Sunday, 19 September 2010
Gongs and Gowns: Honouring Royal Women PART THREE (Conclusion)
The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem is unlike any other British Order. A confraternal Order, the Order’s membership runs into the thousands. Promotion is attained by virtue of work within the Order and the various classes, whilst according internal precedence, do not carry any rank or precedence in the larger world. Of the six classes, only the two highest are of relevance in the context of this essay: dames grand cross and dames of justice.
The Venerable Order can trace its inspiration over nine hundred years to the original Knights Hospitaller. It is beyond the scope of this essay to explain the tumultuous history of this famous Military-Religious Order. All that need be noted is that by the mid-nineteenth century the British version of the original Knights Hospitaller was a respected charitable institution, both at home and in the wider Empire. By 1888 the organisation had achieved sufficient prestige for it to receive a Royal Charter incorporating it as a Royal Order of Chivalry under the protection of the Sovereign.
King Edward VII was one of the Order’s greatest champions. Whilst Prince of Wales, he had presented Queen Victoria with the 1888 petition for a Royal Charter and, upon receipt of Her Majesty’s consent, he was made the Order’s Grand Prior. It cannot be surprising therefore that as early as 1876 the wife of the future King had been appointed a dame of justice. A somewhat premature precedent having been set, a steady stream of female royals would eventually follow.
The Order received a further Royal Charter in 1926, at which point the term “Venerable” was added to its name. It was at this time that many female members of the royal family were appointed or promoted to the level of dame grand cross: HM Queen Mary; HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Mary); HRH Princess Arthur of Connaught; HRH The Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll; HRH The Princess Beatrice; and HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (then Duchess of York).
Queen Elizabeth II was appointed a dame grand cross in the year of her marriage (1947) whilst HRH The Princess Margaret was appointed a dame of justice in 1948 and a dame grand cross in 1956. Current dames of justice include HRH The Princess Royal (1971) and HRH The Duchess of Gloucester (1975), the wife of the present Grand Prior.
For historical reasons female involvement in the remaining Orders (Thistle, Saint Patrick, Merit, Bath, Star of India, Saint Michael and Saint George, Indian Empire, Companions of Honour, British Empire, Distinguished Service Order, and Imperial Service Order) has not been great. With some notable exceptions, Orders were generally awarded to politicians or those engaged in the military, diplomatic or civil services. Until recently these fields were almost exclusively male domains. Royalty is of course above such distinctions yet, despite this, only a select few female royals have been involved in these other Orders.
Excluding the Queen, who as fons honorum (‘fount of honour’) is automatically Sovereign of all Royal Orders, there are three familiar female royals who are particularly noteworthy for their involvement in a wide variety of Orders: HM Queen Mary; HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; and HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester.
The most decorated of all consorts, Queen Mary received the Order of the Garter upon her husband’s accession to the throne (1910). A year later, on the occasion of the Delhi Durbar, she was appointed a lady grand commander of the Order of the Star of India. This latter appointment doubled her Indian Orders as Queen Victoria had appointed her to the Imperial Order of the Crown of India over a decade earlier. In 1917 Queen Mary became a dame grand cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire; she would serve as the Order’s Grand Master from 1936 until her death in 1953. Also in 1936 King Edward VIII appointed her a dame grand cross of the Royal Victorian Order; a few months later Queen Mary would receive the Royal Victorian Chain from his brother. Aside from her numerous Royal family Orders (listed supra), Queen Mary was also a dame grand cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.
HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, then Duchess of York, was invested as a dame grand cross of the Most Venerable Order of Saint John on the same day as Queen Mary (12 June 1926). Almost exactly one year later she was invested as a dame grand cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Civil). However her very first Order, the Family Order of King George V, had been bestowed upon her a couple of years earlier, on the occasion of her marriage to the Duke of York (1923). In 1931 her father-in-law appointed her to the Imperial Order of the Crown of India. Five years later, with the ink on the Instrument of Abdication scarcely dry, the new Queen Consort was appointed to the Order of the Garter. In 1937, the year of her coronation, Queen Elizabeth was invested with the Royal Victorian Chain and appointed a lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle (both on the same day); that year she also received her husband’s Family Order and became Grand Master and “Principal Dame Grand Cross” of the Royal Victorian Order (a position she held until her death in 2002). Aside from receiving her daughter’s Family Order in 1952, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother would have to wait sixty-three years for her next Order; however eventually, on the occasion of her 90th birthday, she received the Order of New Zealand (1990). The final Royal Order would follow one decade later—in honour of her centenary and her special bond with Canada, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was appointed an ‘honorary’ companion of the Order of Canada (2000). The Queen Mother received the insignia from her daughter’s Canadian Governor General at a touching ceremony at Clarence House. At that ceremony, wearing the gold maple leaf brooch she had worn throughout the Second World War, Canada’s former Queen again expressed her affection for the vast dominion.
HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester received several honours from Edward VIII and George VI. In 1936 she was invested as a dame grand cross of the Most Venerable Order of Saint. John. A year later she was appointed to the Imperial Order of the Crown of India and to the civil division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. In 1948 Princess Alice was invested as a dame grand cross of the Royal Victorian Order and finally in 1975 HM The Queen appointed her the first female grand cross of the Order of the Bath (civil). Princess Alice also received the Family Orders of King George V (1935), King George VI (1937), and HM The Queen (1952).
Despite their relatively short history of involvement with Royal Orders, female royals have firmly established themselves at the heart of the honours system. The prominence of certain female royals has had a positive impact upon the system and it seems inevitable that steadily greater numbers of women will continue to be appointed in the years to come.
Note 1: Certain classes are restricted to armigers and the class of “Bailiff Grand Cross” accords the recipient the right to augment his/her arms with supporters.
Note 2: The two daughters of Edward VII, HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Louise) and HRH The Princess Victoria, were both appointed ladies of justice of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in 1888. Only Princess Victoria appears to have been promoted to dame grand cross (1928). It was also in 1928 that HH Princess Helena Victoria and HRH Princess Marie Louise were promoted to the rank of dame grand cross.
Note 3: Excluding Royal Family Orders but including the new Commonwealth Orders of New Zealand and Canada, the record for receipt of the most Royal Orders belongs to HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. If Royal Family Orders are included the record is tied between Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and HM Queen Mary. If foreign Orders are included the record for most decorated non-Sovereign female royal belongs to Queen Mary alone.
Note 4: The only other female member of the royal family to be appointed to the Order of the Thistle is HRH The Princess Royal (2000).
Note 5: Some commentators took exception to the classification of the award as an “honorary” appointment on the grounds that a former Canadian Queen Consort who also happened to be the colonel-in-chief of three Canadian regiments and the mother of the Queen of Canada and the Sovereign of the Order of Canada should be regarded as Canadian rather than foreign. Some of these commentators argued that the passage of a special statute allowing the appointment of royals as “Extra Companions” would have been a more acceptable solution.
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