Today, 23rd April, is St George’s Day. It commemorates the execution of St George, A Roman soldier who was imprisoned, tortured and finally beheaded for his Christian faith, on this day in 303 A.D.

St George is, of course, famous for the St George and the Dragon legend, a chivalric tale brought back to England by the Crusaders and telling of a man, St George, who saves a damsel in distress, and her town from a hungry dragon. There are various versions of the legend, but George is always portrayed as a great chivalric hero.

George was canonised in the 5th century and in the 14th century he became the patron saint of England, although he didn’t replace St Edward the Confessor properly in this role until Edward VI’s reign. St George is also the day for announcing new appointments to the Order of the Garter, the highest order of chivalry in England. The home of the order is, of course, St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Edward III had established the order under St George’s banner in 1348. Here is an explanation of how knights were elected to the Order of the Garter. It is about Elizabeth I’s reign, but worked the same in the reigns of the other Tudor monarchs:

“Selection of KGs worked in the following manner. Whenever a vacancy existed an election was held to select a new member, normally at the annual meeting or chapter on St. George’s Day, 23 April, at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Each KG present voted for nine men, three in each of the following categories: ‘princes’, ‘barons’, and ‘knights’. ‘Princes’ means earls, marquesses, dukes, and royalty (or, earls and above), while ‘barons’ and ‘knights’ are self explanatory. A viscount, who ranks between an earl and a baron, could be nominated under either category, ‘prince’ or ‘baron’. In Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the heir to an earl or above could be nominated under his courtesy title, while a duke’s younger son could be nominated as a ‘baron’. If ten Knights of the Garter were present at a given election, with each KG listing nine nominees, then as many as ninety names could be listed, though the more likely result would be about twenty. Then the votes were tallied and presented to the Queen, who picked whomever she pleased or no one at all.”

So, the votes were tallied but then the monarch had the final say.

In 1536, George Boleyn was expected to become a Knight of the Garter, but he was to be disappointed. Click here to read what happened in April 1536.

The Order of the Garter is still going! The website of the British monarch explains that “The Knights, now both male and female, used to be limited to aristocracy, but today they are chosen from a variety of backgrounds, in recognition for their public service”. You can see photos of the Order of the Garter service at

Notes and Sources

Picture: “Earl of Lancaster and St George”, Book of Hours. Use of Sarum., 14th century manuscript, MS. Douce 231, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

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