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British honours system


British honours system

The British honours system is a means of rewarding individuals' personal bravery, achievement, or service to the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories. The system consists of three types of award: honours, decorations and medals:

  • Honours are used to recognise merit in terms of achievement and service.
  • Decorations tend to be used to recognise specific deeds.
  • Medals are used to recognise bravery, long and/or valuable service and/or good conduct.

Brief history

Although the Anglo-Saxon monarchs are known to have rewarded their loyal subjects with rings and other symbols of favour, it was the Normans who introduced knighthoods as part of their feudal government. The first English order of chivalry, the Order of the Garter, was created in 1348 by Edward III. Since then the system has evolved to address the changing need to recognise other forms of service to the United Kingdom.

Modern honours

As the head of state, the Sovereign remains the "fount of honour",[1] but the system for identifying and recognising candidates to honour has changed considerably over time. Various orders of knighthood have been created (see below) as well as awards for military service, bravery, merit, and achievement which take the form of decorations or medals. Most medals are not graded. Each one recognises specific service and as such there are normally set criteria which must be met. These criteria may include a period of time and will often delimit a particular geographic region. Medals are not normally presented by the Sovereign. A full list is printed in the "order of wear", published infrequently by the London Gazette.

Orders of Honours

Honours are split into classes ("orders") and are graded to distinguish different degrees of achievement or service. There are no criteria to determine these levels; various honours committees meet to discuss the candidates and decide which ones deserve which type of award and at what level.[2]

New Year and Birthday Honours

A complete list of approximately 1350 names is published twice a year, at New Year and on the date of the Sovereign's (official) birthday. Since their decisions are inevitably subjective, the twice-yearly honours lists often provoke criticism from those who feel strongly about particular cases.[3][4] Candidates are identified by public or private bodies, by government departments or are nominated by members of the public. Depending on their roles, those people selected by committee are submitted either to the Prime Minister, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, or Secretary of State for Defence for their approval before being sent to the Sovereign for final approval. Certain honours are awarded solely at the Sovereign's discretion, such as the Order of the Garter,[5] the Order of the Thistle, the Royal Victorian Order,[6] the Order of Merit[7] and the Royal Family Order. The awards are then presented by the Sovereign or her designated representative. The Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal have deputised for the Queen at investiture ceremonies at Buckingham Palace.

New Year Honours lists

Main article: New Year Honours

Queen's Birthday Honours lists

Main article: Queen's Birthday Honours

Prime Minister's Resignation Honours

By convention, a departing Prime Minister is allowed to nominate Prime Minister's Resignation Honours, to reward political and personal service. In recent history, only Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have not taken up this privilege (although Brown did issue the 2010 Dissolution Honours to similar effect).

Dissolution Honours lists

Current orders of chivalry

The current system is made up of six orders of chivalry and four orders of merit. The statutes of each order specify matters such as the size of the order, the use of post-nominal letters and insignia design and display.

Complete name Ranks / Letters Ribbon Established Founder Motto Awarded to/for Associated awards Refs
The Most Noble Order of the Garter Knight (KG)
Lady (LG)
23 April 1348 King Edward III Honi soit qui mal y pense ("Shame upon him who thinks evil of it") Relating to England and Wales None [8]
The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle Knight (KT)
Lady (LT)
29 May 1687 King James VII & II Nemo me impune lacessit ("No one provokes me with impunity") Relating to Scotland None
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GCB)
Knight/Dame Commander (KCB/DCB),
Companion (CB)
18 May 1725 King George I Tria iuncta in uno ("Three joined in one") Civil division: senior civil servants; Military division: senior military officers None [9]
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GCMG)
Knight/Dame Commander (KCMG/DCMG)
Companion (CMG)
28 April 1818 King George IV (as Prince Regent) Auspicium melioris ævi ("Token of a better age") Diplomats and colonial service None [10]
The Distinguished Service Order Companion (DSO) - plus bars 6 September 1886 Queen Victoria None Military officers in wartime None [11]
The Royal Victorian Order Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GCVO)
Knight/Dame Commander (KCVO/DCVO)
Commander (CVO)
Lieutenant (LVO)
Member (MVO)
21 April 1896 Queen Victoria Victoria ("Victory") Services to the Crown The Royal Victorian Medal, The Royal Victorian Chain [12]
The Order of Merit Member (OM) 23 June 1902 King Edward VII For merit Military, science, art, literature, culture None
The Imperial Service Order ISO 8 August 1902 King Edward VII For faithful service Civil servant for 25 years (in administrative or clerical capacity) The Imperial Service Medal
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GBE)
Knight/Dame Commander (KBE/DBE)
Commander (CBE)
Officer (OBE)
Member (MBE)
4 June 1917 King George V For God and the Empire Miscellaneous (military and civil) The British Empire Medal [13]
The Order of the Companions of Honour Companion (CH) 4 June 1917 King George V In action faithful and in honour clear Arts, science, politics, industry, religion None [14]

Dormant orders of chivalry

Orders were created for particular reasons at particular times. In some cases these reasons have ceased to have any validity and orders have fallen into abeyance, primarily due to the decline of the British Empire during the twentieth century. Reforms of the system have sometimes made other changes. For example the British Empire Medal ceased to be awarded in the UK in 1993, as was the companion level award of the Imperial Service Order (although its medal is still used). The British Empire Medal was revived however in 2012 with 293 BEMs awarded for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. In addition, BEM is used by the Cook Islands and by some other Commonwealth nations.

The Order of St Patrick

Main article: Order of St Patrick
Complete name Ranks / Letters Ribbon Established Founder Motto Awarded to/for Associated awards Refs
Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick Knight (KP) 17 March 1783 King George III Quis Separabit? ("Who will separate us?") At the monarch's pleasure

The Order of St Patrick was founded in 1783 by George III for the Kingdom of Ireland, and after the Acts of Union 1800 continued for Irish peers in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. After the Irish Free State's secession in 1922, only members of the royal family were appointed to the order, the last in 1936. The last surviving knight was Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who died on 10 June 1974. Although dormant, the order technically still exists, and may be awarded at any time. Queen Elizabeth II is the current sovereign of this order.

Imperial orders

Complete name Ranks / Letters Ribbon Established Founder Motto Awarded to/for Associated awards Refs
Most Exalted Order of the Star of India Knight Grand Commander (GCSI)
Knight Commander (KCSI)
1861 Queen Victoria Heaven's light our guide Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian rulers, Viceroys, Governors and senior administrators, Commanders-in-Chief, senior military officers and Indian civil servants
Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire Knight Grand Commander (GCIE)
Knight Commander (KCIE)
Companion (CIE)
1878 Queen Victoria Imperatricius auspiciis (Under the auspices of the Empress) Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian rulers, Viceroys, Governors and senior administrators, Commanders-in-Chief, senior military officers and Indian civil servants
Imperial Order of the Crown of India Companion (CI) 1878 Queen Victoria British Princesses, wives or female relatives of Indian Princes and wives or female relatives of any person who holds or held the office of:
  • Viceroy of India,
  • Governor-General of India,
  • Governor of Madras,
  • Governor of Bombay,
  • Governor of Bengal,
  • Secretary of State for India,
  • Commander-in-Chief in India.
Order of Burma Member (OB) 1940–1948 King George VI Long, faithful and honourable service of members of certain armed forces in Burma

These orders, relating to the British Raj or the British Indian Empire, are also dormant. The senior order, the Order of the Star of India, was divided into three grades, Knight Grand Commander, Knight Commander and Companion, of which the first and highest was conferred upon the Princes and Chiefs of Indian states and upon important British civil servants working in India. Women were not eligible to receive the award. The junior order, the Order of the Indian Empire, was divided into the same ranks and also excluded women. The third order, the Order of the Crown of India, was used exclusively to honour women. Its members, all sharing a single grade, consisted of the wives and close female relatives of Indian Princes or Chiefs; the Viceroy or Governor-General; the Governors of Bombay, Madras and Bengal; the Principal Secretary of State for India; and the Commander-in-Chief in India. Upon Indian independence in 1947, appointments to all these orders ceased.

H.H. Maharaja Tej Singh Prabhakar Bahadur of Alwar, who was a KCSI and the last surviving member of the Order of the Star of India, died in February 2009, aged 97. The sole surviving member of the Order of the Indian Empire, H.H. Maharaja Meghrajji III of Dhrangadhra-Halvad, a KCIE died in August 2010, aged 87. Queen Elizabeth II was appointed to the Order of the Crown of India (then as Princess Elizabeth) and is the last surviving former member of that order. The Queen remains also the Sovereign of the Indian orders as they have never been abolished.

The Order of Burma was created in May 1940 by King George VI of the United Kingdom to recognise subjects of the British colony of Burma (now Myanmar). This order had one class which entitled the member to the postnominal letters OB but no title. It was originally intended to reward long and faithful service by military and police. In 1945 the Royal Warrant was altered to allow for membership for acts of gallantry as well as meritorious service. The Order was one of the rarest awarded with only 33 appointments by the time appointments were discontinued in 1948 when Burma declared independence.

Orders formerly associated with the British monarch

The Royal Guelphic Order

Complete name Ranks / Letters Ribbon Established Founder Motto Awarded to/for Associated awards Refs
Royal Guelphic Order Knight Grand Cross (GCH)
Knight Commander (KCH)
Knight (KH)
1815–1841 (British order)
Since 1841 (Hanoverian House Order)
Prince Regent (later George IV) Nec Aspera Terrent (Not afraid of difficulties) At the monarch's pleasure

The Royal Guelphic Order, also known as the Hanoverian Guelphic Order, was an honour founded by George IV in 1815. In the United Kingdom it was used only briefly, until the death of William IV in 1837 that resulted in the ending of the personal union with the Kingdom of Hanover due to succession to the throne of Hanover following the Salic Law, unlike in the United Kingdom where women could inheirit the throne. The order continued for some time as a national order of Hanover until the defeat and forced dissolution of the kingdom by Prussia in 1866. Since then the order has been a house order to be awarded by the House of Hanover. The order's current head is Ernst August Prinz von Hanover, head of the house of Hanover. The Order includes two Divisions, Civil and Military. During the personal union of the United Kingdom and Hanover it originally had three classes, but with several reorganizations since 1841 as house order today it has four classes and an additional Cross of Merit.


The decorations awarded are, in order of wear:[15]

Complete name Post-nominal letters Ribbon Established Founder Awarded to/for Associated awards Refs
Victoria Cross VC 29 January 1856 Queen Victoria British Empire/ Commonwealth and allied Military personnel for "… most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy."
George Cross GC 24 September 1940 King George VI Commonwealth subjects for "… acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger." George Medal
Conspicuous Gallantry Cross CGC October 1993 Queen Elizabeth II British and allied forces for "… an act or acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy."
Royal Red Cross, Class I RRC 27 April 1883 (Associate class added in 1917) Queen Victoria Members of the Military Nursing Service for "… exceptional services in military nursing"
Distinguished Service Cross DSC 1901 (as the Conspicuous Service Cross; renamed the Distinguished Service Cross in October 1914) King Edward VII British, (formerly) Commonwealth and allied forces at sea for "… gallantry during active operations against the enemy."
Military Cross MC 1914 King George V British, (formerly) Commonwealth, and allied forces on land for "… gallantry during active operations against the enemy."
Distinguished Flying Cross DFC 3 June 1918 King George V British, (formerly) Commonwealth, and allied forces in the air for "… gallantry during active operations against the enemy."
Air Force Cross AFC 3 June 1918 King George V British, (formerly) Commonwealth, and allied air forces for "… gallantry while flying but not on active operations against the enemy." Air Force Medal
Royal Red Cross, Class II (Associate) ARRC 1917 King George V Members of the Military Nursing Service for "… exceptional services in military nursing."
Order of British India OBI
1939–1947 version Second Class
1837–1947 East India Company for "long, faithful and honourable service"
Indian Order of Merit IOM 1837–1947 East India Company Indian citizens in the armed forces and civilians for gallantry
Kaisar-i-Hind Medal no post-nominal entitlement 10 April 1900 – 1947 Queen Victoria Civilians of any nationality for "… distinguished service in the advancement of the interests of the British Raj" [16]

The last three decorations have not been awarded since the Indian independence in 1947.

On 1 July 2009, BBC News reported[17] that the Queen had approved a new posthumous award, the Elizabeth Cross, to honour members of the armed forces killed in action or by terrorist attack since World War II. The cross itself is given to the family of the deceased.

Other honours and appointments

Hereditary peerage

There are five ranks of hereditary peerage: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount and Baron. Until the mid 20th century, peerages were usually hereditary (bar legal peerages - see below) and, until the end of the 20th century, English, British and UK peerages (except, until very recent times, those for the time being held by women) carried the right to a seat in the House of Lords.

Hereditary peerages are now normally only given to members of the Royal Family. The most recent were the grants to the Queen's youngest son, the Earl of Wessex, on his marriage in 1999, and to the Queen's grandson Prince William who was made the Duke of Cambridge on the morning before his marriage to Catherine Middleton on 29 April 2011. No hereditary peerages were granted to commoners after the Labour Party came to power in 1964, until Margaret Thatcher tentatively reintroduced them by two grants to men with no sons in 1983, respectively the Speaker of the House of Commons George Thomas and the former Deputy Prime Minister William Whitelaw. Both these titles died with their holders. She followed this with an Earldom in 1984 for the former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan not long before his death, reviving a traditional honour for former Prime Ministers. Macmillan's grandson succeeded him on his death in 1986. No hereditary peerages have been created since, and Thatcher's own title was a life peerage (see further explanation below). The concession of a baronetcy (i.e. hereditary knighthood), was granted to Margaret Thatcher's husband Denis following her resignation (explained below, see Baronetcy).

Hereditary peerages are not "honours under the crown" and so cannot be withdrawn. A peerage can only be revoked by an Act of Parliament and none have been to present. However in the First World War period, any peer guilty of treason could have his peerage revoked. Most recently, when changes were made to the House of Lords register of interests, making further declarations mandatory, peers sitting in the house were allowed to disclaim their peerage in order to leave the house and avoid the register. Only 5 peers did so, and all were life peers.

Life peerage

Modern life peerages were introduced under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, following a test case (the Wensleydale Peerage Case) which established that non-statutory life peers would not have the right to sit in the House of Lords. At that time, life peerages were intended only for Law Lords, there being a desire to introduce legal expertise into the chamber to assist appellate law work, without conferring rights on future generations of these early working peers because the future generations might contain no legal experts.

Subsequently, under the Life Peerages Act 1958, life peerages became the norm for all new grants outside the Royal Family, this being seen as a modest reform of the nature of the second legislative chamber. However, its effects were gradual because hereditary peers, and their successors, retained until recently their rights to attend and vote with the life peers. All hereditary peers except 92 – chosen in a secret ballot of all hereditary peers – have now lost their rights to sit in the second chamber. All hereditary peers retain dining rights to the House of Lords, retaining its title as "the best club in London".

All Life Peers hold the rank of Baron and automatically have the right to sit in the House of Lords. The title exists only for the duration of their own lifetime and is not passed to their heirs (although the children even of life peers enjoy the same courtesy titles as hereditary peers). Some life peerages are created as an honour for achievement, some for the specific purpose of introducing legislators from the various political parties (known as working peers) and some under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, with a view to judicial work. There is a discrete number appointed as "People's Peers", on recommendation of the general public. Twenty-six Church of England bishops have a seat in the House of Lords.

As a life peerage is not technically an "honour under the Crown", it cannot be withdrawn once granted. Thus, while knighthoods have been withdrawn as "honours under the Crown", convicted criminals who have served their sentences have returned to the House of Lords. In the case of Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, he has chosen only to exercise dining rights and has yet to speak following his release from his conviction for perjury.


This is a hereditary honour carrying the title Sir. Baronetcies are not peerages; they are commonly (albeit incorrectly) considered a species of knighthood, albeit a senior one.

When a baronetcy becomes vacant on the death of a holder, the heir, if he wishes to be addressed as "Sir", is required to register the proofs of succession. The Official Roll of Baronets is kept at the Ministry of Justice (transferred from the Home Office in 2001) by the Registrar of the Baronetage. Anyone who considers that he is entitled to be entered on the roll may petition the Crown through the Lord Chancellor. Anyone succeeding to a baronetcy therefore must exhibit proofs of succession to the Lord Chancellor.[18] A person who is not entered on the roll will not be addressed or mentioned as a baronet or accorded precedence as a baronet, effectively declining the honour. The baronetcy can be revived at any time on provision of acceptable proofs of succession.[19] As of 2008, 158 baronetcies are listed as presumedly not extinct, but awaiting proofs of succession.[20]

As with hereditary peerages, baronetcies generally ceased to be granted after the Labour Party came to power in 1964. The sole subsequent exception was a baronetcy created in 1990 for the husband of Margaret Thatcher, Sir Denis Thatcher, later inherited by their son Mark Thatcher.


Descended from mediaeval chivalry, knights exist both within the orders of chivalry and in a class known as Knights Bachelor. Regular recipients include High Court judges and senior civil servants. Knighthood carries the title Sir; the female equivalent Dame only exists within the orders of chivalry.

Order of St John

Members of the Most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem (founded 1888) may wear the Order's insignia but the ranks within the Order of St John do not confer official rank in the order of precedence and, likewise, the abbreviations or postnominal initials associated with the various grades of membership in the Order of St John do not indicate precedence among the other orders. Thus someone knighted in the order does not take precedence with the knights of other British orders nor should they be addressed as "Sir" or "Dame".

Other orders

Other British and Commonwealth orders, decorations and medals which do not carry titles but entitle the holder to place post-nominal letters after his or her name also exist, as do a small number of Royal Family Orders.

Honorary awards

Citizens of countries which do not have the Queen as their head of state sometimes have honours conferred upon them, in which case the awards are "honorary". In the case of knighthoods, the holders are entitled to place initials behind their name but not style themselves "Sir" as they are not entitled to receive the accolade.[21][22] Examples of foreigners with honorary knighthoods are Billy Graham, Bill Gates, Bob Geldof, Bono and Rudolph Giuliani, while Arsène Wenger and Gérard Houllier are honorary OBEs. Honorary knighthoods arise from Orders of Chivalry rather than as Knights Bachelor as the latter confers no postnominal letters.

Recipients of honorary awards who later become subjects of Her Majesty may apply to convert their awards to substantive ones.[23] Examples of this are Marjorie Scardino, American CEO of Pearson PLC, and Yehudi Menuhin, the American-born violinist and conductor. They were granted an honorary damehood and knighthood respectively while still American citizens, and converted them to substantive awards after they assumed British nationality, becoming Dame Marjorie and Sir Yehudi. Menuhin later accepted a life peerage with the title Lord Menuhin.

Sir Tony O'Reilly, who holds both British and Irish nationality,[24] uses the style "Sir", but has also gained approval from the Irish Government to accept the award as is necessary under the Irish Constitution.[25] Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, the German soprano, became entitled to be known as "Dame Elisabeth" when she took British nationality. Irish-born Sir Terry Wogan was initially awarded an honorary knighthood, but by the time he collected the accolade from the Queen in December 2005, he had obtained dual nationality[24] and the award was upgraded to a substantive knighthood.

Bob Geldof is often erroneously referred to as "Sir Bob"; he is not entitled to this style as an honorary knight as he is a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, which does not have the British sovereign as its Head of State.

There is no law in the UK preventing foreigners from holding a peerage (e.g. Newburgh), though only Commonwealth and Irish citizens may sit in the House of Lords. This has yet to be tested under the new arrangements. However, some other countries have laws restricting the acceptances of awards granted to would-be recipients by foreign powers. In Canada, where the Canadian House of Commons has opposed the granting of titular honours with its Nickle Resolution, then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien advised the Queen not to grant Conrad Black a titular honour while he remained a Canadian citizen.[26]


Each year, around 2,600 people receive their awards personally from The Queen or a member of the Royal Family. Approximately 22 investitures are held annually in Buckingham Palace, one or two at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh and one in Cardiff. There are approximately 120 recipients at each Investiture. The Queen usually conducts the investitures, although the Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal or, more recently, the Duke of Cambridge also hold some investitures on behalf of the Queen.

During the ceremony, the Queen enters the ballroom of Buckingham Palace attended by two Gurkha orderly officers, a tradition begun in 1876 by Queen Victoria. On duty on the dais are five members of the Queen's Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard, which was created in 1485 by Henry VII; they are the oldest military corps in the United Kingdom. Four gentlemen ushers are on duty to help look after the recipients and their guests.

The Queen is escorted by either the Lord Chamberlain or the Lord Steward. After the National Anthem has been played, he stands to the right of the Queen and announces the name of each recipient and the achievement for which they are being decorated. The Queen is provided with a brief background for each recipient by her equerry as they approach to receive their award.

Those who are to be knighted kneel on an investiture stool to receive the accolade, which is bestowed by the Queen using the sword used by her father, George VI as Duke of York and Colonel of the Scots Guards. Occasionally an award for gallantry may be made posthumously and in this case the Queen presents the decoration or medal to the recipient's next-of-kin in private before the public investiture begins.

After the award ceremony, those honoured are ushered out of the Ballroom into the Inner Quadrangle of Buckingham Palace, where the Royal Rota of Photographers are stationed. Here recipients are photographed with their awards. In some cases, members of the press may interview some of the more well-known people who have received honours.

Refusal or forfeiture

Main article: Declining a British honour

A small number of people each year refuse the offer of an award, usually for personal reasons. Conversely, honours are sometimes removed (forfeited), for example if a recipient is convicted of a criminal offence. The Honours Forfeiture Committee is an occasional committee convened under the chairmanship of the Head of the Home Civil Service,[27] to consider cases where information has been received which indicates an individual is unsuitable to hold an award. Sometimes the original decision to grant an honour was made on the basis of inaccurate information (including through manipulation of the public nominations system), but normally cases relate to actions that took place after the award was made. Recommendations are made to The Monarch of the United Kingdom, who has the sole authority to rescind an honour.[28]

In 2009, Gordon Brown confirmed[29] that the process remains as set out in 1994 by the then Prime Minister John Major in a written answer to the House of Commons:
The statutes of most orders of knighthood and the royal warrants of decorations and medals include provision for the Queen to "cancel and annul" appointments and awards. Cancellation is considered in cases where retention of the appointment or award would bring the honours system into disrepute. There are no set guidelines for cancellations, which are considered on a case-by-case basis. Since 1979, the London Gazette has published details of cancellations of 15 appointments and awards—three knighthoods, one CBE, five OBEs, four MBEs and two BEMs.

Notable examples of persons who forfeited their honours include:

  • Anthony Blunt, knighted as Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures for his services to Art, lost his knighthood in the 1980s when he was revealed to be the "Fourth Man" in the early 1950s Burgess and Maclean spying scandal which also touched on the 1960s Philby spying affair, as a result of which he confessed to the security services. Although Blunt was never charged or convicted, the honour was withdrawn on the advice of the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
  • Roger Casement had been honoured for his human rights work while a British diplomat; however, upon being convicted on 30 June 1916 of High Treason for his role in the Irish 1916 Easter Rising, the King directed that Casement would cease to be a member of the Order of St Michael and St George, his name being stricken from the register, and letters patent were also issued "degrading" him "from the degree, title and dignity of Knight Bachelor".[30] He was executed that August.
  • Nicolae Ceauşescu forfeited his honorary knighthood that he earlier received for his friendship with Western democracies.
  • Albert Henry was the former Premier of the Cook Islands. He was later convicted of electoral fraud in the 1980s.
  • Terry Lewis, knighted for his services to Queensland police, was stripped of his knighthood in 1993 after being sentenced to prison on charges of corruption and forgery as a result of the findings of the Fitzgerald Inquiry.
  • Jack Lyons, who had received his knighthood for his huge charitable donations and services to industry, lost it when he was convicted of fraud in the 1980s.
  • Robert Mugabe was stripped of his honorary GCB after calls from the Government to the Royal Family due to the crisis in Zimbabwe under his régime, including hyperinflation, and violence in the 2008 Presidential elections.
  • Lester Piggott, the high-profile jockey, had his OBE removed after being convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for tax evasion.
  • Fred Goodwin, the former CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland had his knighthood annulled, after the Financial Services Authority found that the failure of RBS had an important role in the financial crisis of 2008-9, because Fred Goodwin was the dominant decision maker at the time.
  • James Crosby, former CEO of HBOS and non-Executive Director of the Financial Services Authority was formally stripped of his Knighthood at his request in April as the result of the banks collapse during the UK financial crisis.

Order of wear

Honours, decorations and medals are arranged in "order of wear", an official list[31] which describes the order in which they should be worn. Additional information on the social events at which an award may be worn is contained in the insignia case given to each recipient.

The list places the Victoria and George Crosses at the top, followed by the orders of knighthood arranged in order of date of creation. Individuals of a higher rank precede those of a lower rank. For instance, a Knight Grand Cross always precedes a Knight Commander. For those of equal rank, members of the higher-ranked Order take precedence. Within the same Order, precedence is accorded to that individual who received the honour earlier.

Not all orders have the same number of ranks. The Order of Merit, the Order of the Companions of Honour, the Distinguished Service Order and the Imperial Service Order are slightly different, being single-rank awards, and have been placed at appropriate positions of seniority. Knights Bachelor come after knights in the orders, but before those with the rank of Commander or lower.

Decorations are followed by medals of various categories, being arranged in date order within each section. These are followed by Commonwealth and honorary foreign awards of any level. Miscellaneous details are explained in notes at the bottom of the list.

The order of wear is not connected to and should not be confused with the Order of precedence.


For peers, see Forms of address in the United Kingdom.

For baronets, the style Sir John Smith, Bt (or Bart) is used. Their wives are styled simply Lady Smith. The rare baronetess is styled Dame Jane Smith, Btss.

For knights, the style Sir John Smith, [ postnominals ] is used, attaching the proper postnominal letters depending on rank and order (for knights bachelor, no postnominal letters are used). Their wives are styled Lady Smith, with no postnominal letters. A dame is styled Dame Jane Smith, [postnominals]. More familiar references or oral addresses use the first name only, e.g. Sir John, or Dame Joan.

Wives of knights and baronets are officially styled Lady Smith, although customarily no courtesy title is automatically reciprocated to male consorts.

Recipients of orders, decorations and medals receive no styling of Sir or Dame, but they may attach the according postnominal letters to their name, e.g. John Smith, VC. Recipients of gallantry awards may be referred to in Parliament as "gallant", in addition to "honourable", "noble", etc.: The honourable and gallant Gentleman.

Bailiffs or Dames Grand Cross (GCStJ), Knights/Dames of Justice/Grace (KStJ/DStJ), Commander Brothers/Sisters (CStJ), Officer Brothers/Sisters (OStJ), Serving Brothers/Sisters (SBStJ/SSStJ)and Esquires (EsqStJ) of the Order of St John do not receive any special styling with regards to prenominal address i.e. Sir or Dame. They may, however, attach the relevant postnominal initials. In the Priory of Australia, the award of Serving Brother/Sister is no longer granted. The award now granted is referred to as Member of the Order of St John for both males and females.

For honours bestowed upon those in the entertainment industry (e.g., Anthony Hopkins, Maggie Smith), it is an accepted practice to omit the title for professional credits.[32]


Reforms of the system occur from time to time. In the last century notable changes to the system have included a Royal Commission in 1925 following the scandal in which Prime Minister David Lloyd George was found to be selling honours. The sale of British Honours, including titles is now prohibited by the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. There was a further review in 1993 when Prime Minister John Major created the public nominations system.

In July 2004, the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) of the House of Commons and, concurrently, Sir Hayden Phillips, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Constitutional Affairs, both concluded reviews of the system. The PASC recommended some radical changes; Sir Hayden concentrated on issues of procedure and transparency. In February 2005 the Government responded to both reviews by issuing a Command paper detailing which of the proposed changes it had accepted. These included diversifying and opening up the system of honours selection committees for the Prime Minister's list and also the introduction of a miniature badge.

As of 2012, same-sex civil partners of individual recipients of British honours are not themselves granted honours by way of their partnered relation. In July 2012, Conservative MP Oliver Colvile announced a private member's bill, titled "Honours (Equality of Titles for Partners) Bill", to amend the honours system to both allow husbands of those made dames and for civil partners of recipients to receive honours by their relationship statuses.[33]


A scandal in the 1920s was the sale by Maundy Gregory of honours and peerages to raise political funds for David Lloyd George.

In 1976, the Harold Wilson era was mired by controversy over the 1976 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours, which became known as the "Lavender List".

Main article: Cash for Honours

In 2006 the Sunday Times newspaper revealed that every donor who had given £1,000,000 or more to the Labour Party since 1997 was given a Knighthood or a Peerage. On top of this, the government had given honours to 12 of the 14 individuals who have given Labour more than £200,000 and of the 22 who donated more than £100,000, 17 received honours. An investigation by the Crown Prosecution Service did not lead to any charges being made.

See also



  • De-la-Noy, Michael, The Honours System, London, 1992 (first published 1985)

External links

  • The UK Honours System
  • London Gazette website
  • Ede & Ravenscroft - Orders of Chivalry: Robemakers for the regalia of the various Orders of Chivalry (with photos)

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