Order of Merit

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This article is about the order in the Commonwealth realms. For similarly named orders, see Order of Merit (disambiguation).
Order of Merit
Order of Merit Dorothy Hodgkin (cropped).jpg
Insignia of the Order of Merit presented to Dorothy Hodgkin, displayed in the Royal Society in London
Awarded by the
UK Arms 1837.svg
monarch of the United Kingdom
(foundation – 1931)
UK Arms 1837.svg
monarch of the United Kingdom and the Dominions
Royal Cypher of Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth.svg
monarch of the Commonwealth realms
(since 1952)
Type Dynastic order
Motto For Merit
Eligibility All living citizens of the Commonwealth realms
Awarded for At the monarch's pleasure
Status Currently constituted
First Sovereign King Edward VII
Sovereign Queen Elizabeth II
Grades (w/ post-nominals) Member (OM)
Established 1902
Next (higher) Dependent on state
Next (lower) Dependent on state
Order of Merit (Commonwealth realms) ribbon.png
Ribbon of the Order of Merit

The Order of Merit (French: Ordre du Mérite)[n 1] is a dynastic order 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 a medallion for life,[3] the Order of Merit's precedence among other honours differs between realms.


The first mention of a possible Order of Merit was made following the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, in correspondence between First Lord of the Admiralty Lord Barham and William Pitt, though nothing came of the idea.[4] Later, it was thought by Queen Victoria, her courtiers, and politicians alike,[5] 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.[4]

Victoria's husband, Albert, Prince Consort, took an interest in the matter; it was recorded in his diary that he met on 16 January 1844 with Robert Peel to discuss the "idea of institution of a civil Order of Merit" and three days later he conferred with the Queen on the subject.[6] 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.[7]

King Edward VII, founder of the Order of Merit

It was Victoria's son, King Edward VII, who eventually founded the Order of Merit on 26 June 1902 (the date for which his coronation had been originally planned[8]) 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";[9] 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.[10][11] 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.

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, such as 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]

All citizens of the Commonwealth realms are eligible for appointment to the Order of Merit.[10] 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."[12] 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, consisting of a golden crown from which is suspended a red enamelled cross, itself centred by a disk of blue enamel, surrounded by a gold laurel wreath, and bearing in gold lettering the words FOR MERIT;[13] the insignia for the military grouping is distinguished by a pair of crossed swords behind the central disk. 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.[13] Since 1991, it has been required that the insignia be returned upon the recipient's death.[14]

Current members[edit]

Substantive members[edit]

Member number Name Known for Date of appointment Present age
1-(122)[n 2]  The Duke of Edinburgh KG KT OM GBE AK ONZ QSO GCL CC CMM PC PC(Can) AdC(P) Royal consort[15] 10 June 1968[16] 94
2-(162) United Kingdom Sir Michael Atiyah OM FRS Mathematician, Fields Medalist, Abel laureate, and former President of the Royal Society 17 November 1992[16] 86
3-(166) United Kingdom Sir Aaron Klug OM FRS Biophysicist, Nobel laureate, and former President of the Royal Society 23 October 1995[16] 89
4-(169) United Kingdom The Lord Foster of Thames Bank OM Architect and Pritzker laureate 25 November 1997[16] 80
5-(175) United Kingdom Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS Mathematical physicist 9 May 2000[16] 84
6-(176) United Kingdom Sir Tom Stoppard OM CBE Playwright 9 May 2000[16] 78
7-(177)  The Prince of Wales KG KT GCB OM AK QSO    Heir apparent to Elizabeth II 27 June 2002[16] 66
8-(178) Australia The Lord May of Oxford OM AC FRS Ecologist and former President of the Royal Society 28 October 2002[16] 77
9-(179) United Kingdom The Lord Rothschild Bt OM GBE Philanthropist 28 October 2002[16] 79
10-(180) United Kingdom Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE FRS Broadcaster and naturalist 10 June 2005[16] 89
11-(181) United Kingdom The Baroness Boothroyd OM PC First female Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom 10 June 2005[16] 86
12-(182) United Kingdom Sir Michael Howard OM CH CBE MC FBA Military historian 10 June 2005[16] 92
13-(183) United Kingdom The Lord Eames OM Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh 13 June 2007[16] 78
14-(184) United Kingdom Sir Tim Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS Inventor of the World Wide Web and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium 13 June 2007[16] 60
15-(185) United Kingdom The Lord Rees of Ludlow OM FRS Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society 13 June 2007[16] 73
16-(186) Canada Jean Chrétien PC OM CC QC Former Prime Minister of Canada 13 July 2009[17] 81
17-(187) United Kingdom Neil MacGregor OM AO Art historian and Director of the British Museum 4 November 2010[18] 69
18-(188) United Kingdom David Hockney OM CH Artist 1 January 2012[19] 78
19-(189) Australia John Howard OM AC Former Prime Minister of Australia 1 January 2012[19] 76
20-(190) United Kingdom Sir Simon Rattle OM CBE Orchestral conductor 1 January 2014 [20] 60
21-(192) Egypt/United Kingdom Sir Magdi Yacoub OM Cardiothoracic surgeon 1 January 2014[20] 79
22 Vacant    
23 Vacant    
24 Vacant    

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 different 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.[21] Similarly, though it was not listed in the Canadian order of precedence for honours, decorations, and medals until December 2010,[22] except relating to those who were appointed to the order prior to 1 June 1972,[23] 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.[24][25]

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
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.
  2. ^ The number shown in brackets is the individual's place in the wider order of appointment since the Order of Merit's inception.


  1. ^ a b The Royal Household. "The Queen and the UK > Queen and Honours > Order of Merit". Queen's Printer. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  2. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. "It's an Honour > Orders > Order of Merit". Queen's Printer for Canada. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Jackson, Michael D. (2007), "The Order of Merit 1902–2002: One Hundred Years of Matchless Honour" (PDF), Canadian Monarchist News (Toronto: Monarchist League of Canada), Summer 2007 (26): 15, retrieved 28 July 2009 [dead link]
  4. ^ a b Martin 2007, p. 11
  5. ^ Martin 2007, p. 12
  6. ^ Martin 2007, p. 13
  7. ^ Martin 2007, pp. 18–20
  8. ^ Martin 2007, p. 1
  9. ^ Mountbatten, Philip (2007), "Foreword", written at London, in Martin, Stanley, 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, retrieved 14 October 2009 
  10. ^ a b Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Honours > Orders > Order of Merit". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  11. ^ McCreery, Christopher (2005). The Canadian Honours System. Toronto: Dundurn Press. p. 98. ISBN 9781550025545. 
  12. ^ Editorial Board (15 July 2009), "Order Worthy?", National Post, retrieved 29 July 2009 [dead link]
  13. ^ a b Clarence House. "For Children > Medals and Uniforms > Medals > Picture 4: The Order of Merit". Queen's Printer. Retrieved 29 July 2009. 
  14. ^ Martin 2007, p. 56
  15. ^ Curry, Bill (26 April 2013). "Prince Philip first Royal to be awarded Order of Canada". The Globe and Mail. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o The Royal Household. "The Queen and the UK > Queen and Honours > Order of Merit > List of current members". Queen's Printer. Retrieved 15 August 2009. 
  17. ^ "Queen gives Chrétien Order of Merit". CBC. 13 July 2009. Retrieved 15 August 2009. 
  18. ^ The Royal Household. "Mr Neil MacGregor appointed to the Order of Merit, 4 November 2010". Queen's Printer. Retrieved 4 November 2010. 
  19. ^ a b The Royal Household. "Appointments to the Order of Merit". Queen's Printer. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  20. ^ a b "New Year Honours 2013: The Full List". The Guardian. 30 December 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  21. ^ Jackson, Michael D. (2007). "The Order of Merit 1902–2002: One Hundred Years of Matchless Honour by Stanley Martin, CD" (PDF). Canadian Monarchist News (Toronto: Monarchist League of Canada). Summer 2007 (26): 15. Retrieved 15 December 2013. 
  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. Retrieved 10 December 2010. 
  23. ^ Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Honours > Order of Precedence". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 24 July 2009. 
  24. ^ McCreery, Christopher (2005), The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History and Development, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-3940-5 
  25. ^ Taber, Jane (15 July 2009), "Chrétien 'thrilled' by rare honour from Queen", The Globe and Mail, retrieved 24 July 2009 
  26. ^ New Zealand Defence Force. "Medals Home > general medals information > order of wear". Queen's Printer for New Zealand. Retrieved 30 July 2009. 
  27. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 56878. p. 3351. 17 March 2003.


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