Painting, Portrait of William, Duke of Gloucester (1689-1700)
William (1689-1700) was the only child of Princess Anne and her husband, Prince George of Denmark, to survive infancy. King William III styled him "Duke of Gloucester" at his birth (and a decade later, Williamsburg's main thoroughfare was so named in the boy's honor). Young William stood second in line to inherit the British throne, his mother preceding him. Unfortunately, he was frail from birth and died shortly after his eleventh birthday, provoking great national mourning.
William III invested the child as a Knight of the Garter in 1696. Edmund Lilly's portrait is believed to have been painted relatively soon afterwards to commemorate the event. Having originated in medieval times, the Most Noble Order of the Garter has long stood at the apex of Britain's honors system. It is still bestowed today. Membership is limited to the sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and no more than twenty-four "companions."
In William's portrait, he displays the order's widely recognized insignia, including a mantle bearing the shield of St. George's Cross on the left shoulder and a gold collar (necklace) hung with a colorfully enameled three-dimensional figure of St. George slaying a dragon. Below his left knee, William also wears a ceremonial garter bearing the order's motto, "Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense" ("Evil to him who thinks evil of it"). Representations of inscribed garters encircling St. George and the dragon serve as badges of the order and, in eighteenth-century Williamsburg, were displayed as official emblems of sovereign power. For instance, a stone carving of the badge surmounts the front gates of the Governor's Palace.