Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the ancient ceremony wherein individuals participated in a vigil of fasting, prayer, and bathing on the day before being knighted (the ceremony was discontinued in 1815).
- Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GCB)
- Knight or Dame Commander (KCB or DCB)
- Companion (CB)
Members belong to either the Civil or the Military Division. The Order's motto is Tria iuncta in uno (Latin for "Three joined in one"), a reference to either the union of England, Scotland and Ireland, or to the Holy Trinity. The former is more likely; a recurring symbol of the Order comprises three crowns. Another motto, Ich dien (German for "I serve") is sometimes used, but only by members of the Order who serve in the military.
The Order is the fourth-most senior in the British honours system, after The Most Noble Order of the Garter, The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, and The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick. The last of the aforementioned Orders—which relates to Ireland, no longer a part of the United Kingdom—still exists but is in disuse; no appointments have been made to it since 1934.
Table of contents
Under a tradition that dates to mediæval times, special knighthoods were conferred on important royal occasions such as coronations. These knighthoods were called Knighthoods of the Bath due to the ritual bathing observed prior to the investiture. The practice became obsolete by the reign of Charles II. George I revived the practice, instituting the Order of the Bath by letters patent, upon the advice of his Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole (who wished to control a source of political patronage). The Order initially consisted of the Sovereign, a Great Master and thirty-six Knights Companion, all of whom were senior military figures.
After 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Prince Regent (later George IV) enlarged the Order, causing some controversy at the time. The vigil of fasting, prayer, and bathing were also formally abolished at the same time. In 1847, the Order was again expanded, and was formally divided into parallel Military and Civil Divisions. Several further expansions have been made since.
The British Sovereign is the Sovereign of the Order of the Bath. The next-most senior member of the Order is the Great Master; HRH The Prince of Wales has been the Great Master since 1975. The Sovereign makes all appointments to the Order on the advice of the Government. The statutes also provide for :
- 120 Knights or Dames Grand Cross (GCB), (of whom the Great Master is the First and Principal)
- 355 Knights Commander (KCB) or Dames Commander (DCB)
- 1,925 Companions (CB).
Women were not admitted to the Order until 1971. In 1975, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, an aunt of Elizabeth II, became the first to reach the highest rank, Dame Grand Cross. Regular membership is limited to citizens of the United Kingdom and of Commonwealth countries. Non-Commonwealth foreigners, however, may be made Honorary Members. For instance, two individuals were made Knights Grand Cross shortly after the conclusion of their terms as Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan (in 1989) and George H. W. Bush (in 1993).
The limits prescribed by the statutes of the Order have often been raised; the Order originally consisted of less than forty members, but now includes over two thousand. The statutes permit the Sovereign to disregard the limits when appointing members whose actions deserve a "peculiar honour or reward." These "Additional Members," as well as Honorary Members, do not count towards the numerical maxima imposed by the statutes.
The Order of the Bath has six officers:
- the Dean
- the King of Arms
- the Secretary
- the Deputy Secretary
- the Genealogist
- the Usher
The office of Dean is held by the Dean of Westminster. The King of Arms, responsible for heraldry, is known as the Bath King of Arms; he is not, however, a member of the College of Arms like many heralds. The Order's Usher is known as the Gentleman Usher of the Scarlet Rod; he does not, unlike his Order of the Garter equivalent (the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod) perform any duties in the House of Lords.
Vestments and Accoutrements
Members of the Order wear elaborate costumes on important occasions (such as its quadrennial investiture ceremonies and coronations), which vary by rank:
- The mantle, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is made of crimson satin lined with white tafetta. On the left side is a representation of the star (see below). The mantle is bound with two large tassels.
- The hat, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Knights and Dames Commanders, is made of black velvet; it includes an upright plume of feathers.
- The collar, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is made of gold and weighs 30 troy ounces (933 g). It consists of depictions of nine imperial crowns and eight sets of flowers (roses for England, thistles for Scotland and shamrocks for Ireland), connected by seventeen silver knots.
At lesser occasions, simpler insignia are used:
- The star is an accoutrement used only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Knights and Dames Commanders. Its style varies by rank and division; it is worn pinned to the left breast:
- The star for military Knights and Dames Grand Cross consists of a Maltese Cross on top of an eight-pointed silver star; the star for military Knights and Dames Commander is an eight-pointed silver cross pattée. Each bears in the centre three crowns surrounded by a red ring bearing the motto of the Order in gold letters. The circle is flanked by two laurel branches and is above a scroll bearing the words Ich dien in gold letters.
- The star for civil Knights and Dames Grand Cross consists of an eight-pointed silver star, without the Maltese cross; the star for civil Knights and Dames Commanders is an eight-pointed silver cross pattée. The design of each is the same as the design of the military stars, except that the laurel branches and the words Ich dien are excluded.
- The badge is an insignia which varies in design, size and manner of wearing by rank and division. The Knight and Dame Grand Cross' badge is larger than the Knight and Dame Commander's badge, which is in turn larger than the Companion's badge; however these are all suspended on a crimson ribbon. Knights and Dames Grand Cross wear the badge on a riband or sash, passing from the right shoulder to the left hip. Knights Commanders and male Companions wear the badge from a ribbon worn around the neck. Dames Commanders and female Companions wear the badge from a bow on the left side:
- The military badge is a gold Maltese Cross of eight points, enamelled in white. Each point of the cross is decorated by a small gold ball; each angle has a small figure of a lion. The centre of the cross bears three crowns on the obverse side, and a rose, a thistle and a shamrock, emanating from a sceptre on the reverse side; both emblems are surrounded by a red circular ring bearing the motto of the Order, which are in turn flanked by two laurel branches, above a scroll bearing the words Ich dien in gold letters.
- The civil badge is a plain gold oval, bearing three crowns on the obverse side, and a rose, a thistle and a shamrock, emanating from a sceptre on the reverse side; both emblems are surrounded by a ring bearing the motto of the Order.
On certain "collar days" designated by the Sovereign, members attending formal events may wear the Order's collar over their military 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.
The collars and badges of Knights and Dames Grand Cross are returned to the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood upon the decease of their owners. All other insignia may be retained by their owners.
The Chapel of the Order is Henry VII Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Every four years, an installation ceremony, presided over by the Great Master, and a religious service are held in the Chapel; the Sovereign attends every alternate ceremony. The Sovereign and each knight who has been installed is allotted a stall in the choir of the chapel. Since there are a limited number of stalls in the Chapel, only the most senior Knights and Dames Grand Cross are installed. By convention, stalls are offered alternately to members of the military and civil divisions. Waits between admission to the Order and installation may be very long; for instance, Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma was created a Knight Grand Cross in 1955, but was installed in 1972.
Above each stall, the occupant's 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 is used.
Above the crest or coronet, the knight's or dame'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 (or coronet or crown) 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 now Ladies) throughout history.
Precedence and privileges
Members of the Order of the Bath are assigned positions in the order of precedence. Wives of male members also feature on the order of precedence, as do sons, daughters and daughters-in-law of Knights Grand Cross and Knights Commanders; relatives of female members, 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 "GCB"; Knights Commanders use "KCB"; Dames Commanders use "DCB"; Companions use "CB."
Knights and Dames Grand Cross are also entitled to receive heraldic supporters. They may, furthermore, encircle their arms with a depiction of the circlet (a red circle bearing the motto) and the collar; the former is shown either outside or on top of the latter. Knights and Dames Commanders and Companions may display the circlet, but not the collar, around their arms. The badge is depicted suspended from the collar or circlet.
- Order of the Garter
- Order of the Thistle
- Order of St Michael and St George
- Royal Victorian Order
- Order of the British Empire
- Sovereign as 'Fountain of Honour'
- Brennan, I. G. (2004). "The Most Honourable Order of the Bath."
- Cambridge University Heraldic and Genealogical Society. (2002). "The Most Honourable Order of the Bath."
- Debrett's Limited. (2004). "The Most Honourable Order of the Bath."
- "Knighthood and Chivalry." (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
- Velde, F. R. (2003). "Order of Precedence in England and Wales."