Order of the Garter Manuscript

Scope and Content

The manuscript contains the Statutes and Ordinances of the Order of the Garter, entitled The Statutis and ordinancis of the most noble order of Saynt George named the Gartyr, Refourmed, explayned, declared and renewed by the most highe most excellent and most puyssant prince Henry the VIIIth. The manuscript probably dates from the end of the reign of Henry VIII.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Order of the Garter, the most senior and oldest British Order of Chivalry, was founded by Edward III in 1348. The Order, consisting of the King and twenty-five knights, was intended by Edward III to be reserved as the highest reward for loyalty and for military merit. The origin of the emblem of the Order, a blue garter, is obscure. It is said to have been inspired by an incident which took place whilst the King danced with the Countess of Salisbury. The Countess's garter fell to the floor and after the King retrieved it he tied it to his own leg. Those watching this were apparently amused, but the King admonished them saying, 'Honi soit qui mal y pense' (Shame on him who thinks this evil). This then became the motto of the Order. Modern scholars think it is more likely that the Order was inspired by the strap used to attach pieces of armour, and that the motto could well have referred to critics of Edward's claim to the throne of France.

The patron saint of the Order is St George and the spiritual home of the Order is St George's Chapel, Windsor. Every knight is required to display a banner of his arms in the Chapel, together with a helmet, crest and sword and an enamelled stallplate. From the eighteenth century to 1946, appointments to the Order (and to the Order of the Thistle) were made on advice from government. Today, the Order has reverted to its original function as a mark of royal favour; Knights of the Garter are chosen personally by the Sovereign to honour those who have held public office, who have contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the Sovereign personally. The number of knights is limited to 24 plus royal knights. For much of its history the Garter was restricted to the aristocracy, but today knights drawn are from varied backgrounds.

Conditions Governing Access

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands, on behalf of the John Rylands Library, from John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910), in July 1892.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan and Jo Humpleby, project archivists, with reference to http://www.royal.gov.uk/output/Page490.asp.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 58).

Custodial History

The manuscript was formerly part of the Spencer Library at Althorp, Northamptonshire, which was largely assembled by George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834); then by descent to John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer (1835-1910). Former owners: Guillelmus Rolle e societate Salvatoriana, 1706; Guillelmus Trone.

Geographical Names