The Order of Leopold is the oldest order of chivalry or knighthood in Belgium having been founded in July 1832, shortly after Belgium gained independence from the Netherlands. It takes its name from King Leopold I, who was the first King of the Belgians and instigated the award. There are three branches of the order, Military (Armed Forces), Maritime (Merchant Navy) and Civilian. Like many chivalric orders within the branches, there are five levels: Grand Cross, Grand Officer, Commander, Officer and Knight.
The awarding of the Order of Leopold has by no means been restricted to Belgian citizens, and from the early days, it was bestowed as part of the dowry with royal weddings. From 1838, although the bestowing of the Order of Leopold is done by the King, the decision as to who is awarded the order is made by the Belgian Foreign Office. High numbers of Belgians who had fought in the war of independence were made members, similarly, after WWI all the Lieutenant-Generals in the Belgian Army received the highest honour. There were also awards following the liberation of Belgium after WWII and the Grand Cross with Palms was awarded to Winston Churchill and Dwight D Eisenhower.
Currently, the Order of Leopold is granted twice a year: on the 8th of April, to mark the anniversary of the birth of Albert I, the third King of the Belgians, and 15 November – the day of Belgian dynasty. Within the various branches, the military branch of the order is awarded for long-meritorious service, or meritorious action of members of the Belgian military. Though there is no age restriction with the military branch, with the other two branches it can only be awarded to people over 42-years-old. Recently, there have been no awards in the maritime section; awards in the Civilian branch, again, tend to be awarded for long service within an organisation.
In the same way that back in the 19th century the order was awarded, to help promote understanding between countries, the situation has not changed in the current day, and the granting of the order is seen as the most significant diplomatic gift to a visiting Head of State. President Tito, the former head of Yugoslavia, received the award in 1970. There was, however, some disquiet in 2015 at the presenting of the order to President Erdogan of Turkey during his state visit to Belgium.