Garter Principal King of Arms

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Garter Principal King of Arms
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The arms of office of the Garter Principal King of Arms
Heraldic tradition Gallo-British
Jurisdiction England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Governing body College of Arms

The Garter Principal King of Arms (also Garter King of Arms or simply Garter) is the senior King of Arms, and the senior Officer of Arms of the College of Arms, the heraldic authority with jurisdiction over England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The position has existed since 1415.

The current Garter Principal King of Arms is Thomas Woodcock, CVO.


Garter is responsible to the Earl Marshal for the running of the College. He is the principal adviser to the Sovereign of the United Kingdom with respect to ceremonial and heraldry, with specific responsibility for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and, with the exception of Canada, for Commonwealth realms of which The Queen is Sovereign. He also serves as the King of Arms of the Order of the Garter and his seal and signature appear on all grants of arms made by the College.


The office takes its name from the Order of the Garter. Henry V of England instituted the office of Garter in 1415 just before sailing for France.

The Garter Principal King of Arms was placed by King Henry V over all the whole body of heralds.[1] He may be said to have two distinct capacities united in his person, one relative to the order of the Garter, the other as head of the College of Arms, and on this account he not only takes an oath in a chapter of the Garter, before the Sovereign and Knights, but as king at arms another oath before the Earl Marshal, and therefore he is stiled both principal officer of arms of the most noble order of the Garter and principal king of English arms.[1]

He has power to appoint a herald for his deputy: he must be a native of England and a gentleman bearing arms.[1] It was anciently held that he was to be neither a knight nor a clergyman; but there has been one instance of a Garter having been a foreigner; and since the reign of Henry VII many of them have received knighthood: one was created a knight of the Bath.[1] The office entitles him to the privilege of correcting errors or usurpations in all armorial bearings, to grant arms to such who deserve them, to present to the House of Lords a genealogy of every new peer, to assign his place in the chamber of parliament and to give him and the knights of the Bath supporters.[1]

The arms of his office are, according to the official source, Argent a Cross Gules on a Chief Azure a crown enclosed in a Garter between a lion passant guardant and a fleur de lis all Or.[2] However, some writers have deemed the chief "gules" (red), not "azure" (blue).[1]

Holders of the office[edit]

An illuminated manuscript from around 1430 showing William Bruges, the First Garter King of Arms, kneeling before St George.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Noble (1804), p. 59
  2. ^ The origin and history of the various heraldic offices. College of Arms. Accessed 4 September 2009.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

This article incorporates text from A History of the College of Arms (1804), by Mark Noble, a publication now in the public domain.