Created by King Edward III in 1348 in homage to the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the Order of the Garter is the oldest and most senior Order of Chivalry in England. Membership is limited to the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and up to 24 other living individuals (though the Sovereign may confer “extra” memberships on members of the royal family and foreign monarchs). So to be one of the 24 was a really big deal.
[Another hint at how significant it was: remember when in 1536 Sir Nicholas Carew was named to the Order instead of George Boleyn? The announcement on April 23 was the first indication at just how out of favor the Boleyns had fallen …But I digress.]
Henry Grey was one of four new Knights named in the first year of Edward’s reign (the other three were Edward Stanley, Thomas Seymour, and William Paget) – Henry VIII had left a couple of spots unfilled, then two new ones opened up at the end of his reign in 1547 (the Duke of Norfolk and his son the Earl of Surrey were degraded when they were charged with treason). The pomp must have been spectacular – truly, the Garter Ceremony is second only to a coronation for ritual!
Like his fellow members, Henry Grey would have been assigned a stall in the chapel choir – and to show it was his, a small, elaborately enameled brass plate displaying his heraldic badge would be affixed to the back of it. Too, his heraldic banner would be hoisted to the vaulting. On his death, the banner would be removed – but the Garter stall plate would remain as a permanent monument. That said, don’t bother looking for poor Henry Grey’s plaque. When a member of the Order was convicted of (and executed for) treason, he was ceremonially “degraded.” All references to his name in the Register would be annotated with the words “vah proditor” (fie on you, traitor), and his Garter stall plate would be pried off and destroyed. This was what happened to Henry Grey when he rebelled in his daughter’s name against Mary I…
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