The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British
order of chivalry 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 ( 1099–1291) and paired with medieval concep ...
, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the
civil service The civil service is a collective term for a sector of government composed mainly of career civil servants hired on professional merit rather than appointed or elected, whose institutional tenure typically survives transitions of political leaders ...
. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order. Recommendations for appointments to the Order of the British Empire were originally made on the nomination of the United Kingdom, the self-governing
Dominion The term ''Dominion'' is used to refer to one of several self-governing nations of the British Empire. "Dominion status" was first accorded to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa, and the Irish Free State at the 1926 I ...
s of the Empire (later Commonwealth) and the
Viceroy of India The Governor-General of India (1773–1950, from 1858 to 1947 the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, commonly shortened to Viceroy of India) was the representative of the monarch of the United Kingdom and after Indian independence in 1 ...
. Nominations continue today from Commonwealth countries that participate in recommending British honours. Most Commonwealth countries ceased recommendations for appointments to the Order of the British Empire when they created their own honours.

Current classes

The five classes of appointment to the Order are, from most to least important: # Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE) # Knight Commander or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE or DBE) # Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) # Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) # Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE)

Styles and honorary knighthoods

The senior two ranks of Knight or Dame Grand Cross, and Knight or Dame Commander, entitle their members to use the title of ''Sir'' for men and ''Dame'' for women before their forename. Most members are citizens of the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth realms that use the Imperial system of honours and awards. Honorary knighthoods are appointed to citizens of nations where the monarch is not
head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a stateFoakes, pp. 110–11 " he head of statebeing an embodiment of the State itself or representatitve of its international persona." in its unity and l ...
, and may permit use of post-nominal letters but not the title of ''Sir'' or ''Dame''. Occasionally, honorary appointees are, incorrectly, referred to as ''Sir'' or ''Dame''. Honorary appointees who later become a citizen of a Commonwealth realm can convert their appointment from honorary to substantive, then enjoy all privileges of membership of the order, including use of the title of ''Sir'' and ''Dame'' for the senior two ranks of the Order. An example is Irish broadcaster Terry Wogan, who was appointed an honorary Knight Commander of the Order in 2005, and on successful application for British citizenship, held alongside his Irish citizenship, was made a substantive member and subsequently styled as Sir Terry Wogan.


King George V founded the order to fill gaps in the British honours system: * The Orders of the Garter, Thistle, and of St Patrick honoured royals, peers, statesmen, and eminent military commanders; * The
Order of the Bath The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate medieval ceremony for appointing a knight, which involved bathing (as a symbol of purification) as o ...
honoured senior military officers and civil servants; * The
Order of St Michael and St George The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is a British order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George IV, Prince of Wales, while he was acting as prince regent for his father, King George III. It is named in honou ...
honoured diplomats and colonial officials; * The
Order of the Star of India The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India is an order of chivalry founded by Queen Victoria in 1861. The Order includes members of three classes: # Knight Grand Commander ( GCSI) # Knight Commander ( KCSI) # Companion ( CSI) No appointment ...
and the
Order of the Indian Empire The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire is an order of chivalry founded by Queen Victoria on 1 January 1878. The Order includes members of three classes: #Knight Grand Commander (GCIE) #Knight Commander ( KCIE) #Companion ( CIE) No appo ...
honoured Indian rulers and British and Indian officials of the
British Indian Empire The British Raj (; from Hindi ''rāj'': kingdom, realm, state, or empire) was the rule of the British Crown on the Indian subcontinent; * * it is also called Crown rule in India, * * * * or Direct rule in India, * Quote: "Mill, who was himse ...
; and * The
Royal Victorian Order The Royal Victorian Order (french: Ordre royal de Victoria) is a dynastic order of knighthood established in 1896 by Queen Victoria. It recognises distinguished personal service to the British monarch, Canadian monarch, Australian monarch, o ...
, in the personal gift of the monarch, honoured those who had personally served the royal family. In particular, George V wished to create an order to honour the many thousands of those who had served in a variety of non-combat roles during the First World War. When first established, the Order had only one division. However, in 1918, soon after its foundation, it was formally divided into Military and
Civil Civil may refer to: *Civic virtue, or civility *Civil action, or lawsuit * Civil affairs *Civil and political rights *Civil disobedience *Civil engineering *Civil (journalism), a platform for independent journalism *Civilian, someone not a membe ...
Divisions. The Order's motto is ''For God and the Empire''. At the foundation of the order, the Medal of the Order of the British Empire was instituted, to serve as a lower award granting recipients affiliation but not membership. In 1922, this was renamed the British Empire Medal (BEM). It stopped being awarded by the United Kingdom as part of the 1993 reforms to the honours system, but was again awarded beginning in 2012, starting with 293 BEMs awarded for Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. In addition, the BEM is awarded by the Cook Islands and by some other
Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Historically, it has been synonymous with "republic". The noun "commonwealth", meaning "public welfare, general good or advantage", dates from the ...
nations. In 2004, a report entitled ''A Matter of Honour: Reforming Our Honours System'' by a Commons committee recommended phasing out the Order of the British Empire, as its title was "now considered to be unacceptable, being thought to embody values that are no longer shared by many of the country's population".


British sovereign The monarchy of the United Kingdom, commonly referred to as the British monarchy, is the constitutional form of government by which a hereditary sovereign reigns as the head of state of the United Kingdom, the Crown Dependencies (the Bailiw ...
is the supreme head of the order and appoints all other officers of the order (by convention, on the advice of the governments of the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth realms). The second senior-most officer is the Grand Master, of whom there have been three: Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales (1917–1936); Queen Mary (1936–1953); and the Duke of Edinburgh (1953–2021). The order is limited to 300 Knights and Dames Grand Cross, 845 Knights and Dames Commander, and 8,960 Commanders. There are no limits applied to the total number of members of the fourth and fifth classes, but no more than 858 officers and 1,464 members may be appointed per year. Foreign appointees, as honorary members, do not contribute to the numbers restricted to the order as full members do. Although the Order of the British Empire has by far the highest number of members of the British orders of chivalry, with over 100,000 living members worldwide, there are fewer appointments to knighthoods than in other orders. Though men can be knighted separately from an order of chivalry ( Knight Bachelor), women cannot, and so the rank of Knight/Dame Commander of the Order is the lowest rank of damehood, and second-lowest of knighthood (above Knights Bachelor). Because of this, an appointment as Dame Commander is made in circumstances in which a man would be created a Knight Bachelor. For example, by convention, female judges of the
High Court of Justice The High Court of Justice in London, known properly as His Majesty's High Court of Justice in England, together with the Court of Appeal and the Crown Court, are the Senior Courts of England and Wales. Its name is abbreviated as EWHC (England ...
are created Dames Commander after appointment, while male judges become Knights Bachelor. From time to time, individuals are appointed to a higher grade within the Order, thereby ceasing usage of the junior post-nominal letters.


In addition to the Sovereign and the Grand Master, the order has six further officers: The King of Arms is not a member of the College of Arms, as are many other heraldic officers. The Lady Usher of the Purple Rod does not – unlike the Order of the Garter equivalent, the Lady Usher of the Black Rod – perform any duties related to the House of Lords. * Prelate:
Bishop of London A bishop is an ordained clergy member who is entrusted with a position of authority and oversight in a religious institution. In Christianity, bishops are normally responsible for the governance of dioceses. The role or office of bishop is ca ...
, the Rt Hon. & Rt Rev. Dame
Sarah Mullally Dame Sarah Elisabeth Mullally, (''née'' Bowser; born 26 March 1962) is a British Anglican bishop, Lord Spiritual and former nurse. She has been Bishop of London since 8 March 2018.
* Dean: Dean of St Paul's ('), the Very Rev. Andrew Tremlett * Secretary: The Secretary of the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, Lt-Col Stephen Segrave * Registrar: The Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service, Simon Case * King of Arms: Lt-Gen Sir Robert Fulton * Lady Usher of the Purple Rod: Dame Amelia Fawcett


Although initially intended to recognise meritorious service, the order began to also be awarded for gallantry. There were an increased number of cases in the
Second World War World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing ...
for service personnel and civilians including the merchant navy, police, emergency services and civil defence, mostly MBEs but with a small number of OBEs and CBEs. Such awards were for gallantry that did not reach the standard of the George Medal, but, as an order, were listed before it on the Order of Wear. Awards for meritorious service usually appear without a citation but there were often citations for gallantry awards, some detailed and graphic. From 14 January 1958, these awards were designated Commander, Officer or Member of the Order of the British Empire for Gallantry. Any individual made a member of the order for gallantry after 14 January 1958 wears an emblem of two crossed silver oak leaves on the same ribbon as the badge, with a miniature version on the ribbon bar when worn alone. When the ribbon only is worn the emblem is worn in miniature. It could not be awarded posthumously, and was replaced in 1974 with the Queen's Gallantry Medal (QGM). If recipients of the Order of the British Empire for Gallantry received promotion within the order, whether for gallantry or otherwise, they continued to wear also the insignia of the lower grade with the oak leaves. However, they only used the post-nominal letters of the higher grade.

Vestments and accoutrements

Members of the order wear elaborate vestments on important occasions (such as quadrennial services and coronations), which vary by rank (the designs underwent major changes in 1937): * The ''mantle'', worn by only Knights and Dames Grand Cross, was originally made of yellow satin lined with blue silk, but is now made of rose pink satin lined with pearl-grey silk. On the left side is a representation of the star (see below). * The ''collar'', also worn by only Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is made of gold. It consists of six medallions depicting the Royal Arms, alternating with six medallions depicting the Royal and Imperial Cypher of George V (''GRI'', which stands for "'"). The medallions are linked with gold cables depicting lions and crowns. GBE mantle.jpg, Mantle worn by Knights and Dames Grand Cross (GBE) GBE star.jpg, Close-up of the Star on the mantle File:Collar and star of the Order of the British Empire.jpg, Collar and Star of a Knight or Dame Grand Cross of the Order On certain " collar days" designated by the Sovereign, members attending formal events may wear the order's collar over their military uniform, formal day dress, or evening wear. When collars are worn (either on collar days or on formal occasions such as coronations), the badge is suspended from the collar. Collars are returned upon the death of their owners, but other insignia may be retained. At less important occasions, simpler insignia are used: * The ''star'' is an eight-pointed silver star used by only Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Knights and Dames Commander. It is worn pinned to the left breast. Varying in size depending on class, it bears a crimson ring with the motto of the order inscribed. Within the ring, a figure of
Britannia Britannia () is the national personification of Britain as a helmeted female warrior holding a trident and shield. An image first used in classical antiquity, the Latin ''Britannia'' was the name variously applied to the British Isles, Great ...
was originally shown. Since 1937, however, the effigies of George V and Mary of Teck have been shown instead. * The ''badge'' is the only insignia used by all members of the order. Until 1937, it was suspended on a purple ribbon, with a red central stripe for the military division; since then, the ribbon has been rose-pink with pearl-grey edges, with the addition of a pearl-grey central stripe for the military division. Knights and Dames Grand Cross wear it on a riband or sash, passing from the right shoulder to the left hip. Knights Commander and male commanders wear the badge from a ribbon around the neck; male officers and members wear the badge from a ribbon on the left chest; all females other than Dames Grand Cross wear it from a bow on the left shoulder. The badge is in the form of a ''cross patonce'' (having the arms growing broader and floriated toward the end), the obverse of which bears the same field as the star (that is, either Britannia or
George V George V (George Frederick Ernest Albert; 3 June 1865 – 20 January 1936) was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 until his death in 1936. Born during the reign of his grandmother Que ...
and Queen Mary); the reverse bears George V's Royal and Imperial Cypher. Both are within a ring bearing the motto of the Order. The size of the badges varies according to rank: the higher classes have slightly larger badges. The badges of Knights and Dames Grand Cross, Knights and Dames Commander, and commanders are enamelled with pale blue crosses and crimson rings; those of officers are plain gold; those of members are plain silver. * The ''British Empire Medal'' is made of silver. On the obverse is an image of Britannia surrounded by the motto, with the words "For Meritorious Service" at the bottom; on the reverse is George V's Imperial and Royal Cypher, with the words "Instituted by King George V" at the bottom. The name of the recipient is engraved on the rim. This medal is nicknamed "the Gong", and comes in both a full-sized and miniature versions – the latter for formal white-tie and informal black-tie occasions. * A
lapel pin A lapel pin, also known as an enamel pin, is a small pin worn on clothing, often on the lapel of a jacket, attached to a bag, or displayed on a piece of fabric. Lapel pins can be ornamental or can indicate the wearer's affiliation with an organi ...
for everyday wear was first announced at the end of December 2006, and is available to recipients of all levels of the order, as well as to holders of the British Empire Medal. The pin design is not unique to any level. The pin features the badge of the order, enclosed in a circle of ribbon of its colours of pink and grey. Lapel pins must be purchased separately by a member of the order. The creation of such a pin was recommended in Sir Hayden Phillips' review of the honours system in 2004. File:Order of the British Empire Insignia.jpg, Insignia File:MBE for Aviva Ben Raphael (5528384137).jpg, Badge as awarded to a female MBE


The Chapel of the Order of the British Empire is located in St Paul's Cathedral. It occupies the far eastern end of the cathedral crypt and was dedicated in 1960. The only heraldic banners normally on display in the chapel are those of the ''Sovereign of the Order of the British Empire'' and of the '' Grand Master of the Order of the British Empire''. Rather than using this Chapel, the Order now holds its great services upstairs in the nave of the cathedral. In addition to the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire, St Paul's Cathedral also houses the Chapel of The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George. Religious services for the whole Order are held every four years; new Knights and Dames Grand Cross are installed at these services.

Precedence and privileges

Knights Grand Cross and Knights Commander prefix ''Sir'', and Dames Grand Cross and Dames Commander prefix ''Dame'', to their forenames. Wives of Knights may prefix ''Lady'' to their surnames, but no equivalent privilege exists for husbands of Knights or spouses of Dames. Such forms are not used by peers and princes, except when the names of the former are written out in their fullest forms. Male clergy of the Church of England or the Church of Scotland do not use the title ''Sir'' as they do not receive the accolade (they are not dubbed "knight" with a sword), although they do append the post-nominal letters: dames do not receive the accolade, and therefore female clergy are free to use the title ''Dame''. Knights and Dames Grand Cross use the post-nominal GBE; Knights Commander, KBE; Dames Commander, DBE; Commanders, CBE; Officers, OBE; and Members, MBE. The post-nominal for the British Empire Medal is BEM. Members of all classes of the order are assigned positions in the
order of precedence An order of precedence is a sequential hierarchy of nominal importance and can be applied to individuals, groups, or organizations. Most often it is used in the context of people by many organizations and governments, for very formal and state o ...
. Wives of male members of all classes also feature on the order of precedence, as do sons, daughters and daughters-in-law of Knights Grand Cross and Knights Commander; relatives of Ladies of the Order, however, are not assigned any special precedence. As a general rule, individuals can derive precedence from their fathers or husbands, but not from their mothers or wives. Knights and Dames Grand Cross are also entitled to be granted heraldic supporters. They may, furthermore, encircle their arms with a depiction of the circlet (a circle bearing the motto) and the collar; the former is shown either outside or on top of the latter. Knights and Dames Commander and Commanders may display the circlet, but not the collar, surrounding their arms. The badge is depicted suspended from the collar or circlet.

Current Knights and Dames Grand Cross

* Sovereign: Charles III * Grand Master: Vacant

Knights and Dames Grand Cross

Military ranks listed denotes the awarded being in the military division.


Recommendations by Commonwealth countries

Since the Second World War, several Commonwealth realms have established their own national system of honours and awards and have created their own unique orders, decorations and medals. Recommendations for appointments to the Order of the British Empire continue to be made by some Commonwealth realms. In 2019, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas,
Barbados Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, in the Caribbean region of the Americas, and the most easterly of the Caribbean Islands. It occupies an area of and has a population of about 287,000 (2019 estimate). ...
Belize Belize (; bzj, Bileez) is a Caribbean and Central American country on the northeastern coast of Central America. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Guatemala to the west and south. It also shares a wate ...
Grenada Grenada ( ; Grenadian Creole French: ) is an island country in the West Indies in the Caribbean Sea at the southern end of the Grenadines island chain. Grenada consists of the island of Grenada itself, two smaller islands, Carriacou and ...
, Papua New Guinea, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the
Solomon Islands Solomon Islands is an island country consisting of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands in Oceania, to the east of Papua New Guinea and north-west of Vanuatu. It has a land area of , and a population of approx. 700,000. Its cap ...
, and Tuvalu, as well as the
New Zealand New Zealand ( mi, Aotearoa ) is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It consists of two main landmasses—the North Island () and the South Island ()—and over 700 smaller islands. It is the sixth-largest island country ...
associated state of the Cook Islands all included Order of the British Empire awards in their New Year's and/or Queen's Birthday honours lists. Canada seldom made recommendations for appointments to the Order of the British Empire except for the Second World War and Korea but continued to recommend gallantry awards for both military and civilians until the creation of the
Order of Canada The Order of Canada (french: Ordre du Canada; abbreviated as OC) is a Canadian state order and the second-highest honour for merit in the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada, after the Order of Merit. To coincide with the c ...
. Although the Commonwealth of Australia recommendations ended with the creation of the
Order of Australia The Order of Australia is an honour that recognises Australian citizens and other persons for outstanding achievement and service. It was established on 14 February 1975 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, on the advice of the Australian Gov ...
, Australian state governments continued to recommend the Order of the British Empire until the 1989 Queen's Birthday Honours, nearly 15 years later. The New Zealand Government ceased to recommend the Order in 1996, upon the establishment of the
New Zealand Order of Merit The New Zealand Order of Merit is an order of merit in the New Zealand royal honours system. It was established by royal warrant on 30 May 1996 by Elizabeth II, Queen of New Zealand, "for those persons who in any field of endeavour, have ren ...
, but the Government of the Cook Islands continues to do so.


In 2003, ''The Sunday Times'' published a list of the people who had rejected the Order of the British Empire, including David Bowie, John Cleese, Nigella Lawson, Elgar Howarth, L. S. Lowry, George Melly, and J. G. Ballard. In addition, Ballard voiced his opposition to the honours system, calling it "a preposterous charade". The order has attracted some criticism for its naming having connection with the idea of the now-extinct
British Empire The British Empire was composed of the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It began with the overseas possessions and trading posts es ...
.A reformed Honours system
Select Committee on Public Administration, 7 July 2004, Retrieved 13 May 2012
Benjamin Zephaniah, a British poet of Jamaican and Barbadian descent, publicly rejected appointment as an Officer in 2003 because, he asserted, it reminded him of "thousands of years of brutality". He also said that "it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised". In 2004, a House of Commons Select Committee recommended changing the name of the award to the ''Order of British Excellence'', and changing the rank of ''Commander'' to ''Companion''; as the former was said to have a "militaristic ring". A notable person to decline the offer of membership was the author C. S. Lewis (1898–1963), who had been named on the last list of honours by George VI in December 1951. Despite being a
monarchist Monarchism is the advocacy of the system of monarchy or monarchical rule. A monarchist is an individual who supports this form of government independently of any specific monarch, whereas one who supports a particular monarch is a royalist. ...
, he declined so as to avoid association with any political issues. In 2019, John Oliver turned down an offer of an OBE, which would have been part of the Queen's New Year's Honours list. The Beatles were appointed Members in 1965: John Lennon justified the comparative merits of his investiture by comparing military membership in the Order: "Lots of people who complained about us receiving the MBE tatusreceived theirs for heroism in the war – for killing people ... We received ours for entertaining other people. I'd say we deserve ours more". Lennon later returned his MBE insignia on 25 November 1969, as part of his ongoing peace protests. Other criticism centres on the view that many recipients of the Order are being rewarded with honours for simply doing their jobs; critics say that the Civil Service and Judiciary receive far more orders and honours than leaders of other professions.
Chin Peng Chin Peng (21 October 1924 – 16 September 2013), born Ong Boon Hua, was a Malayan communist politician, anti-fascist activist and long-time leader of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA). During ...
, a veteran guerrilla fighter of the Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army, was appointed as an Officer for his role in fighting against the Japanese occupation of Malaya during
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the World War II by country, vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great power ...
, in close co-operation with the British commando Force 136. Several years after WWII, his OBE membership was withdrawn by the British government (and became undesirable to Chin Peng himself) when the Communist leader headed his party's guerrilla insurgency against the British Empire during the
Malayan Emergency The Malayan Emergency, also known as the Anti–British National Liberation War was a guerrilla war fought in British Malaya between communist pro-independence fighters of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) and the military forces ...
.Dead or Alive
'' Time'', 12 May 1952

See also

* Orders, decorations, and medals of the United Kingdom – the British honours system * List of Knights Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire * List of Dames Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire * List of honorary British knights and dames * United Kingdom order of precedence * Honours Committee



Further reading

* * Hood, Frederic (1967). '' The Chapel of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire'', with a foreword by Prince Philip. * "Knighthood and Chivalry" (1911). ''Encyclopædia Britannica'', 11th ed., London: Cambridge University Press. *

External links

Order of the British Empire
– official website of the British Monarchy
The Honours system
– UK Government
Queen's Birthday and New Year honours
– ''
The London Gazette ''The London Gazette'' is one of the official journals of record or government gazettes of the Government of the United Kingdom, and the most important among such official journals in the United Kingdom, in which certain statutory notices are ...
'', lists recipients of honours
"The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire" (2002)
Cambridge University Heraldic and Genealogical Society
"Order of Precedence in England and Wales", Velde, F. R. (2003)
– Heraldica.org
Search recommendations for the Order of the British Empire on the UK National Archives' website

The Chapel of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – OBE Chapel Exterior detail
– JPEG image, IanMcGrawPhotos.co.uk {{DEFAULTSORT:Order Of The British Empire British Empire, Order of the 1917 establishments in the United Kingdom Awards established in 1917 British honours system British Empire, Order of the