ARTICLE OF INTEREST: The Most Noble order of The Garter

The Order of the Garter originates from the 14th century and is the world's oldest national order of knighthood. TheMotto of the Garter is "Honi soit qui mal y pense" (which means "Shame on him who thinks ill of it") in gold letters. This 17th century Garter spells out the motto in diamonds.

The Most Noble Order of the Garter is an English order of chivalry with a history stretching back to mediƦval times; today it is the world's oldest national order of knighthood in continuous existence and the pinnacle of the British honours system. Its membership is extremely limited, consisting of the Sovereign and not more than twenty-five full members, or Companions. Male members are known as Knights Companions, whilst female members are known as Ladies Companions (not Dames, as in most other British chivalric orders). The Order can also include certain extra members (members of the British Royal Family and foreign monarchs), known as "Supernumerary" Knights and Ladies. The Sovereign alone grants membership of the Order; the Prime Minister does not tender binding advice as to appointments, as he or she does for most other orders.

As the name suggests, the Order's primary emblem is a garter bearing the motto "Honi soit qui mal y pense" (which means "Shame on him who thinks ill of it") in gold letters. The Garter is an actual accessory worn by the members of the Order during ceremonial occasions; it is also depicted on several insignia.

Most British orders of chivalry cover the entire kingdom, but the three most exalted ones each pertain to one constituent nation only. The Order of the Garter, which pertains to England, is most senior in both age and precedence; its equivalent in Scotland is The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. Whilst the Order of the Thistle was certainly in existence by the sixteenth century and possibly has mediƦval origins (or even, according to more fanciful legends, dates to the eighth century), the foundation of the institution in its modern form dates only to 1687. In 1783 an Irish equivalent, The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick, was founded, but since the independence of the greater part of Ireland the Order has fallen dormant (its last surviving knight died in 1974).

Knights and Ladies of the Garter are assigned positions in the order of precedence, coming before all others of knightly rank, and also above baronets. (See order of precedence in England and Wales for the exact positions.) Wives, sons, daughters and daughters-in-law of Knights of the Garter also feature on the order of precedence; relatives of Ladies of the Garter, however, are not assigned any special precedence. (As a general rule, individuals can derive precedence from their fathers or husbands, but not from their mothers or wives.) The Chancellor of the Order is also assigned a precedence, but this is purely academic since today the Chancellor is always also a Knight Companion, with a higher position by that virtue. (In fact, it is unclear whether the Chancellor's tabled precedence has ever come into effect, since under the old system the office was filled by a diocesan bishop of the Church of England, who again had higher precedence by virtue of that office than any which the Chancellorship could bestow on him.)
Knights Companions prefix "Sir," and Ladies Companions prefix "Lady," to their forenames. Wives of Knights Companions may prefix "Lady" to their surnames, but no equivalent privilege exists for husbands of Ladies Companions. Such forms are not used by peers and princes, except when the names of the former are written out in their fullest forms. Knights and Ladies use the post-nominal letters "KG" and "LG," respectively. When an individual is entitled to use multiple post-nominal letters, KG or LG appears before all others, except "Bt" (Baronet), "VC" (Victoria Cross) and "GC" (George Cross).

The Sovereign, Knights and Ladies Companions and Supernumerary Knights and Ladies may encircle their arms with a representation of the Garter; and since it is Britain's highest order of knighthood, the Garter will tend to be displayed in preference to the insignia of any other order, unless there is special reason to highlight a junior one. (They may further encircle the Garter with a depiction of Order's collar, but this very elaborate version is seldom seen.) Stranger Knights, of course, do not embellish the arms they use at home with foreign decorations such as the Garter; likewise, while the UK Royal Arms as used in England are encircled by the Garter, in Scotland they are surrounded by the circlet of the Order of the Thistle instead. (In Wales and Northern Ireland the English pattern is followed.)

Knights and Ladies are also entitled to receive heraldic supporters. These are relatively rare among private individuals in the UK; while some families claim supporters by ancient use and others have been granted them as a special reward, only peers, Knights and Ladies of the Garter and Thistle, and Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Knights Grand Commanders of certain junior orders are entitled to claim an automatic grant of supporters (upon payment of the appropriate fees to the College of Arms).


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