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The Bard of the Garter by Nigel Roth


Peer for a moment through this stained glass window and view the medieval scene before you, a bit like Scrooge viewed the dancing at Mr Fezziwig's Ball.


With only candles to light the great vaults of the hall, the mighty King Arthur, prince of Camelot, stands at the head of his great Round Table, imploring his knights, among them such chivalrous luminaries as Galahad, and Lancelot, Tristan and Geriant, Percival, Bors, Lamorak, Kay, Gareth, and Bedivere, to be upstanding, and to toast the bravery of their brother knight Gawain, who sits bow-headed opposite Arthur.


They stand as one, as does the reluctant Gawain, for he’s still feeling shame for accepting the gift from the wife of the sly Green Knight, which ultimately saved his life, and aided his resistance to the charms of the temptress Mrs Green.


Arthur, an overflowing flagon of ale held aloft, addresses Gawain, telling him he must bear no shame for his actions, and that that gift would have been theirs if they’d been in need of it at that moment. He nods to his knights, and they to Gawain, and to show the true camaraderie they share and to celebrate their fraternal bond they, in unison, raise their knee-length tunics, push their best leg forward, and reveal their garters, putting Gawain at his instant ease.


Now, of course, none of this actually took place because Arthur didn’t really exist as King of anywhere, and Monty Python didn’t concoct this scene for The Holy Grail.


And yet even though Arthur, the round table, and his band of knights were a fiction of the twelfth century French poet, Chrétien de Troyes, this is exactly where The Order of the Garter, an order of British honor second only to the Victoria and George Crosses, and dedicated to the fabricated dragonslayer Saint George, began.


The Bard of the Garter may have been a better moniker.


Of course, Queen Elizabeth II was presented with this honorary order, as was her aurisilian son, Prince Charles. The Dukes of Kent, York, Gloucester, and Cambridge all got one, and so did the Princesses Royal and Alexandra, and the Earl of Wessex, and twenty-one other Royal ne'er do wells.


One prominent member of the Royal horror show, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, never received a garter, probably because there was no room in his closet for any more.


Of course, most people didn’t get a royal garter, poets especially, they just got to wear ordinary ones, and for much of the garter's history that included men, as it’s only recently that they’ve become associated with the attire and objectification of women.


The ‘Father of English Literature’, and the ‘Father of English Poetry’, and the father, most importantly, of his son Lewis, Geoffrey Chaucer wore garters when he wrote his Canterbury Tales around 1395.


Chaucer was the first person to be entombed in Poet’s Corner, in Westminster Abbey, for his contributions to our literary legacy, like this bawdy passage from his fourteenth century work The Miller's Tale, which I will summarize for you as the English is somewhat hard to follow.