Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter


Stephanie Trigg, Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

The Order of the Garter may seem a marginal formation affording little but risible photographs of ancient British grandees and royal hangers-on, but Stephanie Trigg, senior medievalist at the University of Melbourne, has produced a cultural history that traces not only the personnel and operations of the Order over time but more importantly shows how its managers have responded to social and political changes in subtle and sometimes far-reaching ways (with a lot of early modern activity in the sixteenth century). These variations have kept the Order, however apparently antediluvian, operating with surprisingly wide-ranging impact to the present.

This sort of cultural history has two modes: one simply, and usefully, charts the process through time of the subject; but the other mode, more interestingly, reverses that process and uses the institution under study itself as an index and text of changing sociopolitical concerns over time and in radically varying contexts. This mode generates some interesting surprises :the Garter was not, Trigg argues, fully endorsed by the regnant queens Anne and Victoria; she also moves challengingly into a discussion of the concept of `a queer Garter’.

This unusual book is both a commentary on and an implicit critique of our standard accounts of  power and prestige.

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