Friday, 25 October 2013

THE ANTIQUARIAN: Edward III & the Legend of the Garter

The Order of the Garter is the most senior and the oldest British Order of Chivalry and was founded by Edward III in 1348.  The Order, consisting of the King and twenty-five knights, honours those who have held public office,  who have contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the Sovereign personally.
                                                                                                  -The British Monarchy

As an expression of Edward III’s commitment to Arthuriana and the special significance of its legendary Round Table, the garter was “aimed very consciously to promote the martial values displayed by [Edward’s] great men on the fields of Crecy and Calais” (Ormrod, 303).

A legend surrounding the symbol chosen to represent this order relates both to speculation about the “notorious immorality of the Plantagenet court,” as well as the close relationships formed between Edward and his wife, Queen Phillipa, with William Montagu, first earl of Salisbury, and his wife, Catherine (Ormrod, 302 & 135).

After the death of his great friend William, first earl of Salisbury, in 1344, sources from the continent claimed that Edward developed an uncontrollable passion for his friend’s wife, Catherine.  A variation of the story, having also been adopted by English writers, recorded that in response to critics of this extramarital affair, Edward chose an intimate item from his lover’s underwear to represent the chivalry of England: Catherine’s garter.

The Order's enigmatic motto, it could be argued, in this way, takes on a double and rather humorous meaning: "Shame on him who thinks ill of it."

"No...Use the garter, Eddy!  I don't think The Order of Catherine's Panties will go over too well!"

Ormrod, Mark W.  Edward III.  New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2011.

“Order of the Garter.” The Official Website of the British Monarchy.  The Royal Household, n.d.  Web. 25 Oct 2013.

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