Every June, a day full of history and pageantry takes place at Windsor Castle – a grand procession and chapel service celebrating the Knights of the Garter – the oldest and most senior Order of Chivalry in the UK. Hear all about the spectacular Garter Day from Young Reporter Kerensa.
I was very lucky to get a day off school to go to an inspiring experience – Garter Day 2019.
If Garter Day were a film character, I think it would be one of the three fairies from Sleeping Beauty because it was so magical. Merryweather, perhaps, as the sky was the same dazzling blue as her gown.
Garter Day is like a fairy tale as it is olde worlde central. Even more so, as it was inspired by Arthur and his famous knights of the Round Table, as its founder, Edward III, was fascinated by Arthur, and wanted one of these societies of his very own. In 1348, he found his chance.
In 1328, Edward III was a teenager and seriously fed up with his mum. He, surely, should be running the country after his mum, Isabella of France, had used the King of France’s (Isabella’s Dad) army to force Edward’s Dad, Edward II, to abdicate. Edward was technically king, but his mother was ruling the country. What was he to do? Well, of course, he had to overthrow Isabella. But he couldn’t do it on his own. So, he got a group of friends around and they helped him take control.
They snuck into Isabella’s sleeping quarters and captured her and her boyfriend, Roger Mortimer, and Edward started to rule the country on his own. He heaped rewards on his friends, to thank them for helping him, including making them Knights of his dream organisation, when it was finally created 20 years later.
Ever since, there have only been 24 Companion Knights of the Garter at one time, not including the Royal Knights, such as Princess Anne, who get given a place because of their blood relation to the Head of the Order, and Stranger Knights, monarchs from different countries.
The 19th June, the day of the procession, was hot, except for the breeze wafting about the snapping flag up on the iconic Round Tower. I saw the Queen, two Kings and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, for whom I have made brownies at Brownies, when she came to open a new Guide Hut.
Have you ever thought about going back in time? Garter Day is a bit like that. All the old-fashioned clothes were designed hundreds of years ago.
And oh, the colours of the procession! The gold uniforms of the household cavalry marching band, with their thin black and red stripes contrasting with the yellow of the chapel behind. And the click-clack of the boots down the lower-ward path between the tremendously excited crowds.
Those crowds included a Welsh Guard who, before he retired, used to be on duty at the Garter ceremony, and he was sitting next to me. He pointed out lots of things I’d never have noticed. He showed me his Guard’s blazer with the group of 5 buttons, which helped me realise that different regiments of guard have their buttons grouped in different ways.
My Granny’s heroine, Mary Peters, a gold-medal winning Olympian, was invested in the Garter the day I was there. Her swishing dark-blue velvet mantle draped beneath her ecstatic face. It hovered just below her ankles, flexing with every bouncy step.
She looked lovely with her snowy ostrich feather poking out of her Tudor cap, luxurious robe with its ornate chain and enamelled Garter-jewel recreating the scene of George on his horse fighting the dragon, matching cap and its great badge, embroidered in gold.
The badge has the words “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense” (shame on him who thinks this evil), the Garter motto. The Garter’s name and motto were inspired by a ballroom scene, where Edward was dancing with the wife of one of the Knights of the Garter, the Countess of Salisbury. Her blue garter fell down when she was dancing, but instead of laughing, he picked up her garter to help her and tied it round his own leg, chanting the French phrase.
The current Marquess of Salisbury was invested in the Garter by Queen Elizabeth II the day we were there. Just blink, and we’re back in 1551, ruff-ly (get the joke?!) 500 years ago, and Elizabeth I is making William Cecil, the current Marquess of Salisbury’s 12x great grandfather, Chancellor of the Garter!
But the Salisbury title doesn’t stop there. It goes all the way back to William Montagu, the very first Earl of Salisbury (husband of the lady with the garter) and also one of the very first Knights of the Garter, even though he wasn’t in the same family.
The procession was brilliant. The highlight of my day was seeing a human pack of cards:
- 4 Jacks (Princes Charles, William, Andrew and Edward) – there were a few princesses as well, such as Anne and Alexandra
- 3 Queens (our own Queen, and the Queens of Spain and the Netherlands)
- 2 Kings (the Kings of Spain and the Netherlands)
- We had an ACE day!!!