The Most Noble Order of the Garter was founded in 1348 by King Edward III of England as "a society, fellowship and college of knights". Tradition suggests that it was founded after Edward III recovered the garter of the Countess of Salisbury, which had fallen to the floor in the dancing at a festival. Supposedly, when the others present began laughing, the King responded, "Honi soit qui mal y pense" (Shame on him who thinks evil of it). The phrase is now the official motto of the Order of the Garter, which is the oldest and highest order of chivalry in the British honours system.
The Order has twenty-six companions: twenty-four Knights or Ladies, the Sovereign, and the Prince of Wales. To each is assigned a stall in the choir of St. George's Chapel, Windsor (the chapel of the order); each knight's coat-of-arms is displayed on a banner hanging over that seat. Since 1786 there have also been extra ("supernumerary") knights, not counted in the twenty-four, such as members of the royal family and foreign monarchs. In the earliest days of the order and after 1901 some ladies were associated with the order but none (except female monarchs) were full companions until in 1987 Queen Elizabeth II decided to admit women in the same fashion as men.
As with the other orders of chivalry, the sovereign fills vacancies in the membership by naming persons who have performed some noteworthy service for the nation, however, the insignias were normally given back to the Regent upon a member's death.
It appears that the design of the garter may be unchanged since the beginning, as the accounts of John Cook, clerk of the wardrobe listed one between 1347 and 1349: ad faciendum XII garteria de blu de auro et serico qualibet habent dictamen 'Hony soyt q'mal y pense'. Possibly the first surviving record of the making and distribution of actual garters is in the Black Prince's register in 1349 that lists payment for 24 garters made for the Prince and given to the Knights Companions. From the Victorian era the fabric used was usually velvet, while clips to fasten garters are known to have existed at least from the very early years of the Victorian reign, indicating that this garter may date from the second quarter 19th Century.