Strongly attached to the place of his birth, Edward the Third, by his letters patent dated from Westminster, in the twenty-second year of his reign, now founded the ancient chapel established by Henry the First, and dedicated it to the Virgin, Saint George of Cappadocia, and Saint Edward the Confessor; ordaining that to the eight canons appointed by his predecessor there should be added one custos, fifteen more canons, and twenty-four alms-knights; the whole to be maintained out of the revenues with which the chapel was to be endowed. The institution was confirmed by Pope Clement the Sixth, by a bull issued at Avignon the 13th of November 1351.
In 1349, before the foundation of the college had been confirmed, as above related, Edward instituted the Order of the Garter. The origin of this illustrious Order has been much disputed. By some writers it has been ascribed to Richard Coeur de Lion, who is said to have girded a leathern band round the legs of his bravest knights in. Palestine. By others it has been asserted that it arose from the word "garter" having been used as a watchword by Edward at the battle of Cressy. Others again have stoutly maintained that its ringlike form bore mysterious reference to the Round Table. But the popular legend, to which, despite the doubts thrown upon it, credence still attaches, declares its origin to be as follows: Joan, Countess of Salisbury, a beautiful dame, of whom Edward was enamoured, while dancing at a high festival accidentally slipped her garter, of blue embroidered velvet. It was picked up by her royal partner, who, noticing the significant looks of his courtiers on the occasion, used the words to them which afterwards. became the motto of the Order -- " Honi soit qui mal y pense;" adding that "in a short time they should see that garter advanced to so high honour and estimation as to account themselves happy to wear it."
But whatever may have originated the Order, it unquestionably owes its establishment to motives of policy. Wise as valiant, and bent upon prosecuting his claim to the crown of France, Edward, as a means of accomplishing his object, resolved to collect beneath his standard the best knights in Europe, and to lend a colour to the design, he gave forth that he intended a restoration of King Arthur's Round Table, and accordingly commenced constructing within the castle a large circular building of two hundred feet in diameter, in which he placed a round table. On the completion of the work, he issued proclamations throughout England, Scotland, France, Burgundy, Flanders, Brabant, and the Empire, inviting all knights desirous of approving their valour to a solemn feast and jousts to be holden within the castle of Windsor on Saint George's Day, 1345. The scheme was completely successful. The flower of the chivalry of Europe -- excepting that of Philip the Sixth of France, who, seeing through the design, interdicted the attendance of his knights-were present at the tournament, which was graced by Edward and his chief nobles, together with his queen and three hundred of her fairest dames, "adorned with all imaginable gallantry." At this chivalrous convocation the institution of the Order of the Garter was arranged; but before its final establishment Edward assembled his principal barons and knights, to determine upon the regulations, when it was decided that the number should be limited to twenty-six.
The first installation took place on the anniversary of Saint George, the patron of the Order, 1349, when the king, accompanied by the twenty- five knights'-companions, attired in gowns of russet, with mantles of fine blue woollen cloth, powdered with garters, and hearing the other insignia of the Order, marched bareheaded in solemn procession to the chapel of Saint George, then recently rebuilt, where mass was performed by William Edington, Bishop of Winchester, after which they partook of a magnificent banquet. The festivities were continued for several days. At the jousts held on this occasion, David, King of Scotland, the Lord Charles of Blois, and Ralph, Earl of Eu and Guisnes, and Constable of France, to whom the chief prize of the day was adjudged, with others, then prisoners, attended. The harness of the King of Scotland, embroidered with a pale of red velvet, and beneath it a red rose, was provided at Edward's own charge. This suit of armour was, until a few years back, preserved in the Round Tower, where the royal prisoner was confined. Edward's device was a white swan, gorged, or, with the "daring and inviting" motto --
Hay hay the wythe swan By God's soul I am thy man.
The insignia of the Order in the days of its founder were the garter, mantle, surcoat, and hood, the George and collar being added by Henry the Eighth. The mantle, as before intimated, was originally of fine blue woollen cloth; but velvet, lined with taffeta, was substituted by Henry the Sixth, the left shoulder being adorned with the arms of Saint George, embroidered within a garter. Little is known of the materials of which the early garter was composed; but it is supposed to have been adorned with gold, and fastened with a buckle of the same metal. The modern garter is of blue velvet, bordered with gold wire, and embroidered with the motto, "Honi soit qui mal y pense." It is worn on the left leg, a little below the knee. The most magnificent garter that ever graced a sovereign was that presented to Charles the First by Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, each letter in the motto of which was composed of diamonds. The collar is formed of pieces of gold fashioned like garters, with a blue enamelled ground. The letters of the motto are in gold, with a rose enamelled red in the centre of each garter. From the collar hangs the George, an ornament enriched with precious stones, and displaying the figure of the saint encountering the dragon.
The officers of the Order are the prelate, represented by the Bishop of Winchester; the Chancellor, by the Bishop of Oxford; the registrar, dean, garter king-at-arms, and the usher of the black rod. Among the foreign potentates who have been invested with the Order are eight emperors of Germany, two of Russia, five kings of France, three of Spain, one of Arragon, seven of Portugal, one of Poland, two of Sweden, six of Denmark, two of Naples, one of Sicily and Jerusalem, one of Bohemia, two of Scotland, seven princes of Orange, and many of the most illustrious personages of different ages in Europe.