Mythic capital

Exploring the origins of an enigmatic tradition

Mythic capital

Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter

by Stephanie Trigg

University of Pennsylvania Press (Inbooks), $108.95 hb, 340 pp, 9780812243918

Two photographs from the present book, caught by the British press in 2009, vividly testify both to the fun and to the difficulty of maintaining ancient ritual in the modern world. In the first, a widely grinning Prince Harry, one leg extended in parody of traditional marching style, with an equally mirthful Kate Middleton by his side, stands amidst a crowd of onlookers gleefully watching Prince William (in the second image) – festooned with lanyards and ribbons, ostrich and heron feathers sprouting from his velvet bonnet, biting his lip with fierce concentration – as he struggles to retain composure while processing with other befeathered Companions of the Order of the Garter from the keep of Windsor Castle to St George’s Chapel. Even for the Royals themselves, whose interests are so deeply invested in this annual ceremony, it is evidently hard to regard the occasion with complete solemnity. ‘Rationally it’s lunatic,’ the Duke of Edinburgh has observed, ‘but in practice everyone enjoys it, I think.’

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Published in March 2013 no. 349

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