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

A new book by Stephanie Trigg explores the vulgar secrets behind the British Monarchy's highest honour.

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The Most Noble Order of the Garter is the highest honour in the gift of the Queen. On Garter Day (June 18), members of this select group will put on their elaborate long robes, hats, ribbons and gold chains and take part in the annual procession at Windsor Castle.

This new book by Stephanie Trigg, Professor of English Literature at the University of Melbourne and Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, explores the myths and traditions of the Order, which was founded by Edward III in 1348.

"The 'official' version of its origins says he wanted to reward his best knights. But a popular myth persists: that the king gallantly picked up the dropped garter of his mistress and declared to the laughing courtiers that he would found a chivalric order in honour of the occasion," Professor Trigg said.

The Order would become so great that all who were laughing would want to join. The Order's motto is Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense: 'shamed be he who thinks evil of this.'

This popular story celebrates the pleasure of things going wrong, and the monarchy's capacity to make symbolic meaning out of trivial or embarrassing events. The Order has been the object of satire and fun since its inception, while its rituals have at times fallen into severe decay. The book charts the different associations of courtly honour, and the shame, or disgrace of 'degradation' from the Order.

'Most previous histories of the Order have been celebratory, written by insiders or admirers,' Professor Trigg explained earlier this week. 'This book is a cultural history, and draws on both sympathetic and antagonistic views of the Garter in its almost 700 years of existence.'

The book will be launched in Sydney by Professor Paul Giles at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts on Friday, June 8.  The event has been organised by The Australian Heraldry Society.

It will have a Melbourne launch on Tuesday, June 12 in the Baillieu Library at the University of Melbourne. Mr Brien Hallett, Usher of the Black Rod, Australian Senate, will launch the book.

Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter is published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, and the research was supported by funding from the Australian Research Council.

Stephanie Trigg
Phone: (03) 8344 5504
Mobile: 0405 782 133