Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter

Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter

Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter

Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter


"It's a nice piece of pageantry.... Rationally it's lunatic, but in practice, everyone enjoys it, I think."--HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Founded by Edward III in 1348, the Most Noble Order of the Garter is the highest chivalric honor among the gifts of the Queen of England and an institution that looks proudly back to its medieval origins. But what does the annual Garter procession of modern princes and politicians decked out in velvets and silks have to do with fourteenth-century institutions? And did the Order, in any event, actually originate in the wardrobe malfunction of the traditional story, when Edward held up his mistress's dropped garter for all to see and declared it to be a mark of honor rather than shame? Or is this tale of the Order's beginning nothing more than a vulgar myth?

With steady erudition and not infrequent irreverence, Stephanie Trigg ranges from medieval romance to Victorian caricature, from imperial politics to medievalism in contemporary culture, to write a strikingly original cultural history of the Order of the Garter. She explores the Order's attempts to reform and modernize itself, even as it holds onto an ambivalent relationship to its medieval past. She revisits those moments in British history when the Garter has taken on new or increased importance and explores a long tradition of amusement and embarrassment over its formal processions and elaborate costumes. Revisiting the myth of the dropped garter itself, she asks what it can tell us about our desire to seek the hidden sexual history behind so venerable an institution.

Grounded in archival detail and combining historical method with reception and cultural studies, Shame and Honor untangles 650 years of fact, fiction, ritual, and reinvention.


It’s a nice piece of pageantry which I think a lot of people enjoy. …
Rationally it’s lunatic but in practice everyone enjoys it I think.

—HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in The Queen’s Castle

They wear trailing mantles of blue velvet lined with white silk, a red velvet hood pinned to the right shoulder with a red sash draped across the body, and a black velvet hat piled high with white ostrich feathers. On the left shoulder, their mantles are adorned with a large embroidered scutcheon featuring a red cross surrounded by a motto in gold letters. A white silk ribbon is tied in a bow on each shoulder, and a heavy enamel and gold chain is draped around the neck, weighted further with an enamel model of a knight slaying a dragon. A long golden cord with large tassels is tied and looped so that one end sits lower than the other, as it has done since the fourteenth century. Underneath this elaborate costume, they wear a gray suit, or a long white dress. This is the modern medievalism of the Most Noble Order of the Garter in the twentyfirst century (figure 1).

As the members of the Order of the Garter move slowly down the hill from the keep at Windsor Castle to St. George’s Chapel they are accompanied by the cheers and applause of the crowd on either side, the music of military bands, and the click of cameras. The procession is led by the military knights of Windsor and the officers of arms; it moves slowly, in deference to both the crowds and the age of some of its members. Several, indeed, have already been driven down the hill. When the Garter Companions appear, the newest members come first, and the last to pass by is the Queen, the train of her mantle held by two young pages. The long parade winds into the south side of the chapel, and the crowd settles down on the grass to listen to a broadcast of the service, following along with the help of the printed glossy guide. The sound quality is terrible. After an hour or so, there is more movement. The . . .

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