Order of Merit

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Order of Merit
Ordre du Mérite
Order of Merit Dorothy Hodgkin (cropped).jpg
Badge and ribbon bow of the order
Awarded by the monarch of the Commonwealth realms (since 1952)
TypeOrder of merit
Established26 June 1902
MottoFor Merit
EligibilityAll living citizens of the Commonwealth realms
Awarded forAt the monarch's pleasure
StatusCurrently constituted
SovereignElizabeth II
First sovereignKing Edward VII
GradesMember (OM)
Next (higher)Dependent on state
Next (lower)Dependent on state
Order of Merit (Commonwealth realms) ribbon.png
Ribbon of the order

The Order of Merit (French: Ordre du Mérite)[n 1] is a Commonwealth order of merit recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture. Established in 1902 by King Edward VII, admission into the order remains the personal gift of its Sovereign—currently Edward VII's great-granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II—and is restricted to a maximum of 24 living recipients from the Commonwealth realms, plus a limited number of honorary members.[1][2] While all members are awarded the right to use the post-nominal letters OM and wear the badge of the order,[3] the Order of Merit's precedence among other honours differs between countries.


In around 1773, King George III considered establishing an order of knighthood to be called the "Order of Minerva" with membership restricted to 24 distinguished artists and authors.[4] Knights would be entitled to the post-nominal letters KM, and would wear a silver nine-pointed breast star with the image of Minerva at its centre, along with a "straw-coloured" sash worn across the chest from the right shoulder.[4] The motto of the Order would be "Omnia posthabita scientiae" ("everything comes after science"). Once the King's proposal was made public, however, arguments within intellectual circles over who would be most deserving of the new order grew so heated that George ultimately dropped the idea,[4] though he briefly reconsidered it in 1789; on 6 February of that year, he revised the design of the order, with the breast star to have sixteen points, the motto to be the Latin for "Learning improves character" and with membership to include distinguished scientists.[5] Following the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, First Lord of the Admiralty Lord Barham and William Pitt exchanged correspondence concerning the possible creation of an order of merit, though nothing came of the idea.[6]

Later, Queen Victoria, her courtiers, and politicians alike,[7] thought that a new order, based on the Prussian order Pour le Mérite, would make up for the insufficient recognition offered by the established honours system to achievement outside of public service, in fields such as art, music, literature, industry, and science.[6] Victoria's husband, Albert, Prince Consort, took an interest in the matter; it was recorded in his diary that he met Robert Peel on 16 January 1844 to discuss the "idea of institution of a civil Order of Merit" and, three days later, he conferred with the Queen on the subject.[8] The concept did not wither and, on 5 January 1888, British prime minister Lord Salisbury submitted to the Queen a draft constitution for an Order of Merit in Science and Art, consisting of one grade split into two branches of knighthood: the Order of Scientific Merit for Knights of Merit in Science, with the post-nominal letters KMS, and the Order of Artistic Merit for Knights of Merit in Art, with the post-nominal letters KMA. However, Sir Frederic Leighton, President of the Royal Academy, advised against the new order, primarily because of its selection process.[9]

King Edward VII, founder of the Order of Merit

Victoria's son, King Edward VII, eventually founded the Order of Merit on 26 June 1902 (the date for which his coronation had been originally planned[10]) as a means to acknowledge "exceptionally meritorious service in Our Navy and Our Army, or who may have rendered exceptionally meritorious service towards the advancement of Art, Literature and Science".[11] All modern aspects of the order were established under his direction, including the division for military figures.[3]

From the outset, prime ministers attempted to propose candidates or lobbied to influence the monarch's decision on appointments, but the Royal Household adamantly guarded information about potential names.[3] After 1931, when the Statute of Westminster came into being and the Dominions of the British Empire became independent countries, equal in status to the UK, the Order of Merit continued as an honour open to all these realms and, in many, became a part of their national honours systems.[12] The order's statutes were amended in 1935 to include members of the Royal Air Force and, in 1969, the definition of honorary recipients was expanded to include members of the Commonwealth of Nations that are not realms.

From its inception, the order has been open to women, Florence Nightingale being the first woman to receive the honour, in 1907. Several individuals have refused admission into the Order of Merit, including Rudyard Kipling, A. E. Housman, and George Bernard Shaw. To date, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, remains the youngest person ever inducted into the Order of Merit, having been admitted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1968, when he was 47 years of age.[3]

Eligibility and appointment[edit]

Reverse of the badge

All citizens of the Commonwealth realms are eligible for appointment to the Order of Merit.[2] There may be, however, only 24 living individuals in the order at any given time, not including honorary appointees, and new members are personally selected by the reigning monarch of the realms, currently Queen Elizabeth II, with the assistance of her private secretaries;[3] the order has thus been described as "quite possibly, the most prestigious honour one can receive on planet Earth."[13] Within the limited membership is a designated military division, with its own unique insignia; though it has not been abolished, it is currently unpopulated, Lord Mountbatten of Burma having been the last person so honoured.[3] Honorary members form another group, to which there is no numerical limit, though such appointments are rare; individuals from countries in the Commonwealth of Nations that are not headed by Elizabeth II are therefore considered foreigners, and thus are granted only honorary admissions, such as Nelson Mandela (South Africa) and Mother Teresa (India).[1]

Upon admission into the Order of Merit, members are entitled to use the post-nominal letters OM and are entrusted with the badge of the order.


The insignia consists solely of a badge consisting of a golden crown from which is suspended a red enamelled cross pattee, itself centred by a disk of blue enamel, surrounded by a laurel wreath, and bearing in gold lettering the words FOR MERIT;[14] the insignia for the military grouping is distinguished by a pair of crossed swords behind the central disk.[2] The ribbon of the Order of Merit is divided into two stripes of red and blue. Men wear their badges on a neck ribbon, while women carry theirs on a ribbon bow pinned to the left shoulder, and aides-de-camp may wear the insignia on their aiguillettes.[14] Since 1991, it has been required that the insignia be returned upon the recipient's death.[15]

Current members[edit]

Substantive members[edit]

Member number[a] Portrait Name Known for Date of appointment Present age
1 (169) Norman Foster dresden 061110.jpg The Lord Foster of Thames Bank
Architect and Pritzker laureate 25 November 1997[16] 86
2 (175) Roger Penrose at Festival della Scienza Oct 29 2011.jpg Sir Roger Penrose
Mathematical physicist and Nobel laureate 9 May 2000[16] 90
3 (176) Image-Tom Stoppard 1 (cropped).jpg Sir Tom Stoppard
Playwright 9 May 2000[16] 84
4 (177) Charles Prince of Wales.jpg Charles, Prince of Wales
Heir apparent to Elizabeth II 27 June 2002[16] 73
5 (179) Jacob Rothschild Amana nli (cropped).jpg The Lord Rothschild
Philanthropist 28 October 2002[16] 85
6 (180) Weston Library Opening by John Cairns 20.3.15-139 (cropped).jpg Sir David Attenborough
Broadcaster and naturalist 10 June 2005[16] 95
7 (181) Official portrait of Baroness Boothroyd crop 2.jpg The Baroness Boothroyd
Former Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom 10 June 2005[16] 92
8 (183) Official portrait of Lord Eames crop 2.jpg The Lord Eames
Former primate of All Ireland and former archbishop of Armagh 13 June 2007[16] 84
9 (184) Sir Tim Berners-Lee (cropped).jpg Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Inventor of the World Wide Web, Founder of the World Wide Web Foundation and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium 13 June 2007[16] 66
10 (185) Martin Rees-6Nov2005.jpg The Lord Rees of Ludlow
Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society 13 June 2007[16] 79
11 (186) Jean Chrétien 2008.jpg Jean Chrétien
Former Prime Minister of Canada (1993–2003) 13 July 2009[17] 87
12 (187) Neil MacGregor Frankfurter Buchmesse 2015.JPG Neil MacGregor
Art historian and former Director of the British Museum 4 November 2010[18] 75
13 (188) David Hockney 2017 at Flash Expo.jpg David Hockney
Artist 1 January 2012[19] 84
14 (189) Howard John BANNER.jpg John Howard
former Prime Minister of Australia (1996–2007) 1 January 2012[19] 82
15 (190) Rattle BPH-Rittershaus1-Wikipedia.jpg Sir Simon Rattle
Conductor 1 January 2014 [20] 66
16 (192) M Yacoub.JPG Sir Magdi Yacoub
Cardiothoracic surgeon 1 January 2014[20] 86
17 (193) WISHLordDarzi.jpg The Lord Darzi of Denham
Surgeon 1 January 2016[21] 61
18 (194) Ann Dowling in Cambridge 2011.jpg Dame Ann Dowling
Mechanical engineer 1 January 2016[21] 69
19 (195) Sir James Dyson CBE FREng FRS.jpg Sir James Dyson
Inventor and industrial designer 1 January 2016[21] 74
20 (-) vacant since the death of Sir Aaron Klug
21 (-) vacant since the death of Sir Michael Atiyah
22 (-) vacant since the death of Sir Michael Howard
23 (-) vacant since the death of Lord May of Oxford
24 (-) vacant since the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
  1. ^ The number shown in parentheses is the individual's place in the wider order of appointment since the Order of Merit's inception.

Honorary members[edit]

There have been no honorary members of the Order of Merit since the death of the last such member, Nelson Mandela, in December 2013.


As the Order of Merit is open to the citizens of sixteen countries, each with their own system of orders, decorations, and medals, the order's place of precedence varies from country to country. While, in the United Kingdom, the order's postnominal letters follow those of Knights and Dames Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, membership in the Order of Merit itself gives members no place in any of the orders of precedence in the United Kingdom. However, it has been claimed by Stanley Martin, in his book The Order of Merit 1902–2002: One Hundred Years of Matchless Honour, that the Order of Merit is the pinnacle of the British honours system.[3] Similarly, though it was not listed in the Canadian order of precedence for honours, decorations, and medals until December 2010,[22] Christopher McCreery, an expert on Canadian honours and secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, stated that the Order of Merit was the highest civilian award for merit a Canadian could receive.[23][24]

Some orders of precedence are as follows:

Country Preceding Following
Australia Australia
Order of precedence
Knight/Lady of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle (KT/LT) Knight/Dame of the Order of Australia (AK/AD)
Canada Canada
Order of precedence[25]
Cross of Valour (CV) Companion of the Order of Canada (CC)
New Zealand New Zealand
Order of precedence
Knight/Dame Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (GCB) Member of the Order of New Zealand (ONZ)[26]
United Kingdom United Kingdom Knight/Dame Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (GCB) Baronet's Badge (Bt)[27]


  1. ^ For use in Canada, in accordance with the country's policy of official bilingualism.


  1. ^ a b "Order of Merit". Royal Household. Archived from the original on 18 July 2009. Retrieved 28 July 2009.
  2. ^ a b c Office of the Governor General of Canada (19 April 2017). "Order of Merit". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Jackson, Michael D. (Summer 2007), "The Order of Merit 1902–2002: One Hundred Years of Matchless Honour by Stanley Martin, CD" (PDF), Canadian Monarchist News / Les Nouvelles Monarchiques du Canada (Book review), Oakville, Ontario: Monarchist League of Canada / La Ligue Monarchiste du Canada (26), p. 15, archived from the original (PDF) on 8 July 2009, retrieved 10 June 2019
  4. ^ a b c Huish, Robert (1821). Public and Private Life of His Late Excellent and Most Gracious Majesty George The Third. London: Thomas Kelly.
  5. ^ Roberts, Andrew (2021). The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III. Viking. p. 526. ISBN 9781984879264.
  6. ^ a b Martin 2007, p. 11
  7. ^ Martin 2007, p. 12
  8. ^ Martin 2007, p. 13
  9. ^ Martin 2007, pp. 18–20
  10. ^ Martin 2007, p. 1
  11. ^ Mountbatten, Philip (2007), "Foreword", written at London, in Martin, Stanley (ed.), The Order of Merit: One Hundred Years of Matchless Honour, New York: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., pp. xvii, ISBN 978-1-86064-848-9
  12. ^ McCreery, Christopher (2005). The Canadian Honours System. Toronto: Dundurn Press. p. 98. ISBN 9781550025545.
  13. ^ Editorial Board (15 July 2009), "Order Worthy?", National Post, retrieved 29 July 2009[dead link] Alt URL
  14. ^ a b "For Children > Medals and Uniforms > Medals > Picture 4: The Order of Merit". Clarence House. Retrieved 29 July 2009.
  15. ^ Martin 2007, p. 56
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "The Queen and the UK > Queen and Honours > Order of Merit > List of current members". Royal Household. Retrieved 15 August 2009.
  17. ^ "Chrétien grateful for honour from Queen". CBC News. 14 July 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  18. ^ "Mr Neil MacGregor appointed to the Order of Merit, 4 November 2010". Royal Household. Retrieved 4 November 2010.
  19. ^ a b "Appointments to the Order of Merit". Royal Household. Archived from the original on 7 January 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  20. ^ a b "New Year Honours 2013: The Full List". The Guardian. 30 December 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013.
  21. ^ a b c "New Year's Honours 2016". 30 December 2015. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  22. ^ Government of Canada (8 December 2010). "Order of Merit (O.M.) Order". Canada Gazette. Queen's Printer for Canada. 144 (25). SI/2010-88. Archived from the original on 19 December 2010. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  23. ^ McCreery, Christopher (2005), The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History and Development, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-3940-5
  24. ^ Taber, Jane (13 July 2009). "Chrétien 'thrilled' by rare honour from Queen". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  25. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada (18 April 2017). "Order of Precedence". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  26. ^ New Zealand Defence Force. "The Wearing of Medals in New Zealand Table – A guide to the correct order of wear". Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  27. ^ "No. 56878". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 March 2003. p. 3351.


External links[edit]