The Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is one of the three former English court orders and still the highest order of knights in the United Kingdom.
The English term is “Most Noble Order of the Garter”, where ‘garter’ means a garter or knee band.
This is probably where its name and the motto of the order come from: “Honi soit qui mal y pense”, which is usually translated incorrectly as “A rogue who thinks evil of it.”
The correct translation, however, (especially as far as the meaning is concerned) is: “A villain who thinks evil of it”.
The reason for his foundation was probably that Edward III wanted to bind his knights more firmly to himself. The trigger, however, was a rather curious incident, the truth of which cannot be regarded as certain due to a lack of sources, but which is nevertheless too beautiful not to be told here.
Actually, there are two versions of it, but they basically amount to the same thing.
At a ball, King Edward III danced with his mistress Catherine Grandison, the Countess of Salisbury. She lost, for whatever reason, one of her garters, which was of course immediately noticed by bystanders.
A violent whispering began, all eyes turned to the couple and everyone waited to see how the King would resolve the situation. But the king was not embarrassed at all, but dealt with it in his own unique way.
In one version he fastened the garter himself to one of his legs (as is still done by members of the Order of the Garter) and shouted: “Shame on those who think badly of it.
In another version, the king is said to have stood protectively before his beloved with an unfolded cloak, so that she could fasten her garter again, while he turned his head to his court and shouted: “A villain who thinks evil of it.
From this is said to derive the obligation of the members of the Order of the Garter to protect people in distress.
It was also a beautiful sign of the form of courtoisie, the special kind of aristocratic courtesy towards women, which was cultivated at French and Burgundian courts at that time.