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There is a connection between the Order of the Garter and the Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late 14th century).
The motto is inscribed, as hony soyt qui mal pence, at the end of the text in the manuscript, albeit in a later hand.
In the poem, a girdle, very similar in its erotic undertones to the garter, plays a prominent role. A rough equivalent of the Order's motto
has been identified in Gawain's exclamation corsed worth cowarddyse and couetyse boþe ("cursed be both cowardice and coveting", v. 2374).
While the author of that poem remains disputed, there seems to be a connection between two of the top candidates and the Order of the Garter, John of Gaunt, and Enguerrand de Coucy, seventh Sire de Coucy. De Coucy was married to King Edward III's daughter, Isabella, and was given admittance to the Order of the Garter on their wedding day."
According to historian Elias Ashmole, the foundation of the Garter occurred when Edward III of England prepared for the Battle of Crécy and gave "forth his own garter as the signal."
The most widespread tradition[year needed] suggests "a trivial mishap at a court function" when King Edward III was dancing with Joan of Kent, his first cousin and daughter-in-law. Her garter slipped down to her ankle causing those around her to laugh at her humiliation. Edward placed the garter around his own leg saying, "Honi soit qui mal y pense. Tel qui s'en rit aujourd'hui, s'honorera de la porter."
("A scoundrel, who thinks badly by it. Those who laugh at this today, tomorrow will be proud to wear it.")
Edward III may outwardly have professed the Order of the Garter to be a revival of the Round Table, it is probable that privately its formation was a move to gain support for his dubious claim to the French throne. The motto of the Order is a denunciation of those who think ill of some specific project, and not a mere pious invocation of evil upon evil-thinkers in general. 'Shame be to him who thinks ill of it' was probably directed against anyone who should oppose the King's design on the French Crown.
Arms of John of Gaunt include the garter and the motto Honi soit qui mal y pense. Picture from a 16th-century depiction
Several military organisations in the Commonwealth incorporate the motto inscribed upon a garter of the order within their badges (or cyphers) and some use Honi soit qui mal y pense as their motto. Corps and regiments using the motto in this fashion are ('*' indicates usage as a motto in addition to inclusion in the badge):
Also used on items, e.g. the baton, of the Society of High Constables of Edinburgh (founded 1611), along with the phrase ' nisi dominus frustra'.
^Friedman, Albert B.; Osberg, Richard H. (1997). "Gawain's Girdle as Traditional Symbol". The Journal of American Folklore. American Folklore Society. 90 (157): 301-315. doi:10.2307/539521. JSTOR539521.
^Savage, Henry L. (1938). "Sir Gawain and the Order of the Garter". ELH. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 5 (2): 146-149. doi:10.2307/2871614. JSTOR2871614.
^Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1996). "XXXVI Official Heraldic Insignia". Complete Guide to Heraldry (1996 ed.). Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions. pp. 583-84. ISBN1-85326-365-6. A Knight of the Garter has: (1) His Garter to encircle the shield ...
^An example of the full heraldic blazon description is provided in "Official Lineages Volume 3, Part 2: The Royal Regiment of Canada". National Defence and the Canadian Forces. Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Forces. 24 November 2010. Retrieved 2012. [A] garter Azure fimbriated buckled and inscribed HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE in letters Or (A blue garter with gold edges, gold buckle and inscription HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE in gold letters.) However, simplified blazons are also used.