Artifact Corner: Victorian Order of the Garter Pin

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another Artifact Corner. Today we will be looking at a small pin. We have quite a few brooches and pins in our collections, but this one is an absolute conundrum. Fannie Delord Webb Hall really liked brooches, and wore quite a few of them in different pictures, but we can’t find any information on this pin. The pin has a coat of arms on it, and some gold text. The text reads “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” which is Medieval French for ‘Shame on him who thinks evil of it.’ As it turns out, this is a Victorian era Order of the Garter pin. Why on earth do we have this pin in our collections? No member of the family was a member. Let’s learn a bit more about the Order of the Garter.

The Most Noble Order of the Garter is an order of chivalry founded by Edward III of England in 1348. It is the most senior order of knighthood in the British honours system, outranked in precedence only by the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. The Order of the Garter is dedicated to the image and arms of Saint George, England’s patron saint. Appointments are at the sovereign’s sole discretion and are usually in recognition of a national contribution, for public service, or for personal service to the sovereign. There are numerous legends surrounding the origin story for the order of the garter. The most popular involves the “Countess of Salisbury”, whose garter is said to have slipped from her leg while she was dancing at a court ball at Calais. When the surrounding courtiers snickered, the king picked it up and returned it to her, exclaiming, “Honi soit qui mal y pense!” (‘Shame on him who thinks ill of it!’), the phrase that has become the motto of the Order. However, the earliest written version of this story dates from the 1460s, and it seems to have been conceived as a retrospective explanation. The use of the garter as an emblem may have derived from straps used to fasten armour, and may have been chosen because it held overtones of a tight-knit “band” or “bond” of knightly “supporters” of Edward’s cause.

Membership in the Order is strictly limited and includes the monarch, the Prince of Wales, not more than 24 companion members, and various supernumerary members. The monarch alone can grant membership. Monarchs are known as the Sovereign of the Garter, and the Prince of Wales is known as a Royal Knight Companion of the Garter. Male members of the Order are titled “Knights Companion” and female members are called “Ladies Companion.” St. Georges Chapel in Windsor is the mother church of the Order of the Garter and the location of special services in relation to the Order. Every Monarch and Prince of Wales has been a member of the Order of the Garter from the late 1340’s to present day.

The Delord family was decidedly American and French. The family were very much on the side of the American cause during the War of 1812, with Henry and Betsey Delord being friends with the American commanders, and holding dinner parties for them. So, it seems a bit weird that the family would end up with an Order of the Garter pin in their possessions. We will continue to try to figure out the origins of the pins arrival, but for the time being, we’re just not sure. It is a beautiful pin, and in quite good condition. We are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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