This is the third in a series of articles on the history of European orders prepared for us by Sergey Levin, head researcher of the numismatics department of the Moscow State Historical Museum, member of the Heraldic Council under the President of the Russian Federation.

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath

(1725 to date)

Knights of the Bath

The name of the Order comes from a part of the elaborate medieval ceremony of appointing a knight, which involved bathing (a symbol of purification) as one of its elements – the so-called “Bath of Baptizing”. As a rule, a person was knighted after going through a series of rituals designed to cleanse the soul by fasting, vigil and prayer, and purify the body through bathing, the so-called “Bath of Baptism”. The earliest official mention of the bathing ceremony is dated 1066 AD during the crowning ceremony of William the Conqueror (1027-87).

The tradition of “bathing” continued as part of the coronation ceremonies for English kings. Thus, on 17 May 1220, during the coronation of Henry III in Westminster, 50 young men from aristocratic families were knighted. On 22 May 1306, during the “Feast of the Swans” arranged by Edward I (1238-1307), 256 “knights of the bath” were initiated, among them the future king Edward II (1284-1327).

After the coronation of Henry IV on 11 October 1399, when 46 new knights were appointed, the full ceremony which included bathing was restricted only to major royal occasions such as coronations, investitures of the Prince of Wales or Royal Dukes, and royal weddings, and the knights so created became known as the Knights of the Bath. The last ceremony took place on 23 April 1661, at the coronation of Charles II (1630-85) for which the court jeweller Robert Viner (1631-88) produced 75 badges – oval medallions bearing three enamelled crowns. One of those badges, which presumably belonged to Sir Edward Walpole, grandfather of Sir Robert Walpole, Prime Minister of Great Britain (1721-42), is stored in the Windsor Royal Collection.

Sir Robert Viner with family, by
Robert Viner was subsequently knighted in 1665, and the following year styled 1st baronet, which was quite an exceptional honour for jewellers at that time. Moreover, in 1674 he became Lord Mayor of the City of London.

The Order of the Bath is the fourth-most senior of the British Orders of Chivalry, after The Most Noble Order of the Garter, The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, and The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick.

Motto – TRIA JUNCTA IN UNO (Three Joint in One);

Sash – crimson, worn over the left shoulder;

Consists of three Classes of members:
• Knight Grand Cross (GCB) or Dame Grand Cross (GCB)
• Knight Commander (KCB) or Dame Commander (DCB)
• Companion (CB)

Collar – made of gold and weighs 30 troy ounces (933 g). It consists of depictions of nine imperial crowns and eight sets of three flowers (roses for England, thistles for Scotland and shamrocks for Ireland), connected by seventeen silver knots; it is worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross.

Military badge – a gold Maltese Cross of eight points, enamelled in white. Each point of the cross is decorated by a small gold ball; each angle has a small figure of a lion. The centre of the cross bears three crowns surrounded by the motto of the Order in Latin “TRIA JUNCTO IN UNO”, which is flanked by two laurel branches. Below the central medallion there is a scroll bearing the motto of the Prince of Wales in Old German “ICH DIEN”. On the reverse there is a rose, a thistle and a shamrock, emanating from a sceptre surrounded by the motto of the Order. Knights and Dames Grand Cross wear the badge on a riband or sash, passing from the right shoulder to the left hip. Knights Commander and male Companions wear the badge from a ribbon worn around the neck. Dames Commander and female Companions wear the badge from a bow on the left side.

Civil badge – a plain gold oval, bearing three crowns and a rose, a thistle and a shamrock, emanating from a sceptre surrounded by a ring bearing the motto of the Order.

Star for military Knights and Dames Grand Cross consists of a Maltese Cross on top of an eight-pointed silver star. Each has three crowns in the centre surrounded by a red ring with the motto of the Order TRIA JUNCTA IN UNO in gold letters. The central medallion consists of a rose, a thistle and a shamrock, emanating from a sceptre flanked by two laurel branches with a scroll bearing the words ICH DIEN (“I serve”) in gold letters.

Star for civil Knights and Dames Grand Cross is of the same design as the military star, yet without the Maltese cross.

Star for military Knights and Dames Commander is an eight-pointed silver cross pattée, with three crowns in the centre surrounded by a red ring bearing the motto of the Order TRIA JUNCTA IN UNO in gold letters. Laurel branches and the words ICH DIEN are excluded.

The Founding of the Order

On 18 May 1725, George I established the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath. The main instigator of this establishment was John Anstis (1669-1744), Garter King of Arms since 1718, who managed to convince Prime Minister Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, that Great Britain needed another order of chivalry. At the time, only two orders existed in Britain: the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle, with membership limited to 26 and 16 knights, accordingly. This could barely satisfy the demand for acknowledging the country’s military and political leaders. John Anstis was also the one who compiled the text of the Statutes for the Order of the Bath, which was mostly taken from the Garter. In the words of Walpole’s son, Horace, “The Revival of the Order of the Bath was a measure of Sir Robert Walpole, and was an artful bank of favours in lieu of places. He meant to stave off the demand for Garters, and intended that the Red [i.e. the Order of the Bath] should be a step to the Blue [the Order of the Garter]; and accordingly took one of the former for himself.” His words came true in just a year, when Robert Walpole, one of the first Knights of the Order of the Bath, was appointed Knight of the Garter. The new Order provided Walpole with a source of favours to strengthen his political position. Thus, his son Richard Walpole (1701-51) was appointed to the Order at the same time as him. Unlike the Order of the Garter, it was not the king who became GreatMaster of the Order of the Bath, but his cousin, Walpole’s ally, John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu (1690-1749). Before that – in 1721-23 – John Montagu was Grand Master of the recently created Freemasonic Premier Grand Lodge of England.

Sir Robert Walpole, first Prime Minister of Great Britain

He meant to stave off the demand for Garters, and intended that the Red [Bath] should be a step to the Blue [Garter]

Great Masters of the Order of the Bath:

o 1725–1749: John Montagu (1690-1749), 2nd Duke of Montagu
o 1749–1767: vacant
o 1767–1827: Prince Frederick (1763-1827), Duke of York and Albany
o 1827–1830: Prince William (1765-1837), Duke of Clarence and St Andrews; since 1830 King William IV of Great Britain
o 1830–1837: vacant
o 1837–1843: Prince Augustus Frederick (1773-1843), Duke of Sussex
o 1843–1861: Albert, Prince Consort (1819-61)
o 1861–1897: vacant
o 1897–1901: Albert Edward (1841-1910), Prince of Wales; King Edward VII after 1901
o 1901–1942: Prince Arthur (1850-1942), Duke of Connaught and Strathearn
o 1942–1974: Prince Henry (1900-74), Duke of Gloucester
o 1974–present: Charles (b. 1948), Prince of Wales

Charles, Prince of Whales, Great Master of the Order of the Bath

The Original Statutes

The Statutes of the “Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath” were published on 18 May 1725, just a week after the Order was founded, and consisted of 20 articles. The first 37 Knights were appointed on 27 May at the Chapel of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey.

Initially, the Order was comprised of the Sovereign (King), Prince of the Royal Blood (William August (1721-65), the King’s young grandson), Great Master and thirty-five Companions. Although the Order of the Bath had been declared military, there were only a few military officers of high rank among the first Companions. Altogether there were 14 members of the House of Commons, 11 Royal Household or sinecures, 4 diplomats, 3 members of the Walpole family, including the Prime Minister, 2 Irish Peers, 2 country gentlemen with Court Appointments and only 3 Naval and Army Officers; namely: Admiral George Byng (1663-1733), 1st Viscount Torrington, and two Lieutenant Generals – Sir Charles Wills (1661-1741) and John West (1693-1766), 1st Earl De La Warr.

Articles 7 and 8 describe in great detail the initiation ceremony into the Order of the Bath, even mentioning the design details of the bathrobes “…for Defence against the cold Air of the Night…” After the completion of the initial ceremony (grooming of the beard and hair, vigil) the Knights were to sit in pairs on the benches to “the Right and Left Side of the Tomb of King Henry VII” and the Great Master read the oath:

“YOU shall honour God above all Things; You – shall be steadfast in the Faith of Christ; You shall love the King your Sovereign Lord, and him and his Right defend to your Power; You shall defend Maidens, Widows, and Orphans, in their Rights; and shall suffer no Extortion, as far as you may prevent it; and of as great Honour be this Order unto you, as ever it was to any of your Progenitors, or others.”

This was followed by the presenting of the Collars to each of the Elected. And finally “…the Sovereign, or Great Master, after he hath received the Sword from the said King of Arms, shall buckle it over the Body of the Elected, and then shall give him the Accolade, or Dubbing, and kiss him…”

FRANK O SALISBURY (1874-1962) The Installation of the Knights of the Order of the Bath, The King’s Offering
Within King Henry VII’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey, King George V stands, centre, at the foot of the altar at which the sacrament is raised; The King is attended by Knights of the Order of the Bath and by two pages who carry his train; he wears the mantle and collar of the Order over military uniform. The Dean of Westminster stands at the altar; the Duke of Connaught stands behind King George V.

Article 4 separately describes the ceremony of the accolade of “Dear Entirely-beloved Grandson Prince William” who was four years old. And “by reason of the Tenderness of his Age” dispensed in all particulars, “declaring it to be Our Royal Pleasure, That Our conferring the Degree of Knighthood upon him by the Sword of State, shall be sufficient to invest him fully and effectually with this Order”. The preamble to the Statutes lists seven Officers of the Order: Dean, Genealogist, King of Arms, Register, Secretary, Gentleman-Usher and Messenger. These offices allowed new opportunities for political patronage, as they were appointed by the Great Master and received fees donated by the Knights of the Order. The insignia are described in Articles 12 and 13 of the Statutes; their basic design remained the same as it was in the XVII century. At that time, the three crowns symbolized England, Scotland and France (which English kings laid claim to) – a union, established by James I (1633-1701) under the motto “TRIA JUNCTA IN UNO”. In 1725 the old design was updated with the addition of a rod (sceptre), thistle and rose. This design is still used for the civil merit badges following the reorganisation of the Order in 1815 into Military and Civil Divisions. The shamrock – symbol of Ireland – was added to the badge in 1802 after the “Union with Ireland Act 1800”; and when Britain waived its claims to the French throne, the three crowns on the badge came to symbolise England, Scotland and Ireland.

Insignia of the Order of the Bath, Grand Cross, Civil Division, 2nd Model (after 1815); with case; silver-gilt, 1934. Tallinn Museum of Orders of Knighthood

Appendices to the Statutes from 1 June and 16 November 1725, describe in detail the Collar of the Order: it should be made“of Gold of Thirty Ounces Troy Weight” (933 g). The Collar should consist of

“Nine Imperial Crowns of Gold, and of Eight Gold Roses and Thistles, issuing from a Gold Sceptre, enamelled in their proper Colours, tied or linked together with Seventeen Gold Knots, enamelled White.”

History of the Order

In January 1815 the Prince Regent, later George IV, restructured the Order of the Bath. The Order was divided into Civil and Military divisions. Such a separation occurred as a result of the Napoleonic wars – though the Statutes of 1725 refer to the Order as a “military” one, in fact, most of its members were politicians. Thus, the military division was introduced to allow the bestowal of the Order upon officers of the Army and Navy who had taken part in the wars against Napoleon. By that time, since the “revival” of the Order in 1725, the number of Knights was estimated to have been 199, among them Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (since 17 May 1797) and Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (since 28 August 1804).

to the end that those Officers who have had the opportunities of signalising themselves by eminent services during the late war may share in the honours of the said Order, and that their names may be delivered down to remote posterity, accompanied by the marks of distinction which they have so nobly earned.

Prince Regent describing the reason for the restructuring

The Order was now to consist of three classes: Knights Grand Cross [GCB], Knights Commander [KCB], and Companions [CB]. The existing Knights Companion (of which there were 60) became Knight Grand Cross; this class was limited to 72 members. The military members had to be of the rank of at least Major-General or Rear Admiral. Twelve vacancies could be appointed for civil or diplomatic services; of them, eleven were occupied by the Knights of the Order previously appointed. Among them, three ex-ambassadors to Russia admitted into the Order by Catherine II.*

Knights Commander were limited to 180, exclusive of foreign nationals holding British commissions, up to ten of whom could be appointed as honorary Knights Commander. They had to be of the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel or Post-Captain. The royal decree did not specify the exact number of Companions, but set forth a condition for becoming one:

“No Officer shall be nominated a Companion of the said Most Honourable Order, unless he shall have received, or shall hereafter receive, a Medal, or other Badge of Honour, or shall, have been specially mentioned by name in dispatches published m the London Gazette, as having distinguished himself by his valour and conduct in action against His Majesty’s enemies, since the commencement of the war in 1803, or shall hereafter be named in dispatches published in the London Gazette, as having distinguished himself.”

The list of 500 nominees was approved already on 4 July 1815, but the London Gazette published it only on 16 September 1815 – with the addition of the names of 117 officers who fought at Waterloo (16-18 July 1815). At the same time, two new offices were created in the Order: the Officer of Arms and the Secretary upon the Knights Commanders and Companions. The large increase in numbers caused some complaints that such an expansion would reduce the prestige of the Order. Besides, separation of the Order into Military and Civil Divisions was not complete – it concerned only the Grand Cross class.

On 14 April 1847, Queen Victoria issued revised Statutes, which eliminated any reference to the Order of the Bath as an exclusively military one, limited the number of Knights, and regulated expansion of the Order; all three Classes got separated into Military and Civil Divisions. The number of military members Grand Cross (GCB) was set at 50, civil members – 25; Commanders  (KCB) – 102 and 50, Companions (CB) – 525 and 200, accordingly; altogether 925 members of the Order. In future, however, the number of members was steadily increasing. Thus, in 1901 the membership of the order was 1,338 knights, of them: GCB – 82 (55 military, 27 civil), KCB – 253 (145 military, 108 civil) and CB – 1,003 (705 military, 298 civil). Besides, the Statutes of 1847 abolished all medieval rituals of the accolade.


There was at least one Knight of the Order who had been promoted to both civil (Knight Commander in 1858) and military (twice: Knight Commander in 1864 and Knight Grand Cross) divisions – it was Admiral of the Fleet Sir Alexander Milne, 1st Baronet (1808-96).

Initially, in the Statutes of 1725, the Prince of the Blood Royal was declared first and principal Companion “placed next unto the Sovereign”; the Statutes of 1747 combined Prince of Wales and the Great Master in one office. At present, it is Great Master who is keeping the Seal and observes compliance with the Statutes’ regulations.

In 1859 Queen Victoria made further amendments to the Statutes, they concerned mainly expenses for the Order maintenance. Before that date, the insignia provided by the Crown were to be returned to the Order on the death of the holder; except the foreigners who had been awarded honorary membership. Besides, foreigners had usually been provided with stars made of silver and diamonds, whereas ordinary members had only embroidered stars. The decision was made to award silver stars to all members, and only require the return of the Collar. The Crown had also been paying the fees due to the officers of the Order for members who had been appointed for the services in the recent war. The fees were abolished and replaced with a salary of approximately the same average value. The offices of Genealogist and Messenger were abolished, and those of Registrar and Secretary combined.

In 1910, after he acceded to the throne, George V ordered the revival of the Installation Ceremony in the Henry VII Chapel; and the first ceremony was held on 22 July 1913. As there was not nearly enough room for the full Installation (Coat of Arms, helmet, crest, sword, banner, and stall plate), which was the main reason why it was cancelled in 1847, the Bath Chapel Fund was established to oversee the refurbishment of the Chapel. Today only the most senior Knights and Dames Grand Cross can be installed in the Chapel; 34 Stalls are reserved for this purpose. Every four years the Great Master presides over the Installation ceremony in the Chapel, and every eight years the Sovereign attends in person. The limited amount of stalls in the Chapel leads to a long wait for the installation. For example, RAF Marshal David Brownrigg Craig (b.1929) was made GCB in 1984, but his installation in the Chapel took place only in 2006.

Today the number of Knights and Dames Grand Cross estimates at 120, Knights and Dames Commanders – 355, Companions – 1,925. Regular membership is limited to citizens of the United Kingdom and of other Commonwealth countries of which the Queen is Sovereign. Appointees are usually officers of the armed forces or senior civil servants, such as permanent secretaries. Commonwealth citizens not subjects of the Queen and foreigners may be made Honorary Members.

In the XX century, during WWI and WWII, many foreign Generals from the allied countries were made Honorary Knights Grand Cross. For example: during World War I – Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929) and Marshal Joseph Joffre (1852-1931); during World War II – Marshal Georgy Zhukov, King Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia (1876-1953), General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) and General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964). General Norman Schwarzkopf (1934-2012) and General Colin Powell (b.1937) were appointed Knights Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath after the Gulf War of 1991.

Queen Elizabeth II established the custom of awarding an honorary GCB to visiting (republican) heads of state, for example, Gustav Heinemann and Josip Broz Tito (1972), Ronald Reagan (1989), Lech Wałęsa (1991), Censu Tabone, President of Malta (1992), Fernando Henrique Cardoso, George H. W. Bush (1993), Nicolas Sarkozy in March 2008; in 2012 former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Turkish President Abdullah Gül, Slovenian President Dr Danilo Türk, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, and South African President Jacob Zuma. Robert Mugabe (b.1924), President of Zimbabwe since 1987 till now (!), was stripped of his honorary GCB status by the Queen on 25 June 2008, following the advice of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband “as a mark of revulsion at the abuse of human rights and abject disregard for the democratic process in Zimbabwe over which President Mugabe has presided.”

Starting from 1971 women may be admitted to the Order. In 1975 Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, aunt of Queen Elizabeth II, became the first and the only (up to the date) Dame Grand Cross.

Ronald Reagan receiving his honorary GCB in 1989

The Order of the Bath in Russia

As of today, there are 16 Knights of the Order of the Bath from the Russian Empire. The first appointment of Russian nationals to the Order were made after the victory over Napoleon. On 18 August 1815, Field Marshall Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818) was appointed Honorary Knight Grand Cross. On 17 April 1819, General Piotr Volkonsky (1776-1852) and Lieutenant-General Mikhail Vorontsov (1782-1856) were presented with the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, and Corsican politician and Russian diplomat Count Carlo Andrea Pozzo di Borgo (1764-1842) appointed the Knight Commander.

Further appointments took place in 1827-28. For the battle of Novarino (8 October 1827) – when the allied navies of Britain, France and Russia decisively defeated Ottoman and Egyptian forces – the following appointments were made: to Knight Commander – Admiral Lodewijk van Heiden (1772-1850), to Companions of the Order of the Bath: captain 1st rank Avinov (1786-1854), captain 2nd rank Bogdanovich (1779-1865), lieutenant captain Yepanchin (1787-1854), captain 1st rank Lazarev (1788-1851), lieutenant captain Nakhimov (1802-55), lieutenant captain Sytin, and captain 2nd rank Khrushov (1791-1865).

Barclay de Tolly, by George Dawe

Grand Cross, Civil division was bestowed upon the members of the Russian Imperial Family, viz.: Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich on 21 July 1887, and Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich – 15 February 1901; and S. Sazonov (1874-1927) who had been Foreign Minister of Russia in 1910-16. In 1914, Grand Duke Nikolay Nikolayevich Junior received the military Knight Grand Cross.  In 1919, during the Russian Civil War, three leaders of the “White Guard” were made Knight Commanders, namely Lieutenant General Shkuro (1886-1947), Lieutenant General Denikin (1872-1947), and Admiral Kolchak (1874-1920). After WWII, Marshal Bernard Montgomery as a Knight Grand Cross instigated the appointments to Honorary Knight Grand Cross for Marshal Zhukov (1896-1974) and Honorary Knights Commander for Marshals Konev (1897-1973) and Rokossovsky (1896-1968).

* Interestingly, three Knights of the Bath had been installed by Catherine the Great of Russia!

On 2 June 1773, George III conferred knighthood upon Robert Gunning (1731-1816) the ambassador of Great Britain to Russia (1772-76). As the Ambassador was in St Petersburg at the time, George kindly asked Catherine to arrange the knighting ceremony. She did so, performing the accolade with a diamond-studded sword, which she later presented to the Ambassador and bestowing upon him the insignia of the Order of the Bath, specially delivered for this occasion from London on 28 June 1773. Later two other British diplomats underwent the same ceremony: in 1779 – James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury (1746-1820), ambassador to Russia in 1777-83; and in 1793 – Charles Whitworth (1752-1825) ambassador to Russia in 1788-1800.

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