William Charles Macready's stage garter
Richard III : Richard III
Embroidered cloth with steel buckle
"HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE" (embroidered)
Given by Macready to E. Y. Lowne Esq., 1 March 1851; by whom presented to the Garrick Club, 1910
Gift 348 ("Garter worn by Macready in Richard III presented by that actor to the donor on March 1st, 1851")
Although William Charles Macready had previously played Richard III in the provinces, it was his success in the role at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden on October 25th 1819 that established his reputation as a rival to Kean (who even sent him a generous tribute). There were ten performances in that season, and they went some way towards rescuing the theatre from bankruptcy. On March 12th 1821 at the same theatre, Macready revised Cibber’s version of the play in an attempt to restore it to Shakespeare’s original; albeit a tentative revision entitled “The Life and Death of King Richard the Third”, he re-introduced Clarence’s dream, Hastings at Council, and one appearance for Margaret, the attempt was not a success and was performed only one more time, on March 19th.
The garter, which Macready wore as part of his costume for this role, is inscribed “honi soit qui mal y pense”, which translates from the old Norman French as “shamed be he who thinks evil of it”. This is the motto of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the oldest and highest British Order of Chivalry, founded in 1348 by Edward III. This order, which was restricted to the monarch, his heir apparent, and twenty-four champions only, was conferred on the future Richard III by his brother Edward IV when he was made Duke of Gloucester in 1461. Macready’s stage garter is comparable to that made for Prince Albert in 1840 and which was worn by the Knights beneath the left knee, just as Macready can be seen doing in a watercolour drawing by Samuel de Wilde (37.5x23), now in the Somerset Maugham Collection at the National Theatre (No. 57). This is dated March 1820, relating it to the first Covent Garden performances, and reflects how accurately de Wilde's representations of costumes actually are.
This drawing, which was not engraved, was reproduced, as from the collection of Edward Y Lowne, in the 1912 edition of “The Diaries of William Charles Macready” (ed. William Toynbee, vol. I op. p136). A footnote to p369 of the same volume informs us:
“Mr E. Y. Lowne, well known as the intimate friend and executor of J.L. Toole. He subsequently became a regular correspondent of Macready, and was one of the few outside of the family invited to be present at his funeral. Mr Lowne, who happily still survives, is the father of the accomplished and much esteemed actor, Mr Charles Macready Lowne.”
Mr Lowne senior was present at Macready’s farewell dinner which was held on March 1st 1851 at the Hall of Commerce, Threadneedle Street (see “Macready’s Reminiscences and Selections from his diaries and letters” ed. Sir Frederick Pollock, 1875 p374); it was presumably there that he was given the garter by Macready (as suggested by the entry in the Gift Book), which he would later present to the Garrick Club. He also presented the Henry Perrenot Briggs portrait of Macready [G0450] in 1915, whilst the library of the Club also holds his five volumes of scrapbooks entitled “Macreadiana” which he bequeathed in 1918. In 1879 he had been responsible for compiling an extra-illustrated copy in five volumes of “Macready’s Reminiscences and Selections from his diaries and letters” as a memorial to Macready.
His son Charles Macready Lowne was a fairly successful actor in his own right. He made his first professional appearance in 1884, as part of J L Toole’s company, and was still active in the theatre in the 1930’s. From 1915-19 he was the Administrator of the Academy of Dramatic Art. He was a member of the Garrick Club from 1910 until his death in 1941.