THE BRITISH HONOURS SYSTEM.
Text in green is
for the benefit of overseas readers who may not understand aspects of
HONOURS, AWARDS &
A brief outline of the titles, honours and
distinctions which may be awarded to citizens.
This article does not include military awards
or the hereditary peerage.
It is not a comprehensive guide.
The Royal family and the British Honours system
are the root causes of the English class system.
Both concepts evolved from the mists of our
ancient history and should therefore not be discarded or amended
without a very great deal of thought.
Many people consider both to be stabilising
features of our national life. Many other people consider them
hopelessly outdated and very divisive. Many other people never give
the subject any consideration.
The Churchill Society believe reform should be
British honours are thought by the public to be
awarded on merit, and on the basis of exceptional achievement or
service. Alas this is not always the case. *(See the
LINK re this statement at the bottom of this page).
The Queen chooses the recipients of honours on the advice of
the Prime Minister and other relevant ministers,
to whom recommendations are made by their departments or members of
nominations - those made by individuals
or by representatives of organisations to the Prime Minister's Office
- account for about a quarter of all recommendations.
Honorary awards to
foreigners are recommended by the
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Certain of the orders of chivalry are
conferred on the sole
personal decision of the Sovereign ie,
the Order of the Garter, the Order of the Thistle, the Order of Merit
and the Royal Victorian Order.
In 1993 Prime Minister John Major ended the
automatic practice of conferring awards on the holders of certain
posts, opening the honours system to more individuals, particularly
those in the voluntary sector, who qualify on merit. *(See the LINK re this statement at the bottom of this
Most honours are awarded on the Queen's
in early June, and at the New
Following the publication of the Honours List,
investitures are held at which recipients of honours (other than life
peers) receive, usually from the Queen, the insignia of the honour
(robes, badges, ribbons, etc). Knights receive the accolade (see
Knights and Dames may adopt the prefix 'Sir' or
'Dame' from the date of the official announcement of the
Life peerage are the only form of peerage
regularly created by the Sovereign these days. All life peers hold
the rank of baron, and sit in the House of Lords on conferment of the
peerage. These titles exist only during their own lifetime and are
not passed to their heirs. As of July 1995 there were 398 life peers,
including 65 women.
Like knights, baronets are styled 'Sir', and
their wives 'Lady', but, unlike a knighthood, this is a heritable
honour. The suffix 'Baronet', usually abbreviated to 'Bt', is also
added to the name. One of the very few recent creations is Sir Denis
Thatcher, Bt, husband of Baroness Thatcher.
The honour of knighthood derives from the
usages of mediaeval chivalry, as does the method normally used to
confer the knighthood: the accolade, or the touch of a sword by the
Although Knights Bachelor do not comprise an
order of chivalry, knighthood is a dignity which has its origin in
Britain in Saxon times.
Knighted members of the orders of chivalry
(outlined below) place initials after their names denoting the class
of the order received. (Note that not all recipients of orders are
necessarily Knights or Dames but only those denoted as such, usually
the first or second classes of orders.)
All knighted men, including Knights Bachelor,
are styled 'Sir' (except clergymen, who do not receive the accolade)
and their wives 'Lady'. Women receiving the honour are styled 'Dame'
but do not receive the accolade.
The principal orders are listed as follows in
order of precedence, noting initials to be placed after the