Is Britain’s Garter Day Barmy? Shame and Honor Author Stephanie Trigg on the Order of the Garter

Today is Garter Day, one of the best opportunities to see Great Britain's aristocracy in full plumage. To mark the occasion, the Daily Beast correspondent Tom Sykes invited Stephanie Trigg, author of  Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter, to write for his online column The Royalist. Here's an excerpt from Trigg's post, "Disorder of the Garter":

And all this is in honor of a piece of woman’s underwear.

The Order of the Garter has had a continuous history since Edward III founded the Order in 1348. Scholars agree that the Order was founded to reward knights who had fought with Edward at the battle of Crécy and to encourage further valor, but there is much disagreement about his choice of motto — Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense — and his emblem: a blue garter, tied below the left knee.

The most persistent story about the Garter was first recorded in the fifteenth century. According to this ‘popular tradition’, the king was dancing with a woman — possibly his mistress — at a court ball when the garter holding up her stocking fell off. While the courtiers snickered at her embarrassment, the king courteously picked up the offending item, tied it around his own leg and swore to found a chivalric order that would pay honor to the occasion, and to the lady and all her descendants. The French-speaking King finished his speech with the words: ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (Shamed be he who thinks evil of this).

Many heralds dispute this story, unwilling to taint the ‘Most Noble Order of the Garter’ by association with this embarrassing and very female occasion, saying Edward would hardly have founded such a great order on such a trivial event.

But the garter myth actively celebrates the monarchy’s capacity to make something grand out of something trivial, or accidental. It is an example of insouciant royal play, and the fun of something going wrong. In a life so regulated by convention, duty and ceremony, who could blame any monarch, in the fourteenth or the twenty-first century, for enjoying moments of misrule or accident?

Is Garter Day "one of the barmiest pieces of British pageantry," an important national tradition, or just a royal good time?

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