince of Wales has become one of the twenty-six Knights Companion, an appointment subsequently confirmed by his formal Garter investiture and installation. However, this was not always the case.
Clare Rider (Archivist and Chapter Librarian)