Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101.
Today’s episode will be a bit more brief than usual, due to the fact that it is being produced during a rather hectic week with many projects to be done towards the beginning of the week. I thought it better to produce a shorter podcast of high quality rather than a longer podcast with a noticeable sacrifice in quality, and so here we are.
In past episodes of British History 101, we have learned about several orders of chivalry – the Order of the Garter, the Order of the Thistle, and the Order of St. Patrick. Today we will learn about a fourth order, the Order of the Bath.
In the Middle Ages, it was customary for a man soon to be made a knight to take a ritual bath, a sign of spiritual purification and a harkening back to the ceremony of baptism at the beginning of the man’s life. He would then spend the night in a chapel, keeping prayerful vigil, until dawn. He would then make confession and hear Mass before presenting himself before the king once it was fully daylight. This audience with the king culminated with the accolade, or as we commonly see it referred to now the act of “dubbing” the knight by striking him on the neck with a hand or a sword. From the evidence we have of this elaborate ceremony taking place in the 12th century to the coronation of Charles II in 1661, knights who were created at the end of this overnight process were known simply as Knights of the Bath, for obvious reasons.
On 18 May 1725, George I, By the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, Prince-Elector of Hannover, Duke of Brunswick, officially founded the The Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath (although the word “military” has since been removed, for reasons we shall discuss shortly). It is usually thought that George I was convinced to found the order by his Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, who wanted a way to reward his political allies and those from whom he sought political support. At its creation, the Order consisted of the Sovereign, a Prince of the blood Royal as Principal Knight, a Great Master and thirty-five Knights Companion. What is extremely interesting about this order is that although it recalls the time when knights were ritually bathed before being “dubbed”, that medieval ceremony has never been used to create knights since the Order was officially established in 1725; thus, the original members of the Order were simply installed on 17 June 1725 in the Order’s newly designated chapel, the Lady Chapel of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey.
Although never used, the medieval rituals of bathing and prayerful vigil remained in the Order’s statutes until 1815; at this point, the end of the Napoleonic Wars, they were formally abolished. It was also at this point that the Prince Regent, later to be crowned George IV, expanded the Order into two divisions, military and civil. He also drastically increased the number of knights allowed into the Order; this caused no small amount of controversy, as many people (perhaps justifiably so) felt this devalued the honor of membership in the Order. This split into two divisions also produced three ranks of knighthood within the Order – Knight Grand Cross, Knight Commander, and Companion. After various revisions of the Order’s statutes which we will not discuss here (due to the complexity of each change and the relatively monotonous nature of reading off a list of dates), The Most Honourable Order of the Bath now accommodates 120 Knights (or Dames, since 1971) Grand Cross, 355 Knights or Dames Commander, and 1,925 Companions.
As we have discussed with the other orders of chivalry, members of the Order of the Bath are entitled to several nominal attachments; specifically, Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Commander are allowed to place “Sir” or “Dame” before their names and GCB, KCB, or DCB after. Companions of the Order of the Bath are not entitled to a prefix, but can use CB after their names.
Knights and Dames of the Order are still installed in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey; this ceremony, which takes place every four years, is attended by the Great Master of the Order (the Prince of Wales) at every installation and attended by the sovereign of the order (Her Majesty the Queen) at every alternate installation. The last such ceremony was in 2006, and the Queen was in attendance; therefore, there will be another installation in 2010, and the Queen will appear again in 2014. I have every confidence that Elizabeth will still be Sovereign then – even as an American I say Vivat Regina!
In the Chapel, each Knight or Dame Grand Cross is assigned his or her own stall in the choir. However, due to the limited number of stalls available it can take years, approaching even decades, for a person honored with the Grand Cross to actually get their stall. At the pinnacle of a knight’s stall is his helm, topped by his crest; for Dames Grand Cross, being women and therefore without crests, the coronet appropriate to her rank is used. A banner with the knight’s coat of arms hangs over the stall, and a brass nameplate is affixed to the back of the stall itself. Upon the death of a knight or dame, all the heraldic devices removed, but the name plate remains.
Knights of the Bath are provided with a considerable array of vestments and regalia; however, when I looked at the usually best source of this information, which (believe it or not) is actually Wikipedia, I was absolutely overwhelmed with the variations and regulations of the Order’s garb. Therefore, I have taken the high road, as it were, and copy and pasted the section from Wikipedia about said garb; I hope you will forgive me the cop-out, but I believe explaining it all would not be worth the time it would take to explore the different situations in which certain things are worn based on rank and position. I would strongly encourage you to visit the blog so you can see for yourself the interesting garments of knights of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath! Of course, all credit to Wikipedia and the sources cited therein.
Vestments and accoutrements
Members of the Order wear elaborate costumes on important occasions (such as its quadrennial installation ceremonies and coronations), which vary by rank:
• The mantle, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is made of crimson satin lined with white taffeta. On the left side is a representation of the star (see below). The mantle is bound with two large tassels.
• The hat, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Knights and Dames Commanders, is made of black velvet; it includes an upright plume of feathers.
• The collar, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is made of gold and weighs 30 troy ounces (933 g). It consists of depictions of nine imperial crowns and eight sets of flowers (roses for England, thistles for Scotland and shamrocks for Ireland), connected by seventeen silver knots.
On lesser occasions, simpler insignia are used:
• The star is used only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Knights and Dames Commanders. Its style varies by rank and division; it is worn pinned to the left breast:
o The star for military Knights and Dames Grand Cross consists of a Maltese Cross on top of an eight-pointed silver star; the star for military Knights and Dames Commander is an eight-pointed silver cross pattée. Each bears in the centre three crowns surrounded by a red ring bearing the motto of the Order in gold letters. The circle is flanked by two laurel branches and is above a scroll bearing the words Ich dien (older German for "I serve") in gold letters.
o The star for civil Knights and Dames Grand Cross consists of an eight-pointed silver star, without the Maltese cross; the star for civil Knights and Dames Commanders is an eight-pointed silver cross pattée. The design of each is the same as the design of the military stars, except that the laurel branches and the words Ich dien are excluded.
The badge varies in design, size and manner of wearing by rank and division. The Knight and Dame Grand Cross' badge is larger than the Knight and Dame Commander's badge, which is in turn larger than the Companion's badge; however, these are all suspended on a crimson ribbon. Knights and Dames Grand Cross wear the badge on a riband or sash, passing from the right shoulder to the left hip. Knights Commanders and male Companions wear the badge from a ribbon worn around the neck. Dames Commanders and female Companions wear the badge from a bow on the left side:
o The military badge is 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 on the obverse side, and a rose, a thistle and a shamrock, emanating from a sceptre on the reverse side. Both emblems are surrounded by a red circular ring bearing the motto of the Order, which are in turn flanked by two laurel branches, above a scroll bearing the words Ich dien in gold letters.
o The civil badge is a plain gold oval, bearing three crowns on the obverse side, and a rose, a thistle and a shamrock, emanating from a sceptre on the reverse side; both emblems are surrounded by a ring bearing the motto 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 or eveningwear. When collars are worn (either on collar days or on formal occasions such as coronations), the badge is suspended from the collar.
The collars and badges of Knights and Dames Grand Cross are returned to the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood upon the decease of their owners. All other insignia may be retained by their owners.
Tonight I am very pleased to introduce a new artist to the musical tone of British History 101. Sony Recording Artist Simon Mulligan has very graciously offered me the license to use his performances as the closing theme of our show. What we will be using for the next few weeks is the piece you hear playing right now, called Promenade 5; I really enjoy it and think it fits the tone of our show very well. However, Mr. Mulligan has yet more in the works for British History 101, and I am very excited for what he is currently working on and can’t wait to share it with you. Thank you, Mr. Mulligan, from myself and all the listeners of British History 101.
That’s all for our show tonight; a brief one, to be sure, but I hope it was an enjoyable bite of history nonetheless! Send questions, comments, rants, and raves to British History 101. Our new music tonight is Promenade 5, performed by Simon Mulligan. Thank you for joining me again this week; for those of you in the United States, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, and we will meet again soon!