The Knights of the Garter under Henry VIII

This special feature includes all the men who were Knights of the Garter during Henry’s reign (1509-47). Fifty-two of them are still represented by engraved and enamelled plates, placed in the stall they occupied during the Order’s ceremonies in St George’s Chapel. Although initially intended as memorials, by Henry’s reign these plates were being introduced to St George’s within a year of each Knight’s installation. Each plate featured the Knight’s arms and name, and often his motto and the offices he held. Plates were taken down when a Knight was degraded for treason, and in other cases, we have no evidence that a plate was ever installed, so plates do not survive for all of Henry's Garter Knights. The stall plates were left in place on each Knight’s death, and remain as memorials to the men who have been elected to the Order over the centuries.

The Order of the Garter, the senior British Order of chivalry, was founded by King Edward III in 1348. Based at St George’s Chapel within the walls of Windsor Castle, it was a fellowship of the most senior men in the realm, who swore to uphold the chivalric ideals of the Order and who took as their symbol a garter inscribed with the words Honi soit qui mal y pense (‘Dishonour to him who thinks evil’). The Order consisted of the monarch, the Prince of Wales and twenty-four other knights. Foreigners could also be elected, as ‘Stranger Knights’.

When Henry VIII became King in 1509, he was already a Knight of the Order, having been installed, as Duke of York, in 1495. As King, however, he automatically became Sovereign, or head, of the Order. At the start of his reign, the existing Knights of the Garter were men appointed to the Order by his father, Henry VII, and by his Yorkist predecessors Edward IV and Richard III. Over the next twenty-five years, Henry appointed a further fifty-three men as Knights of the Garter. His final appointment, in 1545, was to be Thomas Wriothesley, first Earl of Southampton and a nephew of Thomas Wriothesley (d.1534) who had been Garter King of Arms, herald of the Order. It was the Earl of Southampton who was to bring the news of the King’s death to Parliament just over a year later.