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June 15, 2015. Service of the Most Noble Order of the Garter

Royal Banner on Castle's Round Tower

Royal Banner on Castle’s Round Tower

Celebration of the 800th anniversary of the Great Charter of the Liberties (Windsor Castle, Great Britain)

Founded in 1348 by King Edward III, the Most Noble Order of the Garter is the oldest order of chivalry in the United Kingdom and one of the oldest chivalric orders in the world. The Order’s Sovereign is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The headquarters of the Order of the Garter is located in Saint George’s Chapel at WindsorCastle, and the heavenly patron of the Order is Saint George. The Order’s motto is Honi soit qui mal y pense, which means “shame on him who thinks evil of it.”

Private and State Apartments of Windsor Castle

Private and State Apartments of Windsor Castle

The number of the knights is limited and cannot exceed 24 people; of course, that number does not include the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, the members of the Royal Family and foreign monarchs.

Fragment of St. George's Chapel's Facade

Fragment of St. George’s Chapel’s Facade

The new members of the Order of the Garter are announced on April 23, Saint George’s Day, and in the middle of June they are installed into the Knights of the Order and given the Order’s insignia during an investiture ceremony at WindsorCastle, after which a worship service is conducted at the Chapel of Saint George.

Royal Guards

Royal Guards

In 2015, the Garter Day was special. The Garter Day coincided with the 800th anniversary of the Great Charter of the Liberties (Magna Carta) – one of the most important documents not only of the British history but of the world history as well. Thanks to the Society of the Friends of Saint George, I and my colleagues – Alexander Ishutin and John, had the privilege of attending this historic event, being also invited as guests to the Tea Party at the Vicars’ Hall. Every year, around 5,000 guests have the honour of attending the Garter Day Ceremony, and they are, as a rule, the best of the best people, or those, who deserved the honour to participate in this event. My colleagues and I were graciously given this honour.

Yeomen Warders (Beefeaters)

Yeomen Warders (Beefeaters)

From the early morning there was a queue of people at WindsorCastle. We arrived at 9, reserved our place in the queue and all this time – until 11:30, we were standing in this queue, which was growing before our eyes, chatting with the people we knew and with our new friends, who were also, like us, waiting in the line. The weather was splendidly fair, the sun was shining, although it was rather chilly in the morning, but closer to noon the air became warm and then it was very comfortable. Our reserved seats were on the Stand. On the occasion of the jubilee of the Great Charter of the Liberties, the banners of the most influential aristocratic families of Great Britain were hung upon the castle’s walls, and because of this the territory of Windsor Castle had an especially solemn appearance.

Procession of Knights of Most Noble Order of the Garter

Procession of Knights of Most Noble Order of the Garter

Someone may have already forgotten, what the Great Charter of the Liberties is, so I would like to remind that it is a political and judicial document, made on June 15 of 1215 according to the demands of the English noblemen to King John of England (John Lackland), which secured certain legal rights and privileges of the free population in medieval England. The Great Charter of the Liberties, or Magna Carta, is acknowledged as the oldest part of non-codified British Constitution.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip

The Garter Day is one of the many royal events with a protocol well polished by time. I have described more than once how the annual procession ceremony and the worship service of the Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Garter are conducted. Still, although the ceremony always follows the protocol, you can always notice some fine details that make it different from the previous ceremonies. This year, all members of the Royal Family, who are related to this event in this way or another, participated in the solemn worship service of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Only the Duchess of Cambridge was absent who became a mother for the second time. On May 2, 2015, in the family of Their Royal Highnesses Duke and Duchess of Cambridge a daughter was born – Princess Charlotte.

Their Royal Highnesses Prince Charles of Wales and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge

Their Royal Highnesses Prince Charles of Wales and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge

Now going back to history, let us remember again that the Most Noble Order of the Garter is the highest chivalric order of Great Britain and one of the oldest orders in the world. It was founded by King Edward III. It is traditionally believed that the Order was established in 1348, but in the genealogy book of British peers, The Complete Peerage it is indicated that the Order of the Garter was founded on April 23 of 1344. There among the founder knights, a French knight Sir Sanchet D’Abrichecourt is mentioned, who died on October 20 of 1345, which makes this version more trustworthy. Nevertheless, the archives of the king’s wardrobe note that the first arrays of the Order were made in 1348.

There are several legends about the Order’s origin and the origin of its motto. The most popular one is as follows. King Edward III danced at a court ball with Catherine Montacute, Countess of Salisbury. A garter slipped from her leg. Upon seeing this incident everyone sniggered, but the King seeing the embarrassing situation of the countess, picked up the garter and returned it to her saying, «Honi soit qui mal y pense!» – that is, “Shame on him who thinks evil of it!” These words became the Order’s motto.

According to another legend, King Richard the Lion Heart, while making a Crusade, received a revelation from Saint George who instructed him to tie a garter around his leg before an important battle. The King fulfilled the instruction of Saint George and tied a garter around his leg before that crucial battle; and the rest of the knights did the same, following his example. The battle was won. Two hundred years later, King Edward III, who made his claims to the French throne, recalled this legend and founded the Order as a sign of his continental aspirations.

The decision to install someone into the Order of the Garter is made solely by the Sovereign. Only those who are knights already can become Knights Companions, except Knight Bachelors, that is, persons who have been already knighted, but they still do not belong to any of the Knights’ Orders.

At the ceremony of investiture into the Most Noble Order of the Garter the participant swears to keep all the conditions of the Order, the chief one of them being the protection of the Order’s Sovereign.

According to the custom, the Order of the Garter also has its insignia. They are a dark-blue velvet strap with a gold fringe and an inscription of the motto made in gold letters in Old French «Honi soit qui mal y pense» (men fix it around their left calf, and ladies – around their left arm); the Order’s collar made of gold medallions; gold medallion studded with diamonds with the image of Saint George; a silver star with a red Cross of Saint George, which is worn on the left breast; and a mantle, plumaged bonnet, and a wide light-blue sash worn over the left shoulder.

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