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The insignia of a knight of the Order of the Garter.

An order is a decoration, awarded by a government, a dynastic house, or a religious body to an individual, usually for distinguished service to a nation or to humanity.

Overview

Modern orders and decorations can trace its origin back to the medieval Orders of Chivalry. By the time of the Renaissance, most European monarchs either acquired an existing Order of Chivalry, or created new orders of their own, to reward loyal civilian and especially military officials. Some of modern Europe's highest honours, such as the Order of the Golden Fleece, England's Order of the Garter, Denmark's Order of the Elephant and Scotland's Order of the Thistle, were created during that era.

In Lemuel Francis Abbott's portrait Admiral Horatio Nelson wears embroidered replicas of his orders on his coat: the Ottoman Order of the Crescent is inadvertently upside-down

Such orders remained out of reach to the general public, however, until the nineteenth century. In 1802 Napoleon created the Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honour), which is still France's highest award; it can be awarded to any person, regardless of status, for bravery in combat or for 20 years of distinguished service.

The Legion of Honour serves as the model for numerous modern orders of merit in the Western World, such as the Order of Leopold (Belgium, 1832) and the Order of the British Empire (United Kingdom, 1917). These orders typically have five classes, each wearing a badge (usually enamelled) on a ribbon, as a sash for the senior class, around the neck or on the left chest for the lower grades (ladies may wear the badge on a bow on the left chest). The two highest classes also wear a star (or 'plaque') on the chest. In special cases the senior class may wear the badge on a collar, which is an elaborate chain around the neck. Military awards may have crossed swords added onto the insignias.

In Communist countries orders of merit usually come in one to three grades, with only a badge worn with or without a ribbon on the chest. An example of a Communist order was the one-class Order of Lenin (USSR, 1930). Unlike the Western orders, however, Communist orders can be awarded more than once to an individual. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc most Eastern European countries have reverted to the Western-style orders originally established before the rise of Communism.

Today almost all countries have some form of orders or country decorations. Both Thailand's Order of the White Elephant and Japan's Order of the Rising Sun are over 100 years old. Canada has the Order of Canada; Australia similarly has the Order of Australia. Though the United States has traditionally eschewed titles and honours that smack of nobility, it does award the Medal of Honor to members of its military for particular acts of valour; the medal even has special privileges attached to it. The Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal are the highest awards presented by the United States to civilians. The Legion of Merit is the only United States decoration which may be issued in award degrees (much like an Order of chivalry or certain Orders of Merit).

Switzerland does not award any orders, and the Swiss Constitution excludes Swiss citizens accepting orders from foreign governments from holding any sort of public office.

In 1974 the Swedish government passed a resolution forbidding the King of Sweden from awarding membership in orders to Swedish citizens. This did not formally abolish the orders themselves, but today only the Order of Seraphim and the Order of the Polar Star continue to be awarded, and only to foreign citizens. In 1995 this law was altered, allowing the Monarch to bestow the two remaining active Orders to members of the Swedish Royal Family.[1]

Modern orders are usually open to all citizens of a particular country, regardless of status, sex, race or creed (although some countries require their citizens to have reached a certain age before becoming eligible). Nominations are either made by private citizens, or by government officials, depending on the country. Once awarded, an order may be revoked if the individual dies, commits a crime, or renounces citizenship. Rarely, a dissident becomes awarded, and due to personal beliefs refuses to accept it.

See also

References

  1. ^ The Monarchy and the Royal Court (Kungahuset), The Orders in Sweden.

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