The Order of the Garter and Queen Elizabeth: part 1

As the official public record since 1665, The Gazette has been recording appointments to the Order of the Garter for over three centuries. In a four-part series, British honours expert Russell Malloch looks at the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Queen Elizabeth II wearing the Order of the Garter badge and garter on Garter Day


The blue riband of the Order of the Garter was seen by an audience across the world in September 2022 following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, when it was worn by King Charles and the members of the order who attended the vigil in Westminster Hall, the state funeral in Westminster Abbey and the final committal service in St George’s Chapel.

The late Queen had worn the Garter’s insignia for longer than any other person in the history of the order, extending over more than 670 years, although it was only as recently as July 2022 that she surpassed the record of 74 years that was set by Arthur, Duke of Connaught, who received that royal mark of favour from his mother Queen Victoria in 1867 and died in 1942.

Queen Elizabeth’s life began in the London residence of her Scottish grandparents (Gazette issue 33153), and drew to a close at Balmoral Castle (Gazette issue 63808), while her resting place lies beside those of her royal ancestors in St George’s Chapel, which has been the spiritual home of the Garter for more than six centuries.

This series of four articles examines the Queen's close relationship with the Order of the Garter, and the life of that organisation from her birth in 1926 through to the day of her last journey to Windsor.

The Order

The knighthood of the Garter was instituted by Edward III of England in the 1340s as a reward for distinction in combat and, having survived the early blow of the Black Death that ravaged the kingdom from 1348 through to the end of 1349, it began to prosper and was opened to men from other walks of life, including high officials at the Plantagenet and Tudor courts.

Black and white photo of St George's Chapel at Windsor CastleThe order weathered major constitutional changes, and managed to retain its royal status after the personal union of the crowns of England and Scotland in 1603, as well as enduring the outbreak of the civil war in 1642 when St George’s Chapel “came into the hands of men to whom the high dignity of the liturgical ritual and the pageantry of the Garter ceremonies were things not of God but of Satan”. (South, 1980-81, p5)1

The revolutionary forces left the Garter’s home and its possessions largely unharmed, and the order also survived the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89, the coming of the Hanoverian elector, and the parliamentary union of 1801.

The order’s present structure was largely set by the start of the 19th century, when it was headed by the sovereign, together with up to 25 ordinary members known as knights or companions, as well as an unlimited number of royal and foreign members. (The maximum number of companions in the order’s history was 56, which was reached in 1912).

Members were all male until February 1901 when one of King Edward VII’s first acts as sovereign was to admit his wife Alexandra (Gazette issue 27284), no doubt recalling the European precedent of his late mother-in-law becoming the first lady of the Order of the Elephant, the Danish equivalent of the Garter, in 1892.

Knights were normally appointed when vacancies arose through the death of one of the existing companions, and the nomination of most (but not all) of the new members was noticed in The London Gazette from the earliest days of that official public record in the 1660s.

Elizabeth of York

Queen Elizabeth’s life began in a world that was inhabited by the knights of many orders, including the Garter, not least in the person of her father Albert, the second son of King George V and Queen Mary, who gave his rank and profession in his daughter’s birth certificate as “Duke of York, K.G.”

The princess was born just before St George’s Day in 1926, at Bruton Street, the London residence of her maternal grandparents, Claude and Cecilia Bowes-Lyon, Earl and Countess of Strathmore who, together with the King and Queen, the Duke of Connaught and two aunts, were the sponsors when Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was baptised at Buckingham Palace on 29 May.

Photograph of the Duke of York and Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon on their wedding daySome of the other orders were well known to the York and Strathmore families, and in particular the green riband of the Order of the Thistle, which was worn by 16 ordinary knights who were mainly Scottish peers. The Duke of York had joined the order in April 1923 when he married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (Gazette issue 32819), and Lord Strathmore was given the Thistle a few years later.

There was also the five-class Royal Victorian Order which fell within the King’s personal grant. The Duke of York received the first class or grand cross of that order in January 1921, and Lord Strathmore wore the insignia of the same grade on the day his daughter joined the royal family.

By this stage most of the ordinary knights of the Garter, as opposed to the royal or foreign knights, were political figures. Senior among them was the Earl of Rosebery, who received his Blue Riband from Queen Victoria while he was foreign secretary in 1892, and two years before he succeeded Gladstone as prime minister.

The roll of knights of 1926 included two of Rosebery’s successors as prime minister, Arthur Balfour (Earl of Balfour) and Herbert Asquith (Earl of Oxford and Asquith), as well as parliamentary colleagues such as foreign secretaries Sir Edward Grey and Sir Austen Chamberlain, and the Marquess of Crewe, who led the House of Lords during the pre-war constitutional crises and was currently the British ambassador to France.

The prime ministers were joined by a few figures from outside the world of politics, as with Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, a former ambassador, permanent secretary and viceroy of India, and by senior peers who combined family Blue Ribands with more local interests, as in the case of the dukes of Bedford, Northumberland and Richmond who were all the sons of knights of the Garter, and served as the lord lieutenant in one of the English counties.

The Garter had several royal members apart from the Duke of York, who joined on his 21st birthday in December 1916, as he was accompanied by Queen Mary and his brothers, the Prince of Wales and Princes Henry and George (later King Edward VIII and the Dukes of Gloucester and Kent), while the Duke of Connaught was the most senior of the royal knights (Gazette issue 23259).

The foreign companions included the kings of Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Roumania and Spain, and the Emperor of Japan. There was also a legacy from the late war, as some of the Queen’s near relations who had been expelled from the Garter during the conflict were still alive, including the German Emperor William II who survived until 1941.

Order of the Garter gold badge

Corporate life

The knights of the Garter had a limited corporate life by 1926, as the war had snuffed out much of the ceremonial that was introduced during the Edwardian era, which in turn followed a long period of inactivity that reflected Queen Victoria’s withdrawal from public duty after the death of her husband, the Prince Consort, in 1861.

King George V organised a chapter or meeting of the existing knights to witness the investiture of his son, the Prince of Wales, with the blue riband in the Throne Room at Windsor on 10 June 1911 (Gazette issue 28507). He then held services for the companions at the castle in the summers of 1912, 1913 and 1914, but those gatherings ended with the war.

The ceremony of placing new knights in their stalls also remained in abeyance, as it had done since the last Garter installation was conducted by King George III at Windsor on St George’s Day of 1805, only a few months before the battle of Trafalgar (Gazette issue 15800).

The situation in the Garter mirrored what was happening in some of the other orders during the 1920s, as the Thistle had held its first installation in July 1911 after the King opened its chapel in St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, but the Scottish ceremonial was then set aside for more than 25 years, while the Order of the Bath (which mainly rewarded the work of the armed forces and civil services) held its first installation since the Regency in July 1913 (Gazette issue 28749), and met again at Westminster Abbey between the two world wars, most recently in May 1924.

The corporate activities that varied from order to order were known to the York family, as the Thistle’s knights gathered in Edinburgh each year to mark St Andrew’s Day, and a few days after Princess Elizabeth was born an annual service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral for members of the Order of St Michael and St George, which her father joined in December 1926 shortly before he left for a 6 month long tour in the British Empire.

Order of the Garter garter with the text honi soit qui mal y pense


Knights of the Garter were usually invested by the sovereign in a private audience at Buckingham Palace, and then presented with a document that dispensed with their installation, according to a procedure that had operated since the early 19th century, and was recorded in The Gazette until June 1905 when that practice was last used to report the issue of a dispensation for the Crown Prince of Sweden and Norway (later King Gustaf V of Sweden) (Gazette issue 27806).

The insignia King George V presented to the knights was similar in style to the insignia Queen Elizabeth delivered for the last time in 2022, and consisted of:

Order of the Garter star

  • a blue garter with the order’s motto honi soit qui mal y pense (“shame on him who think’s evil of it”)
  • a badge known as the Lesser George, showing St George slaying a dragon within an oval garter, which was worn from a blue riband (from which the honour of the knighthood of the Garter was often known as the Blue Riband)
  • a silver star of eight principal points, with a central St George’s Cross within a garter
  • a gold collar of gartered roses and knots, which was always worn with a badge known as the Great George, a three- dimensional figure of St George and his dragon
  • a dark blue mantle with a gartered shield bearing the cross of St George on the left side
  • a black hat with a plume of white feathers and a badge similar to that from the mantle

King George’s knights were able to place a metal plate bearing their arms in one of the stalls in St George’s Chapel, even although they had not been installed in person, and they were also entitled to display a banner and crest in the chapel during their lifetime, but only if they had paid a fee of £100 to the Treasury, as required by a Garter statute of August 1918.

The insignia of the Garter – like that of the Orders of the Thistle and St Patrick – had to be returned to the crown when a knight died, and the King often met a companion’s near relative to allow them to deliver up the insignia in person, as well as being represented at their funeral or memorial service. The Duke of York, for example, acted for his father at the funeral service for the Earl of Rosebery, the former prime minister, which was held in St Giles’ Cathedral in May 1929, and one month later Rosebery’s son was invited to Windsor to return his father’s Garter and Thistle insignia.

The Duke of York was also present in St George’s Chapel in November 1930 when many of the knights took their place for a service to mark the re-opening of the building after several years of restoration work, but still without the revival of installations, or any of the other pre-war ceremonial that was associated with Windsor Castle.

Plans were put in place to hold a Garter service in June 1935, but the King’s health led to the event being postponed, and he died at Sandringham a few months later (Gazette issue 34244).

About the author

Russell Malloch is a member of the Orders and Medals Research Society and an authority on British honours.

See also

Queen Elizabeth II - In Memoriam


PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2022

Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2022

Russell Malloch

Russell Malloch

Russell Malloch


  1. Raymond South, “St George’s under the Puritans”, Report of the Society of Friends, 1980-81, page 5.

Publication date: 12 October 2022

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.