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The fount of honour (Latin: fons honorum) refers to a nation's head of state, who, by virtue of his or her official position, has the exclusive right of conferring legitimate titles of nobility and orders of chivalry to other persons.

Contents

Origin

During the High Middle Ages, European knights were essentially armoured, mounted warriors; it was common practice for knight commanders to confer knighthoods upon their finest soldiers, who in turn had the right to confer knighthood on others upon attaining command.

This "master-apprentice" system of knighthood began to change during the Crusades, when military orders of chivalry were founded. As knights under these orders were bound by vows of obedience towards the orders' Grand Masters, they were prohibited from unilaterally granting knighthoods to others. This form of knighthood proved particularly attractive for monarchs, as a way to ensure their knights owed undivided allegiances to the monarchs themselves; to this end these monarchs either acquired grand masterships of existing orders, or created orders of their own. (In the case of the British Knight Bachelor, such knights have never been allowed to have their own soldiers in the first place, therefore their allegiances to the British Monarch have never been an issue.)

Many of the old-style military knights resented what they considered to be a royal encroachment on their independence. Julian Pitt-Rivers noted that "while the sovereign is the 'fount of honour' in one sense, he is also the enemy of honour in another, since he claims to arbitrate in regard to it" ("Honour and Social Status", 30 in Peristiany, ed., Honour and Shame, Chicago, 1970). In the biography of William Marshall the author bemoans the fact that, in his day, the spirit of chivalry has been imprisoned; the life of the knight errant, he charges, has been reduced to that of the litigant in courts.

After the end of feudalism and the rise of the nation-states, orders and knighthoods, along with titles of nobility (in the case of monarchies), became the domain for the monarchs (heads of state) to reward their loyal subjects (citizens) - in other words, the heads of state became their nations' "fountains of honour".

Legality of honour

The question whether an order is a legitimate Chivalric order or a self-styled order coincides with the fons honorum. A legitimate fount of honour is a person who held sovereignty either at or before the moment when the order was established. (Holding sovereignty before the founding of an order is considered effective in creation of a genuine chivalric order only if the former sovereign had not abdicated his sovereignty before the foundation of the order but, instead, had been deposed or had otherwise lost power.)[1]

Modern application

Contrary to a popular myth, a person who is a knight or of noble birth does not have the right to confer titles of nobility or Orders of Chivalry on others. According to tradition and international law, no person or organization, other than the Head of State, or the Head of a Royal House or Dynasty -- whether regnant or non-regnant -- can be a fount of honour. This is because any other person lacks the required sovereignty to do so, even if he or she is of royal blood.

In the United Kingdom, where the fount of honour is the Monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, some societies have permissions from the Monarch to award medals, but these are to be worn on the right side of the chest. In France, however, with very few exceptions, non-government orders and medals are not allowed to be worn at all.

See also

References

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