This is the first in a new series of ‘job descriptions’ of the various roles undertaken by the officers of arms and other staff at the College. Some positions are well-known, others not so-well known, and some perhaps entirely new to members. We begin with the role of Garter Principal King of Arms.

Thomas Woodcock, Garter, writes:


Since the creation of the Office of Garter Principal King of Arms in the early fifteenth century Garter has advised the Sovereign and the Government on matters relating to heraldry, precedence, titles, ceremonial and flag flying.   In ceremonies and matters for which the Earl Marshal is responsible such as the State Opening of Parliament, Garter has historically always been chief Ceremonial Officer under the Earl Marshal.

As the principal of the three English Kings of Arms, Garter acts as Chairman of the Chapter of the College of Arms.   With the two other English Kings of Arms, Clarenceux and Norroy, he is responsible for granting all new arms in countries under the Jurisdiction of the Earl Marshal.   This excludes Scotland, which retained its heraldic authority under the Act of Union of 1707 and where Lord Lyon makes all grants, and Canada where a separate heraldic authority was established in 1988.   In Northern Ireland Garter grants with Ulster King of Arms, an Office which has been united with that of Norroy since 1943.   Garter first approves the design and subsequently signs about 140 grants of arms a year.   The other two Kings of Arms similarly sign and approve all those grants to which they are signatories.   Garter grants alone to new peers.

Garter King of Arms is responsible for the production of new stall plates, banner and crests for all the Knights of the Garter, such as those of the present Lord  Shuttleworth (left). These are placed above their individual stalls in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.  Garter is also responsible for taking the rehearsal before the annual Garter Service at the Chapel.  Since the creation of the Office of Secretary of the Order of the Garter in 1904, a post currently held by Clarenceux King of Arms, the ceremonial and seating plans for the service have been prepared by the Secretary; this role will be the subject of a later article in this series.

In the other Orders of Chivalry which have an English origin the responsibility for stall plates is that of the Genealogist.   Only the Order of the Bath has stall plates, banners and crests and the present Garter is the Genealogist of that Order (see back page of this issue). Presently Norroy and Ulster is responsible for the Order of St Michael and St George and the current Somerset Herald for the Royal Victorian Order.   When designing crests for Knights of the Bath it is important to remember whether they will work well in three dimensions. Knights of the Garter are nearly always already armigerous.

Since the creation of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee in 1922 Garter has been a member of that Committee, and the current Garter is also Inspector of Regimental Colours, of Royal Air Badges and is Advisor on Naval Heraldry all of which involve giving advice and commissioning artwork.   Recently badges have been designed for the Welsh Fishery Protection vessels.

Since the ceremony of Introduction of peers to the House of Lords began in 1621 it has been one of Garter’s responsibilities, as is the settling of their titles. All new peers must first have an appointment with Garter as, till the title is agreed, the Crown Office cannot prepare the Letters Patent under the Great Seal which bring their peerage into existence.

Since the establishment of the Roll of the Peerage on 1 June 2004 Garter has a role in advising the Crown through the Crown Office on the succession to all hereditary peerages other than those in the Peerage of Scotland, i.e. created in the Peerage of Scotland before 1707.   This expands the duty which existed since the creation of the Roll of the Baronetage in 1911 to advise on baronetcy successions other than baronetcies created in Scotland in or before the Act of Union became law in 1707.   All matters relating to peers in pedigrees recorded at the College of Arms have to be approved by Garter.

Garter’s advice to the Government might be to the Cabinet Office on Crown Badges, to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on the flying of flags or to the Intellectual Property Office on Trade Mark Applications containing heraldry.                                                                               Badge of Office of Garter

Finally, one role which Garter no longer performs is that of travelling abroad to present the Order of the Garter to foreign Sovereigns.  The last Garter mission was in 1929 to Tokyo and with modern transport foreign sovereigns can travel to Windsor.

(c) The White Lion Society 2018