The Complete Guide to the British Peerage & Baronetage
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Comparison between grades in British and Foreign Orders
It is not uncommon for people in Britain to be awarded membership of Foreign Orders of Chivalry or Merit. Because several multi-class Foreign Orders designate their 5th or lowest class as "Chevalier", which translates into English as "Knight", there is a common assumption that such an award ranks with knighthoods deriving from membership of British Orders of Chivalry or with baronets or knight bachelors. This is not the case.
Three British Orders of Chivalry consist of one class only (the Garter, the Thistle and St Patrick) and these rank with the first class of any other Order, British or Foreign, and indeed take precedence before all other British Orders of Chivalry or Merit. There is no recognised international ranking of Orders of Chivalry but it would be generally accepted that other one class Orders of Chivalry such as the Golden Fleece in Spain, the Elephant in Denmark or the Seraphim in Sweden ranked alongside the three leading British Orders. There are also British Orders of Merit which are of one class only, i.e. the Companions of Honour, the Order of Merit and the Distinguished Service Order, but even in Britain these do not rank as high as the Garter, the Thistle or St Patrick.
The other British Orders of Chivalry are divided into three or more classes:
It might be instructive to compare the classes in the Order of the British Empire with the classes in the French Legion of Honour.
Order of the British Empire: Knight/Dame Grand Cross
Legion of Honour: Grand Cross
Order of the British Empire: Knight/Dame Commander
Legion of Honour: Grand Officer
Order of the British Empire: Commander
Legion of Honour: Commander
Order of the British Empire: Officer
Legion of Honour: Officer
Order of the British Empire: Member
Legion of Honour: Knight
Thus it can be seen that the holder of the humble and often derided MBE is the British equivalent of the much grander sounding Chevalier de Légion d'Honneur.
In the United Kingdom members of Foreign Orders give precedence to members of British Orders of the same class within the Orders. Similarly in, say Spain, a member of a British Order would give precedence to a member of a Spanish Order in the same class.
Last updated 11 Jun 2011
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