The Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a special honour awarded to individuals of great achievement in the fields of the arts, learning, literature and science.
The Order was founded by King Edward VII at the time of his coronation in 1902, to be ‘given to such persons, subjects of Our Crown, as may have rendered exceptionally meritorious services in Our Crown Services or towards the advancement of the Arts, Learning, Literature, and Science or such other exceptional service as We are fit to recognise’.
The Order of Merit is in the sole gift of the Sovereign and is restricted to 24 members as well as additional foreign recipients.
Past British holders of the Order have included:
- Florence Nightingale and
- Lord Lister (medicine)
- artists Alma Tadema
- Holman Hunt
- Augustus John
- and Graham Sutherland;
- sculptor Henry Moore;
- composers Sir Edward Elgar,
- Ralph Vaughan Williams and
- Benjamin Britten;
- writers Thomas Hardy,
- James Barrie,
- T. S. Eliot,
- E. M. Forster,
- Graham Greene and
- Ted Hughes;
- former Prime Ministers Sir Winston Churchill and
- Earl Attlee;
- General Baden-Powell (founder of the Scout Movement);
- Field Marshal Haig and
- Kitchener, and
- Admirals Jellicoe,
- Beatty and
- Earl Mountbatten of Burma;
- aircraft designer Sir Geoffrey de Havilland; and
- the late Cardinal Basil Hume.
There are very few foreign recipients, although those given the Order have included:
- Dr Albert Schweitzer
- General Eisenhower
- Mother Teresa of Calcutta and
- Nelson Mandela.
There is also a military division included in the 24. Although the last member of this was Lord Mountbatten, the military division has never been abolished.
The badge is an eight-pointed cross of red and blue enamel surmounted by the imperial crown; in the centre, upon blue enamel and surrounded by a laurel wreath, are the words in gold lettering 'For Merit'.
Download an image of the badge: © Buckingham Palace.
The insignia for the military division (when used) is differentiated by crossed swords in the centre of the badge.
Between 1907 and 1913 portraits of 24 of the early members of the Order were commissioned, of which 14 were by William Strang. With the outbreak of the First World War this practice fell into abeyance. In 1987 The Queen revived the tradition with the intention that each member should be drawn by a different artist. Since 1987 nearly 60 further portraits of members of the Order of Merit have been added to the Royal Collection. (The only current member of the order not so far to have been drawn for the series is Neil MacGregor, appointed in November 2010.)
Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace
A list of current members
Honorary Members Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, O.M. 21st March, 1995
Substantive Members His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, K.G., K.T., O.M., G.B.E., A.C., Q.S.O., F.R.S. 10th June, 1968
The Reverend Professor William Owen Chadwick, O.M., K.B.E., F.B.A. 11th November, 1983
Sir Andrew Fielding Huxley, O.M., F.R.S. 11th November, 1983
Doctor Frederick Sanger, O.M., C.H., C.B.E., F.R.S. 11th February, 1986
The Right Honourable Margaret Hilda, Lady Thatcher, L.G., O.M., F.R.S. 7th December, 1990
Sir Michael Francis Atiyah, O.M., F.R.S. 17th November, 1992
Sir Aaron Klug, O.M., F.R.S. 23rd October, 1995
Norman Robert, Lord Foster of Thames Bank, O.M., R.A. 25th November, 1997
Sir Anthony Alfred Caro, O.M., C.B.E. 9th May, 2000
Professor Sir Roger Penrose, O.M., F.R.S. 9th May, 2000
Sir Thomas Stoppard, O.M., C.B.E. 9th May, 2000
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, K.G., K.T., G.C.B., O.M., A.K., Q.S.O., A.D.C. 27th June, 2002
Robert McCredie, Lord May of Oxford, O.M., A.C., F.R.S. 28th October, 2002
Nathaniel Charles Jacob, Lord Rothschild, O.M., G.B.E. 28th October, 2002
Sir David Frederick Attenborough, O.M., C.H., C.V.O., C.B.E., F.R.S. 28th April, 2005
The Right Honourable Betty, Baroness Boothroyd, O.M. 28th April, 2005
Professor Sir Michael Eliot Howard, O.M., C.H., C.B.E., M.C. 28th April, 2005
The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Robert Henry Alexander, Lord Eames, O.M. 13th June, 2007
Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, O.M., K.B.E. 13th June, 2007
The Right Honourable Martin John, Lord Rees of Ludlow, O.M., P.R.S. 13th June, 2007
The Right Honourable Jean Chretien O.M., P.C.,C.C., Q.C. 13th July, 2009
Neil MacGregor, O.M. 4th November, 2010
David Hockney O.M., C.H., R.A. 1st January, 2012
The Honourable John Howard O.M., A.C., S.S.I. 1st January, 2012