Masonry and the Order of the Garter

Brooks C. Dodson, Jr.

When initiated into Masonry, each candidate is presented with a lambskin or white leather apron and told, among other things, that the apron is the Badge of a Mason and that it is more honorable than the Star and Garter or any other order that could be conferred upon him by King, Prince, Potentate or any other person except he be a Mason.

The intent of this statement is very clear, that it is to impress upon the candidate the distinct honor of having been accepted as a member of the Masonic fraternity. Perhaps you have also wondered about the meaning of this specific reference to the Star and Garter as well as what might have caused our Masonic forefathers to choose this particular statement as a part of the Entered Apprentice degree when it was adopted.

Searches through Masonic literature have resulted in little, if any, factual information which would tend to shed light upon this most intriguing question. However a careful review of the Most Noble Order of the Garter does uncover certain interesting factors which would lead one to logical conclusions as to what our ancient brothers must have had in mind at the time.

It is well to understand that there are numerous orders of knighthood In England, but none higher than the Most Noble Order of the Garter. The heads of each of these orders is entitled to wear the "Star" of that particular order which is unique in its design and appearance. The reigning Sovereign presides as the head of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, which permits him to wear the Star of the order and entitles him to confer knghthood in that order.

Clearly, the statement in the Entered Apprentice degree was chosen to imply that being initiated into Masonry was not only a higher honor than being knighted into the Most Noble Order of the Garter, it was also higher than the coveted honor of being the Sovereign Head of this, the highest order of English Knighthood, or of being Knighted into any other noble order by the King himself.

The phrase was undoubtedly adopted for use in the Entered Apprentice degree sometime after August 1348, when King Edward III constituted the Most Noble Order of the Garter. It is interesting to note that this was the same century that operative and speculative Masonry began the process of merging into one so-called "accepted" body which was subsequently first chartered in England.

The order consists of the Sovereign and twenty-four Knight Companions who are lineal descendants of King George I and have been accepted and knighted into that order. Other Sovereigns and Knights have on occasion been admitted, but only by special statutes after having performed outstanding services for the Sovereign. Sir Knight Winston Leonard Spence Churchill was one such person.

Aside from other less relative paraphernalia of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the garter itself is made of blue velvet edged with gold. It bears the motto "Honi Qui Mal Pense," which is embroidered in gold about its circumference. This translates into modern language as "Woe Be Unto Him or Them Who Thinks Evil of Us." I am not certain what, if any, effect this has ever had upon Masonry. The garter is always worn on the left leg, lust below the knee with white stockings and black velvet knee length trousers.

The collar of the Most Noble Order of the Garter is of particular interest in that it closely resembles those worn by officers of many Lodges in various Jurisdictions as well as Grand Lodge officers. There is a significant difference in value. The collar of the Most Noble Order of the Garter is made of pure gold and weighs exactly 30 troy ounces. It consists of twenty-four individual pieces, each of which is in the shape of the garter. In the center of each garter is a Tudor rose. These twenty-four pieces are interconnected by four knots of gold located between two pieces. A pendant is suspended from the bottom front of the collar and depicts St. George on horseback engaging a ferocious dragon with a long spear. A Masonic officer's collar is constructed in the same fashion with the varlous pieces representing certain Masonic symbols. The two collars are worn in exactly the same way with the pendant representing St. George replaced by the jewel of the officer wearing the Masonic collar.

Aside from the Blue Lodge use of the title "Most" to distinguish many of its Grand Masters, there are several other titles in the Most Noble Order of the Garter which appear in the constituent bodies of Masonry. These include "Noble," "Sir Knight," "Companion," and, of course, "Sovereign," which is a prestigious title in the Scottish Rite.

As noted previously, these are all speculations which cannot be verified. However one cannot dispute the strong evidence relating to what our Masonic forefathers had in mind and what they intended for it to imply when they said "more honorable than the Star and Garter or any other order that can be conferred by King, Prince, Potentate, or any other person except he be a Mason."

From the Fall 1990 issue the The Voice Of Freemasonry, an official publication of the Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, of the District of Columbia.