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Order of the British Empire
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Order of the British Empire

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V. The Order includes five types of members, in order of seniority: Knights and Dames Grand Cross, Knights and Dames Commanders, Commanders, Officers and Members. Only the two highest ranks are knightly. There is also a related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are not members of the Order, but which is affiliated with the Order nonetheless.

The Order's motto is For God and the Empire. It is the most junior of the British orders of chivalry, but it also has more members than any other.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Composition
3 Vestments and accoutrements
4 Chapel
5 Precedence and privileges
6 See also
7 References

History

George V founded the Order to fill gaps in the British honours system: The Most Honourable Order of the Bath honoured only senior military officers and civil servants, The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George honoured diplomats and the Royal Victorian Order honoured those who had personally served the Royal Family. Originally, the Order included only one division; soon after its foundation, in 1918, it was formally divided into Military and Civil Divisions. The Order has been used to honour not only British citizens, but also citizens of other Commonwealth nations.

Composition

The British Sovereign is the Sovereign of the Order and appoints all other members of the Order (by convention, on the advice of the Government). The next-most senior member is the Grand Master. The current Grand Master is HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

The Order is limited to 100 Knights and Dames Grand Cross, 845 Knights and Dames Commanders, and 8960 Commanders. There are no limits on the total number of members of the fourth and fifth classes, but no more than 858 Officers and 1464 Members may be appointed per year. Appointments are made on the advice of the governments of the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth nations. By convention, female judges of the High Court of England and Wales are created Dames Commanders after appointment. Male judges, however, are created Knights Bachelor.

Most members belong to the United Kingdom or to Commonwealth nations. Citizens of other countries, however, may be admitted as "honorary members." They do not count towards the numerical limits aforementioned, nor are they addressed as "Sir." (They may be made full members if they subsequently become British citizens.) Notable foreign members of the Order have included Pelé, Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Alan Greenspan, Steven Spielberg and Wesley Clark (all Knights Commanders).

At the foundation of the Order, the "Medal of the Order of the British Empire" was instituted. In 1922, it was renamed the "British Empire Medal." Recipients, who are not members of the Order itself, are grouped into the Civil and Military Divisions. Only junior government and military officials are awarded the medal; senior officials are directly appointed to the Order of the British Empire. The United Kingdom's Government has not recommended the awarding of the medal since 1992, though some Commonwealth nations continue the practice.

The Order has six officials: the Prelate, the Dean, the Secretary, the Registrar, the King of Arms and the Usher. The Bishop of London, the most senior bishop in the Church of England, serves as the Order's Prelate. The Dean of St Paul's is ex officio the Dean of the Order. The Order's King of Arms is not a member of the College of Arms, like many other heraldic officers. The Usher of the Order is known as the Gentleman Usher of the Purple Rod; he does not, unlike his Order of the Garter equivalent (the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod), perform any duties related to the House of Lords.

Vestments and accoutrements

Members of the Order wear elaborate costumes on important occasions (such as quadrennial services and coronations), which vary by rank (the designs underwent major changes in 1937): At less important occasions, simpler insignia are used: On certain "collar days" designated by the Sovereign, members attending formal events may wear the Order's collar over their miliary uniform or evening wear. When collars are worn (either on collar days or on formal occasions such as coronations), the badge is suspended from the collar. Collars are returned upon the death of their owners, but other insignia may be retained.

Chapel

The chapel of the order is in the far eastern end of the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, but it holds its great services upstairs in the main body of the cathedral. (The Cathedral also serves as the home of the chapel of The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George.) Religious services for the whole Order are held quadrennially; new Knights and Dames Grand Cross are installed at these services. The chapel was dedicated in 1969.

The Sovereign and the Knights and Dames Grand Cross are allotted stalls in the choir of the chapel, above which their heraldic devices are displayed. Perched on the pinnacle of a knight's stall is his helm, decorated with a mantling and topped by his crest. Under English heraldic law, women other than monarchs do not bear helms or crests; instead, the coronet appropriate to the dame's rank, if there is one, is used (see coronet). Above the crest or coronet, the stall's occupant's heraldic banner is hung, emblazoned with his or her coat of arms. At a considerably smaller scale, to the back of the stall is affixed a piece of brass (a "stall plate") displaying its occupant's name, arms and date of admission into the Order. Upon the death of a Knight, the banner, helm, mantling and crest are taken down. The stall plates, however, are not removed; rather, they remain permanently affixed somewhere about the stall, so that the stalls of the chapel are festooned with a colourful record of the Order's Knights and Dames Grand Cross since 1969.

Precedence and privileges

Members of all classes of the Order are assigned positions in the order of precedence. Wives of male members of all classes also feature on the order of precedence, as do sons, daughters and daughters-in-law of Knights Grand Cross and Knights Commanders; relatives of Ladies of the Garter, however, are not assigned any special precedence. (As a general rule, individuals can derive precedence from their fathers or husbands, but not from their mothers or wives.) (See order of precedence in England and Wales for the exact positions.)

Knights Grand Cross and Knights Commanders prefix "Sir," and Dames Grand Cross and Dames Commanders prefix "Dame," to their forenames. Wives of Knights may prefix "Lady" to their surnames, but no equivalent privilege exists for husbands of Dames. Such forms are not used by peers and princes, except when the names of the former are written out in their fullest forms. Furthermore, honorary members and clergymen do not use the accolade of knighthood.

Knights and Dames Grand Cross use the post-nominal "GBE," Knights Commanders "KBE," Dames Commanders "DBE," Commanders "CBE," Officers "OBE" and Members "MBE." The post-nominal for the British Empire Medal is "BEM."

Knights and Dames Grand Cross are also entitled to recieve heraldic supporters. They may, furthermore, enircle their arms with a depiction of the circlet (a circle bearing the motto) and the collar; the former is shown either outside or on top of the latter. Knights and Dames Commanders and Commanders may display the circlet, but not the collar, surrounding their arms. The badge is depicted suspended from the collar or circlet.

See also

References