|Order of the British Empire|
Grand Cross's star of the Order of the British Empire
|Awarded by the Sovereign, on the advice of the Government|
|Motto||For God and the Empire|
|Awarded for||A national order of merit|
|Sovereign||Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom|
|Grand Master||Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh|
|Grades (w/ post-nominals)||Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GBE)
Knight/Dame Commander (KBE/DBE)
|Next (higher)||Royal Victorian Order|
|Next (lower)||Varies, depending on rank|
Ribbons: civil (upper), military (lower)
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order includes five classes in civil and military divisions. In decreasing order of seniority, these are:
Only the highest two ranks admit an individual into knighthood or damehood automatically, an honour allowing the recipient to use the title "Sir" (male) or "Dame" (female) before his or her first name (though men can be knighted separately from the Orders of Chivalry). Honorary knighthoods, given to individuals who are not nationals of a realm where Elizabeth II is Head of State, permit usage of the honour as a post-nominal but not as a title before their name. These recipients are classified as honorary members of the Order they receive, and do not contribute to the numbers restricted to that Order as full members do.
There is also a related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are not members of the Order, but, who are nonetheless affiliated with the Order. The British Empire Medal has not been used in the United Kingdom or its dependencies since 1993, but is still used by the Cook Islands and by some other Commonwealth nations.
King 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. In particular, King George V wished to honour the many thousands of people who had served in numerous non-combatant capacities during the First World War. Originally, the Order included only one division; however, in 1918, soon after its foundation, it was formally divided into Military and Civil Divisions.
This order has a more democratic character than the exclusive Order of the Bath or the Order of St Michael and St George, and in its early days was not held in high esteem. This, however, has changed over the years.
Several past American statesmen and diplomats who have performed service for, or on behalf of, the United Kingdom have been given the designation of Knight Commander of the order. However, since membership requires swearing allegiance to a foreign head of state (currently Queen Elizabeth II), the title is officially considered "honorary", and the person is/was not "officially" titled Sir or Dame. Occasionally, media influence and lack of public awareness lead to foreign recipients being incorrectly accorded the prefix title, a well known example being Bob Geldof, an Irish citizen who is widely referred to as 'Sir Bob'.
The British monarch is 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, of which there have been three: Edward, Prince of Wales (1917–1936), Queen Mary (1936–1953), and the current Grand Master, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (1953–present).
The Order is limited to 300 Knights and Dames Grand Cross, 845 Knights and Dames Commander, and 8960 Commanders. There are no limits applied to 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 realms. By convention, female judges of the High Court of Justice are created Dames Commander after appointment, while male judges become Knights Bachelor.
Although the Order of the British Empire has by far the highest number of members of the British Orders of Chivalry, there are fewer appointments to knighthoods than in other orders. Most Knights Commander are honorary members or British subjects living abroad, with only a handful being residents of the United Kingdom. The grade of Dame Commander, on the other hand, is the most common grade of dame in the British honours system, and is awarded in circumstances in which men would be created Knights Bachelor.
Most members are citizens of the United Kingdom or other Commonwealth realms. Citizens of other countries, however, may be admitted as "honorary members". They do not count towards the aforementioned numerical limits, and are not formally addressed as "Sir" or "Dame". They may be made full members if they subsequently become citizens of Commonwealth realms. See List of honorary British Knights.
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, although some Commonwealth realms 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, a 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, as are 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.
If one is appointed to a higher class within the order, one must return one's existing insignia in exchange for the more senior one, and cease using the junior post-nominal letters. Some people, however, have been appointed to both divisions, such as Dame Kelly Holmes, who has been appointed an MBE in the military division and a DBE in the civil division, and is therefore known as "Dame Kelly Holmes, DBE, MBE (Mil.)".
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):
On certain "collar days" designated by the Sovereign, members attending formal events may wear the Order's collar over their military uniform, formal day dress, 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.
At less important occasions, simpler insignia are used:
Grand Cross's mantle
Member's badge, obverse and reverse
Close up of star on mantle
Full MBE including ribbon and case the MBE was presented in.
|Order of the British Empire ribbon bars|
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 every four years; new Knights and Dames Grand Cross are installed at these services. The chapel was dedicated in 1960.
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 Commander; relatives of Ladies of the Order, 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 Commander prefix "Sir", and Dames Grand Cross and Dames Commander prefix "Dame", to their forenames (never surnames – thus Sir Antony Sher may be shortened to Sir Antony, but not to Sir Sher). 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. Male clergy of the Church of England do not use the title "Sir" as they do not receive the accolade (i.e., they are not dubbed "knight" with a sword), although they do append the post-nominal letters.
Knights and Dames Grand Cross use the post-nominal "GBE", Knights Commander "KBE", Dames Commander "DBE", Commanders "CBE", Officers "OBE" and Members "MBE". The post-nominal for the British Empire Medal is "BEM".
Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Knights and Dames Commander who are not citizens of Commonwealth realms are not entitled to the prefix "Sir" or "Dame", but may still use the post-nominal abbreviations. For example, American Bill Gates was made a Knight Commander, yet he is not entitled "Sir William" or "Sir William Gates III", although he may use the title "William Henry Gates III, KBE". Honorary knights do not receive the accolade. Bob Geldof, KBE received a knighthood in 1986, and up until now people still refer to him as "Sir Bob" as if it were his correct title; however, he is not a citizen of a commonwealth realm, so he is not entitled to use the prefix "Sir". If recipients later become citizens of Commonwealth realms, then they are usually made substantive members of the Order, and are entitled to begin using the Sir prefix. For example, Irish broadcaster Terry Wogan was appointed an honorary KBE in 2005. He subsequently took dual British and Irish nationality, was made a substantive member, and is now entitled to use the name "Sir Terry Wogan".
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 circle bearing the motto) and the collar; the former is shown either outside or on top of the latter. Knights and Dames Commander and Commanders may display the circlet, but not the collar, surrounding their arms. The badge is depicted suspended from the collar or circlet.
The order has attracted some criticism for its connection with the idea of the British Empire. The poet Benjamin Zephaniah publicly rejected an OBE in 2003 because, he said, it reminded him of "thousands of years of brutality." He went on to say, "It reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised."
Others have declined honours, but, at the request of the Prime Minister's office, did not reveal the fact until some years later. In 2004, a House of Commons Select Committee recommended changing the name of the award to the "Order of British Excellence" and changing the rank of "Commander" to "Companion," as the former was said to have a "militaristic ring."
In the early 1980s, the respected politician Baroness (Shirley) Williams of Crosby, PC, a Social Democrat and former Liberal Democrats Leader in the House of Lords, declined a knighthood which would have entitled her to be styled Dame Shirley. Later, however, in 1993, she accepted membership in the House of Lords, because she felt that a permanent seat in the Upper House of Parliament would, unlike a knighthood, allow her to make a significant contribution to public life. As a Member, Baroness Williams has led efforts to modernise the House of Lords.
The members of The Beatles were made MBEs in 1965, to much criticism. John Lennon justified the comparative merits of his investiture by comparing military membership in the order, saying, "Lots of people who complained about us receiving the MBE received theirs for heroism in the war – for killing people." He continued: "We received ours for entertaining other people. I'd say we deserve ours more."