1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech held at St George’s Windsor, in Toronto, on Thursday 4th February 2010.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
Warmest thanks to Hilary and Galen [Weston]. It is because of their kindness and generosity that we’re all here tonight.
We live in a world of complex -
To many, Windsor Castle, the Chapel of St George, the Military Knights and the Knights of the Garter must seem very remote -
Windsor Castle, said the diarist Samuel Pepys 350 years ago, is the “most romantic castle in the world”. Even to Pepys, it was already ancient, and had a charm which was hard to describe.
Originally, the Castle formed one of a ring of garrisons, built to command the area around London. Windsor was a site of particular strategic importance, not only because it dominated the Thames -
St George’s Chapel is far closer: just a short walk down the hill from the Castle. The Chapel was founded by King Edward III in 1348 and dedicated to St George, Patron Saint of England: the same George, you may recall, who is said to have slayed the Dragon.
It was a very odd choice -
Nonetheless, Edward III admired his legend, which is based in the town of Silene, Libya -
When the supply of sheep ran out, they started to feed it children, drawn by lottery.
One day, the lot fell on the King’s daughter, and she was despatched to the lake, decked out as a bride, to be fed to the dragon.
By chance, George rode past the lake. The Princess urged him to stay away -
George fortified himself with a Sign of the Cross, charged the dragon, and inflicted a grievous wound. He called to the Princess to throw him her girdle, which he tied around the dragon’s neck. They then led the dragon back into the town, like a meek beast on a leash.
The people were terrified at the dragon’s approach, but George promised them that -
The King, and the people of Silene, duly converted to Christianity. George slew the dragon. And on the site where the dragon died, the King built a church to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint George.
At Windsor, myth became reality: St George’s Chapel, Windsor is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St George, and has been a working Chapel for 660 years.
Established to be independent of the State, it has remained so ever since. Each day, it holds three Services -
The Chapel is the centre of life of the College, and attracts a million visitors each year. The Chapel -
For centuries, the Chapel has been a focus for pilgrims, and a resting place for Monarchs. Many are buried there: Edward IV, Henry VI, Henry VIII -
When Edward III founded St George’s Chapel, he also founded the Poor Knights (now Military Knights) to care for it, and the Order of the Garter.
Like St George, The Order of the Garter is a very British oddity. It consists of The Monarch, the Prince of Wales, and a further 24 Knight Companions -
There is no specific reason for appointment, which led a former Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, to state that he loved the Garter as -
The origin of the Order of the Garter -
Is it true? We’ll never know -
The origin of the Knights of the Garter is again the stuff of romantic history. It is thought that, in 1344, King Edward III -
He also promised to renew King Arthur’s fraternity of Knights and instructed that work should begin on a gigantic circular building within the Upper Ward of the Castle, in which this new Order of the Round Table -
To this day, each June, the procession taken by the Garter Knights from the Upper Ward to the Royal Chapel is a public witness to the long tradition of the Monarch and leading figures of the nation, giving their allegiance and thanksgiving to God for creating, renewing and sustaining the World.
So let me return to St George’s, for it is a place not just for the Monarch, or the “Great and the Good”.
In 1943, on the eve of his departure for battle in World War II, a young Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards attended Evensong. This is the extract from his diary:
To St George’s Chapel in the evening, for one of the finest pieces of singing I have yet heard there; and the last for a bit. I shall never mind going to war if I know that I am fighting that such institutions as St George’s may live, for they are England and epitomise the spirit of tradition and worship -
Just as much work and practice goes into each service, even when no-
Soon afterwards, this soldier was killed in action -
For many centuries, St George’s Chapel has offered a sense of constancy in an otherwise turbulent world. Our purpose is to preserve it for the centuries yet to come.