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An order is a visible honour awarded by a sovereign state, monarch, dynastic royal house or organisation to a person, typically in recognition of individual merit, that often comes with distinctive insignia such as collars, medals, badges, and sashes worn by recipients.
Modern honour systems of state orders and dynastic orders emerged from the culture of orders of chivalry of the Middle Ages, which in turn emerged from the Catholic religious orders.
The word order (Latin : ordo), in the case referred to in this article, can be traced back to the chivalric orders, including the military orders, which in turn trace the name of their organisation back to that of the Catholic religious orders.
Orders began to be created ad hoc and in a more courtly nature. Some were merely honorary and gradually the badges of these orders (i.e. the association) began to be known informally as orders. As a result, the modern distinction between orders and decorations or insignia has become somewhat blurred. While some orders today retain the original notion of being an association or society of individuals, others make no distinction and an "order" may even be the name of a decoration.
Most historic chivalric orders imply a membership in a group, typically a confraternity. In a few exclusive European orders, membership is or was also limited in number. Decorations seldom have such limitations. Orders often come in multiple classes, including knights and dames in imitation of the original chivalric orders.
Modern national orders, orders of merit, and decorations, emerged from the culture of chivalric orders established in the Middle Ages, originally the military orders of the Middle Ages and the crusades, who in turn grew out of the original Catholic religious orders.
While these chivalric orders were "societies, fellowships and colleges of knights",founded by the Holy See or European monarchs in imitation of the military orders of the Crusades, granting membership in such societies gradually developed into an honour that could be bestowed in recognition of service or to ensure the loyalty of a certain clientele. 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. They were essentially courtly in nature, characterised by close personal relations between the orders' members and the orders' sovereign.
By the time of the Renaissance, most European monarchs had either acquired an existing order of chivalry, or created new ones of their own, to reward loyal civilian and especially military officials. Such orders remained out of reach to the general public, however, as being of noble rank or birth was usually a prerequisite to being admitted.
In the 18th century, these ideas gradually changed and the orders developed from "honourable societies" to visible honours. An example of this gradual development can be seen in two orders founded by Maria Theresa of Austria. While the Military Order of Maria Theresa (1757) was open to any deserving military officer regardless of social origin, and would grant titles of nobility to those who did not already have them, the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary (1764) still required that one had to have at least four generations of noble ancestors.
Still today many dynastic orders are granted by royal families to worthy individuals for service and achievements.
In 1802 Napoleon created the Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honour),which could be awarded to any person, regardless of status, for bravery in combat or for 20 years of distinguished service. While still retaining many trappings of an order of chivalry, it was the first modern national order of merit and is still France's highest award today. The French Legion of Honour served as the model for numerous modern orders of merit in the Western world, such as the Order of Leopold in Belgium (1832) and the Order of the British Empire in the United Kingdom (1917). Curiously, orders of merit based on the French Legion of Honour typically retain five classes in accordance with habits of chivalric orders.
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 of merit was the one-class Order of Lenin of the Soviet Union (1930). Unlike Western orders, however, communist orders could be awarded more than once to an individual. After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, most Eastern European countries reverted to the Western-style orders originally established before the rise of communism.
Today many countries have some form of order of merit or national decorations. Both Thailand's Order of the White Elephant and Japan's Order of the Rising Sun are over 100 years old. In Canada and some Commonwealth Realms, the Order of Merit is the highest civilian honour. Canada has the Order of Canada and provincial orders such as the Order of Nova Scotia. Australia has the Order of Australia, and New Zealand awards the Order of New Zealand and the New Zealand Order of Merit. The Order of Mapungubwe is the highest honour in South Africa, while the Orders of Luthuli, and the Baobab exist alongside other decorations. The United States awards the Medal of Honor to members of its military for acts of valour, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal 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), but award degrees are only made to foreign nationals, typically senior military officers or government officials.
Switzerland does not award any orders. Article 12 of the 1848 Swiss Constitution prohibited the acceptance of honours and titles by Swiss citizens.The current Constitution of 1999 has no specific prohibition, but a federal statute effectively continues the prohibition by barring holders of foreign orders from holding public office.
In 1974 the Cabinet of Sweden passed a regulation forbidding the Monarch of Sweden from awarding membership in orders to Swedish citizens. The orders themselves were not abolished, but only the Royal Orders of the Seraphim and the Polar Star (both established in 1748) continue to be awarded, and only to foreign citizens and stateless individuals. In 1995 the regulation was altered, allowing the Monarch to bestow the two remaining active Orders to members of the Swedish Royal Family.
Modern orders are usually open to all citizens of a particular country, regardless of status, sex, race or creed; there may be a minimum age for eligibility. Nominations are made either by private citizens or by government officials, depending on the country. An order may be revoked if the holder is convicted of a crime or renounces citizenship. Some people nominated for an award refuse it.
A knight is a person granted an honorary title of knighthood by a head of state or representative for service to the monarch, the church or the country, especially in a military capacity.
The British honours system is a means of rewarding individuals' personal bravery, achievement, or service to the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories. The system consists of three types of award – honours, decorations and medals:
The Legion of Honour is the highest French order of merit, both military and civil. Established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, it has been retained by all later French governments and régimes.
The Order of Merit is a Commonwealth order of merit recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture. Established in 1902 by King Edward VII, admission into the order remains the personal gift of its Sovereign—currently Edward VII's great-granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II—and is restricted to a maximum of 24 living recipients from the Commonwealth realms, plus a limited number of honorary members. While all members are awarded the right to use the post-nominal letters OM and wear the badge of the order, the Order of Merit's precedence among other honours differs between countries.
The Royal Victorian Order is a dynastic order of knighthood established in 1896 by Queen Victoria. It recognises distinguished personal service to the monarch of the Commonwealth realms, members of the monarch's family, or to any viceroy or senior representative of the monarch. The present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is the sovereign of the order, the order's motto is Victoria, and its official day is 20 June. The order's chapel is the Savoy Chapel in London.
Awards and Decorations of Nazi Germany were military, political and civilian decorations that were bestowed between 1923 and 1945, first by the Nazi Party and later the state of Nazi Germany.
Grand Cross is the highest class in many orders, and manifested in its insignia. Exceptionally, the highest class may be referred to as Grand Cordon or equivalent. In other cases, there may exist a rank even higher than Grand Cross, e.g. Grand Collar. In rare cases, the insignia itself is referred to as the "grand cross".
The Military William Order, or often named Military Order of William, is the oldest and highest honour of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Order is named after St. William of Gellone (755–814), the first Prince of Orange. The Order's motto is Voor Moed, Beleid en Trouw. The chivalric order was established on 30 April 1815 by King William I and was presented for feats of excellent bravery on the battlefield and as a meritorious decoration to senior military officers. Comparable with the French Légion d’Honneur but far less often awarded, the Military William Order is a chivalry order of merit open to everyone regardless of rank and nobility, and not only to Dutch military but also foreigners. To date membership of the Order is extremely rarely awarded and only for excellent bravery in battle.
The Order of Orange-Nassau is a civil and military Dutch order of chivalry founded on 4 April 1892 by the Queen regent Emma, acting on behalf of her under-age daughter Queen Wilhelmina.
The fount of honour refers to a person, who, by virtue of his or her official position, has the exclusive right of conferring legitimate titles of nobility and orders of chivalry on other persons.
The Royal Norwegian Order of Saint Olav is a Norwegian order of chivalry instituted by King Oscar I on 21 August 1847. It is named after King Olav II, known to posterity as St. Olav.
A necklet is a type of decoration which is designed to be worn and displayed around a person's neck, rather than hung (draped) from the chest as is the standard practice for displaying most decorations.
The Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis is a dynastic order of chivalry founded 5 April 1693 by King Louis XIV, named after Saint Louis. It was intended as a reward for exceptional officers, notable as the first decoration that could be granted to non-nobles. By the authorities of the French Republic, it is considered a predecessor of the Legion of Honour, with which it shares the red ribbon.
An order of chivalry, order of knighthood, chivalric order, or equestrian order is an order of knights typically founded during or inspired by the original Catholic military orders of the Crusades, paired with medieval concepts of ideals of chivalry.
Grand Master is a title of the supreme head of various orders, including chivalric orders such as military orders and dynastic orders of knighthood.
The Royal Order of Vasa is a Swedish order of chivalry, awarded to citizens of Sweden for service to state and society especially in the fields of agriculture, mining and commerce. It was instituted on 29 May 1772 by King Gustav III. It was unrestricted by birth or education and could therefore be awarded to anyone. It was the most junior of all the Swedish orders. It was often awarded to Norwegian subjects of the dual monarchy until Oscar I founded the Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1847. Since 1974 the order is no longer conferred: officially it has been declared as "dormant", along with the Order of the Sword. In 2019, a parliamentary committee was instructed to establish guidelines on how to re-introduce the Swedish orders, including the Order of Vasa, into the Swedish honours system and how Swedish citizens again can be appointed to Swedish orders. The committe will present its findings in September 2021.
Commander, or Knight Commander, is a title of honor prevalent in chivalric orders and fraternal orders.
An order of merit is an honorific order that is conferred by a state, government, royal family, or other sovereign entity to an individual in recognition of military or civil merit. The historical background of the modern honours system of orders of merit may be traced to the emergence of chivalric orders during the Middle Ages.
A collar is an ornate chain, often made of gold and enamel, and set with precious stones, which is worn about the neck as a symbol of membership in various chivalric orders. It is a particular form of the livery collar, the grandest form of the widespread phenomenon of livery in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. Orders which have several grades often reserve the collar for the highest grade. The links of the chain are usually composed of symbols of the order, and the badge of the order normally hangs down in front. Sometimes the badge is referred to by what is depicted on it; for instance, the badge that hangs from the chain of the Order of the Garter is referred to as "the George".
A self-styled order or pseudo-chivalric order is an organisation which claims to be a chivalric order, but is not recognised as legitimate by countries or international bodies. Most self-styled orders arose in or after the mid-18th century, and many have been created recently. Most are short-lived and endure no more than a few decades.