The former Australian Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard, is to become a Knight Companion of The Most Noble Order of the Garter, according to increasing media speculation.
If this proves to be true, Mr Howard will join the former Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen, as the only Australians among the 24 Knight and Lady Companions. (In addition there are supernumerary members, Royal Princes and foreign monarchs, the “Stranger Knights”.)
The Order of the Garter is the most senior and oldest British Order of Chivalry and the oldest continuing order of chivalry in the world. Knight and Lady Companions may come from countries of which The Queen is Sovereign.
Its creation is said to have followed an incident at a Royal Ball, where Joan, Countess of Salisbury lost one of her garters. Seeing her embarrassment, King Edward III is said to have retrieved it, bound it to his own leg.
His comment to onlookers has become the motto of the Order, "Honi soit qui mal y pense," (“Evil be to him who evil thinks.”) Inspired by this, the story is that King Edward founded the Order of the Garter in 1348.
…eligiblity for appointment…
The recent death of that great New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary has created a vacancy in the order.
Members of the order are usually people who have held public office and who have "contributed in a particular way to national life or . . . served the sovereign personally", according to the Royal website. Mr Howard is eminently eligible, a point I made to Neil Mitchell on 3AW on 11 February,2008. Indeed Mr Howard’s political foes would probably agree. The decision lies of course with our Sovereign.
If he is indeed knighted, it will not only be a great personal honour, but it will also be a great honour for Australia. Prominent Knights Companions have included Sir Winston Churchill, Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major.
But Sir Robert Menzies, who was made the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1966, was never a Knight Companion. Instead, and perhaps more appropriate to his origin, Sir Robert was a madea Kinight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the thistle, whose motto is “Nemo me impune lacessit,” (“No one provokes me with impunity.”)
If Mr. Howard is knighted he will be installed at a ceremony at Windsor Castle in June. After a lunch is hosted by the Queen before the Companion Knights, wearing long blue velvet robes and black velvet hats with white plumes, attend a service at the historic St George's Chapel.
According to the Royal website, each knight is to display a banner of his arms in the Chapel, together with a helmet, crest and sword and an enamelled stallplate.