While the traditional story about Edward III picking up the garter of the Countess of Salisbury (or the Queen, or some other woman) persists in English tradition, there has long been a rival theory, propounded by those who cannot accept that a military and chivalric order can have been organised around such a chance encounter, and such a "mean" item. Accordingly, it is often proposed that Edward was reviving a tradition that dates back to Richard I at the siege of Acre. Wanting to encourage his knights to further heights of courage, he is said to have promised to found an Order around a strap of leather or a buckle, perhaps, that he would take as a symbol of chivalric brotherhood. Of course this actually repeats the pattern of elevating a trivial object to symbolic greatness, through the masterful exercise of sovereign power; but it does have the advantage of displacing the messy world of women's underclothes.
In 1631, Charles Allen, writing The Battailes of Crescey and Poictiers under the Leading of King Edward the Third of That Name; and His Sonne Edward Prince of Wales, was cheerfully insouciant about the origins of the Order.
Yet in the raigne of this first sonne of Mars,
All is not sternely rugged, some delights
Sweete amorous sports to sweeten tarter-wars,
And then a dance began the garter Knights.
They dwell with love, that are with vallour fild,
And Venus doves may in a head peice build
As Sarum beauteous Countesse in a dance
Her loosened garter unawares let fall,
Renouned Edward tooke it up by chance,
Which gave that order first originall.
Thus saying to the wondring standers by.
There shall be honour to this silken ty
Some the beginning from first Richard bring,
(Counting too meanelie of this pedegree)
When he at Acon tyde a leather string
About his Soldiars legges, whose memorie
Might stir their vallour up, yet choose you whether
You’ll Edwards silke prefer, or Richards leather.