The Garter Connection
Royal Henxmen & the Most Noble Order of the Garter


Both the mediaeval post of Henxman, and the Most Noble Order of the Garter, were founded within a few years in the 1340s.  Was this a coincidence, or was there a connection?  This page examines the relationship between the two.

Edward III

The founding of the Order of the Garter in 1348 was part of a systematic series of linked initiatives by King Edward III (ruled 1327-1377).  These were strongly shaped by his personal interests, and were aimed at strengthening his chances of gaining the throne of France.  This bid for additional power and wealth became an obsession with Edward III and his successors, and was the cause of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453).

Edward III's claim arose because his mother, Isabella of France (1295-1358), was a sister of King Charles IV of France (ruled 1322-1328).  When Charles IV died without an heir, Edward III argued that he was the nearest male relative, and should inherit the throne himself.  However, the French instead appointed
a cousin of Charles IV by male descent, Philip VI (ruled 1328-1350) - which Edward III appeared to accept for a while. 

However, differences grew between Edward III and Philip VI, particularly over a French-Scottish alliance aimed at keeping English aggression in check.  On 26 Jan 1340 Edward III renewed his claim to France
at a great meeting in Ghent, and added King of France to his titles.  He also unveiled his new coat of arms, which for the first time included the French royal symbol of fleur-de-lys upon a blue background (illustrated here).

Illustration 1:  Shield from the Royal Arms of England.  1340-1367.
Edward III's claim to France was reflected in his new coat of arms, which quartered the English royal lions with the French fleurs-de-lys.  For picture details, see footnotes.

Edward III had long been fascinated by the idea of knightly chivalry and prowess, and in particular by the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.  He loved jousting, and in January 1344 Edward III held a tournament at Windsor, based on a Round Table theme.  At the close of this festival, Edward III began a long-term project to re-shape Windsor Castle (his place of birth) as the modern Camelot.  First he ordered the building of a massive House of the Round Table there, as the home for a new Order of the Round Table that he proposed to create.  But the founding of this Order soon had to be postponed, due to plans for an invasion of France.

In 1346, after lengthy preparations, Edward III and his son Edward the Black Prince launched a major offensive against Normandy.  On 26 Aug that year, their campaign achieved a resounding English victory at the Battle of Crécy, one of the most decisive of the Hundred Years War.  This was followed by the siege and fall of Calais on 03 Aug 1347, which became a major beachhead for further English invasions.  It was not retaken by France until over 200 years later, during the reign of Queen Mary I in 1558.

Order of the Garter

Edward III returned from his French conquests in Oct 1347, to much public celebration.  In 1348 he revived his idea of the Order of the Round Table, updated it to suit current needs, and created it as the Most Noble Order of the Garter.  It was a reward for his key military supporters, a motivating example to others, and a lasting reminder of his power.  The founding members comprised the monarch and the Prince of Wales (the Black Prince), plus 24 Knights Companions.  It remains the highest order of chivalry in the UK today.

As with the Henxmen, the precise date of the Order’s founding is unclear, due to the scarcity of surviving documents from this period.  But a detailed study and analysis of all available evidence in 1846, by the respected historian Sir Nicholas Harris NICOLAS (1799-1848), concluded that the Order of the Garter was founded circa July 1348, and this remains the generally accepted date.

Edward III’s political and military ambitions, coupled with his interest in jousting and chivalry, made the soldierly St George his ideal patron.  Edward had developed a personal devotion to this military saint, and in 1348 he dedicated the Order of the Garter to him.  Edward III also made St George the patron saint of England, and the protector of the English royal family.

At the same time, the old Chapel of St Edward the Confessor at Windsor Castle was re-dedicated, by order of King Edward III, to become the Chapel of St George, henceforth to be the spiritual home of his new Order of the Garter.  Finally, on 06 Aug 1348, Edward III established the Royal College of St George (a community of 26 priests, to serve St George’s Chapel and to pray for the Order), which continues to exist today.

All of these linked initiatives - the founding of the Order of the Garter; the adoption of St George as patron saint; the re-dedication of the Chapel at Windsor; and the creation of the Royal College of St George – took place in the summer of 1348. 

These moves were designed to project Edward III’s image as a strong, pious, and generous King, and as the leader of a powerful and united military elite.  Edward III was aiming to strengthen the unity and commitment of his followers, whilst impressing any waverers amongst the French to support his claim to their throne.

Illustration 2:  King Edward III in Garter Robes.  Circa 1430-1440.
Edward III founded the Order of the Garter in 1348, to support his bid for the throne of France.  For picture details, see footnotes.

Henxmen
The central role of the Henxmen was similarly centred upon the sovereign’s image.  Edward III wished to be seen riding a spirited stallion in processions, like a knight from romantic legend, but at the same time needed to find a way to keep himself and his audience safe from harm.  The primary ceremonial duty of the Henxmen was to ensure that this happened. 

But the presence of the Henxmen also provided opportunities to further enhance the King’s image – reflected in their personal abilities and appearance, the exclusivity of their group, their striking costumes, and their strong reputation for loyalty and ability.  All of these aspects were designed to impress, and all were utilised at every opportunity.

Contemporary royal documents prove that the Henxmen cannot have been created to serve the Order of the Garter, for the Henxmen came into existence some 2-4 years earlier, in circa 1345.  This estimated date places the founding of the Henxmen after Edward III’s Jan 1344 tournament of the Round Table, but before his Jul 1346 invasion of Normandy – and at least 2 years before the Order of the Garter was created in Jul 1348.  However, this timing places the creation of the Henxmen firmly in the centre of Edward III’s project to enhance his public image – and the role of the Henxmen fitted that aim perfectly.

Moreover subsequent records, and the Henxmen’s consistent reputation down the ages, make it clear that the Henxmen were always chosen and trained to serve just one master, never a group of people such as the Order.  And in the great majority of cases, as with King Edward III, that master was the royal sovereign.  It is clear that the Henxmen were created to serve the King, not the Order of the Garter.

However, the Order of the Garter was very much focused on public display, with the monarch playing an active, personal role.  The sovereign's involvement in the processions and ceremonies of the Order meant that the Henxmen naturally became involved too, because that was their job.  So the Henxmen became regular – although not central – participants in the Order’s proceedings.  Below are some examples, drawn from original sources, of the Henxmen's involvement in the Order’s annual events:

Garter Feasts

The annual Feast Day of St George is on 23 April (in the modern, Julian calendar).  The Henxmen are known to have been involved in the Garter ceremonies associated with that day.  For instance, the archaeologist and antiquarian Sir Richard Colt HOARE, Baronet (1758-1838)
of Stourhead, noted in 1826 that:

Amongst the attendants on the feast day of the Order of the Garter, were the Henxmen, or Henchmen; from whom it is supposed the present family derive their name, and who are thus mentioned by ASHMOLE, and many other authors.

Elias ASHMOLE (1617-1692) was an earlier antiquarian, whose donation of his extensive collection to Oxford University created the basis for the world-famous Ashmolean Museum.  He was appointed as Windsor Herald of Arms in Ordinary, at the College of Arms in 1660, and became a founding member of the Royal Society in 1661.  He became expert upon the history of the Order of the Garter, and in 1672 published a study: The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

Illustration 3:  Royal Coat of Arms with Garter & Motto.  Engraved 1688.
The design emphasises the Order of the Garter's association with Edward III's claim to France (indicated by the French fleur-de-lys).  For picture details, see footnotes.

Garter Processions
In his book, ASHMOLE notes that Henxmen followed immediately after King Henry VIII, during a Garter procession held two days before the Garter Feast Day in 1519:

Another most magnificent Cavalcade, was that of King Henry the Eighth, and the Knights-Companions into Windesor, upon the 27. of May, in the 11. year of his Reign, being the day preceding the Eve of the Grand Feast (during which he begun his Reformation of the Statutes of the Order) which was ordered as followeth.

On the 27. day of May being Friday, the King removed from Richemont towards his Castle of Windesor, and appointed them about one a Clock at Afternoon the same Friday, that all Noblemen, and other which would wayte upon his Grace, would be ready between Richemont and Honslowe to attend upon him (. . .)

And the King, thus right nobly companyed, rode to Colebroke, and at the Sign of the Katherines Wheel the King took his Courser, and his Henchmen richly apparelled followed, and also the Kings Horse of State led, Gartier King of Arms wore his Coat of Arms, the Lord Richard Fox Bishop of Winchester and Prelate of the Order, with many othre great Estates, gave their attendance upon his Highness. (. . .)

The King entred Windesor with his great Horses, that is to say nine Coursers with nine Children of Honor upon them, and the Master of the Kings Horses upon another great Coursers back, following them, having and leading the Kings Horse of Estate in his hand, that is to say, a rich Courser with a rich Saddle, and trapped and garnished following the King, and so entred the Castle.
(. . .)

ASHMOLE also provides useful detail regarding the main Garter procession (which formed part of the Feast Day ceremonies), and the normal place of the Henxmen within it.  In the following extract, the special role of the Henxmen around the King is confirmed by a comparison with other lesser servants, who are utilised for general crowd control:

The Henxmen followed, in the Grand Procession, neer to the person of the Soveraign, but the Gentlemen, Pages, and Footmen belonging to the Knights-Companions, did not go in this Proceeding, but were marshalled before it set forward, from the Choire door, on both sides the Processional way, and here and there intermixt with the Yeomen of the Guard, to keep off the Press. (. . .)

Both of the above extracts confirm that the Henxmen were positioned close to the King.  This suggests they were primarily carrying out their normal ceremonial duties, of controlling the monarch’s stallion and acting as an inner bodyguard.  However, they were also adding significantly to the majesty and pomp of the occasion.

ASHMOLE notes that careful attention was paid to the sequencing of the Grand Procession, and that many people not directly concerned with the Order nevertheless participated.  In both cases, these were clearly intended to enhance the grandeur of the occasion.  This confirms a further motivation for the Henxmen’s own involvement, and underlines the efforts made to create a most impressive spectacle immediately around the King himself:

In this Grand Proceeding, we observe the Habits so ordered, that the more grave and civil, being placed between those that are rich and gallant, entertain the Beholders with a more delightful prospect. (. . .)

The Registers of this Noble Order make frequent mention of divers persons of rank and quality, who at this Solemnity of St. George, put themselves upon the duty of attendance on the Soveraign, because, otherwise, related to his Service, although in reference to the Order not so concern’d, as to be taken into the Proceeding.  Such are divers of the Nobility, sometimes great Ladies, many considerable Officers of the Houshold, and other Courtiers; all richly habited and attired, thereby adding to the Gallantry of this solemn Ceremony. (. . .)

Illustration 4:  Knee Armour bearing Garter & Motto.  Engraved 1688.
Detail from an engraving of Edward III, showing the Garter and part of its Motto (Honi soit qui mal y pense) worn on his knee armour.  For picture details, see footnotes.

Garter Costumes
ASHMOLE notes that the Henxmen wore rich and colourful costumes for the Feast Day ceremonies, especially whilst attending on the King, to impress the onlookers with the monarch’s magnificence:

Nor may we here omit some other Servants, who attend upon the Soveraign and Knights-Companions at the Feast, they deserving notice, both for their number and rich Liveries.  Such were the Henxmen anciently (now called Pages of Honor,) who waited on the Soveraign; (. . .)

Incidentally, the above comment about the Henxmen being ‘now called Pages of Honor’ is not correct.  There is plentiful documentary evidence from the Henxmen era, that they were not pages, but that they enjoyed a much higher status of responsibility and trust.  ASHMOLE wrote his book more than 100 years after the abolition of the Henxmen, and on this point he appears to have made a wrong interpretation of the original records – which has unfortunately been copied by later authors.

It should also be noted that his comment ‘the Henxmen (. . .) waited on the Soveraign’ does not mean that the Henxmen were acting as waiters serving food.  His meaning is the old, fuller sense of this word: that the Henxmen were attending upon the Sovereign – i.e. present and waiting to perform their duties if called upon.

ASHMOLE further underlines the general quality of the Henxmen’s garments, and lastly provides an example from the Feast Day of 1425, in the reign of Henry VI:

The Habit wherein the Henxmen were usually drest, was rich and gay, as could be devised, being oftentimes embroidered with ingenious and pretty Devices, such as best liked the fancy of the Soveraign:

We have seen the account for the Apparel of 12 Henxmen, who attended on the Soveraign at St. George’s Feast, Anno II Hen. VI. the Sleeves of their Gowns being embroidered, each with three sprigs of Broom, and three Peacok’s Feathers bound together, wrought with Silks of divers Colours, and the Soveraign’s Motto (Dieu & mon droit) embroidered thereupon.

The surname of the royal Plantagenet family was derived from their badge: sprigs of the broom plant (Planta genista in mediaeval Latin).  So the use of these insignia on the Henxmen’s clothing emphasised the special position of the Henxmen.  It was a public statement that they were trusted by the King, were under his direct protection, and acted with the King’s authority on his behalf.

The Henxmen’s clothes described here were probably utilised for other events too, as well as the Garter procession.  We know that throughout their existence, the Henxmen were routinely provided with expensive and colourful ceremonial costumes, to many varied designs, but often reflecting the royal colours, for use in their public duties.

This was primarily because the Henxmen’s key ceremonial duties involved being close around the monarch on public occasions.  Surrounding the monarch with rich and striking costumes enhanced the scale and drama of the royal spectacle, and added to the power and grandeur of the monarch’s appearance.  Such opportunities to impress would have been utilised whenever possible, so the Henxmen probably participated in most – or all – of the monarch’s public processions.

More subtly, clothing the Henxmen in such a distinctive uniform was also a warning.  It drew attention to the fact that the monarch was powerful, and well guarded: the Henxmen were some of the few people allowed - indeed expected - to wear swords in the presence of the sovereign.  The use of royal colours and emblems on the Henxmen’s costumes, further signalled that any attack on them would be regarded as a personal attack upon the monarch himself, and was therefore liable for extreme retribution.

Thus the presence of such richly dressed Henxmen around the monarch, during the processions such as those of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, certainly added to the sense of an impressive occasion – but also helped to keep the monarch safe, and assisted the occasion to run more smoothly.

Illustration 5:  Garter Seal & Motto of the Black Prince, 14th Century
Earliest known representation of Garter & Motto.  The Black Prince kneels to adore the Holy Trinity, while angels hold his helmet & shield.  For picture details, see footnotes.

Conclusion

So, what can we conclude about the connection between the Henxmen and the Order?

Estimated dates put the creation of the Henxmen 2-4 years before the founding of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.  So the Henxmen and the Order were clearly separate initiatives.  Nevertheless, these two institutions shared a series of common features:

- Both the post of Henxman, and the Order of the Garter, were originated by King Edward III.

- Both appeared within a short timespan during the 1340s, when Edward III was an active challenger for the throne of France during the early phase of the Hundred Years War.

- Both were closely associated with projecting the pomp and power of the English sovereign.


- Through their duties and royal connections, both institutions became associated with Windsor Castle, the greatest of the English royal castles.


- Their respective duties naturally drew them together each year, on St George’s Day: the annual feast day of the Order of the Garter at Windsor.

Both appear to have sprung from Edward III’s drive to create ceremonies and traditions that would strengthen national cohesion, morale and common purpose under his personal leadership.  Neither the Henxmen, nor the Order of the Garter, was made for the other: they were, instead, both made for this unifying purpose.

It seems clear that the Henxmen’s main role during the Garter ceremonies was their normal ceremonial duty: that of maintaining the safety of the monarch, during public processions and events.  But the Henxmen’s additional security role, their colourful livery, and the common features of their origin and wider purpose which they shared with the Order of the Garter, all made them a useful complement to the ceremonies of the Order.

Given all this, it is easy to understand why King Edward III, and subsequent sovereigns too, routinely utilised the Henxmen to underline and enhance the grandeur of the Order’s formal events.  In this way the Henxmen’s attendance became a routine part of the Order’s proceedings, for some 217 years.

Illustration 6:  Windsor Castle.  1845.
View from NW, across the Thames.  St George's Chapel, home of the Order of the Garter, is clearly visible on the crest of the hill.  For picture details, see footnotes.


References

Primary Source
  • Elias ASHMOLE (1617-1692).  1672.  The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.  Pages 560 & 575-576.  Nathaniel Brooke.  London, England.
Secondary Source

Main source used for this page:
  • Sir Richard Colt HOARE, Baronet (1758-1838).  1826.  The History of Modern Wiltshire:  Hundreds of Everley, Ambresbury, and Underditch.  Pages 128-129.  John Nichols & Son.  25 Parliament Street, London, England.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.
Also found or mentioned in other sources:
  • Joshua BARNES.  1688.  THE HISTORY of THAT Most Victorious Monarch EDWARD III.  KING of ENGLAND and FRANCE, and Lord of IRELAND, AND First Founder of the Most Noble Order of the GARTER: Being a Full and Exact Account of the LIFE and DEATH of the said KING, Together with That of His Most Renowned SON EDWARD, Prince of WALES and of AQUITAIN, Sirnamed the BLACK-PRINCE, Faithfully and Carefully Collected from the Best and most Antient Authors DOMESTICK and FOREIGN, Printed Books, Manuscripts and Records.  John Hayes.  Cambridge, England.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.
  • Sir Nicholas Harris NICOLAS (1799-1848).  1846.  Observations on the Institution of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.  Archaeologia.  Volume XXXI.  Pages 1-181.  J. B. Nichols & Son.  London.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.
This page also draws on content from a range of other original sources, which for the sake of simplicity are not listed here.  However, all of them are in the process of being published in detail on a companion website, Henxmen Sources.

Next . . .
  • Click on Beginnings for an explanation of how the Henxmen’s role and job title came to happen.
  • Click on The First Henxmen for more about the political context of the 1340s, which gave rise to the Henxmen and the Order of the Garter.
  • Click on Henxmen Duties for an overview of the tasks typically fulfilled by the Henxmen of the Royal Household.
  • Click on Henxmen Sources to open a new window on a growing collection of transcripts of original sources from this period.
Webpage version 2017.1.  First version 2016.
Webpage copyright © Richard HINXMAN, 2016.

Illustrations

1
.  Shield from the Royal Arms of England, 1340-1367
Source:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARoyal_Arms_of_England_(1340-1367).svg.  Licence:  GNU Free Documentation License.


2.  King Edward III in Garter Robes, circa 1430-1440.
Edward III founded the Order of the Garter in 1348.  He is depicted wearing the blue mantle of the order, with the Garter arms on his left shoulder, over a surcoat decorated with his new royal arms.  The legend above him in Gothic script reads 'Roy Edward': mediaeval Court French for 'King Edward'.

Source:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEdward_III_of_England_(Order_of_the_Garter).jpg.
  Licence:  Public domain.

3.  Royal Coat of Arms with Garter & Motto, 1688
Detail from an engraving of Edward III.  The royal arms of England and France, surrounded by the insignia of the Order of the Garter, emphasise Edward III's steely focus.
Frontispiece.  1688.  Published in: Joshua BARNES.  1688.  The History of that Most Victorious Monarch Edward III, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland and First Founder of the Most Noble Order of the Garter: Being a Full and Exact Account of the Life and Death of the said King, Together with That of his Most renowned Son Edward, Prince of Wales and of Aquitain, sirnamed the Black Prince, Faithfully and carefully Collected from the Best and most Antient Authors Domestick and Foreign, Printed Books, Manuscripts and Records.  Facing title page.  John HAYES. Cambridge, England.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.  Copyright © Richard HINXMAN 2016.


4.  Knee Armour bearing Garter & Motto, 1688
Detail from: Engraving of Black Monday, 06 Apr 1360.  1688.  Source as for illustration 3 above.  Facing page 583.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.  Copyright © Richard HINXMAN 2016.

5. Garter Seal & Motto of the Black Prince, 14th Century
Woodcut, of a plaster cast, of a 14th century seal.  Unknown artist.  1846.  Garter & Motto of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, depicting the Black Prince.
Printed in:  Observations on the Institution of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.  Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas.  Archaeologia.  Volume XXXI.  1846.  Page 141.  J. B. Nichols & Son.  London.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN.  Copyright © Richard HINXMAN 2016.

6. Windsor Castle, 1845
Engraving.  Unknown artist.  1845.  The Castle of the British Sovereign Windsor, Berkshire.  Drawn & Engraved for DUGDALES ENGLAND & WALES Delineated.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN. 
Copyright © Richard HINXMAN 2016.