But first an explanation of Orders in general- Almost every country, monarchy or not, has some form of an honours system that awards chivalry or merit, and is often used in diplomatic exchange of gifts. Each individual order has it’s own history, and in countries with multiple orders, has it’s own rank. The Head of State is usually the sovereign of the order, and has varied authority on deciding their recipients. National Orders are those which must be awarded with consultation from the government, and are official gifts, while the recipients of Dynastic Orders are at the discretion of the Sovereign, and many non-reigning families still award their Dynastic Orders, with no government authority.
Orders of their own countries are awarded to royals at birth, upon reaching the age of majority, upon marriage into the royal family, or after years of dedicated service to the country. Orders of foreign countries are usually awarded during State Visits, and are given according to rank, with the sovereigns receiving the higher order, the heirs the lower order, and the other members of the royal family participating in the visit receiving yet a lower one. However, these rules vary from country to country, and also depend on individual Sovereigns.
Orders are accompanied by a varied amount of insignia, which can include a Sash with a badge worn at the hip, a Star, ornate Collars, Badges to be worn on the shoulders, and smaller Pins, and the awarding of specific items differentiate the different grades in each individual order, and/or depend on the orders themselves. The wearing of the insignia depends on the occasion. The ornate collars of an Order are only worn very rarely at White Tie events or on Uniforms. The Sash and Star are more common and seen at White Tie State Banquets. The smaller badges may be worn when you are wearing the insignia of other orders, or at a Black Tie occasion where Orders are worn. The small pins are worn at formal occasions in the daytime, when you want to honour the occasion without making it too formal. Now that we have an explanation, lets learn about the British Royal Orders.
Note- we are only featuring the extant Orders, not those that are dormant.
Founded by King Edward III in 1348, it was formed after the Countess of Salisbury’s garter slipped from her leg while dancing, and the King allegedly picked it up and uttered the phrase ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ – Shame to the person who thinks evil of it. The oldest and most senior Order in the United Kingdom, the Order of the Garter is limited to the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales and 24 members as well as members of the Royal Family, known as Royal Knights and Ladies, and Foreign Sovereigns, known as Stranger (or Extra) Knights and Ladies. Members are appointed in recognition of extraordinary public service, contributions to national life or personal service to the Sovereign, and is granted solely at the discretion of the Queen. New members are traditionally announced on St George’s Day, April 23rd, and the annual Order of the Garter Service is held at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on the Monday of Ascot Week in June. The insignia features a gold collar, from which is suspended the ‘Great George’, a pendant depicting Saint George on horseback slaying a dragon. It is worn at the State Opening of Parliament or the Service, along with the Mantle and Hat. The badge, known as the ‘Lesser George’, oval-shaped pendant, is suspended from the four-inch wide, kingfisher blue Sash that is worn from the left shoulder to the right hip. The eight-pointed silver Star, with a central disc featuring the heraldic shield of St George’s Cross, encircled by the garter, is worn on the torso. The Garter is made of dark blue velvet edged with gold, bearing the motto of the Order in gold lettering, and is worn by men just below the left knee, while women wear it on the left arm. The Order of the Garter is worn by the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, all their children, the Duke of Cambridge, and all her cousins. It is also awarded to foreign Sovereigns, most recently, King Felipe VI of Spain.
Scotland’s senior order and the second highest order within the United Kingdom, the Order of the Thistle was established in 1687 by King James VII (and II). Limited to the Sovereign and 16 members as well as members of the Royal Family. Members are appointed in recognition of their public service, contributions to national life or personal service to the Sovereign, mostly those that hail from Scotland, and is awarded at the sole discretion of the Sovereign. New members are announced on St Andrew’s Day, November 30th, and a biannual Service is held at the Thistle Chapel at St Giles’ Church in Edinburgh in June or July. The gold Collar consists of alternating links depicting thistle and rue, from which the ‘St Andrew’, a pendant depicting Saint Andrew holding a white saltire on a field of gold rays, is suspended. The Star is a silver St Andrew’s saltire, with clusters of rays between the arms, with a central disc depicting a circle of green enamel, bearing the motto of the order, and a thistle on a gold field. The Badge depicts Saint Andrew holding a white saltire, surrounded by the motto of the order, “Nemo me impune lacessit” (no one provokes me with impunity), and is worn suspended from the Sash, a wide band of dark green silk silk, on the right hip. The Order of the Thistle is not as frequently worn, but male members of the Royal Family wear the Star of the Order on their Uniforms, and at the State Opening of Parliament, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales wear the Sash.
Established by Queen Victoria on April 21 (TODAY), 1896, the Royal Victorian Order is granted at the sole discretion of the Sovereign, for personal service to the Monarchy, and in five classes. The Badge is a white-enameled Maltese Cross, with a central disc, featuring a red enameled field bearing Queen Victoria’s cipher in gold, all surrounded by a blue enameled ring with ‘VICTORIA’ in gold, topped with a Tudor crown, and worn suspended at the hip of the Sash, blue with narrow red-white-red stripes at the outer edge. The Star features a depiction of the badge atop an eight-point silver star for Knights/Dames Grand Cross. The Collar contains octagonal links depicting a gold rose on a blue background, alternating with longer links featuring inscriptions relating to Queen Victoria – ‘Victoria’, ‘Britt. Reg.’ (Queen of the Britains), ‘Def. Fid.’ (Defender of the Faith), and ‘Ind. Imp’ (Empress of India). At the center is a larger medallion with an image of Queen Victoria atop a saltire. The Royal Victorian Chain was established by King Edward VII in 1902, as a personal recognition from the Sovereign. It is similar in appearance to the Royal Victorian Order, although it is separate from that Order, and is awarded at the sole discretion of the Sovereign. The Chain is of gold, featuring alternating links featuring a Tudor rose, a thistle, shamrock and a lotus flower, representing England, Scotland, Ireland and India). At the center is the cipher of King Edward VII, surrounded by a laurel wreath, topped with an imperial crown. Suspended from the cipher is a badge, identical to the badge of the Royal Victorian Order. Men wear the chain as a collar, while women wear a bow on the left shoulder, with the four emblems linked to the cipher, with the badge suspended. The Royal Victorian Order has been awarded to Royals that had married into the Royal Family, including the Duchess of Cornwall, Sir Timothy Laurence, Countess of Wessex, Duchess of Gloucester, and the Duchess of Kent, as well as Prince Harry.
Established by King George I in 1725, the Most Honourable Order of the Bath comes from the medieval practice of bathing as part of the ritual of purification before being knighted. Mostly awarded for Military service, and given to foreign heads of state, appointments to the Order of the Bath are made throughout the year, with a service held every four years at the Henry VII Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey, which is presided over by the Grand Master of the Order, while the Sovereign attends every other service. The Badge is a gold oval with three crowns and the three flowers, roses, thistles, and shamrocks, emanating from a scepter on the reverse, all surrounded by a ring with the order’s motto. The crimson Sash is worn over the right shoulder, from which the badge is suspended at the left hip. The Collar is made of gold, features alternating imperial crowns and grouping of flowers (roses, thistles, and shamrocks), connected by silver knots. The eight-point silver Star has a central disc featuring three crowns in gold, surrounded by a red band with the order’s motto in gold lettering. Not usually worn by members of the Royal Family, a notable recipient is the Sultan of Brunei.
Created by the Prince Regent (George IV) in 1818, the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George is granted to recognize “services rendered to the Crown in relation to the foreign affairs of the Empire.” It consists of the Sovereign, a Grand Master (since 1967 HRH The Duke of Kent), and up to 125 Knights/Dames Grand Cross, 375 Knight/Dame Commanders, and 1750 Companions. A service is held every four years at a chapel in St Paul’s Cathedral. The Badge is a seven-armed star in white enamel, with a central disc depicting St Michael trampling Satan on the front, and St George on horseback slaying a dragon on the back, worn at the hip of the Sash in Saxon blue with a central crimson stripe. The gold Collar has alternating links featuring crowned lions, Maltese crosses, and the ciphers ‘SM’ and ‘SG’, at the center are two winged lions each holding a book and seven arrows, surmounted by an imperial crown. The seven-armed silver Star, features a red St George’s cross with a center disc featureing a depiction of St Michael trampling Satan, encircled with a blue ring bearing the motto of the Order – Auspicium Melioris Aevi (Token of a better age). The Order of St Michael and St George is rarely worn by members of the Royal Family (apart from the Service), but is frequently awarded at Investitures.
Founded by King George V in 1917, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is awarded for ‘distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the Civil Service and work with charitable and welfare organizations of all kinds’. The most commonly awarded Order, with over 100,000 living members throughout the Commonwealth realms, it is awarded at the recommendation of the Government and Society, and is granted in five classes. A service is held every four years at St Paul’s Cathedral. The eight-pointed silver Star features a depiction of King George V and Queen Mary, encircled by a crimson enameled ring with the motto of the order – ‘For God And The Empire’ – in gold. The Badge is a cross patronce with the same central disc, and the reverse features the cypher of King George V, encircled with the motto. The Cross is of blue enamel, with the circlet in crimson enamel; for Officers it is all in gold; for Members it is in silver. The Sash of the Order is rose-pink with pearl-grey stripes on the edge, while the Collar of the Order is of gold, featuring alternating links featuring the Royal Arms, and the cypher of King George V, linked with gold cables depicting lions and crowns.
Established by King Edward VII in 1902 to recognize service in the military, science, arts and literature, and promotion of culture, the Order of Merit is limited to the Sovereign and 24 members from Commonwealth realms. Like the Orders of the Garter and Thistle, the Order of Merit is granted at the sole discretion of the Sovereign, in a single class, and is usually not included in the twice-annual Honours Lists, and new members are invested privately by the Queen. The Service is held every five years at the Chapel Royal, St James’ Palace. The Badge is a red and blue enameled cross topped with a gold imperial crown, with a central a blue-enameled disc with ‘For Merit’ in gold, circled in white enamel, all surrounded by a gold wreath of laurel. The Ribbon of the order is stripes of red and blue, worn by men from a neck ribbon, and by women as a bow on the left shoulder.
The Royal Family Order of Queen Elizabeth II is probably the most exclusive order of the United Kingdom. Depicting a Dorothy Wilding portrait of young Queen Elizabeth II, the miniature, painted on ivory, is bordered by diamonds and surmounted by a Tudor Crown in diamonds and red enamel. The frame is suspended from a chartreuse yellow bow, which is pinned on the left shoulder. This Order is only given to members of the Royal Family, after years of dedicated service, at the discretion of the Queen. Current recipients are the Duchess of Cornwall, the Princess Royal, the Countess of Wessex, the Duchess of Gloucester, the Duchess of Kent, and Princess Alexandra, Lady Ogilvy.