A Chivalrous Plantagenet Tradition, Discontinued by the Tudors

The Order of the Garter is the most senior and the oldest British Order of Chivalry and was founded by Edward III in 1348. (http://www.royal.gov.uk) Its 25 members include the Sovereign and 24 “knights-companion” who have contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the Sovereign personally. When it was founded by Edward III, however, it stood for something more mythical and political.

According to the website of the College of St. George in Windsor: “In 1344 Edward III made a spectacular demonstration of his interest in Arthurian legend during a massive joust at Windsor. On this occasion he promised to renew King Arthur’s celebrated fraternity of knights, the Round Table, with its complement of 300 men. Work even began on a gigantic circular building two-hundred feet across within the upper ward of the castle to house this so-called Order of the Round Table. The renewal of war with France intervened with this project but in 1348 it was revived in a different guise. When founding the new college of St George at Windsor Edward III associated with it a small group of knights, each of whom was provided with a stall in the chapel. This comprised twenty-five men in all with the king at their head and was entitled the Order of the Garter after the symbol of the garter worn by its members.”


“The use of what seems – to modern sensibilities – such a curious emblem has given rise to a popular legend about the foundation of the order. According to this, the Countess of Salisbury lost her garter during a court ball at Calais and Edward III retrieved it, rebuking those who had mocked her embarrassment with the words ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ – shame on him who thinks evil of it – But this phrase, the motto of the order, actually refers to the king’s claim to the French throne, a claim which the Knights of the Garter were created to help prosecute. As to the emblem of the Garter, it may perhaps less interestingly, derive from the straps used to fasten plates of armor.” (http://www.stgeorges-windsor.org/about-st-georges/history/the-order-of-the-garter.html)


One of the traditions started by Edward III was the summoning of women to be “ladies of the Garter” – not on the same footing as the male companion knights, but an honorary achievement by such ladies that gifted them with a Garter robe and permission to wear a Garter ribbon around their left arm. These always included the Queen Consort, and usually the wives of the Sovereign’s male sons. However, other highly-ranked peeresses of the kingdom were invited too. The first female to be admitted in this fashion was Edward III’s queen, Philippa, in 1358. No doubt, the placement of women within this prestigious order was symbolic of the extension of chivalric concepts to “gentle ladies”.

In total, 67 women were summoned to the Order of the Garter during the following 127 years of the Plantagenet dynasty, a tradition adopted by both the Houses of Lancaster and York. (http://www.heraldica.org/topics/orders/wom-kn.htm) John of Gaunt’s second and third wives, Constance of Castile and Katherine Swynford, were inducted in 1378 and 1387 respectively. Bolingbroke’s first wife, Mary de Bohun, was inducted in 1388 and his queen Joanne of Navarre in 1408. Henry V’s consort, Katherine of Valois, appears to have been summoned to the Order prior to her coronation.


(The effigy of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk, d. 1475, showing a Garter Ribbon on her left forearm.  Photo from http://www.astoft.co.uk/oxon/ewelmechurch.htm.)

Yorkist women joined the ranks of “lady companions”. Both of Edmund of Langley’s wives (Isabella of Castile and Joan Holland) were inducted, in 1378 and 1399, as well as Philippa de Mohun, the wife of his son Edward, second Duke of York, in 1408. The year 1399 also saw the summoning of Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland (and mother of Cecily Neville) to the Order. In 1432, Isabel, Countess of Warwick, was created a Garter lady companion, and was to become maternal grandmother to Anne Neville, Richard III’s queen.

Edward IV summoned 6 women as ladies of the Garter, almost all of them during his “second” reign (1471-1483). In 1477, his wife-consort Queen Elizabeth, daughter Princess Elizabeth, and sister Elizabeth de la Pole, the Duchess of Suffolk, were admitted. Two more daughters, the Princesses Cecily and Mary, were inducted in 1480.

Although Richard III made 7 men knight-companions of the Garter*, his short reign did not include the summoning of any ladies. Nor did it include creating his own son, Edward, Prince of Wales, as a Garter knight-companion. This is most certainly due to the fact that his son and queen died not very long after his accession to the throne, and his 26-month long reign was cut short by his defeat and death at Bosworth. The average length of time between a queen-consort’s coronation and her admission to the Order of the Garter was 3.6 years. It would be fair to say that had Richard III retained the throne, he would have eventually followed his ancestors’ and brother’s tradition of inviting his consort and female children to it.

This tradition, however, was soon discontinued in the following Tudor dynasty. Henry VII made only one summons of a lady companion to the Garter, and that was his mother, Margaret Beaufort, in 1488. It is unclear whether his daughters (Margaret or Mary) received Garter robes, but an archivist at The College of St. George contends they did.  (Dr Clare Rider – http://www.stgeorges-windsor.org/archives/archive-features/image-of-the-month/title1/Ladies-of-the-Garter-Image-of-the-month.html)  In any case, it is undisputed that the Tudor dynasty did not sustain the Plantagenet tradition of summoning ladies, as it would take another 513 years for the Order of the Garter to see its next Lady Companion when Edward VII summoned Queen Alexandra in 1901.

Thus, we may say that a Plantagenet tradition of chivalry was soon to die following the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

* Francis Lovell, Thomas Howard, Richard Ratcliffe, Thomas Stanley, Thomas Burgh, Richard Tunstall, and John Conyers were made Knights of the Garter during the reign of Richard III.

(Image of Stallplates and Garter Ribbon from the website of the College of St. George; see link, above.)



  1. A very interesting article, white lily, and it gives up yet another reason to regard Henry VII as a miserable so-and-so. Sometimes he almost seemed to go out of his way to prove that his portraits showed the real man, especially the NPG portrait. Shuddersome. Of course, it is arguable that his mother was the only Lady of the Garter created in his reign because she was the only woman in England who liked him – even remotely. If he knew they couldn’t stand the sight of him, he was not likely to show them any favour. Swings and roundabouts. Either way he remained a miserable so-and-so. I would LOVE to be face to face with him, just to see if I’m right!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the comments. There’s a book by David Hipson called “Richard III and the Death of Chivalry” that might be an interesting read on the subject of chivalry.


  3. So this is supposed to prove what a vile person Henry was, in comparison to Richard? 1 is still 100% more than zero. We can think that Richard would have appointed several more Ladies if he had lived longer, but we don’t know this.

    Edward IV makes both Richard and Henry look bad, but note that all the Ladies he named were members of his family, which seems as much nepotism as chivalry. Neither Edward nor Richard named their mother, which seems strange. Henry gets 1 brownie point for filial duty, anyway.

    Richard had only two sisters left. Elizabeth was already a Lady of the Garter, and Margaret was married abroad. (That had not been a disqualification in previous centuries, but neither of her brothers nominated her.) Henry could not name his wife as a Lady, as she already was, and he had no siblings to name. Of Henry’s two daughters, Margaret was married to the King of Scots at 13, and Mary was 13 when her father died.

    So Edward IV leads in naming pubescent girls as Ladies of the Garter. Viva Plantagenet!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear halfwit36: I’m not sure where you are coming up with the idea that this shows anything “vile” about Henry VII, it just shows that a Plantagenet tradition of summoning ladies to the Order of Garter was discontinued – indisputably – during the Tudor era. That Richard III only reigned for 26 months should be part of the context in which the relative inactivity should be viewed. Even Edward IV, who is viewed as being most active in this regard, took several years (as mentioned in the essay, in his “second reign”) to take action on it. BTW, he did invite one lady to the Garter that was not related to him, Margaret, Lady Harcourt (c.1468). And, most definitely, his wife was no “pubescent” when she was invited in the 1470s.


  4. That was my point, Lily – this doesn’t prove anything at all, except maybe that the custom was going out of style. If Richard had reigned longer, he might have named some Ladies, or he might not. He might have named Anne, of course, but he had no legitimate daughters, and might never have had. Yes, Edward did name some adult Ladies, but three of his nominations were his daughters, of approximately 11-14 years. Which seems just as silly as making a toddler a Knight of the Bath – as the Tudors did too.
    My remarks about Cecily Neville still stand. Richard may not have named her because he just didn’t get around to it, but why not Edward? Did her son(s) consider her a cold & uncaring mother? Did she huffily refuse to become a Lady of the Garter if Elizabeth Woodville would also be one? Did she plead religious vows (though I don’t see why that would interfere)? Room for all sorts of fictional development here, but from an historical POV, we may never know.


  5. Dear halfwit36: The only “lady mother” of a king to be summoned to the Garter was Joan of Kent, Richard II’s mother. The mothers of H4, H5 and H6 had already been issued Garter robes before their sons had taken the throne. Why Cecily was not invited is unknown; but there is a possibility that in 1482 she was issued a Garter robe (there is a notation in the GW accounts that robes matching the description of a Garter robe were issued to “ladies fraternal” to the king, some even say that this might have included Anne Neville). But other reasons for Cecily not being invited is (a) she lived overseas with her husband quite a bit, making delivery of a Garter robe something of an inconsequence (she was “out of sight and out of mind”); and (b) her husband Richard, 3rd duke of York, was the leader of a discontented faction that did not endear itself to H6.

    As to why Edward IV did not engage in much activity in this sphere under the 1470s – I think that may have a lot to do with the fact that substantial work was being done to St. George’s chapel in the mid-1470s, including building a new facility for the Order of the Garter within the quire of the church and Edward IV’s own tomb. Also, we need to keep in mind that Edward IV was focused on re-burying his father in 1476, including drawing up elaborate plans for the reinterment of his father and brother Edmund at Fotheringhay. No one stopped Cecily from using the Royal Arms as her seal and designating herself Queen of England; she was not exactly shunted away. I will leave it to writers of more imagination to explain why.

    Yet, I have to take issue with your statement “this doesn’t prove anything at all”. I heartily disagree. I think it shows very much about a change in dynasty, how the successive one wanted to differentiate itself from the previous one, and which traditions it would continue to pass on to future generations. It also shows us something about how noblewomen were treated under the concepts of “chivalry” that were invoked by Edward III.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well said White Lily! I also agree with the other comments (apart from those by halfwit 36, I won’t even go there!) I thought it a fabulous article and really very interesting, I also learned a lot, so thank you. I’m going to look into the book you mentioned too x


    1. All I said was that we can’t really know what any of these men thought, and what their motivations weremyrnas. We can bring up questions, but no positive answers


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