The moment when a group of knights walk in front of an ancient castle dressed in velvet robes and plumed hats is a head-turning sight at the best of times. The procession at Windsor Castle is what happens – and has happened for centuries – at the Garter Day service.
Today, however, heads would have turned even more for the sight of one particular knight wearing a plumed hat: Prince Andrew.
But his plan to return to a public-facing role at today’s ceremony was changed after a last-minute intervention from his family.
It’s reported that both Prince Charles and Prince William objected to the plan for Andrew to be seen in public today. The appearance of the Duke of York, in his finery, might have been approved at the very top, but there was significant unease among royals and courtiers in some of the other households. One senior royal source says their strong views on Prince Andrew’s attendance today are not simply repeatable in public.
Andrew was planning on joining other members of his family and the other Garter Knights for the annual meeting at Windsor Castle. The fact that Andrew had been cleared to attend the service suggests that both he, and more importantly the Queen, thought it was a good moment to begin the process of publicly re-building his life.
Reporting from Windsor, ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship said Prince Andrew's public appearance at the procession may have overshadowed the event
The Duke had planned to attend the whole ceremony including the service inside St George’s Chapel, the grand procession and the tradition members’ lunch.
But now Prince Andrew, who has been a Garter Knight since 2006, will only attend the private elements of the day.
Since he settled his US legal case with his accuser, over allegations of sexual assault, the Queen’s second son has kept a very low profile – based at his home at Royal Lodge on the Windsor estate.
The one notable exception was the thanksgiving service for his father, Prince Philip, when Andrew escorted the widow Queen to her seat at Westminster Abbey.
It did not pass without controversy. It comes just a week after a Covid infection kept him away, some might claim conveniently, from the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
He was only ever going to attend the St Paul’s Cathedral service on the Friday but didn’t even make that.
Prince Andrew stepped down as a working royal after his disastrous Newsnight interview and earlier this year he was stripped of his military titles and royal patronages by the Queen shortly before he settled out of court with his accuser, Virginia Giuffre.
Prince Andrew always denied the claims she had made against him.
The Order of the Garter was set up by King Edward III in medieval times – and it is the oldest and most senior order of chivalry in Britain. Royals and non-royals alike are members of the small but exclusive club of honourable knights of the Order of the Garter.
The Queen is Sovereign of the Garter and she personally choses senior members of her family to be Garter Knights along with 24 others who have held public office and have contributed to national life, or have served her personally.
Prince Philip was a Garter Knight, so too Winston Churchill.
Current members include Sir John Major, former MI5 boss Eliza Manningham-Buller and the former Bank of England Governor, Mervyn King.
At the service, members of the Royal Family walk in procession to St George’s Chapel and depart for Windsor Castle in carriages.
The Queen intends to do the formal investiture of the new Garter knights - Camilla, Tony Blair, and Baroness Amos - plus the lunch with the current Knight and Lady Companions, but she will not be attending the procession or service at the chapel.
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Today, the Duchess of Cornwall joined the ranks – a significant moment given the Queen expressed her wish earlier this year that Camilla should be known as the Queen Consort when Charles becomes King.
Camilla was installed as a Royal Lady of the Order of the Garter.
Also on the list of those installed today as Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter is one ‘Sir Anthony Blair’ - better known to all as the former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
A protest by the Stop the War coalition took place outside Windsor Castle. They still hold Mr Blair responsible for the wrongs of the Iraq War in 2003.
It is a moment when the politics of recent years will collide with an order of chivalry which dates back to 1348.
The other new joiner on Monday was Baroness Amos - the first black woman to serve as a Cabinet minister and former Leader of the House of Lords.
Valerie Amos also worked for the UN and served as the High Commissioner to Australia.
Unlike her former boss, Tony Blair, her installation as a Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter is not controversial.
Had Prince Andrew joined the public part of today’s Service for the Most Noble Order of the Garter, it would have been remembered for Prince Andrew’s attendance.
The late change of plan raises questions about whether this event – or any event alongside other members of the Royal Family - is an appropriate moment to attempt a return to public life.