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A Rich History of Chivalry

"Honi soit qui mal y pense" is the motto of the English chivalric Order of the Garter. It is also written at the end of the manuscript Sir Gawain and the Green Knight but it appears to have been a later addition. Its literal translation from Old French is "Shame be to him who thinks evil of it", or more strictly: "Let he who thinks ill there be shamed." It is sometimes re-interpreted as "Evil be to him who evil thinks".

This statement supposedly originated when King Edward III was dancing with his first cousin and daughter-in-law, Joan of Kent. Her garter slipped down to her ankle, causing those around her to snicker at her humiliation. In an act of chivalry Edward placed the garter around his own leg, saying "Honi soit qui mal y pense", and the phrase later became the motto of the Order.

It may be understood as 'A scoundrel, who thinks badly by it', or 'Shame on him, who suspects illicit motivation'. Today it is also used to express a slightly ironic sentiment about seemingly, but not explicitly related statements or events. Examples might be a story containing a double entendre, in which the teller 'warns' against the licentious interpretation. It can also be used to point out, by ironically denying, the actual relation of actions. If a politician were to argue the national benefit of a government program - which would happen to bring great investments to a particular county; the county where that politician happens to hail from: Then you'd be 'a scoundrel' to think anything but the 'national benefit' was the true motivation.

The motto of the Order appears on a representation of the garter, surrounding the shield, on the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, the motto of the Royal arms, Dieu et mon droit, being displayed on a scroll beneath the shield. Several British Army regiments also use the motto of the Order of the Garter, including the Royal Horse Artillery, Grenadier Guards, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment, Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. The Canadian Grenadier Guards, The Royal Regiment of Canada, The Royal Montreal Regiment and New Zealand's 6th Hauraki Infantry Regiment also use it as their mottos.

It is on the front of the current British passports.

Further, the motto is also present on the emblem of the Grenadier Guards, The Times (London), Corps of Royal Engineers, the Royal Australian Engineers, and the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps and is denoted on a circular belt, surrounded by a wreath, with the crown jewels atop. It is also the motto on the emblem of the Royal Logistic Corps which in April 1993 became an amalgamation of the trades of 5 Corps, which included the Royal Corps of Transport and the Royal Army Service Corps plus the Postal and Courier Services of the Royal engineers, all of these forming Corps used the motto in their emblem. The motto was also used on the official emblem of the South Australian Railways.

The motto appears on the coat of arms of the British Columbia Supreme Court, and it was part of the official emblem of the Royal Yacht Britannia.


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