Orders of Knights


Knight is a title of honor derived from the old English Cniht, a servant or attendant, which refers to those who attended kings upon horseback. In other languages, the knight is referred to as chevalier, ritter, etc.

There are many orders and kinds of knighthood, but the examples listed here have been connected with Great Britain and Ireland:

I. Knight Bachelor is most ancient, though lowest, rank of knighthood. Every holder of a knight's fee was capable of receiving knighthood. A knight's fee was a certain quantity of land owned by the knight. The amount of land required to make one eligible for knighthood varied at different periods. The introduction of knight-service began with William the Conqueror. Early in the sixteenth century it became usual to compel every such holder either to receive knighthood, or make a composition with the sovereign for the loss of his services. Every knight was bound to attend the king in war for forty days, reckoned from the time of arrival in the country of the enemy. Since the abolition of knight-service, knighthood has been conferred without regard to property, as a mark of the esteem of the sovereign, or a reward for service. The arms of a knight bachelor are only distinguished from those of an esquire by the full-faced and open, helmet, and this Distinction is not ancient.

II. Knight Banneret is not known to occur in England previous to the reign of Edward I.; and about the commencement of the sixteenth century the title seems to have been almost entirely laid aside: still occasionally, instances occur.

III. The Order of the Bath, (lat. Ordo de Balneo, fr. Order du Bain). The institution of the Society of the Bath does not seem to be of greater antiquity than the reign of Henry IV, who at his coronation gave the title to forty-six esquires. It was at first not strictly an order, although the dignity was conferred at coronations and other great national ceremonies, such as the marriage of the sovereign, or the creation of a Prince of Wales. Forty-six knights of the Bath were made at the coronation of Queen Mary, and sixty-eight at that of King Charles II. They were anciently distinguished by an emerasse or escutcheon of azure silk upon the left shoulder charged with three crowns proper, with the motto, Trois en un. From the coronation of King Charles II, the dignity was disused until revived by letters of patent of George I. dated May 18, 1725. It was then directed to be a military Order consisting of the sovereign, a grand master, and thirty-six companions, In addition to a dean, register, king of arms, genealogist, secretary, usher, and messenger. The office of dean was annexed to the deanery of the collegiate church of St. Peter in Westminster, but the grand master was directed to appoint the other officers.

In 1725 the collar and badge are described:
Collar of the Order of the BATH.

Nine imperial crowns of gold (five demi arches visible, no caps) and eight roses and thistles (the shamrock) has been added subsequently] issuing from a scepter, all enamelled proper, linked together with seventeen white knots.

Badge of the Order of the BATH.
An oval plate azure, charged with a scepter in pale, from which issued a rose and a thistle, between three imperial crowns proper; the whole within the circle of the order.

A banner of arms was also directed to be suspended over the stall of each Companion in King Henry VII's chapel at Westminster. The order continued in this form until January 2, 1815, when the Prince Regent, in commemoration of the termination of war, ordained that the order should henceforward consist of the three following classes.

(a.) Knights Grand Cross (G.C.B.), corresponding with the late companions. There were never to be more than seventy-two, of whom twelve might be nominated for civil services. The arms of knights of this class are distinguished by supporters, and by being placed within the red circle of the order edged with gold, and having the motto Tria juncta in uno, in gold letters. This is surrounded with a wreath of laurel, and has the badge of the order pendent by a red ribbon; over this badge is an escroll azure, with the words Ich Dien. Knights who have received the order for civil services omit the wreath of laurel and the escroll.

(b.) Knights Commanders (K.C.B.), who must be officers holding commissions in the British army or navy. They are not permitted to use supporters, but may place their arms within the red circle, with a similar, but somewhat smaller badge pendent. The number was originally fixed at 180, exclusive of ten honorary knights, who were to be foreigners holding commissions in the English service.

(c.) Companions (C.B), who are unlimited as to number, and take precedence of all esquires, but not authorized to assume the style of knighthood. This class was at first exclusively composed of naval and military officers, but afterwards included civilians. They may bear the badge belonging to their class pendent by a red ribbon below their arms, which are not otherwise distinguished from those of esquires. The Stars, like the badges, vary in several particulars according to the class by which they are to be worn.

IV. The Order of the Garter, (fr. Ordre de la Jarretière): Froissart fixes the date of the institution of this order to the 18th year of King Edward III, though, perhaps, it was not actually bestowed till a few years later. Edward had assumed the title of King of France, and seems to have instituted the Order of the Garter to reward some of the most distinguished persons by whose assistance he accomplished the conquest. Hence the color of the garter is blue - the royal livery of France, and the motto, HONI SOIT QUI MAY Y PENSE, which should be translated, "Dishonored be he who thinks ill of it," may be reasonably understood to refer to the order itself. Why the garter was chosen as the badge of the order it not known. Knights wear it buckled below the left knee, and it encircles the left arm of her Majesty. The order originally consisted of the sovereign and twenty-five companions, of whom the Prince of Wales was first. The original statutes of the order are lost.

The principal officers of the order are:

(a.) The PRELATE - who has always been the bishop of Winchester. He may encircle his arm (impaled with the insignia of the see) with the garter. The badge of his office may be suspended beneath by a dark blue ribbon.

(b.) The CHANCELLOR. An office fulfilled by one of the companions, until Edward IV annexed the chancellorship to the see of Salisbury. In Edward VI's reign it passed into lay hands, but in 1669 the chapter of the order re-annexed the office to the see of Salisbury. Recent alterations (1836) having placed Windsor in the diocese of Oxford, the Bishop of Oxford is now Chancellor of the garter. His arms are arranged in a similar manner to those of the prelate.

(c.) The REGISTRAR, whose office was instituted at the foundation of the order, was annexed to the deanery of Windsor, Henry VIII. His arms (with the insignia of the deanery-argent, a cross gules) may be encircled by the garter, the badge being appended below.

(d.) GARTER KING OF ARMS, an office instituted by Henry V, the order having formerly been attended by Windsor herald. His badge (which may be suspended below his arms) consists of the arms of St. George and the royal arms impaled within the garter, and ensigned with the imperial crown.

(e.) THE GENTLEMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD, who is required to be a natural-born subject of England, and a knight bachelor. This office was instituted by the founder. His badge is a knot (like those in the collar) within the garter. The Garter does not appear to have been commonly placed around the arms of the sovereign, companions, or officers, until the reign of Henry VIII. The earlier stall plates in St. George's chapel at Windsor being without it. The color of the garter is blue, the motto and edging being of gold. The motto was anciently in the old English character, but for some centuries past it has usually been in Roman.

The collar (which may be placed around arms, outside the garter) consists of twenty-six garters enclosing red roses, barbed and seeded proper, upon a blue ground, and as many golden knots, i.e. in reference to the sovereign and twenty-five companions. To one of the garters the George is suspended. This is a figure of St. George on horseback, piercing the fallen dragon, which lies upon a mount. The Collar was ordained by King Henry VIII, whose arms occur within it; and the Star was devised in1664, i.e. of eight points formed by silver rays surrounding the badge, which consists of the cross of St. George, surrounded by the motto.

Although there are precedents to justify surrounding the impaled arms of a knight and his lady with the garter, it is not usual, and certainly must be laid aside by the lady should she survive her husband.

The order of the Garter in Ireland was instituted in 1466 by King Edward IV, but was abolished by parliament in 1494.

V. The Hanoverian, or Guelphic order. This order was instituted by King George IV while Prince Regent, Aug. 12, 1815, but it is no longer connected with the British empire.

VI. Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, often called Knights of Rhodes. They were later called the Knights of Malta, because of their temporary occupation of those islands. In the year 1048, almost half a century before the first Crusade, some merchants of Amalfi, in the kingdom of Naples, were permitted by the infidels to erect three religious edifices in Jerusalem: a church, called St. Mary ad Latinos; a convent for women, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene; and an hospital for pilgrims, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. From the latter sprung the most celebrated order of knighthood that ever existed in Christendom. At the close of the eleventh century the brethren of the hospital of St. John, under Gerard, their first superior, materially assisted the crusaders by affording relief to their sick and wounded; and in gratitude for their services many of the European princes gave them considerable property in their respective states. A few years afterwards, the brethren assumed a long black habit, with a cross of white cloth of the form since called the Maltese cross upon the left breast. The rule that they adopted was that of St. Augustine, and Pope Paschal II ratified the arrangements in 1113. The first body of statutes were given, in 1121, by Raymund du Puy, and confirmed by Pope Calixtus II. in the same year.

The order, was both military as well as religious, and was soon joined by many persons of very high rank, and rapidly increased in wealth and influence. Upon the downfall of Christian power of Jerusalem (1187) the Hospitallers were forced to move from place to place, till, in 1310, they besieged and conquered Rhodes, with seven smaller islands adjacent, hence they have been sometimes called by this title. The Saracens frequently attacked their newly acquired territory. Eventually, in 1523, they were compelled to surrender the islands to an immense army under the Sultan Solyman, called the Magnificent. Charles V failed to assist the knights in this battle, resulting in their loss of Rhodes. To make amends, on the 24th of March 1530, the emperor Charles V ceded to the order the sovereignty of the island of Malta, whence their later title. From there they battled against the North African pirates, becoming known as the "police of the Mediterranean."

In 1798 the original Order of Malta surrendered Malta to Napoleon and eventually settled in Rome. The Grand Magistry of Rome still controls the fortunes of the order, which is accepted by many nations as an international, sovereign entity devoted to charitable works.

An important branch of the order was established in England in the magnificent hospital of St. John of Jerusalem at Clerkenwell, founded by Jordan Briset. About 1110, Briset, a baron and the prior of this Hospital had a seat in the Upper House of Parliament. He was commonly recognized as the first Baron of England. In 1540 Act of Parliament dissolved this hospital, and all of its dependencies, 32 - Hen. VIII. But the charter of Queen Mary restored it in 1557. About a year afterwards the knights being required to take the oath of supremacy to Queen Elizabeth, chose rather to surrender into her hands all their possessions.

The ensign of this order of St. John is gules, a cross argent, and while in official seals, the Grand Masters quartered this cross in the first and fourth, the knights bore it upon a chief. A Maltese cross, enamelled white, and edged with gold, is worn by all the knights as a badge, with certain variations denoting their several countries.

VII. The most distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George. King George IV founded this order when Prince Regent, April 1818, in commemoration of the republic of the Ionian Islands being placed under the protection of Great Britain. The sovereign of Great Britain being protector of the United States of the Ionian Islands was also Sovereign of the order of St. Michael and St. George. The Grand Master was the Lord High Commissioner of the United States of the Ionian Islands for the time being. The order was much modified, and was used as a reward for services in the colonies. It consists of three classes, Knight Grand Crosses, Knights Commanders, and Knights Companions. The principal officers are two Prelates, a Chancellor, a King of arms, and a Register.

The ribbon of the order is blue, with a red stripe of one third of its width down the center. The badge appended to it is a white star of seven double rays, edged with gold and ensigned with the royal crown. Upon its center is a circular plate, upon which is a representation of the archangel Michael overcoming Satan. In his right hand is a flaming sword, and in his left a chain. A blue fillet edged with gold, and inscribed AUSPICIUM MELIORIS ÆVI in letters of the same surrounds this.

VIII. The Order of the Passion of Jesus Christ was founded by Richard II of England and Charles VI of France in 1380, for the recovery of the Holy Land. It was to have consisted of one thousand knights, each attended by one esquire, and three men-at-arms, and its officers ware a Grand Justiciary and a Grand Bailiff. But the duration of this order appears to have been very brief.

The badge of the order was as follows:
A plain red cross fimbriated with gold, upon the intersection eight-foiled compartment (composed of four pointed leaves in cross, and four round ones in saltire) sable, edged or, and charged with an agnus Dei proper.

IX. The Order of St. Patrick. An order instituted by King George III. for his kingdom of Ireland, Feb. 5, 1783. It consists of the Sovereign, the Grand Master, who is the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for the time being, and knights, originally fifteen in number. The first of whom is always a prince of the blood royal. Each knight has three esquires. The first investiture took place at Dublin Castle, March 11, 1783, and the first installation in the cathedral of St. Patrick on the 17th of the same month. The officers up to 1870 were Prelate, viz. the Archbishop of Armagh; the Chancellor, viz. the Archbishop of Dublin; the Register, which office was annexed to the deanery of St. Patrick's; Ulster king of arms, Athlone pursuivant, the Genealogist, Secretary, and Usher of the black rod.

The collar is of pure gold, and is composed as follows:
Six harps and five roses (each rose with a bordure charged with trefoils) alternately disposed, and connected by twelve knots. The central place is occupied by a royal crown, to which the badge is appended by another harp. An oval plate argent, charged with a saltire gules, surmounted by a trefoil slipped proper, on each to be an imperial crown of the last. The oval plate has two borders, the innermost or, with the motto QUIS SEPARABIT, MDCCLXXXIII, the outer argent, charged with about sixteen trefoils proper--Badge of the Order of St. Patrick.

When the collar is not placed around the arms of a knight, this badge may be suspended below them by a light blue ribbon. The Star is of chased silver, similar to that of St. Patrick, but with the badge is the center, surrounded by a circle, which bears the motto.

X. Knights of the Round Table: an imaginary order of knighthood, the institution of which is attributed by the legend of King Arthur, when he entertained twenty-four of his chief warriors at a table, which, in order to prevent disputes about precedency, was made circular. The names and arms of these warriors, supplied of course by the fancy of after ages, are given by writers of the sixteenth century.

On the first of January 1344, King Edward III kept a great festival at Windsor, in the domus; 'Rotunda tabula' vocaretur, 200 feet in diameter, which probably referred to the large Round Tower of Windsor. It is considered that this was rather a grand commemoration of the supposed order than in any sense an actual revival of it. A painted table also, of about the time of Henry VII, and made on some commemoration of the order, is preserved in the county hall at Winchester.

XI. Knights of the Royal Oak. This was to have been the designation of an order contemplated by King Charles II. Six hundred and eighty-seven baronets, knights, and gentleman, were selected as its recipients, but the project was relinquished.

XII. Knights Templars. A mainly French-oriented order founded in the Holy Land in or about 1119, to guard the supposed site of the Temple of Solomon, and to protect pilgrims who resorted there. The original number of knights was only nine. They received a rule from Pope Honorius II, who directed them to wear a white dress, to which they afterwards (by order of Pope Eugenius III) added a red cross.

The Order, destroyed between 1307 and 1314, was eventually very rich. In the beginning, however, it was apparently so poor that there was only one horse between every two knights, as is shown on many of the order's seals.

The order of Templars, like that of St. John, consisted of three classes, Knights, Priests, and Serving brothers. As a religious order they conformed themselves to the rule of St. Augustine. Their first settlement in England was in Holborn, London, which was soon eclipsed in splendor by their house in Fleet street, still known as the Temple. The round church erected by them here in imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem was dedicated by Heraclius, patriarch of the Church of the Resurrection in that city, Feb. 10, 1185. The chancel was consecrated in 1240.

Early in the following century, the Templars were charged with many great crimes, perhaps with the view of seizing their vast possessions. However this may be, they were on the Wednesday after Epiphany (Jan. 10), 1308, arrested throughout England by command of the king (Edward II.), and by authority of a papal bull; and a council held at London, A.D. 1309, having convicted them of various crimes, the king seized all their possessions. In 1312 a council held by Pope Clement V. at Vienne in Dauphiné, condemned the order throughout Christendom, and gave their property to the knights of St. John. An Act of Parliament made in the 17th year of King Edward II, A.D. 1323, formally transferred their English possessions to the said order.

The badge of the order was a red patriarchal cross edged with gold, and their banner (called beauseant) per fesse sable and argent, signifying terror to the enemies of Christianity, and peace to its friends.

XIII. The Order of the Thistle, or of St. Andrew. The charter of King James VII dated May 29, 1687, by which the order was restored, and the chapel of Holyrood-house appointed for installations, gives a traditional account of its origin. It has been supposed to be at least coeval in its origin with the order of the Garter, inasmuch as certain coins of Robert II of Scotland (A.D. 1370-90) bear on the reverse the figure of St. Andrew supporting his saltire; but this is very weak evidence.

Nothing can be said of the order with any degree of certainty until the time of King James V., in or about the year 1540. It was again brought into notice by Queen Anne, Dec. 31, 1703, and has flourished ever since. Simple knighthood is a necessary condition of admittance into the order of St. Andrew. The officers of the order are a Dean, a Secretary, Lyon King of Arms, and an Usher of the Green Rod.

The collar and badge of the order are composed as follows:
The Collar: Golden thistles and sprigs of rue enamelled proper. A radiant star of eight points, charged with a figure of St. Andrew proper (his gown green and surcoat purple), standing upon a mount vert, and supporting his cross argent.
The Badge of the Order of the THISTLE: The jewel, worn attached to a green ribbon, consists of an oval plate argent, charged with the same figure proper, within a border vert, fimbriated (both internally and externally) or, and inscribed, in letters of the same, NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT. In the base of this border is a thistle of the last. The ribbon of the order may encircle the arms of knights instead of the collar, the jewel being appended to it.

XIV. The most exalted Order of the Star of India. Instituted by her Majesty, February 23, 1862 consisted of a Sovereign, a Grand Master, and twenty-five Knights, with such honorary Knights, as her Majesty shall choose to appoint. The first class of twenty-five are styled Knights Grand Commanders, and there are now a second and a third class.

The collar and badge are as follows:
The collar is composed of a Lotus-flower of four cusps, two palm branches set saltire-wise, and tied with a ribbon; alternating with an heraldic rose; all of gold, enamelled proper, and connected by a double chain, also of gold. In the center, between two Lotus-flowers, is placed an imperial crown enamelled proper, from which by a small ring depends the badge.
The badge is a chamfered mullet set with brilliants, below which is an oval medallion of onyx cameo, having a profile bust of her Majesty; the whole encircled by a bend enamelled azure fimbriated with brilliants, bearing the motto of the order, 'Heaven's light, our Guide.'

XV. The Royal Order of Victoria and Albert should perhaps be classed with the above. Her Majesty also instituted this illustrious order on Feb. 10, 1862, in commemoration of her marriage with the late Prince Consort, but it is conferred solely upon Ladies. The institution was primarily for conferring an order upon her Majesty's female descendants, and the wives of her male descendants, as well as upon queens and princesses of foreign houses connected by blood or amity, but consists now of three classes.

XVI. Various Orders. The above, perhaps, complete the list for Great Britain, but there are, besides, certain Orders of Knights which appear to have held but a brief existence; and others of a mythical character, though they are found referred to in books of reputation. The Knights of St. Antony were supposed to have been established in Ethiopia by the famous Prester John, c. A.D. 370. An order called the Knights of the Swan, said to have been instituted in Flanders, c. A.D. 500. An order called the Knights of the Dog are said to have been established by King Clovis in France about the same time. And an Order of St. Lazarus is said to have had its existence at Jerusalem long before the Crusades, and to have had a hospital there for lepers. The Knights of St. George in Italy, said to have been incorporated by Constantine, rest upon little or no foundation whatever.

The Knights of St. James are said to have been founded by Ramira, the Christian King of Leon, in A.D. 837; but according to others by Ferdinand the First, King of Castile, to expel the Moors from Spain. The Knights of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai, instituted to protect and guard the sepulcher of that virgin in A.D. 1063, are said to have been founded at the same time as the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. Also at this time the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher are said to have been established, but very soon to have merged into the Order of the Knights Hospitallers.

The Teutonic Knights are said to have been established also in Jerusalem by wealthy travelers from Bremen, Lubeck, and other German cities. The Knights of the Martyrs in Palestine are also found mentioned, as well as the Knights of St. Blaise, and of Jean d'Arc. The subject, however, of Knights errant requires a book of its own.

Many of the orders were destroyed by political developments or by the reformation. Also, it became too difficult for the knights to make the expensive journeys to the capital seats in order to maintain the fellowship of the order.

With the Renaissance, orders became increasingly a tool for political propaganda. The Order of the Holy Ghost was founded in 1578 by King Henry III. Its membership was to be restricted to 100 knights. It was the first politically planned order which had a cross as its badge and not just the emblematic figure chosen in previous cases.