The Orders of Great Britain are the highest insignia in the United Kingdom. The English award system can rightfully claim to be the oldest in the world. Despite the fact that the preconditions for the emergence of secular awards for a long time were formed in all European states, the first such order appeared with the light hand of the English monarch. A significant event took place in the XIV century, and King Edward III became the founder of the orders of Great Britain.
The emergence of the English orders
The orders of Great Britain in the Middle Ages had a very different meaning than they do now. At that time, this term meant not a reward, but an organization created by the king on the model of the militant spiritual-knightly brotherhoods of the Hospitallers and Templars.
In the first secular orders of Europe, common features were observed the union had its own symbols and consisted of a limited number of the most noble nobles of the kingdom, loyal to the overlord, who, with his power, accepted new knights into the union. Initiation into the number of the elect was considered a sign of great mercy on the part of the monarch and carried an element of reward.
The Orders of Great Britain appeared at a time when Edward III won several major victories in the battles with France. Success inspired the king, and he had every reason to become the head of the new knightly brotherhood. However, Legends call the Countess of Salisbury the inspiration for the monarch. At a ball at Windsor Castle, a beautiful lady lost her sky-blue satin garter studded with gems. The dancers stopped and laughed in the crowd. Then the monarch lifted a piece of clothing from the floor, attached it to his sleeve, and announced the creation of the Royal Order of the Garter.
There are other versions of the origin of the award, but historians consider the theory with the countess the most plausible. Then the motto of the knightly union becomes quite logical: “Shame on the one who thinks badly about it!” According to legend, these were the words that the king uttered at the ball. There is speculation that blue ribbons in honor of St. George were tied to spears by knights during battles with the French army, but this hypothesis does not explain the origin of the historical phrase that became the motto of the British Empire.
The archives preserved data that in September 1351, twenty-four robes ordered for the new order were delivered to the king. The first knights were the warriors who distinguished themselves at the Battle of Crécy, where the English monarch won the loudest of his victories. Among them, only nine people belonged to the highest circles of the nobility, the rest were ordinary nobles who showed miracles of courage. The first secular order in world history still exists and ranks first in the hierarchy of the country’s insignia.
Development of the system of state awards in England
The second order in the country appeared when the days of chivalry had long passed. In 1687, King James II announced the restoration of the Scottish Order of the Thistle “in full glory, splendor and greatness”, then he was motivated not to create an association of vassals, but to support the already existing traditions.
In the centuries that followed, new insignia appeared in Britain for religious and political reasons. The Order of the Bath, established in 1725 by George I, was intended for both civilian and military cavaliers. Historians suggest that it was founded by the monarch to mark the country’s final transition to the Protestant religion. Since 1701, according to a legislative act passed by parliament, the kings of the Catholic faith could not occupy the throne.
The appearance of the Orders of St. Michael and St. George came at a time when the troops of Napoleon Bonaparte were finally defeated, and the Ionian Islands became part of the British possessions. After 1864, when the territory returned to Greece, the award began to be presented for service in the dominions of the British Empire. During the second half of the 19th century, Queen Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria) established a whole series of regalia for India the largest English colony.
In Victorian England, military awards appeared, intended to be presented for special services on the battlefield. It was considered a great honor to receive the Victoria Cross, which was established in 1856. Bronze Russian cannons captured by the British during the Crimean War served as the material for the production of the order, and the reason for the award was “the most noticeable courage, some daring or outstanding act of valor or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.” The decoration of awards became more modest bulky medallions were replaced by a badge fixed on a ribbon, the color of which depended on the type of troops. Most of the cavaliers appeared during the hostilities in Europe in 1914-1918.
In 1940, the state faced the need to expand the range of military regalia in connection with the aggression of Nazi Germany. Then the George Cross was established, which was awarded for feats not directly related to actions on the battlefield, and after the 1970s, analogs of the award appeared for the dominions Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
Modern orders of Great Britain
A characteristic feature of the British award system is a huge number of regalia that do not lose their status over time, although some of them have not been awarded for a long time and are considered “dormant”.
The most famous English orders are:
- Most Noble Order of the Garter.
- Order of the Thistle.
- Order of the Bath.
- Order of St. Patrick.
- Royal Order of the Guelphs.
- Order of St. Michael and St. George.
- Royal Order of Victoria and Albert.
- Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
- Order of the Indian Empire.
- Royal Victorian Order.
- Order of the Imperial Service.
- Order of the British Empire.
The order of wearing regalia is strictly regulated.
Each rule change is published in The London Gazette without fail. The status of the owners of ancient orders of knighthood depends on the degree of the award the knights of the Grand Cross stand at the top step, followed by the Commanders and Knights. Also, the regulations determine the hierarchy of Ladies and Ladies, these titles are assigned to women who are awarded orders of knighthood, as well as to spouses of cavaliers.
The most significant reform in the field of awards was carried out in the country in 1925 in connection with the sale of knightly orders, organized by the politician Arthur John Maundy Gregory. After an investigation by the Royal Commission, the trade in honors and titles in the UK was officially banned. The parliament has repeatedly raised the issue of changes in the procedure for awarding, small amendments were adopted, but the legislative acts themselves did not touch upon the regalia.