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Orders Of Merit

The "most honourable" Order of the Bath, though it has precedence below the Garter, Thistle, and St. Patrick, is in some respects superior to these, for it can only be earned in reward for services rendered. It is also older than any other Order in the world except the Garter, being some fifty years older than the Order of the Golden Fleece. It was said by a foreigner, that any English title or decoration could be bought except the Order of the Bath. That is a somewhat sweeping assertion, though even in the late 19th Century peerages, baronetcies, and knighthoods could be, and were, bought from the political party in power. Happily it was, as from the beginning, impossible to buy the Order of the Bath. Probably this fact, as well as its ancient and knightly origin, gives the Order its high standing.

The Order of the Bath was established by George I in 1725, to consist of the sovereign, a grand master and 36 knights companions. This was a pretended revival of an order supposed to have been created by Henry IV at his coronation in 1399. But no such order existed. It was said that before this Order was instituted it was customary for warriors, who led in those times very strenuous days and nights, fighting, eating and drinking, and making love, to take a warm bath the night before they were knighted. This ablution had partly a temporal and partly a spiritual significance. It was not, however, till 1399 that Henry IV determined to make a permanent institution of an Order for Knights of the Sword, and named it the Order of the Bath. The full ritual included the actual taking of a warm bath as one of the leading features. This bath was taken in the large hall adjoining St. John's Chapel hi the White Tower, Tower of London. Whilst the Knight was in his bath the King came in accompanied by prelates and noblemen, and dipping his finger in the water made a cross on the Knight's back.This custom has long been discontinued; the Knight takes his bath at home as usual, and then proceeds to Buckingham Palace and is there Knighted by the King.

Knights of the Bath, although they were allowed precedence before knights bachelors, were merely knights bachelors who were knighted with more elaborate ceremonies than others and on certain great occasions. Originally there was one grade in the Order, that of Knight, but now there are three grades : Grand Cross, Knight Commander, and Companion. In 1815 the order was instituted, in three classes, "to commemorate the auspicious termination of the long and arduous contest in which the Empire has been engaged"; and in 1847 the civil knights commanders and companions were added. Up to 1847 only soldiers and sailors distinguished in war could be appointed, thus keeping up the knightly heritage; moreover they must have been mentioned in despatches, and must be field officers or of corresponding rank in the navy. In 1847 the Order was made more elastic so as to include civilians who had done eminent service to the State, and also it was opened to distinguished foreigners.

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is an early Institution which received fresh statutes in the years 1725, 1815, 1847, and 1859. The Order, numbering by 1914 about a thousand members, consists of several distinct Groups or Classes, which include, with the SOVEREIGN, the Royal Princes, and some few distinguished Foreigners, Officers of our own Navy and Army, and also Diplomatic and Civil Servants of the Crown. The Three "Classes" of the Order alike included members of the Three Services, and each class is divided into two divisions, viz. Military and Civil.

  • The "First Class," of Knights Grand Cross of the Bath - G.C.B. - had 55 Military and 27 Civil Knights.
  • The "Second Class" numbers (with power to increase these numbers) - had 145 Military and 108 Civil Knights Commanders of the Bath-K.C.B.
  • The "Third Class," not of Knights, but of Companions of the Bath - C.B. - had 705 Military and 298 Civil Members, who took rank between Knights and Esquires.
A Grand Cross of the Bath wears a robe of red silk with the badge of the Order embroidered on the left side, and the collar of the Order. He also alone wears the broad riband across his chest with the badge at the tie, and a special Star. A Knight Commander wears a smaller star on the left side of his coat, and the insignia of the Order round his neck. A Companion wears only the insignia, of a smaller size, round his neck. Members of the three grades carry after their names the initials G.C.B., K.C.B., and C.B.

The insignia for a civilian member is different from that of a military member, though the ribands are the same. Here has resulted a very curious anomaly. After the Waterloo campaign the Order of the Bath was swept and garnished, so to speak, and amongst other innovations the insignia was remade in the shape of an eight-pointed cross, much on the lines of the Legion of Honour, inaugurated by Napoleon I. When the civil division was introduced in 1847 the insignia assigned was an oval gold medallion, having a trefoil in open work in the centre. This insignia, thus revived, must have been the old and original emblem worn by Knights of the Bath from very ancient days. An old engraving for instance of the Black Prince shows this very form of medallion round his neck.

Exclusive of the sovereign, royal princes and distinguished foreigners, in the early 20th Century the order was limited to 55 military and 27 civil knights grand cross, 145 military and 108 civil knights commanders, and 705 military and 298 civil companions. The officers of the order are the dean (the dean of Westminster), Bath King of Arms, the registrar, and the usher of the Scarlet Rod.

The "most distinguished " Order of St Michael and St George was founded by the prince regent, afterwards George IV, in 1818, in commemoration of the British protectorate of the Ionian Islands, "for natives of the Ionian Islands and of the island of Malta and its dependencies, and for such other subjects of his majesty as may hold high and confidential situations in the Mediterranean." After the Napoleonic wars, for some reason which seems now somewhat obscure, the King, or the Government, or both, appear to have been at their wits' end to discover an appropriate medium by which marks of the royal favour might be suitably conferred upon the natives of Malta and the Ionian Islands. Out of the travail thus begotten emerged the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George. Indeed, so pronouncedly foreign was it intended to be that instead of Companions the members were termed Cavalieri of the Order. By statute of 1832 the lord high commissioner of the Ionian Islands was to be the grand master, and the order was directed to consist of 15 knights grand crosses, 20 knights commanders and 25 cavaliers or companions.

After struggling along for fifty years in Malta and the Ionian Islands, it was an Order of little repute or standing. With the repudiation of the British protectorate of the Ionian Islands, the order was placed on a new basis. Queen Victoria decided to give it a wider scope and to throw it open to the whole Empire, and by letters patent of 1868 and 1877 it was extended and provided for such of "the natural born subjects of the Crown of the United Kingdom as may have held or shall hold high and confidential offices within her majesty's colonial possessions, and in reward for services rendered to the crown in relation to the foreign affairs of the Empire." After this happy inspiration the Order grew and prospered, first as a purely civil and colonial decoration, but latterly chiefly as a military Order, second only in value and public estimation to the Order of the Bath.

The withdrawal of the British Protectorate from the Ionian Isles, and the extension and application of the Order as a Colonial distinction, rendered the Insignia no longer appropriate to this latter purpose, and a change which would make them more fitting to the present circumstances of the Order was desirable. The star of the knights grand cross is a seven-rayed star of silver with a small ray of gold between each, in the centre is a red St George's cross bearing a medallion of St Michael encountering Satan, surrounded by a blue fillet with the motto Auspicium melioris oevi.

On 30 May 1877, the numbers of the Grand Crosses was raised to thirty-five, and the others \vere doubled. The numbers were to be exclusive of Princes of the Blood-Royal, Foreign Princes, and other Honorary Members. The Order was further extended on 6th May 1879, when the number of the Grand-Crosses was raised to fifty, that of the Knight-Commanders to one hundred and fifty, and the Companions to two hundred and sixty.

The "Most Excellent" Order of the British Empire was instituted in June 1917 to reward war services in all capacities, military and civil. In 1918, in order to mark the distinction between awards for civilian and military services, a military division of the order was created. The King recognised the need for a new award of honour which could be more widely awarded, in recognition of the large numbers of people in the British Isles and other parts of the Empire who were helping the war effort both as combatants and as civilians on the home front. For the first time, women were included in an order of chivalry, and it was decided that the Order should also include foreigners who had helped the British war effort. From 1918 onwards there were Military and Civil Divisions, as George V also intended that after the war the Order should be used to reward services to the State in a much wider sense. Broadly speaking, it may be said that the military division is conferred on military personnel for distinguished service other than gallantry in action during war. The order is divided into five classes. The badge of the first, second, third and fourth classes consists of a silver-gilt cross, that of the fifth class being executed in silver. Members of the first and second classes wear a star on the left breast in addition. A silver medal of the order can also be awarded to those persons, not being members of the order, whose services to the Empire warrant such recognition.

Originally a British Empire Medal was associated with the Order, but since March 1993 no further recommendations have been made for the award of the Medal. The classes of the Order are Knights or Dames Grand Cross (GBE), Knights or Dames Commanders (KBE or DBE), Commanders (CBE), Officers (OBE), and Members (MBE). The ribbon is plain purple, that of the military division being distinguished by a narrow red line down the center. Those who have been appointed GBE, DBE, KBE, CBE, OBE, MBE or who hold the BEM total around 120,000 living in the Uk and overseas. Today the Order of the British Empire is the order of chivalry of British democracy. Valuable service is the only criterion for the award, and the Order is now used to reward service in a wide range of useful activities.

In addition to criteria for the award of honours, there are also criteria for the level of award. Knighthood and above: Pre-eminent contribution in any field, usually, but not exclusively, at national level, or in a capacity which will be recognised by peer groups as inspirational and significant nationally, and which demonstrates sustained commitment and/or public service. CBE: A prominent national role of a lesser degree, or a conspicuous leading role in regional affairs or the public service; or making a highly distinguished, innovative contribution to his or her area of activity. OBE: A distinguished regional or county-wide role in any field, including public service and distinguished practitioners (in the arts field, authors and actors, for example) known nationally. MBE: Service in and to the community of a responsible kind (including, for example, as a committed and effective leader of a local voluntary organisation; community worker; inspiring public service practitioner; local councillor etc.) which is outstanding in its field; or very local hands-on service (as school crossing warden, fund raiser, parish councillor etc.) which stands out as an example to others. In both cases awards would often illuminate areas of dedicated service which merit public recognition.

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