Sunday 11 February 2018

Famous wardrobe malfunction

I don't suppose when the Countess of Salisbury's garter fell down while she was dancing with King Edward III sometime in the 1340s she ever thought that the occasion would still be talked about over 670 years later.  But it is! 

Coat of Arms above the north door of Greenock Custom House
A quick glance at the Scottish version of the royal arms shows the usual unicorn, Scotland's national animal, and the lion, that of England.  This recently refurbished version appears over the north door of Greenock's Custom House.  It really is bright and absolutely gorgeous!  Look at the thistles between the unicorn and the motto and the red roses on the other side.
But it is the motto in the middle which tells the story of the Countess of Salisbury's unfortunate wardrobe malfunction.  

The words "Honi soit qui mal y pense" are clearly visible and can be translated as "Shame be to him who thinks evil of it" - which are supposed to have been the words uttered by the then King - Edward III who was dancing when the Countess of Salsibury's garter slipped.  Being a gentleman, he picked it up and turning to the laughing crowd shamed them with his words.

Edward III as Head of Order of the Garter - source
The phrase then became the motto of the Order of the Garter - a special order or chivalry whose members are chosen by the monarch.  The current members still parade in Windsor on "Garter Day" in dark blue cloaks (just like the one in the picture above), fancy hats with white ostrich feathers and with the badge of the order, the insignia on their cloaks.  There are some great photographs of Queen Elizabeth II and her family in the procession here.

Greenock Custom House
There's another motto on a scroll at the bottom of the sculpture "Dieu et mon droit" (God and my right) which is the monarch's motto.


  1. Thought that was a custom coat of arms

  2. The Scottish version of the coat of arms always has the unicorn on the left, in England the lion is on the left. The little shield in the middle of the larger shield is the coat of arms of the kingdom of Hanover, which means that this particular arms pre-dates Victoria's accession to the throne; women were not allowed to rule in Hanover so the arms were dropped. There's a lot that can be learned from royal arms.

  3. That's interesting and have heard of the Garter Day but never knew where it came from - now I know :)


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