Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ane Godlie Dreame, an Apology to Elizabeth Melville from Linda Root

The colorful historical character James Melville of Halhill appears in each of my six historical novels set in Marie Stuart’s Scotland and during the reign of her son James VI and I, but he is not the only descendant of his father, the Calvinist martyr John Melville of Raith to make history.  The flagstone above was placed this year by Germane Greer, and it honors a Scottish woman who did more than just write poetry. She was the martyr's granddaughter.


Few events occurred in the life and times of the Queen of Scots in which Sir James Melville failed to play a role.  He was a contemporary and  friend of the ill-fated Queen of Scots from the time he was thirteen years old and both of them were living in France.  He met her when she was a child in the French royal nursery at Saint Germane-en-Laye where he was sent to be a page. 

On his way to France he was captured by pirates and escaped. Shortly after he arrived in France he gained the attention of the king’s friend the Constable of France and was given responsibilities at the Valois Court far beyond his original assignment. Later, during Marie Stuart’s  six years of personal rule in Scotland, he frequently performed diplomatic missions on her behalf and became her minister to the English court after William Maitland fell from favor. Although he was by the younger of the two, he was the uncle of the celebrated knight William Kirkcaldy, laird of Grange, and made advertising Kirkcaldy’s exploits an avocation. Kirkcaldy was Melville's much older sister Janet Kirkcaldy's oldest child and James Melville was her much younger baby brother. 

During Marie Stuart's rule and the Regency that followed her forced abdication, Melville matured into a masterful politician who survived in a Scotland ruled by regents who often held views in opposition to his own. He was well regarded by James VI but declined to relocate to London when James VI ascended the English throne as King James I in 1603, declaring  it was time to retire to Halhill to be with his long suffering wife and family. It was there that he wrote his famous Memoirs of His  Life, also known as The Memoirs of Sir James Melville of Halhil.

Wikimedia Commons -Public Domain
Because of the manner in which Melville interjected himself into so many of the great dramas of the 16th century, it is easy to poke fun at him. He is somewhat like a 16th century Forrest Gump, in the middle of everything. I tease him gently when I characterize him in my books as a consummate gossip and tattler of tales and I take him to task for his tendency to embellish the historical record especially when it comes to his own exploits and those of his uncle Kirkcaldy. But I always treat James Melville kindly.

Elizabeth Melville, the poet:

I am not as benevolent to his daughter, who appears briefly in the early pages of my novel 1603: The Queen’s Revenge  in which she  attempts to coerce  money from her fictional bastard cousin Daisy Kirkcaldy of whom she disapproves.  The fictional Daisy in my novels is Edinburgh’s most successful wadwife, a protégé of the infamous Janet Fockart who died the richest woman in lowland Scotland. The Elizabeth in my novel considers her cousin's profession disgraceful but necessary.

Exasperated Daisy listens to
Elizabeth's request for money.
Photo (c) Darja Vorontsova, Dreamstime
In my story, Elizabeth is seeking funds to hire a translator for a poem she has written entitled Ane Godlie Dreame. And indeed, history’s actual Elizabeth Melville did write and publish such a poem and paid printer Robert Chateris to have it translated.  She is considered to be  the first British female poet expressing herself in print, unless one considers the earlier the limited edition publication of the poem XLIX from the Maitland Quarto, which was first published in 1583  although probably written much earlier, and which is allegedly authored by Marie (Mary) Maitland, daughter of Sir Richard Maitland, Scotland’s poet laureate. Perhaps its obscurity is explained because it is a lesbian love poem. The unattributed XLIX  mysteriously found its way into a quarto of Sir Richard Maitland’s collected poetry. It had been prepared for publication by his daughter Marie after Sir Richard lost his sight. The Quarto was limited to a handful of copies and was never widely distributed.  Most made their way to private libraries, most notably that of Samuel Pepys. Thus, there is some justification in regarding Ane Godlie Dreame the first of its kind. It had a captive readership waiting—the powerful Scottish Kirk--and was enthusiastically received.

It is not surprising that Elizabeth Melville's militantly religious dream poem made her the darling of the Kirk.  Knox’s protégé John Craig’s endorsement and that of others of the Presbyterian clergy guaranteed it a wide distribution.  Perhaps  it is out of deference  to Marie Maitland that I treated  Elizabeth Melville shabbily in my novel. This post is meant to make amends. Elizabeth Melville’s Ane Godlie Dreame is more than just reasonably good poetry. Like Knox’s First Blast of the Trumpet, it is a Calvinist’s call to action, a work of political as well as religious significance that should not be trivialized.

The Poem:

Wikimedia Commons- PublcDomain
In her recent dissertation,[1] historian Karen Kech refers to Elizabeth Melville's attempt to instill Calvinist doctrine through the use of poetry, and calls Ane Godlie Dreame an effort to protestantize medieval dream imagery. That, of course, is the literary significance of the work, but from a sociopolitical point of view, it strikes a much more vibrant cord.  Two salient  points emerge from Kech’s thesis which are supportive of my research:  1) Scottish women of the upper strata  during late medieval and early modern times were less restricted than their counterparts to the south; and 2) there is great sociological significance in the Scottish practice of women during the 16th and early 17th centuries maintaining their family names.   The practice saw its modern revivial in the American feminist movement of the latter 20th century with the use of the hyphen and the term ‘Ms.’to acknowledge that women do not change identities  simply because of marriage vows. 

What in my lifetime was considered innovative and/or outrageous was a fact of life in early modern Scotland. The distinction is often overlooked in the genealogy sites currently infesting the web. Many such sites are not hosted by genealogists or historians and the products reflect the deficit. One I visited recently declares, for example, that after her marriage, Lady Lilias Drummond would have been known as Lilias Seton, and Janet Melville of Raith would have been known after  marriage to James Kirkcaldy as Lady Janet Kirkcaldy.  Never!  Scottish brides did not change their names when they married. Thus, if you find references to Ane Godlie Dreame having been written by Lady Culross without any mention of the surname Melville, the reference, like much of Scottish history, has been shamelessly Anglicized.

While the curriculum may have differed from that of their brothers, Scottish women of prominent families like the Melvilles were educated.  Some were employed outside of the home. A few were international traders.  Kech notes that noble women rarely went to school outside their homes, but stresses that does not mean they received an inferior education any more than homeschooling is necessarily an indication of poor education today.[2] Kech also notes that the university experience common among aristocratic Scottish males was not shared by their English contemporaries. In England only the very highest tier of the nobility were sent to Oxford or Cambridge. A much higher proportion of Scottish youths made it to Saint Andrews and the Sorbonne, and while their stay-at-home sisters may have been taught the domestic arts many also  studied Latin and several spoke French.

Elizabeth was not the first female Melville of distinction.

According to popular accounts of the last days of James V, following the disastrous defeat at the the Battle of Solway Moss and the birth of a daughter instead of the anticipated son, the depressed king traveled to his hunting lodge in Falkland ostensibly to die.  But he did not go there without stopping along the way to spend the night at Halyards at the home of his friend James Kirkcaldy, Laird of Grange. The laird had had advised him against sending Scottish lads to battle under the command of the King’s unpopular favorite Oliver Sinclair. 

James V of Scotland, Wikimedia (PD)
When the King arrived at Halyards, Grange was traveling through Fifeshire offering condolences to the parents of the dead and attempting to raise ransom money for the captured. When James learned the laird was away, he did not leave. He tarried with Janet Melville and her sons, and there he revealed the depth of his despair and foretold of his impending death. This is but one example of how formidable Lady Janet Melville was regarded. Elizabeth Melville is her niece. I offer this post as an apology for trivializing her role when I wrote 1603: The Queen’s Revenge.

Ane Godlie Dreame is more than just another religious poem.

Kech remarks in her dissertation : "The Kirk continued proclaiming its doctrine actively and evangelically, as it faced those who wished to restore the Roman Catholic faith and those who wished to impose Anglican practices on it."  

The Scottish Kirk honored all, male or female, who served it, and among the women whom it remembers is the poet, Elizabeth Melville, Kech states. Hence, my portrayal of Elizabeth Melville as the darling of the Kirk of Scotland in my book is not without foundation in fact. She took up the cause at a time when the Scottish Kirk had just freed itself from the yoke of Rome to find itself assailed by Anglicans, and it is this issue which Elizabeth Melville meets head on.  Her poetry is poemic.

All of James Melville’s children received fine educations and married well.  Elizabeth, who was probably the oldest, married John Colville, Commendator of Culross. By the ascension of James I, she had children of her own. Whether her marriage was a common political alliance of two families of landed Fifeshire gentry or a love match is an open question.  Her letters express but one passion, and that is for her protestant Faith. Like many children of devout and sometimes stiff-necked parents, Elizabeth Melville’s younger son Samuel Colville was a less disciplined Presbyterian and his views differed greatly from his mothers’ causing her to lament that she had been a neglectful parent. She admitted that she may have been so absorbed in what she considered her calling that she neglected her parenting. Just as the narrator of her poem, she feels she has been recruited by Christ to the life she lives, that of a Calvinist  activist who expresses her beliefs through poetry, not as a poet who occasionally expresses religious and political thoughts.  Her religious zeal is her raison d'etre. 

It is not surprising that Elizabeth became a notable Covenanter who publicly opposed James VI and I’s efforts to Anglicanize the Scottish Kirk.  She was a noted Presbyterian activist who stood up for her beliefs not just on the printed page but in public forums. History is silent as to Elizabeth Melville’s date of death but it is estimated at circa 1640 not based on any record, but because of the lack of one.  Not just was there a sudden absence of her signature on family land transfers but more importantly, there were no notations of her usual activities on behalf of the Covenanters.

Convenanters by Alexander Carse (PD-Art)
But the political Elizabeth Melville is not the one I write about in my novel 1603.  I had given her little thought as a political figure until I began to write this post.  My Elizabeth Melville was a young female religious zealot who managed to find an audience for her works in the poetry at the very dawn of early modern times. In some respects I was as ignorant of her art form as I was of her politics. 

Until I began this post I had never studied medieval dream vision poetry.  My knowledge of poetry had a gap extending from Ovid to the Bard. I can write a sonnet in iambic but I have no idea of the form for a dream vision other than apparently it had been seen in medieval works from Beowulf to the Divine Comedy.  True to the orthodox medieval format, Melville’s work begins with a protagonist struggling with an earthly dilemma, then tottering on the brink and finally finding redemption or at least the hope of it. However, Melville’s poem expresses an especially Calvinistic understanding of Christ’s existence in both the present and the afterlife. Her poem takes us from initial despair over the ungodly state of the world into an afterlife in which she eventually awakens from her dream convinced that Christ is near and salvation is indeed at hand. She does this in sixty stanzas in iambic pentameter of eight lines each, a noteworthy endeavor even if the poem had not become a rallying point in the Scottish battle against encroaching  Anglicanism.

Conclusion and Apology:

The relevance of Elizabeth Melville’s poem is threefold:  First of all, it was published, a result which was no small feat for a woman even in Reformation Scotland.  Second, it was translated and thus available in both Scots and English, and: Third, it was circulated to a sufficiently appreciative audience to give its author standing in the community of the Scottish Kirk, thus allowing her to evolve into that other Elizabeth Melville, the woman who became 
a highly visible Convenanter. Thus, it seems Elizabeth Melville’s contribution goes beyond authoring a rather long and at times tedious dream poem.  She used her talent to establish her credibility as a leading female voice in 17th century religious politics.  By any standard, her work deserves more accolades than I give her in my novel. Like my protagonist Daisy Kirkcaldy, Elizabeth’s fictional cousin, I lack the patience and the piety to read the poem in its entirety but I applaud the effort none the less.

In conclusion, Elizabeth Melville the 17th century activist is as relevant and at least as formidable as Elizabeth Melville, the turn of the century female Scottish poet.

…Look to the Lord: you are not left alone.
Since he is yours, oft pleasure can you take.
      He is at hand and hears your every groan
End out your fight and suffer for his sake….

----from Ane Godlie Dreame by E. Melville

For an in-depth review of both the poet and the poem I recommend Karen Kech’s 197 page dissertation, cited above, available at, and  J. Reid-Baxter (2004) ‘Elizabeth Melville, Lady Colors: 3500 New Lines of Verse’ in S. M. Dunnigan, C. M. Harker and E. S. Newman (eds), Women and the Feminine in Medieval and Early Modern Scottish Writing (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), 195-200.

[1] Elizabeth Melville's Ane Godlie Dreame: A Critical Edition, Karen Kech, B.A., M.A.A Dissertation in English May 2006
[2] Kech, ibid.
[3] Both the Scots and English versions dated 1603 were published by Robert Charteris, soon thereafter appointed Royal Printer to James I. 

Linda Root is the author of six historical novels set in the late 16th and early seventeenth century, The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, (2011) and The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots (2013), both large historicals, and the Legacy of the Queen of Scots Suite consisting of three books to date and the fourth coming early in 2015. She also writes historical fantasy under the name J.D. Root.  Root is a former major crimes prosecutor living in the high desert above PalmSprings with husband Chris and two Alaskan malamutes Maxx and Maya.   Visit her author page on Amazon at

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Robin Hood and the "Shire Reeve" of Nottingham

By Rosanne E. Lortz

In the multitude of Robin Hood legends or retellings, the principal villain is usually the Sheriff of Nottingham. As Prince John’s taxman, he is the bane of the poor peasantry, the threat to Maid Marian, and the arch-nemesis whom Robin Hood must outwit time and time again.

Robin Hood statue in Nottingham

For Americans, the word “sheriff” can conjure up a whole set of Wild West connotations foreign to the twelfth century world. The sheriff of our imaginations wears a silver star and a ten-gallon hat and carries a six-shooter. While his job entails bringing in outlaws, those outlaws are far more likely to be rustling longhorn cattle out among the tumbleweeds than poaching deer in His Majesty’s forest. Although the title of the American sheriff is derivative from the medieval English sheriff, there are many important differences, and not just cosmetic ones.

The term sheriff in Medieval England originally came from the words “shire reeve.” Historian Elizabeth Hallam writes the shire reeve was “the person responsible for supervising the king’s estates in the shire and collecting the income from them to pay into the Exchequer.”

Besides being the taxman, the shire reeve was also the local judge. He presided over the county court, giving judgments and keeping the peace. He delivered writs to summon accusers or offenders to the royal court when a dispute was too high a matter to be resolved within the shire.

The position of shire reeve was a prestigious one and prone to corruption. Hallam writes that “many exploited the power their position gave them for their own financial gain…. [I]n 1170, Henry [II] held inquiries into their conduct and dismissed most of them.”

The shire reeves during the reign of Henry’s son John turned out to be no better a lot. A man named Philip Mark held the position of Sheriff of Nottingham during this time, and his actions awakened such indignation that he received his own especial mention in the Magna Carta…when the nobles demanded that he be removed and forever banned from office. Philip Mark is considered by some to be a candidate for the sheriff of the legends (although interestingly, the dates which he served as sheriff—1209, 1214, and 1217—would put him after the time when Robin Hood was supposedly active).

But whether or not Philip Mark was the inspiration for the sheriff of the legends, one common thread in the medieval ballads and stories is that the Sheriff of Nottingham is nameless. His importance in the story is not so much as a historical character but as a symbol.

In her essay on the Sheriff of Nottingham, Valerie B. Johnson writes:
The sheriff of Nottingham's role in the Robin Hood legends is not glamorous—nor is his rivalry with Robin Hood particularly personal. In sum, the sheriff exists because Robin Hood needs the sheriff to exist. Without a foe who embodies local and national governmental corruption, indicating both personal failings and systemic problems, Robin Hood cannot hope to stand as a resistance figure to unjust authority.
While the American sheriff of the Wild West is a symbol of law and order, the sheriff of the Robin Hood legend is a nameless symbol of corruption and tyranny.

In the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, American mythology informs us that the lawmen handed the outlaws their just deserts. But when the Sheriff of Nottingham proclaims, “Come thou forth, thou fals outlawe. Thou shall be hangyde and y-drawe,” our sympathies are entirely on the other side.


Hallam, Elizabeth, ed. The Plantagenet Chronicles. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986.

Johnson, Valerie B. “The Sheriff.” The Robin Hood Project. (accessed December 16, 2014).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Here We Come a-Caroling

First Nowell stainerby Maria Grace

 The Start of Caroling
People have used songs and music as a part of celebration for as long as we have recorded history. The word carol comes from Latin the words meaning sing and joy. Thus carols are songs of joy.

The songs we know as Christmas carols have both sacred and secular roots. Some began as hymns of the church. Da, puer, plectrum (Of the Father's Love Begotten) written in the 3rd century by Aurelius Prudentius, is thought to be the oldest documented Christmas carol. Sacred carols continued to be written and sung throughout the middle ages. A chaplain in Shropshire noted twenty-five 'caroles of Christmas' in 1426.

Secular celebratory carols have an even longer history, well established in the British Isles by the time of Christianity. These songs were incorporated into rites that marked the arrival of each new season and integrated into observances of Michaelmas, Christmas, Easter and Mid-Summer Day.

By the 17th century, carols fell out of favor for most celebrations, except Christmas. Many of the songs retained their secular, even profane and sacrilegious nature. Consequently, when Cromwell came to power in the mid 1600’s, carols were strictly forbidden, as was any celebration of Christmas.
The Christmas carol
During the restoration of Charles II, carol singing was embraced once more. During the 18th century, the lyrics of Christmas carols became more decorous and gentile. They even became popular among the upper classes. Families sang carols in their homes and religious-themed carols were sung in the church.

Caroling and Wassailing

The practice of going door to door singing carols was known in the time of Shakespeare. Groups of usually lower class men went singing from house to house and remained until someone paid them for the efforts. Payment was more likely to make them go away rather than in appreciation of their songs.

By the end of the 18th century, wassailing became less about outright begging and more about charity. Groups of working class men and women would go house to house looking for those with a candle in the window to signal they were welcome. If welcomed, they would sing and often receive coins, wassail, and food for their efforts. During the Regency, groups of carolers from the local village often ended their evening of caroling at the local land owners manor house. Typically they would sing for the family and be treated to victuals and libations (frequently in the form of wassail) and a warm fire.

In some villages, people joined together to sing carols from the church towers. Broad-sheets of the most popular carols were printed to assist in the singing. At times these public celebrations could become boisterous.

What carols might have been sung

Carols sung while going house to house included both secular and sacred songs. Some of the secular songs are still familiar today, including: Deck the Halls, Here We Come a-Wassailing, We Wish you a Merry Christmas and The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Carol hymns hat might be familiar to today’s carol singers include: While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks at Night (written by Nahum Tate, published in 1702 ), Adestes Fideles (O Come All Ye Faithful) published in France in 1760 and translated into English in 1841, Joy to the World published by Isaac Watts in 1719 (traditional melody written 1836), Hark the Herald Angels Sing written by Charles Wesley in 1739 (traditional melody written by Mendohlsson in 1840), Angels from the Realms of Glory by James Montgomery in 1816 (melody written in 1867.) The First Noel dates from the 18th century as a traditional Cornish carol and even older, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In, whose lyrics found are found in 17th century texts. 

ChristmasCarolsNewAndOldAs I was researching this article, I found an original text: Ancient Christmas Carols with the Tunes to which they were formerly sung in the West of England from 1822 which included both lyrics and music. My youngest son was so thrilled with the find that he transcribed the music for two of these into a program to play and record the carols for you. You’ll have to imagine the words in your head though, as you definitely don’t want me singing along to these!

Here are the lyrics and music for two of them.

Whilst Shepherds watched their flocks by night

Whilst Shepherds watched their flocks by night
All seated on the ground'
The Angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone all round
Fear no, said he, for might dread
Has seized their troubled mind;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.
To you in David's town this day
Is born of David's line,
A Savior which is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign
The Heav'nly babe you there shall find
To human view display'd'
All mean wrapp'd in swaddling bands
And in a manger laid.
Thus spake the seraph and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God and thus
Addressed their joyful song:
All glory be to God on high
And to the earth be peace;
Good-will henceforth from Heaven to men,
Begin and never cease.

Click here to listen to what it may have sounded like:

The Lord at first did Adam make

The Lord at first did Adam make
Out of the dust and clay,
And in his nostrils breathed life,
E' en as the Scriptures. say.
And then in Eden’s Paradise
He placed him to dwell,
That he within it should remain
To dress and keep it well.
Now let good Christians all begin
An holy life to live,
And to rejoice and merry be,
For this is Christmas Eve.
Now let good Christians all begin
An holy life to live,
And to rejoice and merry be,
For this is Christmas Eve.

Click here to listen to what it may have sounded like:



 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at Longbourn and Remember the PastClick here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Below stairs - the Footman

by Deborah Swift

' the lady of fashion chooses her footman without any other consideration than his height, shape, and tourniture of his calf'  Mrs Beeton

Horace Roome, a liveried footman at Shugborough Hall
The footman has been doing his duties in English upper class households since the seventeenth century. His name comes from the fact he was originally employed to run alongside the carriage, to make sure it was not overturned because the original tracks were rutted and full of boulders and tree roots. This then extended to the duties of opening and closing the carriage doors, or running errands when the Lord or Lady were out and about in town.

Image from The Telegraph

'In the eighteenth century they were frequently matched to run against horses and carriages. One of the last recorded contests was in 1770 between a famous running footman and the Duke of Marlborough, the latter wagering that in his phaeton and four he would beat the footman in a race from Windsor to London. His Grace won by a very small margin. The poor footman worn out by his exertions and much chagrined by his defeat, died, it was said, of over fatigue.'
from 'A Handy Book of Curious Information' William Shepard Walsh, 1913

The footman was a personal outdoor servant, who would assist a specific person within a household thus adding to their aura of luxury and status.

Appearances were important, so a tall personable footman was paid more than a shorter plain one. They were often dressed in impractical embellished liveries, which were at odds with the duties they were expected to perform. A 'livery' was a uniform that identified the servant’s employer. The heraldic arms of the employer’s family would be echoed in the colour and decorations of the clothes distributed to these servants. The word 'livery' comes from the French livree - to hand over. For more on livery in the 19thC see this article in Jane Austen's world.

Where more than one footman was employed, they had to match, like bookends, in terms of height and colouring. Because they were supposed to submerge their own personality, footmen were often given a name chosen by the employer. James and John for a matching pair, or John Thomas for a single footman were popular names.

Silent service was the order of the day, so shoes that squeaked were replaced, and a footman was not expected to speak or show signs that he had heard the family's conversation.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century, footmen began to do duties indoors, and one of their first and surviving indoor tasks was to clean all the boots and shoes of the family before they were required, in other words at night. This could be a long task, as several different pairs of shoes were worn each day by each person or guest. The polish was made of  'charcoal, spermicetti oil, treacle and white wine vinegar' in the 17th century.

Another indoor duty was to trim wicks, re-fill wall sconces, and in the later centuries to deal with the many oil lamps. At Belvoir Castle in the 1830's about six hundred gallons of oil were consumed for light in the four months of winter.

After World War I fewer households could  afford servants, so the position of footman is now rare except in the British Royal Household, where they wear a distinctive scarlet livery on state occasions.

The Gilded LilyShadow on the Highway (The Highway Trilogy, #1)As many of you know, I have been interested in the lives of the servant class, and my seventeenth century books are told from the perspective of ordinary people witnessing extraordinary events.

You might like this lovely Daily Mail article about the real life of servants at Downton Abbey
And this about the duties of the second footman at Manor House

The Duties of Servants Reprinted from 1894 publication by Copper Beech Publishing, Ltd.
The Victorian Domestic Servant - May
Early Modern England, A Social History - Sharpe

Monday, December 15, 2014

Owain Glyndŵr, The Last Native Welshman to Hold the Title "Prince of Wales"

by Regina Jeffers

Owain Glyndŵr (c. 1349 or 1359 to c. 1415) was the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales (Tywysog Cymru). He led an unsuccessful revolt against Henry IV of England. Glyndŵr’s family was part of the Anglo-Welsh gentry of the Welsh Marches, the border between England and Wales, along the northeastern border of Wales. Like many of their class, the Glyndŵrs were fluent in both the Welsh and English languages, and they were accepted into Society on both sides of the border. They managed to know success as Marcher Lords, while keeping their position as uchelwyr, the nobility descending from the pre-conquest Welsh royals.

Glyndŵr’s paternal family came from the dynasty of northern Powys. His mother was descended from the Deheubarth power from the south. “The family fought for Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in the last war and regained their lands in north-east Wales only through a calculated association with the powerful Marcher lords of Chirk, Bromfield, and Yale and the lesser family of Lestrange." (The Castles of Wales)

Glyndŵr’s father, Gruffydd Fychan II, hereditary Tywsog of Powys Fadog and Lord of Glyn Dyfrdwy, died when Owain was but a youth. Most believe he was fostered out to live with David Hanmer, a man of the law and justice of the Kings Bench, and likely studied law at the Inns of Court. As such, Owain witnessed the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt in London. Later, Owain married Hanmer’s daughter Margaret and became the Squire of Sychart and Glyndyfrdwy. “He held the lordships of Glyn Dyfrdwy and Cynllaith Owain near the Dee directly of the king of Welsh Barony. He had an income of some L200 a year and a fine moated mansion at Sycharth with tiles and chimneyed roofs, a deer park, henory, fishpond, and mill.” (The Castles of Wales)

Glyndŵr served the English king for three years in the late 1300s. In 1384, he was in service to Sir Gregory Sais upon the English-Scottish border at Berwick-upon-Tweed. Next, he joined with John of Gaunt in Scotland in support of King Richard. This service brought Owain into the position of being part of the Scrope v. Grosvenor trial. This was one of the earliest heraldic law cases in England. When Richard II invaded Scotland, two of the king’s knights were found to be using the same coat of arms. Richard Scrope (1st Baron Scrope of Bolton in Yorkshire and Sir Robert Grosvenor from Cheshire were both bearing arms blazoned Azure a Bend Or. Owain had good company as a witness in the case: John of Gaunt, King of Castile, Duke of Lancaster, and Geoffrey Chaucer. The case was decided in Scrope’s favor. Finally, Glyndŵr joined Richard Fitzalan, 11th Earl of Arundel in the Channel at the defeat of the Franco-Spanish-Flemish fleet off Kent’s coast. In 1387, Owain returned home for his father in marriage had died. Therefore, he spent the next decade as a Welsh lord. Iolo Goch (“Red iolo”), a Welsh lord and poet, who wrote a number of odes to Owain, praising Glyndŵr’s liberal leanings, visited Owain throughout the 1390s.

In the later 1390s, Glyndŵr had several run-ins with his neighbor Baron Reginald de Grey, Lord of Ruthyn. The first was an argument over property. Unfortunately, the English Parliament ignored Glyndŵr’s appeal for redress. Also, Lord Grey supposedly informed Glyndŵr too late of a royal command to levy feudal troops for Scottish border service; therefore, Glyndŵr was labeled a “traitor” in his legal matters. Grey was reportedly a personal friend of King Henry IV. Brooding over the snub he had received from the English court, Glyndŵr contacted other disaffected Welshmen. This disaffection led to Glyndŵr’s raising his standard outside Ruthyn on September 16, 1400.

In January 1400, an officer serving deposed King Richard II was publicly executed in the English border town of Chester. Along with Glyndŵr, many in Wales were loyal to Richard. In addition, Wales was “strewn with the rubble of dynasties. Wales in the late 14th century was a turbulent place. The brutal savaging of Llywelyn the Last and Edward I’s stringent policies of subordinating Wales had left a discontented, cowed nation where any signs of rebellion were sure to attract attention.” (The Castles of Wales) When Glyndŵr turned against Henry IV’s “friend,” he wore his mantle as a live representatives of the old royal houses of Wales. His followers proclaimed him “Prince of Wales.”

The revolt spread from Glyndŵr’s initial attack upon Ruthyn to a national wave of unrest. Owain scored his first major victory in June 1401 at Mynydd Hyddgen on Pumlumon, but that victory was followed by Henry IV’s attack on the Strata Florida Abbey. In 1402, the English Parliament issued the Penal Laws against Wales, an act that turned many Welshmen toward rebellion.

The capture of Lord Ruthyn cost Henry IV a large ransom, but the King chose not to ransom Sir Edmund Mortimer, who was captured at the Battle of Bryn Glas. Mortimer finally negotiated an alliance with Owain and married one of Owain’s daughters.

In 1402, the French and Bretons joined the Welsh fight against England. By 1404, Owain set up court at Harlech, which was followed by the calling of his first Parliament (Cynulliad) at Machynlieth. At this gathering, Glyndŵr was crowned Prince of Wales. He quickly announced his national programme, which included the promise of a Welsh independent state and a separate Welsh church, as well as two national universities and a return to the traditional law of Hywel Dda. English influence was quickly reduced to a few isolated castles and protected manors.

Glyndŵr negotiated the "Tripartite Indenture" with Edmund Mortimer and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. The trio planned to divide England and Wales among them. Wales would extend as far east as the rivers Severn and Mersey and include what is now Cheshire, Shropshire, and Herefordshire. Mortimer would claim southern and western England and Percy the north. The French officially joined the fight as an ally of Wales in 1405. However, the French withdrew in 1406 after politics in Paris leaned toward peace.

When young Prince Henry took over the military strategy, the pendulum swung once again in England's favor. The Prince set up a series of economic blockades, which weakened the Welsh efforts. By 1407, Owain's Aberystwyth Castle surrendered while he was away fighting. Harlech Castle fell in 1409. Mortimer died in the final battle, and Owain's wife, daughters, and granddaughters were imprisoned in the Tower of London, where they met their deaths in 1415. Owain became a hunted man; however, was hardly silent - for he still led raids against the English.

In an ambush in Brecon, Owain captured Dafydd Gam ("Crooked David"), a Welsh support of King Henry. This was the last time Glyndŵr was seen alive by his enemies. What is more remarkable than the civil war the revolt inevitably became, is the passion, loyalty and vision which came to sustain it. Glyndwr's men put an end to payments to the lords and the crown; they could raise enough money to carry on from the parliaments they called, attended by delegates from all over Wales - the first and last Welsh parliaments in Welsh history. From ordinary people by the thousands came a loyalty through times often unspeakably harsh which enabled this old man to lead a divided people one-twelfth the size of the English against two kings and a dozen armies. Owain Glyndwr was one Welsh prince who was never betrayed by his own people, not even in the darkest days when many of them could have saved their skins by doing so. There is no parallel in the history of the Welsh. (The Castles of Wales) Henry IV died in 1413, and his son Henry V established a more conciliatory attitude toward Wales. Royal pardons were offered to many of the Welsh leaders.

"The draconian anti-Welsh laws stayed in place until the accession to the English throne of Henry VII, a Welshman, in 1485. Wales became subsumed into English custom law, and Glyndwr's uprising became an increasingly powerful symbol of frustrated Welsh independence. Even today, the shadowy organization that surfaced in the early 1980s to burn holiday homes of English people and English estate agents dealing in Welsh property has taken the name Meibion Glyndwr, the Sons of Glyndwr. Since 1410 most Welsh people most of the time have abandoned any idea of independence as unthinkable. But since 1410 most Welsh people, at some time or another, if only in some secret corner of the mind, have been 'out with Owain and his barefoot scrubs.' For the Welsh mind is still haunted by it's lightning-flash vision of a people that was free." (The Castles of Wales)

"Nothing certain is known of Owain after 1412. Despite enormous rewards being offered, he was never captured nor betrayed. He ignored royal pardons. Tradition has it that he died and was buried possibly in the church of Saints Mael and Sulien at Corwen close to his home, or possibly on his estate in Sycharth or on the estates of his daughters' husbands — Kentchurch in south Herefordshire or Monnington in west Herefordshire." (The Castles of Wales)

But Glyndwr was not being forgotten in the misery. In his play, Henry IV, Shakespeare portrays Owain Glyndwr as a wild, exotic, magical and spiritual man, playing up the romantic 'Celtic' traits. (BBC/Wales History)

"In his book The Mystery of Jack of Kent and the Fate of Owain Glyndŵr, Alex Gibbon argues that the folk hero Jack of Kent, also known as Siôn Cent – the family chaplain of the Scudamore family – was in fact Owain Glyndŵr himself. Gibbon points out a number of similarities between Siôn Cent and Glyndŵr (including physical appearance, age, education, character) and claims that Owain spent his last years living with Alys passing himself off as an aging Franciscan friar and family tutor. There are many folk tales of Glyndŵr donning disguises to gain advantage over opponents during the rebellion."(Wikipedia)

It was not until the late 19th century that Owain's reputation was revived. The "Young Wales" movement recreated him as the father of Welsh nationalism. The discovery of Owain's Great Seal and his letters to the French in the Bibliothèque Nationale helped revise historical images of him as a purely local leader. In the First World War, the Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, unveiled a statue to him in Cardiff City Hall and a postcard showing Owain at the Battle of Mynydd Hyddgen was sold to raise money for wounded Welsh soldiers. Folk memory in Wales had always held him in high regard and almost every parish has some landmark or story about Owain. However, there is no road sign indicating the scene of one of his greatest battles at Bryn Glas in 1415.

For additional information on Owain, see Judith Arnopp's post from November 6, 2014, on "The Men of Harlech."


Regina Jeffers is the author of Austen-inspired novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, Vampire Darcy’s Desire, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, The Phantom of Pemberley, Christmas at Pemberley, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, Honor and Hope and The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy. She also writes Regency romances: The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, A Touch of Cashémere, A Touch of Grace, and The First Wives’ Club. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, Jeffers serves as a consultant in media literacy. Currently living outside Charlotte, North Carolina, she spends her time with her writing, gardening, and her adorable grand joys.  Visit Regina's website at for excerpts, book releases, and personal appearances. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Giveaway: Love Birds of Regents Park by Ruth J. Hartman

Ruth is giving away an ecopy to an international winner. You can read about the book HERE. Please comment below this post to enter the drawing, and be sure to leave your contact information. The contest ends in the evening PST Sunday Dec. 21, 2014.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem

by Helena P. Schrader

The roots of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem go back before the founding of the Knights Templar, and indeed before the First Crusade. In about 1070, a hospice for pilgrims was established near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with funds from Italian merchants and staffed by Benedictine monks and nuns. Although the Benedictines were expelled from Jerusalem before the arrival of the first crusaders, they returned after Jerusalem was in Christian hands, and with help from the Christian secular authorities, re-established a hospital. Soon, further grants of money and land from the Christian lords enabled the monks to establish a chain of hospitals throughout the Holy Land and to set up hospices at the embarkation ports for pilgrims setting out from Europe or returning from Outremer. The monks and nuns running these hospitals and hospices soon became known as the “Hospitallers.”

Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem

In 1113, the monks of the Hospital (also referred to as the Brothers of St. John and the Brothers of the Holy Sepulcher) requested and received from the Pope the right to become an order in their own right. This new order, as with the Templars a decade later, was made directly subordinate to the Pope, and in or about 1130 it adopted the Augustine Rule. Meanwhile this new order was rapidly acquiring significant donations in land and treasure in both the West and in the Holy Land, a reflection of the undiminished support for a Christian-controlled Holy Land.

Nevertheless, the Hospital of St. John remained a traditional monastic order. Although it had been granted the explicit right to defend its properties and pilgrims, members of the Order were prohibited from bearing arms. As a result, throughout the 12th century the Hospital was dependent for its protection on knights who owed feudal duty to the Hospital via their landholdings, voluntarily offered their services, or were hired mercenaries. These defensive forces, whatever their source, must have been substantial, however, because the Hospital was given very powerful fortresses, notably the most impressive crusader castle of them all: Krak des Chevaliers.

Krak de Cheveliers in Syria

It would have been pointless to turn over such vitally important military resources to an order incapable of maintaining and defending them, but the exact status of the Hospital’s fighting men remains obscure until 1206, when the Hospitaller Rule was changed to allow for fighting monks. Thereafter, the Hospitallers began to recruit fighting men, probably starting with those who were already associated with it in some way, and like the Templars they had both knights (men of noble birth) and sergeants. Within a very short time, the knights dominated the Order. The Hospitallers, however, continued to have priests, monks, and nuns devoted solely to the care of the sick, and the network of hospitals was not abandoned. At about this time, the entire Order adopted black robes (reminiscent of their Benedictine origins) adorned with a white cross. One notable difference with the Templars, however, was that there was no distinction in dress between the knights and the sergeants of the Hospital.

The Hospitallers, like the Templars, warned new recruits that “… when you desire to eat, it will be necessary for you to fast, and when you would wish to fast, you will have to eat. And when you would desire to sleep, it will be necessary for you to keep watch, and when you would like to stand on watch, you will have to sleep. And you will be sent this side of the sea and beyond, into places which will not please you, and you will have to go there. It will be necessary for you, therefore, to abandon all your desires to fulfill those of another and to endure other hardships in the Order, more than I can describe to you.” (Barber, Malcolm, The Knight and Chivalry, p. 275) Like the Templars, the Hospitallers vowed poverty and chastity as well as obedience.

The similarity between the two powerful militant orders led to open rivalry between them for recruits, resources, and power in the first half of the 13th century. This led on occasion to open fighting between members of the orders on the streets of Acre and Tripoli, but more often to subtle maneuvering behind the scenes. For decades, the Hospitallers and Templars consistently backed rival claimants to the throne of Jerusalem and rival Italian trading communities. As the end of Christian Palestine neared, however, the Hospitallers and Templars put aside their differences and jealousies to rally to the now lost cause. In the last decades of Christian Palestine, Hospitallers and Templars fought side by side, ferociously and futilely, at Antioch, Tripoli, and finally Acre.

Hospitaller HQ at Acre, Photo by HSchrader

After the fall of Acre, the Hospital also relocated its headquarters to Cyprus, but conflict with the King of Cyprus convinced the leadership of the Hospital (evidently more flexible, imaginative, and analytical than the tragic Jacques de Molay of the Knights Templar) of the necessity for independence from secular authority. The Hospitallers undertook the capture of the island of Rhodes from Turkish forces in 1306, finally seizing the capital city in 1309. With this move the Hospitallers removed themselves, and the bulk of their movable treasure, from the grasp of Philip IV – or any king inclined to follow his example. Even more important, however, from this island base the Hospitallers built up a powerful fleet capable of challenging the naval power of the Turks and of launching hit-and-run raids into Saracen territory. The Hospitallers had “reinvented” themselves and had found a new justification for their existence.

The Hospitaller and Templar Churches in Famagusta, Cyprus, Photo by HSchrader

The Hospitaller fleet remained a significant force protecting Christian shipping and commerce throughout the next two and a half centuries, and the base of this fleet on Rhodes, so close to the Turkish coast, was a constant provocation to Turkish rulers. Numerous attempts were made to capture Rhodes, notably in 1440, 1444, 1480, and 1522. During the first 3 sieges, the Hospitallers withstood vastly superior numbers, in one case (1444) driving off the enemy with a daring sortie from within the city, and twice rescued by the timely arrival of a relieving fleet from the West. In 1522, an army allegedly 100,000 strong attacked a force of just 600 knights and 4,500 local auxiliaries. After 2 months of bombardment a breach in the landward wall was made, yet 3 assaults through the breach, carried out with complete disregard for casualties, failed. Sultan Suleiman called off the costly assaults and settled down for a long siege, cutting Rhodes off from all relief. Recognizing the hopelessness of their situation, the surviving Hospitallers, now more commonly called Knights of St. John, surrendered on honorable terms.

When the Hospitallers withdrew on their ships from Rhodes, they were effectively homeless, but Emperor Charles V offered them the island of Malta as their new headquarters. From here they continued to operate their fleet so effectively that Sultan Suleiman decided he had to dislodge them from their new home. In 1565 he again assembled a large siege force. The Knights of St. John had 500 knights of the Order and 10,000 other troops. The Turks launched their first attack in May and after a month of fighting captured an outlying fort, slaughtered the garrison, and floated their mutilated bodies across the harbor to the main fortress as a warning of what was to come. The Hospitallers replied by executing Turkish prisoners and catapulting their heads into the Turkish camp. A Turkish assault on the main fortifications was undertaken on July 15, and a breach in the walls effected by August 7. Yet two assaults through the breach, on August 19 and 23, both failed. On September 7 a Spanish fleet arrived from the West and scattered the demoralized Turkish forces. The defense of Malta had cost the Hospitallers half their knights and 6,000 of the other defenders.

Thereafter, the Knights of St. John focused again on making the seaways of the Mediterranean safe for Christian shipping, a task that became increasingly easy as Turkish naval power declined. But this victory, like the defeat in Acre 300 years earlier, robbed them of their raison d’être. The Knights of St. John, now commonly known as the Knights of Malta, slid into a slow decline. They became more involved in commerce than warfare, and their fortresses turned into palaces. When Napoleon laid siege to Malta in 1798, the last frail remnants of the once mighty Hospitaller Order surrendered in just two days.

Helena P. Schrader is the author of numerous works of history and historical.  She holds a PhD in History from the University of Hamburg.  The first book in her three-part biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin, who defended Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187 and was later one of Richard I’s envoys to Saladin, was released this fall .  Read more at: or follow Helena’s blogs: Schrader’s Historical Fiction and Defending the Crusader Kingdoms.

A Biographical Novel of Balian d’Ibelin
Book I

A landless knight,
                A leper King
                                And the struggle for Jerusalem.

 Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Odd Details in History Spark a Story

by Carl E. Ramsey

“There’s something wrong with this scroll….” The main hero in my recently published Arthurian screwball comedy, Sir Christian de Galis and the Fish Gravy, confronts the main heroine, a lady who only looks harmless. “It begins with sixteen kings and one duke. Then the knights are numbered one through one hundred forty-nine. But that adds up to one hundred sixty-six names. You said one hundred sixty-seven. Was someone else also removed from the Honor Roll? If so, I hope it was Sir Dagonet! Or is this scroll a fake?”

There does seem to be an error in the scroll that Sir Christian examines, or at least an inconsistency on the document as it appears on in the library of Henry VIII. Researching John Leyland’s Assertion of King Arthure, in Merlin by Norma Lorre Goodrich, I discovered that Merangis des Portz and Gauuaine le Franc are sequentially listed with the same number on a roster of Round Table knights.

And it wasn’t with just any number, but fifty-two. I designated my find, a diamond in the details and developed it into an ongoing comedy routine about scribes “who began playing cards while copying scrolls. That’s when they made their scribal error with the number fifty-two.” Incidentally, card playing in the historical middle ages is mentioned in the Parson Letters.

For punishment and to protect the two scribes from the two angry knights who “were savagely outraged when they found out.” they were sentenced to the peasant crew that cleans out the castle gardé robe pits where “the scribes’ sensational new aroma should keep them at a safe distance until things—ahem—blow over.”

Another diamond in the details, which seems just right for providing humor in future installments of Sir Christian’s quest, appears on the Bayeux Tapestry. It was brought to my attention that a right handed archer is shown placing his arrow on the right side of an archery bow. When I tried that at a Renaissance Festival I was corrected by a resident archer. Comparing notes with online contacts, Charles Bazalgette thought the tapestry artist made a mistake or the archer in the tapestry actually shot that way. However, he also was corrected when he placed the arrow on the wrong side of the bow while taking up archery as a teenager. He mentioned the archer’s paradox: when the arrow is fired on the correct side of the bow, it “flits around the bow and straightens up'. Strangely, or interestingly enough, this inconsistency in placing the arrow on supposedly “the wrong side” of the bow has been noticed on other ancient or medieval archery pictures.

A third diamond in the details which I noticed while doing research for my Arthurian comedies involves the name “Longinus” given to the centurion who stuck the pilum or spear into side of the Lord Jesus at the crucifixion. This spear then becomes a sacred sought after item. It appears in Arthurian fiction in the tale of the Dolorous Stroke and in history during the first crusade where it is supposedly found in Jerusalem in such a way that it leads the crusaders to victory.

But let’s return to the name Longinus, a name so popular and interesting that Henryk Sienkiewicz assigns it to a symbolic character in his Nobel Prize winning story, With Fire and Sword. In the Biblical tale, The Spear, by Louis de Wohl, the complete name of the crucifixion centurion is Gaius Cassius Longinus. How many ever noticed that complete name also belonged to Gaius Cassius Longinus, one of Caesar’s assassins so notorious that he is listed at the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno.

What I labeled diamonds in the details in this blog are little known facts, mistakes, or connections hidden in information that a researcher may discover when writing a story. But to get at them, he has to look through piles of boring lists, check out something odd about a picture, or while researching a name. Moving from the medieval to other world history, how many noticed that Anastasia, the name of the Russian princess, who supposedly escaped the assassination of the Tsar’s family, means “Resurrection.” In doing US veterans work, I discovered that Pvt George Phillips, the medal of honor hero that my Marine Corps League detachment is named after, was a member of 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine regiment, who raised the flag on Iwo Jima. (My only Marine Corps League colleague, who knew this fact, interesting enough, was another Iwo Jima veteran who had been knighted by a descendant of Lord Kitchener.) One last example occurred this past weekend when I was shown a large tomb in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery where a Civil War Veteran was said to be a Medal of Honor hero, but when I later checked his name it didn’t appear on any known list. Such information in medieval stories, historical accounts, and even grave yards provide true diamonds that may be dug out of the details—and perhaps turned into intriguing stories. May the good writers and researchers discover many such diamonds in the details.


Carl E. Ramsey is a Marine Corps war veteran who graduated with high distinction from Concordia Teachers College (now Concordia University), Seward, Nebraska, in December, 1975. Following a thirty-five year mixed career of English teaching and IT he does veterans work and writes Christian comedy adventure in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Order of the Garter during the reign of George III

by Jacqui Reiter

On 12 December 1790, King George III issued orders summoning a Chapter of the Order of the Garter at St James's Palace. He then wrote a pointed reminder to his prime minister, William Pitt the Younger, who had just helped avoid war with Spain:
"Having summoned a Chapter of the Garter for Wednesday, and Mr Pitt not having been at St James's in the course of the last week, I think it necessary by this means to remind him of my having offered him one of the vacancies of that Order. When last I mentioned it, he seemed to decline it; but perhaps the conclusion of the dispute with Spain may make him see it ... as a public testominial of my approbation."[1]

Pitt declined again, but requested that his Garter be bestowed instead on his elder brother, the Earl of Chatham, First Lord of the Admiralty. The King agreed, and on Wednesday 15 December 1790 Lord Chatham joined the Foreign Secretary, the Duke of Leeds, to be invested as a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

The Most Noble Order of the Garter (founded 1348) was Britain's most senior Order of Knighthood. Originally a military order, by 1790 it was a significant badge of honour, reserved to members of the royal family and men of high rank and merit. The original Order was limited to twenty-five knights in addition to the sovereign, but in 1786 this was expanded to include all male descendants of George II (because George III had so many sons).[2]

Much pageantry naturally underpinned this ancient and noble Order, although when Lord Chatham acquired his KG in 1790 much of it had fallen into abeyance.

"The habits and ensigns" 

Modern Garter robes, from here

By 1790 the Order's original medieval dress had evolved into six representative parts: the "habits" and the "ensigns". The "habits" were the mantle, the surcoat (or kirtle), and the hood and cap; the "ensigns" were the Garter, the George, and the collar.

2nd Duke of Newcastle in his Garter robes
(Wikimedia Commons)

The mantle and surcoat were patterned on the ancient Roman toga and tunic respectively. Both were made out of silk velvet lined with white taffeta: the mantle, tied loosely with two gold cordons with large tassels, was dark blue, the surcoat crimson. The mantle bore an embroidered Garter, motto ("Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense" – "Shame on him who thinks ill of it") and St George's Cross on the left breast. The crimson hood had evolved into a purely decorative splash of scarlet on the right shoulder, but knights also wore a flat black velvet cap covered in ostrich feathers and an "agrette" of black heron feathers affixed with diamonds. Under all this the knights wore silver satin clothes modelled on 16th century fashions and white leather shoes with red heels.[3]

The collar—30 troy ounces of solid gold fashioned into twenty-six enamelled red roses on a blue background, with an effigy of St George slaying the dragon hanging from the middle—was affixed to the mantle with gold hooks and eyes at the shoulder. The Garter itself, embroidered with gold thread and often picked out with pearls or precious stones, was worn "on the left Leg, a little beneath the Knee".[4]

Collar, Garter and Lesser George
Wikimedia Commons

The "full habit" (mantle, surcoat, collar, George, and Garter) was only to be worn in full at certain prescribed times, normally only installations, the three days surrounding the Feast of St George (22, 23, and 24 April), and other holy days named in the statutes of the Order.[5]

At times when not wearing the full whack, knights wore a blue silk ribband instead, wrapped over their left shoulder. From this ribband hung another effigy of St George, called the "lesser George" to distinguish it from that which hung from the collar, partially concealed under the right arm. Whereas the collar had to be plain, however, "lesser Georges" could be decorated in any way the owner wished. 

Regency-era Garter Star
Wikimedia Commons

Knights also had to display the Star of the Order, known as "the Glory", on their left breast. The points of the star, often decorated with diamonds and other jewels, represented rays of light from the Holy Spirit.[6]

Copy of John Hoppner's portrait
of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham,
wearing the blue ribbon and Star
(from here)

The Garter had to be worn at all times, on pain of a half-mark fine. The only exception was when the knights wore riding boots, and even then they had to wear a band of blue silk under their boots to represent the Garter.[7]

Becoming a knight

Nominations were frequently political, of course, but the ceremonies surrounding becoming a Knight of the Garter were intricate. First, the knight-elect was knighted with the Sword of State, since only "a Knight and [a man] without Reproach" could join the Order.[8] After being elected, the new KG had to be invested and installed before enjoying full privileges.

During the reign of George III there were, however, only three Installations, in 1762, 1771, and 1805.[9] By 1801 several knights had died uninstalled, and there were twenty-one KGs who remained half-in half-out, Lord Chatham amongst them. At the end of May 1801 the King finally issued patents installing everyone "by dispensation". Lord Chatham's patent, dated 29 May 1801, can still be seen at the National Archives.[10]

The only ceremony Chatham underwent, therefore, was that of investiture. This was "Garter lite": participants wore the Garter, mantle and chain only, and it could be held anywhere. The King sat at the head of a table covered in a crimson velvet cloth, with the Privy Council inkstands and silver before him.[11]

After being knighted, the knight-elect was taken out of the room and the election took place. This was a mere formality: each member of the Chapter inscribed nine names for the monarch to consider from all ranks of nobility and gentry. Once elected, the knight-elect was collected by the two most junior knights. Garter King of Arms presented the Garter to the King on a velvet cushion. The King tied it round the knight-elect's leg with the assistance of the two most senior knights, then slipped the blue ribbon over the head of the knight-elect.

After the investiture, a Knight was allowed to wear the Garter, ribbon and lesser George; but only after installation was he allowed to display the Star, wear the Collar and participate fully in any Chapters. During this ceremony, the new Knight was "installed" in a stall in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. His "achievements" (banner, crest, and stall plate) were erected there.[12]

The installation of 23 April 1805 

The first installation for over thirty years was particularly interesting because one of the knights-elect, Lord Hardwicke, was absent (he was lord lieutenant of Ireland), so he sent his younger brother Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke as his proxy. I can't help feeling a little sorry for Sir Isaac Heard, Garter King of Arms: appointed in 1784, he managed to miss the only installation that took place under his watch due to an accident.[13]

Six new knights were being installed, along with Hardwicke's proxy. All knights wore their full fig; the knights-elect in their silver underhabits (except for the proxy, who wore normal clothes), and paraded to the sound of kettle drums and trumpets from Windsor's Royal Apartments to the Chapel.

St George's Chapel, Windsor (1818)
Wikimedia Commons

In the Chapter-House the surcoat, girdle and sword were put on the knights-elect, after which the Knights of the Order processed into the Chapel and stood beneath their banners. The achievements of deceased members of the Order (banners, swords, helms and crests) were taken down and laid before the altar.

The senior knight-elect, the Duke of Rutland, was brought in first by the two most senior Knights. Windsor Herald, deputising for Garter King of Arms, carried the mantle, hood, collar, and book of Statutes on a cushion. The Register of the Order took Rutland through the oath, then the two senior Knights took him to his stall and clothed him in the mantle, hood, collar, and cap. They then embraced him and sat him down, and the process was repeated for the next highest-ranking man.

When Hardwicke's proxy arrived the ceremony was slightly different. Instead of clothing Yorke in the mantle, the Knights accompanying him laid it over his left arm so that the embroidered cross was visible. At the end of the ceremony Yorke remained standing with the mantle still over his arm.

After Divine Service the procession returned to the Castle for a grand dinner. The King dined under the state canopy with the princes of royal blood arrayed about him, the Knights at a separate table in order of seniority. At the end of the first course the King drank to the Knights, who stood, uncovered, while trumpets sounded a fanfare and cannons fired a salute outside. At the end of the second course Windsor Herald called "Largesse!" three times, then read out the King's style in Latin, French, and English; he then declared "Largesse" for each new member of the Order, although this time he only read the style in English.[14]


All this must have been very expensive, and I'm only slightly surprised it was only done three times during a sixty-year reign. I do feel slightly sorry for my boy Chatham, though, who never got a proper installation and who was not even permitted to wear the Star or attend a Chapter until May 1801.



[1] Earl Stanhope, The life of William Pitt II (London, 1861), Appendix, xiii

[2] George Frederick Beltz, Memorials of the Order of the Garter (London, 1841), cxxxii

[3] The clothes are described at length in Elias Ashmole, The history of the most noble Order of the Garter... (London, 1715), pp. 156-69; Thomas Robson, The British herald, or cabinet of armorial bearings... I (London, 1830), 95; William Berry, Encyclopaedia Heraldica, I (London, 1828)

[4] Ashmole, pp. 158, 173-5; Robson, 95

[5] Ashmole, pp. 184-6

[6] Ashmole, pp. 169, 180-2; Robson, 95

[7] Ashmole, pp. 136, 188; Robson, 95

[8] Ashmole, p. 133

[9] Francis Townsend, Calendar of Knights ... (London, 1828), p. 133

[10] National Archives Chatham MSS PRO 30/8/371

[11] Charles Taylor, The Literary Panorama, and National Register... II (London, 1807), 1079

[12] The ceremonies of investiture are described in Robson, p. 96. Lord Chatham's installation in December 1790 is described in the Times, 17 December 1790

[13] Robson, 96

[14] The ceremony is described at length in Robson, pp. 96-9; also in Ceremoniale at the Installation of the Knights of the Garter in the Chapel of St George within the Castle of Windsor (London, 1757)


Jacqui Reiter has a Phd in 18th century political history. She believes she is the world expert on the life of the 2nd Earl of Chatham, and is writing a novel about his relationship with his brother Pitt the Younger. When she finds time she blogs about her historical discoveries at