Cracroft's Peerage
The Complete Guide to the British Peerage & Baronetage

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The British Orders of Chivalry and Merit


The United Kingdom has a wide range of Orders of Chivalry and Merit. For example, the Order of the Garter is regarded as one of, if not the, most eminent Orders of Chivalry in the world and the Order of St John is one of the worlds' great humanitarian organisations. In order of precedence the British Orders are:


The Most Noble Order of the Garter


The Most Ancient Order of the Thistle


The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick


The Royal Order of Victoria and Albert (now obsolete)

This Order was founded by Queen Victoria in 1862, and comprised of the Sovereign and forty-five ladies. It was divided into four classes, the first and second of which were composed entirely of members of a Royal family, either foreign or British. The third class was composed of titled ladies, either peeresses or daughters of peers or the wives of sons of peers.


The Imperial Order of the Crown of India (now obsolete)

This Order was instituted in 1878, and consisted of the Sovereign and of such of the Princesses of Her Majesty's Royal and Imperial House, the wives or other female relatives of Indian Princes, other Indian ladies, and of the wives or other female relatives of any of the persons who had held or were holding the offices of Viceroy and Governor-General of India, Governors of Madras or Bombay, or of Principal Secretary of State for India, as the Sovereign might think fit to appoint.


The Royal Family Orders

The first Royal Family Order was instituted by King George IV. Succeeding Sovereigns have instituted their own Orders, which are conferred upon ladies of the Royal Family.


The Most Honourable Order of the Bath

The Order of the Bath was founded in 1399, and revived by King George I. Like the Orders of the Garter, the Thistle and St Patrick, it originally had one class only. Popularly known as the "Red Riband" it was awarded to senior officers for service in action. In 1815, after the Battle of Waterloo, the Order was extended to three classes as a way to reward more junior officers for services in action and to avoid issuing more of the expensive gold medals awarded to senior officers during the Peninsular War. It was later laid down that the C.B. could only be conferred upon officers of or above the rank of Commander in the Navy, or Major in the Army, who had been mentioned in despatches for services in war, and that they might be advanced to the higher grades of the Order. The civil branch of the Order was established in 1847.


The Order of Merit

The Order was instituted in 1902, and is awarded very rarely to officers of the fighting services and to civilians for very distinguished and conspicuous service either in peace or in war.


The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India (now obsolete)

The Order was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1861, and the dignity of Knight Grand Commander (G.C.S.I.) was conferred upon Princes or Chiefs of India, or upon British subjects, for important and loyal services rendered to the Indian Empire. The Second and Third Classes of the Order (K.C.S.I. and C.S.I.) were bestowed for similar services of not less than thirty years' duration. The Order at first consisted of the Sovereign, a Grand Master (the Viceroy of India), 36 Knights Grand Commander (18 British and 18 Indian), 85 Knights Commander and 170 Companions.



The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George

This Order was founded in 1818 by King George III, and is usually conferred upon British subjects as a reward for services abroad or in the British Commonwealth.


The Royal Guelphic Order (now obsolete)

This Hanoverian Order was founded by the Prince Regent (later King George IV) in 1815, and was not conferred after the death of King William IV in 1837. It was more British than Hanoverian, and the last British Grand Cross was the Duke of Cambridge. During the twenty-two years of its existence the Royal Guelphic Order was frequently awarded to officers of the British Navy and Army.


The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire (now obsolete)

The Order was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1878 and was only awarded for services in India


The Royal Victorian Chain

Established by King Edward VII in 1902. It is not connected with the Royal Victorian Order. It is conferred very rarely as a special mark of the Sovereign's favour upon Royalty, or other especially distinguished people, foreign as well as British


The Royal Victorian Order

This Order was established by Queen Victoria in April 1896. There is no limit to the number of members, and the Order, which is conferred for extraordinary, important or personal services to the Sovereign or to the Royal Family, can be bestowed upon foreigners as well as upon British subjects. Ladies were made eligible for the Order in 1936.


The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

This Order was founded by King George V in June 1917 for services to the Empire at home, in India and in the Dominions and Colonies, other than those rendered by the Navy and Army. Originally it could only be conferred upon military personnel for services of a non-combatant nature but in December 1918 a Military Division of the Order was created. In the course of time this Order has become the main way of rewarding services to the country and numerically is one of the largest Orders in the United Kingdom.


Order of the Companions of Honour

This Order was instituted in June 1917 at the same time as the Order of the British Empire . It carries no title or precedence and consists of the Sovereign and one class of members. Not more than fifty persons, men or women who have rendered conspicuous service of national importance, are to be admitted. The Order ranks immediately after the First Class of the Order of the British Empire.


The Distinguished Service Order

This Order was established in 1886 for rewarding individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in war by commissioned officers in the armed forces. Further acts of gallantry are marked by a bars attached to the ribbon of the Order. The Order takes precedence after Commanders of the British Empire.


The Imperial Service Order (now obsolete)

This Order was instituted by King Edward VII in August 1902 as a means of rewarding meritorious services on the part of members of the administrative or clerical branches of the Civil Service throughout the British Empire.


The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John in Jerusalem

The Order of St John was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1888 and granted the title of "Venerable" in 1926 . It is different to the other Orders of Chivalry in that it is a "working" Order, maintaining two great charitable foundations, the St John Ambulance, which is involved in providing first aid training and cover throughout most of the Commonwealth countries and the USA, and the internationally renowned St John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem. Membership of the Order carries no title or precedence. HM the King is the Sovereign Head of the Venerable Order and HRH the Duke of Gloucester is the Grand Prior.




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