Royal Victorian Order
Victoria founded the Royal Victorian Order.
The Royal Victorian Order is an order of chivalry that was established by Victoria on 21 April 1896. The Order includes five classes, in order of seniority:
Knight or Dame Grand Cross (G.C.V.O.)
Knight or Dame Commander (K.C.V.O. or D.C.V.O.)
Membership is conferred on those who performed personal service for the Sovereign.
The Order's day is 20 June, the date of Victoria's accession. The motto is Victoria. The Order is the second-most junior order of chivalry in the British honours system (in terms of both age and precedence), senior only to The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
The Order was created at a time when all honours were bestowed by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister and other ministers. The Royal Victorian Order, however, has always been within the personal gift of the Sovereign. It was thus unique at the time of its foundation; now, however, the two most senior British orders of chivalry—The Most Noble Order of the Garter and The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle—are also within the Sovereign's personal gift.
The British Sovereign is the Sovereign of the Order and appoints all other members of the Order. The next-most senior member is the Grand Master. Queen Elizabeth was Grand Master from 1937 until her death in 2002; she has not been replaced.
Formerly, Lieutenants and Members of the Order were known as Members (fourth class) and Members (fifth class), respectively. The name change was made in 1984. The Royal Victorian Order's membership is not subject to any numerical limits. Women have been eligible for membership since 1936. Foreigners may be admitted to the Order as "honorary members." Normally, honorary memberships are bestowed by the Sovereign during his or her visits overseas.
The Royal Victorian Medal was instituted at the same time as the Order. It, too, is awarded for personal services to the Sovereign. It is awarded in three classes: Gold, Silver and Bronze. There is a separate Royal Victorian Chain, which is unrelated to the Order; it was instituted in 1902 by Edward VII.
The Order has five officials: the Chancellor, the Secretary, the Registrar, the Chaplain and the Genealogist. The Lord Chamberlain serves as Chancellor, the Keeper of the Privy Purse and Treasurer to the Queen serves as Secretary, the Secretary to the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood serves as Registrar and the Chaplain of The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy serves as Chaplain.
Vestments and accoutrements
Members of the Order wear elaborate costumes on important occasions (such as quadrennial services and coronations), which vary by rank:
- The mantle, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is a dark blue satin coat, edged with red satin. On the left side is a representation of the star (see below).
- The collar, also worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is made of gold. It consists of octagonal pieces alternating with oblong frames. Each octagonal piece depicts a gold rose on a blue field. Each frame contains one of the following inscriptions: "Victoria," "Brit. Reg." (Queen of Britain), "Def. Fid." (Defender of the Faith) and "Ind. Imp." (Empress of India). In the centre is a medallion bearing Victoria's effigy. At less important occasions, simpler insignia are used:
- The star is an eight-pointed silver star for Knights and Dames Grand Cross, and an eight-pointed silver Maltese Cross for Knights and Dames Commanders. It is worn pinned to the left breast. The Star depicts Victoria's Royal and Imperial Cypher, "VRI" (Victoria Regina Imperatrice), surrounded by a crown-surmounted blue circle bearing the motto of the Order. The star is enamelled in the case of Knights and Dames Grand Cross, but is made of frosted silver in the case of Knights and Dames Commanders.
- The badge is the only insignia used by all members of the Order. Knights and Dames Grand Cross wear it on a red, white and blue riband, or sash, passing from the right shoulder to the left hip. Male Knight Commanders and Commanders wear the badge from a ribbon around the neck; male Lieutenants and Members wear it on a chest ribbon; all female grades (other than Dames Grand Cross) wear it on a bow on the left shoulder. The badge is in the form of a Maltese Cross; on an oval centre, the same field that appears on the star is depicted. The size of the badges varies by rank: the higher classes have slightly larger badges. Lieutenants and Members have badges of the same size, but the badges of Lieutenants (and members of all higher classes) are enamelled, while the badges of Members are made of frosted silver.
- The Royal Victorian Medal shows Victoria's effigy on the obverse, and the words "Royal Victorial Medal" on a scroll beneath Victoria's Royal and Imperial Cypher on the reverse. It is worn in the same fashion as the badge: from a ribbon around the neck in the case of men, and on a bow on the left shoulder in the case of women.
On certain "collar days" designated by the Sovereign, members attending formal events may wear the Order's collar over their military uniform or evening wear. When collars are worn (either on collar days or on formal occasions such as coronations), the badge is suspended from the collar. Collars are returned upon the death of their owners, but other insignia may be retained.
The chapel of the Order has been The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy since 1938. Every four years, the Order holds a religious service in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle; St George's is used instead of Savoy because it may accommodate more individuals.
The Sovereign and the Knights and Dames Grand Cross are allotted stalls in the choir of the chapel, above which their heraldic devices are displayed. Perched on the pinnacle of a knight's stall is his helm, decorated with a mantling and topped by his crest. Under English heraldic law, women other than monarchs do not bear helms or crests; instead, the coronet appropriate to the dame's rank, if there is one, is used (see coronet). Above the crest or coronet, the stall's occupant's heraldic banner is hung, emblazoned with his or her coat of arms. At a considerably smaller scale, to the back of the stall is affixed a piece of brass (a "stall plate") displaying its occupant's name, arms and date of admission into the Order. Upon the death of a Knight, the banner, helm, mantling and crest are taken down. The stall plates, however, are not removed; rather, they remain permanently affixed somewhere about the stall, so that the stalls of the chapel are festooned with a colourful record of the Order's Knights and Dames Grand Cross since 1938.
Precedence and privileges
Members of all classes of the Order are assigned positions in the order of precedence. Wives of male members of all classes also feature on the order of precedence, as do sons, daughters and daughters-in-law of Knights Grand Cross and Knights Commanders; relatives of Ladies of the Garter, however, are not assigned any special precedence. (As a general rule, individuals can derive precedence from their fathers or husbands, but not from their mothers or wives.) (See order of precedence in England and Wales for the exact positions.)
Knights Grand Cross and Knights Commanders prefix "Sir," and Dames Grand Cross and Dames Commanders prefix "Dame," to their forenames. Wives of Knights may prefix "Lady" to their surnames, but no equivalent privilege exists for husbands of Dames. Such forms are not used by peers and princes, except when the names of the former are written out in their fullest forms. Furthermore, honorary members and clergymen do not use the accolade of knighthood.
Knights and Dames Grand Cross use the post-nominal letters "GCVO," Knights Commanders "KCVO," Dames Commanders "DCVO," Commanders "CVO," Lieutenants "LVO" and Members "MVO." (When Lieutenants were known as Members of the Fourth Class, they also used "MVO.") Recipients of the Royal Victorian Medal use "RVM."
Knights and Dames Grand Cross are also entitled to receive heraldic supporters. They may, furthermore, enircle their arms with a depiction of the circlet (a circle bearing the motto) and the collar; the former is shown either outside or on top of the latter. Knights and Dames Commanders and Commanders may display the circlet, but not the collar, surrounding their arms. The badge is depicted suspended from the collar or circlet.
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