02 November 2017

Jewel History: Princess Elizabeth Gets Ancient Order of Garter (1947)

Princess Elizabeth wears the Order of the Garter, ca. 1950 (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

"Princess Elizabeth Gets Ancient Order of Garter"
(originally appeared in the Winnipeg Tribune, 12 Nov 1947)

London, Nov. 12 -- Buckingham Palace announced Tuesday night that the King [1] has made Princess Elizabeth [2] a Lady of the Order of the Garter [3].

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (with Prince Charles) wears the Order of the Garter in Westminster Abbey at the 1953 coronation (AFP/Getty Images)

Princess Elizabeth joins the Queen [4], Queen Mother Mary [5], and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands [6] in the order with its insignia of kingfisher blue ribbon, diamond star, and motto, "Honi soit qui mal y pense" -- "Evil be to him who evil thinks" [7].

Knights of the order wear a jeweled garter insignia about the left leg, but ladies make a bracelet of it and wear it about the left wrist [8].

Queen Mary wears the Garter insignia, including the actual garter on her upper arm (Wikimedia Commons)

The order was established by King Edward III in 1348. According to legend, it originated with a party at which the King was dancing with Joan, Countess of Salisbury. Joan's garter fell to the floor during an intricate step. As some of the nobility snickered, the King picked it up and commented, "Honi soit qui mal y pense."

Princess Elizabeth is expected to wear the Garter ribbon at her wedding to Lieutenant Mountbatten [9] on November 20 [10].

Philip and Elizabeth during their engagement, 1947 (AFP/Getty Images)


1. King George VI of the United Kingdom (1895-1952) was the father of the present queen, Elizabeth II. As monarch, he was also Sovereign of the Order of the Garter. He presented his elder daughter, Princess Elizabeth, with the Garter about a week before her wedding.

2. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (born 1926) was still the heiress presumptive at the time of her wedding in 1947. Normally, the monarch's (male) heir is generally made a Garter knight when he is made Prince of Wales -- but since Elizabeth is a woman, she wasn't granted that title. (Because sons automatically outranked daughters in the line of succession in Britain during this time, there was always the possibility that Queen Elizabeth could die, King George VI could remarry, and his prospective new wife could give birth to a son. If all of those things had happened, that new baby boy would have become heir to the throne, even though he would have had two older half-sisters. Elizabeth was always the heiress presumptive, never the heiress apparent, during her father's reign.) Like all royals, Elizabeth was a "supernumerary" lady -- she didn't count toward the maximum total of 24 Garter knights.

3. The Order of the Garter is England's senior order of chivalry. It is awarded solely at the discretion of the British monarch, who is also the sovereign of the order.

4. Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom (1900-2002), nee Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was awarded the Garter in 1936, when her husband became King George VI.

5. Queen Mary of the United Kingdom (1867-1953), nee Princess Mary of Teck, was awarded the Garter on June 3, 1910, shortly after the accession of her husband, King George V.

6. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands (1880-1962) was made a "stranger" lady of the order in September 1944. King George VI presented her with the order's insignia in a private ceremony in London attended by only three people: himself, Wilhelmina, and her daughter, Princess Juliana. (Juliana, who succeeded her mother as queen, would also eventually be admitted to the order.) Wilhelmina was the first foreign queen to be made a member of the order.

7. "Honi soit qui mal y pense" is more frequently translated as "shame on him who thinks evil of it."

8. Ladies wear the Garter around their upper arm, not their wrist. See the portrait of Queen Mary above.

9. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (born 1921) was plain Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten at this point in history. On the day before his wedding to Princess Elizabeth, Philip was made a royal highness and a Knight of the Order of the Garter. The next morning, he was created Duke of Edinburgh. He was officially made a British prince in 1957.

10. Elizabeth did not wear the Garter for her wedding, but Philip wore the Garter star on his uniform.