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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
Personal flag of Queen Elizabeth II.svg
sovereign of the Commonwealth realms
Type Dynastic order
Royal house House of Windsor
Eligibility All living citizens of the Commonwealth realms
Awarded for At the monarch's pleasure
Status Currently awarded
Sovereign Elizabeth II
Grades Member (OM)
Next (higher) Dependent on state
Next (lower) Dependent on state
Galó de l'Orde del Mèrit (UK).png
Ribbon of the Order of Merit

The Order of Merit (French: Ordre du Mérite) is an award, for notable work in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture. The order was set up in 1902, by Edward VII. Membership of the order is a personal gift of its Sovereign (the monarch does not take advice from politicians about who should be a member). The sovereign of the order is the reigning monarch of the Commonwealth realms, and is limited to 24 living recipients at one time from these countries, plus a small number of honorary members.

Whilst all members can use the post-nominal letters OM and a medallion for life, the Order of Merit's precedence, amongst other honours, differs between Commonwealth realms.


The first mention of a possible Order of Merit was made following the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805, in letters between the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Barham and Prime Minister William Pitt, though nothing came from the idea. Later, Queen Victoria, her courtiers, and politicians, all 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 realms such as art, music, literature, industry, and science. Victoria's husband, Albert, Prince Consort, took an interest in the matter; he wrote 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 talked with the Queen on the subject. The concept did not wither and, on 5 January 1888, British prime minister the Marquess of 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.

Eduard VII
King Edward VII, founder of the Order of Merit

It was Victoria's son, Edward VII, who eventually founded the Order of Merit, on 26 June 1902— the date for which his coronation had been originally planned— 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"; all modern aspects of the order were established under his direction, including the division for military figures. 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. After 1931, when the Commonwealth of Nations came into being and the former Dominions of the British Empire became independent states, equal in status to the UK, the Order of Merit remained an honour open to all the King's realms; thus, as with the monarch who conferred it, the order ceased to be purely British.

From the start, the order has been open to women, Florence Nightingale being the first woman to receive the honour, in 1907. Several people have not taken the honour, 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.

Eligibility and appointment

All citizens of the Commonwealth realms are able to be given the Order of Merit. There can only be 24 living people in the order at any given time, not including honorary appointees, and new members are personally selected by the reigning monarch of the 16 realms, presently Queen Elizabeth II, with the help of her private secretaries; the order has thus been described as "quite possibly, the most prestigious honour one can receive on planet Earth." Within the limited membership is a designated military division, with its own unique insignia; though it has not been abolished, it is currently unused, the Earl Mountbatten of Burma having been the last person so honoured. Honorary members form another group, to which there is no limit, though such appointments are rare; individuals from countries in the Commonwealth of Nations that are not headed by Elizabeth II are considered foreigners, and thus are granted only honorary admissions, such as Nelson Mandela (South Africa) and Mother Teresa (India).

On admission into the Order of Merit, members can use the post-nominal letters OM, and have 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; the insignia for the military grouping has 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. Since 1991, the insignia is to be given back upon the recipient's death.

Current members

  1. (122) The Duke of Edinburgh, royal consort, appointed 10 June 1968
  2. (145) United Kingdom The Reverend Owen Chadwick, theological historian, appointed 11 November 1983
  3. (162) United Kingdom Sir Michael Atiyah, mathematician, Fields medalist, Abel laureate, and former President of the Royal Society, appointed 17 November 1992
  4. (166) United Kingdom Sir Aaron Klug, biophysicist, Nobel laureate, and former President of the Royal Society, appointed 23 October 1995
  5. (169) United Kingdom The Lord Foster of Thames Bank, architect and Pritzker laureate, appointed 25 November 1997
  6. (175) United Kingdom Sir Roger Penrose, mathematical physicist, appointed 9 May 2000
  7. (176) United Kingdom Tom Stoppard, playwright, appointed 9 May 2000
  8. (177) The Prince of Wales, heir to the throne and conservationist, appointed 27 June 2002
  9. (178) Australia The Lord May of Oxford, ecologist and former President of the Royal Society, appointed 28 October 2002
  10. (179) United Kingdom The Lord Rothschild, philanthropist, appointed 28 October 2002
  11. (180) United Kingdom Sir David Attenborough, natural historian and broadcaster, appointed 10 June 2005
  12. (181) United Kingdom The Baroness Boothroyd of Sandwell, first female Speaker of the House of Commons, appointed 10 June 2005
  13. (182) United Kingdom Sir Michael Howard, military historian, appointed 10 June 2005
  14. (183) United Kingdom The Lord Eames of Armagh, Anglican Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, appointed 13 June 2007
  15. (184) United Kingdom Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium, appointed 13 June 2007
  16. (185) United Kingdom The Lord Rees of Ludlow, Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society, appointed 13 June 2007
  17. (186) Canada Jean Chrétien, former Canadian prime minister, appointed 13 July 2009
  18. (187) United Kingdom Neil MacGregor, art historian and Director of The British Museum, appointed 4 November 2010
  19. (188) United Kingdom David Hockney, artist, appointed 1 January 2012
  20. (189) Australia John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia, appointed 1 January 2012
Honorary members


Precedence in each realm

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, members rank below Knights and Dames Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, 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 actually the pinnacle of the British honours system. Similarly, though it was not listed in the Canadian order of precedence for honours, decorations, and medals until December 2010, except relating to those who were appointed to the order prior to 1 June 1972, both Christopher McCreery, an expert on Canadian honours and secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, and Rafal Heydel-Mankoo, an editor of Burke's Peerage, stated that the Order of Merit was the highest civilian award for merit a Canadian could receive.

Some orders of precedence are as follows:

Country Preceding Following
Australia Australia
Order of precedence
Knight/Dame Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (GCB) 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)
United Kingdom United Kingdom  England and
Order of precedence
Knight/Dame Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (GCB) Knight/Dame Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (KCB/DCB)
Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts by John Singer Sargent
The Earl Roberts, first British member of the Order of Merit
Florence Nightingale - Project Gutenberg 13103
Florence Nightingale, the first female member of the Order of Merit, appointed in 1907
Ernest Rutherford 1908
The Lord Rutherford of Nelson, first New Zealand member of the Order of Merit, appointed in 1925
Samuel Alexander, the first Australian member of the Order of Merit, appointed in 1930
Jan Smuts, the first South African member of the Order of Merit, appointed in 1947
William Lyon Mackenzie King, the first Canadian member of the Order of Merit, appointed in 1947

Substantive members

Member number Portrait Name Known for Date of appointment Present age
1 (122) Prince Philip March 2015 (cropped).jpg Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Consort of Elizabeth II 10 June 1968 102
2 (169) Norman Foster dresden 061110.jpg The Lord Foster of Thames Bank
Architect and Pritzker laureate 25 November 1997 88
3 (175) Roger Penrose at Festival della Scienza Oct 29 2011.jpg Sir Roger Penrose
Mathematical physicist 9 May 2000 92
4 (176) Image-Tom Stoppard 1 (cropped).jpg Sir Tom Stoppard
Playwright 9 May 2000 86
5 (177) Charles Prince of Wales.jpg Charles, Prince of Wales
Heir apparent to Elizabeth II 27 June 2002 75
6 (178) BobMayHarvard.jpg The Lord May of Oxford
Ecologist and former President of the Royal Society 28 October 2002 85
7 (179) The Lord Rothschild
Philanthropist 28 October 2002 87
8 (180) Weston Library Opening by John Cairns 20.3.15-139 (cropped).jpg Sir David Attenborough
Broadcaster and naturalist 10 June 2005 97
9 (181) Official portrait of Baroness Boothroyd crop 2.jpg The Baroness Boothroyd
First female Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom 10 June 2005 94
10 (182) Sir Michael Howard
Military historian 10 June 2005 101
11 (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 86
12 (184) Sir Tim Berners-Lee (cropped).jpg Sir Tim Berners-Lee
Inventor of the World Wide Web and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium 13 June 2007 68
13 (185) Martin Rees-6Nov2005.jpg The Lord Rees of Ludlow
Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society 13 June 2007 81
14 (186) Jean Chretien 2008.jpg Jean Chrétien
Former Prime Minister of Canada 13 July 2009 89
15 (187) Neil MacGregor Frankfurter Buchmesse 2015.JPG Neil MacGregor
Art historian and former Director of the British Museum 4 November 2010 77
16 (188) David Hockney
Artist 1 January 2012 86
17 (189) Image-Howard2003upr.JPG John Howard
Second-longest serving Prime Minister of Australia (1996-2007) 1 January 2012 84
18 (190) Rattle BPH-Rittershaus1-Wikipedia.jpg Sir Simon Rattle
Orchestral conductor 1 January 2014 68
19 (192) M Yacoub.JPG Sir Magdi Yacoub
Cardiothoracic surgeon 1 January 2014 88
20 (193) WISHLordDarzi.jpg The Lord Darzi of Denham
Surgeon 31 December 2015 63
21 (194) Ann Dowling in Cambridge 2011.jpg Dame Ann Dowling
Mechanical engineer 31 December 2015 71
22 (195) Sir James Dyson CBE FREng FRS.jpg Sir James Dyson
Inventor and industrial designer 31 December 2015 76

Honorary members

Matka tereza01
Agnesë Bojaxhiu) was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1983
Countries Name Date of appointment Date of death
19. Japan Prince Yamagata Aritomo 21 February 1906 1 February 1922
20. Japan Prince Ōyama Iwao 21 February 1906 10 December 1916
21. Japan Marquess Tōgō Heihachirō 21 February 1906 30 May 1934
40. France Ferdinand Foch 29 November 1918 20 March 1929
43. France Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre 26 June 1919 3 January 1931
81. United States Dwight David Eisenhower 12 June 1945 28 March 1969
88. United States John Gilbert Winant 1 January 1947 3 November 1947
99. France Albert Schweitzer 25 February 1955 4 September 1965
111. India Sir Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan 12 June 1963 17 April 1975
149. Albania/India Agnesë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu 18 November 1983 5 September 1997

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Orden del Mérito del Reino Unido para niños

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