In case you missed it, Garter Day was held at Windsor yesterday – an event so English it makes the Jubilee pageantry seem quaint 🙂 There’s both good and bad to cover (per usual these days), so let’s dive in…but before we do, for the good of the order, let’s quickly review the context for Garter Day since it’s been a [pandemic-induced] minute since this ceremony was held.
For starters, Garter Day is a ceremony for the Order of the Garter, the most senior order of knighthood within the British honours system. If that sounds Medieval to you that’s because it is – it was founded in 1348 by Edward III. At its launch, the Order was comprised of the King, his eldest son, the Prince of Wales (aka the Black Prince), and 24 other “founder knights,” some of whose surnames will sound familiar to those who’ve read up on the Middle Ages like Mortimer, Beauchamp, Montacute, and Stafford.
Which brings us to the news of the day because yesterday saw the ushering in of three new members – each notable in his or her own right. First, there was Tony Blair, who joins the rank of John Major as current members of the Order who are also former prime ministers. Second, there was Baroness Amos, former leader of the House of Lords, who is in fact the first Black member of the Order of the Garter. Finally, and most pertinent for our purposes, there was the Duchess of Cornwall, who has joined other members of the Royal Family as a Royal Lady Companion.
In addition to Camilla, all four of the Queen’s children are members. So, too, are her cousins, the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester and Princess Alexandra. The last member of the Royal Family to receive the honor was the Duke of Cambridge, when he became the 1,000th member in 2008. That year’s Garter Day, if memory serves, was in fact the first official “royal” event that the Duchess of Cambridge attended prior to her marriage. There were hilarious pictures of her and the Duke of Sussex cracking up when they caught sight of William in his getup.
Camilla is notable in that she is the first of the Queen’s children’s spouses to make the cut, so to speak, which makes sense given her position as a future queen consort. In due course, Kate will likely join the ranks, but probably not until Charles’s reign. And had Harry remained a working member of the RF, he too would have been brought in, presumably under Charles. (Ok, if you want to skip what became a long deep dive into the history of women in the Order, scroll down to the bolded sentence.)
Royal family members, including consorts (or future consorts), joining the Order was a practice started early on by Edward III. While his eldest son was a founding member, he inducted his wife, Queen Philippa, in 1358, his daughter, the Countess of Bedford, in 1376, and his grandson, the future Richard II, in 1377. Historical fun fact: Richard II was inducted alongside his first cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, who would eventually depose him in 1399.
Richard II continued the practice (though, to be fair, he was a child when he ascended the throne) and inducted several royal women in one fell swoop in 1378, including his mother, two aunts, and female cousins. Both his wives – Queen Anne and Queen Isabelle – also joined.
Thus the precedent was set – for a time, that is. There’s a very interesting pattern when it comes to women in the Order of the Garter. Despite having been involved very close to its founding (in the 14th century, no less), honoring women seemed to fall out of fashion with the Tudors. Richard III’s wife, Anne Neville, was never inducted, but I’m not inclined to think that’s notable because Anne prematurely died less than two years after he ascended. Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York, had actually been inducted during the reign of her father, Edward IV, as was her own mother and two of her sisters (Mary and Cecily). Thus, the only woman Henry VII brought in was his mother, Margaret Beaufort – and that’s despite having two daughters of his own (Margaret and Mary). And Henry VIII – with six wives and two daughters (albeit intermittently illegitimate ones) – nominated zero women during the entirety of his reign.
Now, there might be a clear answer to this and I’m hardly an expert in the Order of the Garter so if someone is and knows what happened here, please do chime in. Absent that, what I’m wondering is whether Henry VIII originally planned to wait until his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, gave birth to a son (though that was by no means the precedent) and use it as a means of honoring her as the mother of a future king. There were certainly openings in the 1510s when their marriage was still reportedly solid and she was regularly conceiving, hence why I think that’s a possibility. And by the 1520s, with Henry considering options for annulment (potentially even earlier than we know), he was less inclined to elevate her.
I honestly don’t know, but from Philippa of Hainaut through Elizabeth of York (with the explainable exclusion of Anne Neville), queen consorts were always members, a practice which abruptly stopped with Katherine of Aragon, in her own right a Spanish princess and extremely popular with the English people. Now, it’s possible – if Henry was waiting for a son – that Jane Seymour would have made the cut had she not died in childbirth. I don’t know, but the practice of only investing men from 1509-1547 stuck.
Truly. A woman wasn’t again invested in the Order of the Garter – royal or otherwise – until 1901 when Edward VII extended the honor to his wife, Alexandra of Denmark. Three queen regnants reigned during this period – Elizabeth I, Anne, and Victoria – and none of them included a woman. Now, Edward VII didn’t usher in a new era of equitable Garter representation (ha) – Alexandra was the only woman who was invested, which means he passed over his own three daughters and his sisters (three of whom lived through his reign). His son, George V, followed suit, investing Mary of Teck.
In fact, it was George VI who broke the mold, but only kind of. In addition to honoring his wife, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, in 1936, he extended the same to his daughter, then-Princess Elizabeth, and her new husband, Prince Philip, in 1947, the year they were married. However, Elizabeth was his heir, so it’s almost worth commenting on that she didn’t join until she was married given that Princes of Wales, throughout history, have been invested as children with regularity. Indeed, Prince Charles was in 1958, the year he turned 10.
So, opening the Order of the Garter back up to women who weren’t consorts has in fact begun (again) with Elizabeth II. Her sister, Princess Margaret, never received the honor from either her father or sister. The first woman to do so was Queen Juliana of The Netherlands in 1958, followed by Margrethe II of Denmark in 1979 and Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands in 1989. It wasn’t until 1994 when Princess Anne was invested that we began to see what had in fact been the original Medieval practice of including royal women close to the throne.
Notably, in 1990, Lavinia Fitzalan-Howard, Duchess of Norfolk (speaking of old English surnames), became the first non-royal Lady Companion.
So, here we are. Wild. Again, if anyone has an explanation for this, I’m interested.
Now, back to yesterday. The timing of Camilla’s investment is fairly par for the course in terms of what we’ve been seeing from the Palace in paving the way for her and Charles to smoothly ascend the throne. From an optics perspective, it’s probably the last historically-rooted honor she would have received from Charles that could potentially face backlash. As with the announcement of her being known as queen someday, the Queen handling this now helps to head that off. And, as discussed above, there is precedent in that Prince Philip was invested during the reign of George VI.
But the other big news of the day was that Andrew didn’t join the ceremony as expected. So expected in fact that his name was in the program as joining the tradition procession at Windsor (where all the members are fully decked out in their robes and led by the sovereign…more on that in a moment). The official line is that this was this Andrew’s decision, however it’s been reported widely that this was in fact a family decision. And by family, it’s believed to have come down to Charles and William protesting that Andrew shouldn’t be seen publicly with the rest of the family in this context. By some reports, William went so far as to threaten to skip the occasion if Andrew was present.
Now, we don’t “know,” but this is certainly in line with the narrative we’ve heard for years now, which is 1) that Charles and William have zero patience or tolerance for Andrew and 2) both men are playing a more active role in making overarching family decisions as the future of the monarchy. With William, this can be viewed as coming hand-in-hand with his participation in the Sussexit decision-making – and yes, that’s true. I would also argue the timing is somewhat organic, too, given shifting dynamics following the retirement and death of Prince Philip, the pandemic, and the Queen’s current mobility issues.
The Queen did not attend the ceremonial procession, which was instead led by Charles – no surprise there. She did make a point of attending Camilla’s investiture at Windsor Castle and was present for a private luncheon, as was Andrew.
I’d love to know who he sat next to 😉
With that, I will try to jump back on here soon to cover the Cambridges’ move to Windsor. We’ve discussed the rumors in the past, but it looks like it’s not only happening, but happening this summer. So, much to discuss!