According to historian Elias Ashmole, the foundation of the Garter occurred when King Edward III of England prepared for the Battle of Crécy and gave "forth his own garter as the signal." Another theory suggests "a trivial mishap at a court function" when King Edward III was dancing with Joan of Kent, his first cousin and daughter-in-law. Her garter slipped down to her ankle causing those around her to snigger at her humiliation. In an act of chivalry Edward placed the garter around his own leg saying, "Honi soit qui mal y pense. Tel qui s'en rit aujourd'hui, s'honorera de la porter."
The two phrases are often translated as follows: "A scoundrel, who thinks badly by it" or "Shame on him who suspects illicit motivation," followed by, "Those who laugh at this today, tomorrow will be proud to wear it." Other translations include: "Spurned be the one who evil thinks", "Shame be to him who thinks ill of it," and "Evil on him who thinks evil."
David Nash Ford observes that although
"Edward III may outwardly have professed the Order of the Garter to be a revival of the Round Table, it is probable that privately its formation was a move to gain support for his dubious claim to the French throne. The motto of the Order is a denunciation of those who think ill of some specific project, and not a mere pious invocation of evil upon evil-thinkers in general. 'Shame be to him who thinks ill of it' was probably directed against anyone who should oppose the King's design on the French Crown."
Several military organisations in the Commonwealth incorporate the motto inscribed upon a garter of the order within their badges (or cyphers) and some use Honi soit qui mal y pense as their motto. Corps and regiments using the motto in this fashion are ('*' indicates usage as a motto in addition to inclusion in the badge):
"Honi soit qui mal y pense" appears on several British military cap badges. The phrase is incorporated into the elaborate figure-head of the HMS Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship at the historic Battle of Trafalgar. Bounty mutineer James Morrison had the motto with a garter tattooed around his left leg, according to William Bligh's Notebook.
It appears on the coat of arms above the lower main gate of the castle of the German city of Tübingen.
It appears in the comments of the source code for the master ignition routine of the Apollo 13 lunar module.
It appears in the lyrics of the 1978 song "Parlez-vous francais" by the Spanish group Baccara.
The phrase is sung in full as the chorus of John Cale's song "Honi Soit (La Première Leçon de Français)" featured on the 1981 album Honi Soit.
Until 1997, "Honi soit qui mal y pense" appeared prominently on Hong Kong banknotes, along with the Royal coat of arms. Hence that phrase, along with "Dieu et mon droit," which also appeared on the colonial currency, could be considered the motto of colonial Hong Kong.
The phrase is also incorporated in the coat of arms of the Abbey of San Paolo fuori le Mura (St Paul outside the Walls), Rome, who state it is the motto of the order of the Garter, in French, which was established in Windsor in 1344 or 1344.
^Thomas, Tayler (1866). "Equites Garterii". The Law Glossary: Being a Selection of the Greek, Latin, Saxon, French, Norman, and Italian Sentences, Phrases, and Maxims, Found in the Leading English and American Reports and Elementary Works: With Historical and Explanatory Notes : Alphabetically Arranged, and Translated into English, for the Use of the Members of the Legal Profession, Law Students, Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, Etc. Etc. New York: Baker, Voorhis & Co. p. 183. ISBN1-886363-12-9.
^Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1996). "XXXVI Official Heraldic Insignia". Complete Guide to Heraldry (1996 Edition ed.). Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions. pp. 583–84. ISBN1-85326-365-6. "A Knight of the Garter has: (1) His Garter to encircle the shield..."
^An example of the full heraldic blazon description is provided in "Official Lineages Volume 3, Part 2: The Royal Regiment of Canada". National Defence and the Canadian Forces. Directorate of History and Heritage, Canadian Forces. 24 November 2010. Retrieved 19 June 2012. "[A] garter Azure fimbriated buckled and inscribed HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE in letters Or" (A blue garter with gold edges, gold buckle and inscription HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE in gold letters.) However, simplified blazons are also used.
^Robson, Thomas (1830). The British Herald, or Cabinet of Armorial Bearings of the Nobility & Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume I. Sunderland: Turner & Marwood. p. 401 (CHU-CLA).