On Ladies’ Garters

Dr Andrew Gray

Just a day after York’s presentation, I attended yet another heraldic zoom lecture, this time by Dr Andrew Gray for the Heraldry Society, concerning Ladies of the Order of the Garter. I made a post about this topic two years ago and advertised it in the chat box. Unusually the host actually drew attention to it, and my site traffic is already seeing an uptick.

The lecture began with the special statute enacted by the newly-ascendant Edward VII in 1901 to appoint his wife Alexandra to the order, followed by a similar instrument in 1910 for Queen Mary. Gray noted that this was unusual at the time but not unprecedented. In 1358, just ten years into the order’s creation, Edward III made Philippa of Hainault a lady of it. Gray mentions that the early gentlemen of the Garter had ladies in their company on ceremonial occasions, though their status – and even identity – is vague. In the period of 1358-1495 Gray identified seventy-four Ladies of the Garter in the records, most of whom were wives of the knights and/or members of the royal family. He notes that there were probably a lot more but the necessary records are missing. The ladies received robes, and wore the garter itself on the upper arm (whereas the men wore it on the leg).

There then followed an examination of the ladies appointed in that time, their arms, and their relation to the contemporary monarchs. One of those highlighted was Jacquetta, Countess Rivers, whom Gray noted had been made famous by Philippa Gregory. She was allegedly descended from the water goddess Melusine and gifted psychic powers, which the present monarch has presumably inherited.

The appointments of ladies of the order ended in 1495 with Margaret, Countess of Richmond and mother of Henry VII. Over the next few centuries there were five female sovereigns of the Garter but no female appointees until the sudden spurt in the twentieth century. There was also some discussion of the issues I raised in my aforementioned 2019 post regarding female crests and helms.

While I enjoyed the presentation it still left me a little confused – I don’t recall learning any explanation as to why the installation of ladies was discontinued in the sixteenth century, nor the precise distinction between plain “Lady” and “Lady Companion”. Still, at least I got to flog the blog rather effectively this time.

The society’s lecture series is taking a break now, and will return on 24th September.

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