In 1474 Federico da Montefeltro was honoured by Edward IV of England (1442-1483) with the Order of the Garter, the highest English knightly order established by Edward III (1312-1377) in the middle of the previous century. This investiture offered the measure of the political and military prestige already achieved by the duke to be also recognized abroad. The symbol is a dark blue velvet garter with gold buckle and prong. The garter is worn under the knee of the left leg. It bears the motto in golden letters, written in Old French, Honni soit qui mal y pense (with variations of form for the first word - honi, honny), that is to say “shame on he who thinks badly”.
Its origin is said to be linked to an episode during a court ball, when it seems that the king, after collecting and returning the garter that had fallen to his lover, the Countess of Salisbury, he pronounced the famous phrase, thus rebuking the courtiers who were amused by the scene. According to another version, the garter would have been used as the signal to start the attack in the battle of Crécy (1346): the king would have waved a blue piece of lace at the tip of the spear, those used to keep the sock on the leg.
Federico wears it in the famous painting that portrays him with his son Guidobaldo, kept in the Palace of Urbino and attributed to Justus van Gent or to Pedro Berruguete (cfr. Simonetta, Double Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro, pp. 102-109; Marchi, Pedro Berruguete, pp. 120-121).
The garter is a decorative element that recurs in numerous manuscipts, as well as in numerous decorative elements of the palace and in particular of the Studiolo, Federico’s private study room (see Cheles, Lo Studiolo di Urbino, pp. 17, 20, 32, 66, 72, 73, 75, 77, 91; Raggio, Lo Studiolo, p. 121 figg. 5-75, 5-76, p. 145 fig. 5-112; Wilmering, Le tarsie, p. 108 fig. 2-66, p. 118 fig. 2-83). This element assists in dating, since it constitutes a terminus post quem with respect to 1474, the year in which the honour was conferred.
Urb. lat. 10, f. 10r - Urb. lat. 324, f. 1r
Urb. lat. 185, f. 20v - Urb. lat. 349, f. 2r