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The Order of the Bath

The Order of the Bath is mainly awarded to officers of the Armed Services, as well as to a small number of civil servants.

Numbers may be increased in times of war or in the event of any military or civil action or service which merits 'peculiar honour or reward'.

In 1971 women were admitted to the Order for the first time.

The Order now consists of the Sovereign (The Queen), the Great Master (The Prince of Wales) and three classes of members. The statutes provide for 120 Knights and Dames Grand Cross (GCB), 295 Knights and Dames Commander (KCB and DCB) and 1,455 Companions (CB).

The title of the Order is late medieval in origin. It arose from the ritual washing (inspired by the washing of baptism), a symbol of spiritual purification, which formed part of a knight's preparations for the conferment of knighthood.

The honour was not conferred until the candidates had prepared themselves by various rituals designed to purify the inner soul by fasting, vigils and prayer, and cleansing themselves by bathing.

The earliest mention in an official document, after the crowning of William I, of the ceremony of bathing at the creation of a knight was that of 15-year-old Geoffrey count of Anjou (later husband of Mathilda) in 1128.

At Henry V's coronation in 1413 'fifty gallant young gentlemen, candidates for Knighthood of the Bath, according to custom went into the baths prepared severally for them'.

By the end of the fifteenth century, many of the ceremonial rituals were beginning to disappear, although 'Knights of the Bath' were still made at coronations - the court goldsmith made 75 badges for Charles II's coronation.

The Order was revived by George I in 1725 as a regular military order, to serve the purposes of the first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, who required an additional source for political rewards.

The revived order consisted of the Sovereign, a Great Master and 36 Knights Companions. George I's statutes stated that: "Whereas in case of a war in Europe we are determined that this Realm should be in a posture of defence against the attempts of our enemies, We do hereby ordain that from henceforth every Companion of the said Military Order in case of any danger of invasion from foreign enemies or from rebellion at home shall maintain at his own cost four men-at-arms for any number of days the Sovereign shall think proper."

In 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Prince Regent (later George IV) created two divisions, military and civil, and the Order was expanded - which caused some controversy at the time as some thought the increased numbers made the Order valueless. The rites of bathing, vigils and so on were formally abolished.

The first installation of knights after the revival of the Order took place in 1825 in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey, which had been selected as the Chapel of the Order.

The ceremony of bathing was not included, nor were the former customs, which included vigils and fasting.

The service of installation of Knights and Dames Grand Cross has taken place in the Henry VII Chapel ever since. A total of 34 of the most senior Knights Grand Cross are allocated stalls in the Chapel.

Above these are hung the standards of the knights and their armorial plates are affixed to the stalls. The stallplates of past knights can be seen attached to the stalls, and among these is that of Lord Nelson.

The Star of the military knights and Dames Grand Cross is composed of rays of silver, charged with an eight-pointed (Maltese) cross.


Tria Juncta in uno (Three joined in one)


A chapel in Westminster Abbey

Ranks and Post-Nominals ~ grades et lettres postnominales

  • Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GCB ~ français : même)
  • Knight/Dame Commander (KCB/DCB ~ français : même)
  • Companion (CB ~ français : même)