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The Legend of the Garter
Lady's Embarrassment leads to Chivalric Order

The story of the founding of the Most Noble Order of the Garter is a romantic tale. It is said that King Edward III, whilst dancing with the young Countess of Salisbury during a ball at Windsor Castle, saw her drop her blue garter and immediately stooped to pick it up. Dancers nearby, were quick to jump to conclusions and looked at the couple the knowing smiles. His majesty was angered by his subjects' base assumptions which could so discredit the reputation of the innocent girl. Turning to face them all, he raised up the garter and exclaimed, "Honi soit qui mal y pense!" - Shame to him you thinks evil of it.

Early chroniclers always name the lady as "the Queen," but this was used as a common reference to King Edward's cousin, Joan, the 'Fair Maid of Kent,' who was married to the Prince of Wales during his widowhood. She had previously been the wife of Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent, as well as William Montacute, the 2nd Earl of Salisbury. There are further stories told of King Edward first becoming enamoured of the Countess when he marched north to relieve the Siege of Wark Castle by King David Bruce of Scots. However, this appears to have been Joan's mother-in-law, Katherine Grandisson. 

Though the "Round Table" jousts held at Windsor, in 1344, appear to have been the scene for the instigation of a brotherhood of the Knights of St. George, which eventually transformed into the Order of the Garter, it seems likely that the famous ball occurred later and elsewhere. In October 1346, the Countess had become famous for rallying the English troops against the Scots at the Battle of Neville's Cross while the King was absent in France. She was immediately summoned to the Royal Camp, then laying siege to Calais following the great victory at Crécy. An alternative tradition gives this as the setting for the lost garter episode. Certainly, upon his return to England, King Edward was ordering himself a surcoat, mantle and hood decorated with garters.


    © Nash Ford Publishing 2001. All Rights Reserved.