Degradation from the Order – Source Documentation

I first learned about the ceremony for degradation from the Order of the Garter by reading The Most Noble Order of the Garter – 650 Years by Hubert Chesshyre, Lisa Jefferson, and Peter J. Begent. Loaned to me by Bruce Draconarius of Mistholme, the book is a fantastic overview of the Order, and its description of the degradation ceremony is an absolute delight. However, The Most Noble Order of the Garter – 650 Years fails to specify the exact wording used, and is vague on when the practice as described was first institutionalized.

Fortunately, its bibliography revealed two fantastic resources. The first is The Statutes of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, written by Edward III and revised in 1522 by Henry VIII. This primary resource for the governance of the Order is useful on its own, and contains a number of surprisingly detailed descriptions of the achievements of the knights to be displayed within Saint George’s Chapel.

The second, The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, written by Elias Ashmole, Windsor Herald, in 1672, was a study commissioned by Charles II as part of his effort to restore the respectability of the monarchy after the Cromwellian interregnum. This document goes beyond the statutes of the Order, and gets into their policies and procedures, traditions and precedents not otherwise written down in a single volume. He devotes an entire chapter to the procedure of degradation from the Order, including “stage directions” for where Garter should stand, and in what manner dressed (“in his Coat of Arms, (usually before Morning Prayer, if the Grand Feast, or Feast of Installation be then held) standing on the highest step ascending to the Brazen Desk, placed in the middle of the Choire in St. George‘s Chappel at Windesor, the Officers of Arms standing about him”), for how and when the pursuivants on ladders should remove the achievements of the degraded knight (“when Garter pronounceth the words, Expelled and put from among the Arms, &c. takes his Crest, and violently casts it down into the Choire, and after that his Banner and Sword,”) and to which locations the officers of arms should spurn said achievements (“out of the West-Door of the Chappel into the Castle Ditch.”)

Ashmole’s work is incredibly thorough, with an appendix of hundreds of extant documents from the Order’s archives reproduced. These include a warrant from Queen Elizabeth to Garter King of Arms, instructing him to remove the achievements of the Duke of Northumberland from Saint George’s Chapel, and the instrument of degradation for the Duke of Buckingham, issued in 1521, which would have been read by Garter in its entirety in the chapel.

With these in hand, I have a solid script for my performance.