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Portugal and the Order of the Garter

PORTUGAL AND THE ORDER OF THE GARTERMonarchs have usually been keen to further both their own and their country’s interests by awarding to each other the Orders of Chivalry characteristic of their own nation.  British Orders of Knighthood include the Most Noble Order of the Garter, which was founded in 1348 by King Edward III. 

It is the oldest British Order, and Garter Companions are outranked in precedence only by holders of the Victoria Cross and the George Cross.  The Garter itself outranks the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle (the Scottish equivalent Order, re-founded in 1687) and the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick (the Irish Order, founded 1783).  There is some doubt as to the original date of foundation of the Garter Order, which might have been as early as 1344.

Appointments to the order are at the sole discretion of the sovereign, and tend to reflect some important national service, or a personal service to the sovereign.  Membership of the Order is limited to the sovereign, the Prince of Wales and a maximum of 24 living Companions.  There is room for Supernumerary Members of the Royal Family, and for foreign monarchs, who are referred to as Stranger Knights and Lady Companions and none of these count towards the PORTUGAL AND THE ORDER OF THE GARTER24.  It is normal for replacements to be nominated when vacancies occur, and for the induction for the new Companion to take place on the next available occasion. The announcement of nominations takes place at Windsor appropriately on St George´s Day, 23rd April, since St George is the patron saint of the Order as well as patron saint of England. 

The annual iconic Garter Day procession, where the Queen and the Knights process in grand dark blue velvet robes, glistening insignia and plumed hats, is one of the traditional ceremonies in the Queen's calendar. Every June, a grand procession of the knights takes place at Windsor Castle, accompanied by a marching band and Officers of the Order in their characteristic velvet robes, theirs being pink.                 

The day begins with the Queen formally investing any new Companions with the Order's insignia in the Throne Room of the Castle. The Queen entertains the Companions and Officers at a lunch, and then all process on foot to a service in St. George's Chapel. There is a short service where any new Companions are installed. The sovereign and other members of the Order then return to the Upper Ward of the castle in carriages and cars.

There have been 1024 nominations to the Order, and nomination no 1000 in 2008 was the present Duke of Cambridge, Prince William.  There are at present three vacancies, and there are eight foreign monarchs who are Stranger Knights (or Extra Knights) and Ladies Companion.  They are. the Queen of Denmark, the King of Sweden,  the Emeritus King of Spain, Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, the Emperor of Japan, the King of Norway, the King of Spain and the King of the Netherlands.

PORTUGAL AND THE ORDER OF THE GARTEREach Companion is required to display a banner of his arms in St George´s Chapel, together with a helmet, crest and sword and an enamelled stallplate; and when a Companion dies, their achievements are replaced by those of the new Companion, while the personal insignia are returned to the sovereign.  The stallplates remain at Windsor as memorials, and  the collection of stallplates forms a valuable heraldic museum.   According to the statutes, the rectangular stall plates were to be of metal (maiPORTUGAL AND THE ORDER OF THE GARTERnly copper and brass) and the arms were to be painted or enamelled. and show the name and title of the knight together with the date of his nomination.  Below is the stall plate of D Manuel II of Portugal, who was nominated in 1909.

Every Garter knight is also recorded by means of his armorial bearing painted on the ceiling of St George´s Hall at the Castle. The tragic fire at Windsor Castle in 1992 destroyed the Hall, and as it was rebuilt, all of the arms were repainted.  Now these ancient arms appear new on the ceiling.  The arms of the Portuguese Companions are up there with the rest of them.

These arms are shown in the ceiling of St George´s Hall at Windsor.  Number 149, in the top right hand corner shows the arms of D Duarte (king of Portugal 1433 - 1438) and number 160, in the middle at the bottom, showing his difference, are the arms of D Henrique, known to the Portuguese as Infante Dom Henrique, Duke of Viseu, and to the English as Henry the Navigator (1394- 1460).

The emblem of the Order is a garter, on which is written in gold Honi soit qui mal y pense (shame on him who thinks evil of it), the motto of the Order.  Sellars and Yeatman, in their classic 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, Comprising All the Parts You Can Remember, Including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates (first published in 1930) declared that the Order had been founded at a dance, and that the King, speaking Norman French, had told one of the ladies, Honey, your silk stocking´s hanging down, and that chivalrous phrase had become the motto of the OrderThe two Genuine (or memorable) dates are 1066 and 55 BC, the second date being more memorable because of the strange habit the Romans had of counting their years backwards.

PORTUGAL AND THE ORDER OF THE GARTERPrince Henry´s tomb at Batalha bears the image of the emblem of the Order, which contains the cross of St George, and which also figures on the flag of England.  The emblem is placed centrally between his own arms and those of the Order of Christ.  After his death in 1460 at his house in the Western Algarve, the Vila do Infante, his effects included his Garter robe and the insignia of the Garter.

The Oldest Ally

As the oldest Ally, Portugal has supplied a number of members of the Order of the Garter, and the dates at which Portuguese were inducted into the Order give some idea of the relative closeness between the two nations.  For example, seven Portuguese royals of the House of Aviz were selected by British monarchs between 1408 and 1510, but there was then a gap of over three hundred years before a further six royals of the House of Bragança became Companions in the hundred years following the Napoleonic Wars.  Only one Portuguese non-royal has ever been appointed to the Order, and only one Brazilian monarch was appointed. D Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil was incidentally the first non-European Member of the Order.  Few of the foreign nominees attended in person for their induction, and it was usual for some envoy to present the Garter robes and insignia to the nominee in his own country.

The one sin which leads to an automatic expulsion from the Order is to oppose the sovereign in war, and Companions are also forbidden from fighting against each other.  During the First World War, eight German and Austrian Members (including Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany, and Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria-Hungary) were expelled; and during the Second World War, Emperor Hirohito of Japan was also given his marching orders.  Emperor Hirohito was apparently very pleased in 1971 when during a state visit to the United Kingdom, his banner was restored to its place in St George´s Chapel.

Below is a list of all Portuguese who have been appointed to the Order.

Order Number

Date Appointed



Appointed by



D João I

King of Portugal

Henry IV



D Pedro

Duke of Coimbra

Henry VI



D Duarte

King of Portugal

Henry VI



D Henrique

Duke of Viseu

Henry VI



D Álvaro Vaz de Almada

Count of Avranches

Henry VI



D Afonso V

King of Portugal

Henry VI



D João II

King of Portugal

Edward IV



D Manuel I

King of Portugal

Henry VIII



D João VI

King of Portugal

George IV



D Pedro V

King of Portugal




D Luís

King of Portugal




D Pedro II

Emperor of Brazil




D Carlos

King of Portugal




D Luís Filipe

Crown Prince of Portugal

Edward VII



D Manuel II

King of Portugal

Edward VII


It may be seen that during the fifteenth century, when England was unsuccessfully prosecuting its Hundred Years War with France, six appointments were made.  The royal families were related through the English Queen Philippa, and her Garter sons with D João, D Duarte, D Pedro and D Henrique were all of course half English. At that time, Portugal was a crucial ally in England´s struggle against France and Castile. 

In August 1400, D João I was appointed to the Garter vacancy created by the death of Sir William Arundel.  He was the first foreign Knight and the first foreign sovereign to be appointed. His Queen, Philippa, had been a Lady of the Garter since 1378, and according to the accounts of the Order, robes were prepared for her in the years 1378, 1379, 1381-6, 1399 (she attended her father’s funeral in this year), 1401 and 1408 - 11.  If these accounts show that she was present to wear the robes in the years shown, it seems that Queen Philippa frequently revisited England.  The military connection is less easily visible in the nineteenth century, and it may be that Portugal’s then place as a near-colony of Great Britain proved its monarchs acceptable as recipients of the Order.

Álvaro Vaz de Almada

Álvaro Vaz de Almada (c1390 - 1449), son of João Vaz de Almada, is the only non-royal Portuguese appointed to the Order of the Garter. The Almadas were not of noble blood, but descended from a merchant family which made its fortune in overseas trade. João Vaz's notable military service to D João I earned him partial reinstatement to the Lordship of Almada and additional rewards in other districts. At an early age, Álvaro accompanied his father to England where they built up a rapport with King Henry V, and fought with the English against the French before they returned to Portugal in early 1415.

Álvaro fought alongside his father at the conquest of Ceuta in 1415, and was there knighted by the Portuguese royal prince Pedro, later the Duke of Coimbra. Duke Pedro and Álvaro Vaz de Almada began a lifelong friendship.

In June 1423, Álvaro was appointed by D João I as Admiral of the Fleet. The letter of appointment gave him unusually extensive powers, encroaching on areas normally reserved to the Admiral of Portugal, thereby making Almada the de facto head of the entire navy.  In the late 1420s, Álvaro accompanied Duke Pedro on his famous tour of Europe, and fought alongside him against the Turks in Hungary. He had returned to Portugal by 1433, and participated in several small naval encounters off Ceuta. During the 1430s, he was rewarded by the new king, D Duarte, with a share of the taxes imposed on the Jews of the kingdom.

Álvaro Vaz de Almada was one of the leaders of the ill-fated 1437 Tangier expedition organised by Duke Henrique, Henry the Navigator. The expedition was a fiasco, and the Portuguese expeditionary force was defeated and starved into submission by the Moroccans without ever establishing itself as a besieging force.  It had never left the beach where it had landed before it was forced to leave. Álvaro distinguished himself in the encounter, and was given the honour of being one of the two last men to leave the beach.

During the regency crisis of 1438–39, Álvaro supported Duke Pedro and was instrumental in gathering more supporters to his cause. During the popular tumults, in September 1439, the people of Lisbon elected Álvaro as standard-bearer and spokesman for the city. In recognition of his efforts, in April, 1440 the new regent D Pedro appointed him a member of his regency council and governor of the St George´s Castle in Lisbon.

A garter knight

PORTUGAL AND THE ORDER OF THE GARTERÁlvaro Vaz de Almada's coat of arms (no 162: he was the 162nd Member of the Order) is displayed on the ceiling of St George´s Hall at Windsor.

We do not know how often Álvaro returned to England after 1415, but on August 8, 1444, King Henry VI issued a royal letter ennobling Álvaro Vaz de Almada as the first Count of Avranches, one of the few remaining English towns in Plantagenet Normandy. The title is often translated by Portuguese writers as the Conde de Abranches (note that this word has nothing to do with the Portuguese town of Abrantes). The royal letter cited his distinguished service to the English crown in the reigns of both Henry V and Henry VI.  He was soon afterwards in 1445 appointed the 162nd Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.  Álvaro was one of the few foreigners not of royal blood to become a member of the illustrious English Order, and the only Portuguese to receive a hereditary English title. Henry VI also granted Álvaro an annual life pension of one hundred marks, as well as a gold cup containing one hundred gold marks.

Álvaro´s career in England filtered into the Portuguese popular chivalric legend of The Twelve of England (Os Doze de Inglaterra), which Luís de Camões made famous in Os Lusíadas.  The legend has it that, during the reign of D João I, twelve (or thirteen) Portuguese knights went to England in answer to an offence made to some ladies of the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Álvaro is traditionally identified as one of the twelve knights, but at the time of the alleged journey, he would have been an infant.

The Battle of Alfarrobeira

When in 1446, D Afonso V reached the age of majority, he dismissed Duke Pedro as regent, and under the influence of D Afonso of Bragança immediately began to undo all of the acts of Duke Pedro´s regency, and further, dismissed all of Duke Pedro´s appointees.  Those dismissed turned to Duke Pedro for redress.

Álvaro Vaz de Almada, then in Ceuta, returned to Portugal in September 1448 to support Duke Pedro. He spoke up in D Pedro´s defence, and as a result in December 1448, was deprived of the governorship of Lisbon Castle.  Álvaro incurred more royal displeasure by leading a contingent of Pedro's retainers to Coja, on the edge of Pedro's Duchy of Coimbra, in order to block the passage of D Afonso of Bragança and his forces through his friend's property. Although D Afonso had more men, Álvaro´s military reputation was such that D Afonso decided to take a circuitous route rather than force the issue at that time.

In May, 1449, accompanied by Álvaro and an armed force, Duke Pedro set out from Coimbra, leading his men towards Lisbon.  It was to be a peaceful march to demand that he and his dismissed appointees be given a chance to defend themselves in court. But D Afonso of Bragança warned the boy-king D Afonso V that Duke Pedro intended to lay siege to Lisbon, and would probably use his connections to provoke an uprising within the city. D Afonso declared Duke Pedro and his followers rebels and traitors and set out with an army against him. Álvaro's own half-brother João, (Lord of Pereira and vedor (controller or overseer) of the palace) was at the king's side.

The armies met on May 20, 1449 at the Battle of Alfarrobeira, near Vila Franca de Xira.  Duke Pedro was killed early in the encounter and Álvaro ordered his page not to reveal news of the death to the rest of the army. Then, after taking brief refreshment, Álvaro (who was now in his late fifties) marched into the thick of the fight and was soon recognised. Surrounded, he refused to surrender and struck down everyone who approached him.  Then exhausted, he uttered his famous words, My body, I feel you can do no more; and you, my soul, you are already late. (Meu corpo, sinto que não podes mais; e tu, minh' alma, já tardas.) He fell to the ground, with his famous last words, Now indulge yourselves, villains (É fartar vilanagem, which has become a common Portuguese expression).  This may be the only battle in history where there were three Garter Knights in conflict, the two seniors defeated and dying in the battle, and the young seventeen year-old D Afonso V surviving.

On the king's orders, Álvaro's body was left decapitated on the battlefield where, exposed to the elements, it would lie rotting. Only upon the repeated entreaties of João Vaz de Almada, did king Afonso V finally consent to allow him to bury his brother's corpse.  As legal proceedings continued against Álvaro´s estate, the family seat at Algés was inherited by João Vaz de Almada, while much of the remainder was just confiscated.  Álvaro's widow, Catarina de Castro was allowed to retain their Lisbon home as well as Álvaro´s share of the  taxes on Jews.

 D Afonso V was later given the cognomen of O Africano, in recognition of the efforts he made to capture Moroccan territory.  He shared with D Sebastião a fatal interest in the Algarve-over-the-Water, and the two of them wasted an enormous amount of manpower and riches in exhausting and ultimately pointless expeditions to the Moroccan mainland.  D Afonso died in 1481 at the relatively early age of forty-nine; the twenty-four year-old D Sebastião died nearly a century later in 1578 at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir.

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