The Queen is set to attend the service for the Order of the Bath in Westminster Abbey this Friday, the first time she has attended the quadrennial service since 2006.
Her Majesty, who will be joined by the Prince of Wales as Great Master of the order, will invest new senior knights during the occasion as well as attending the religious service during the occasion. The chapel of the order is Henry VII Lady Chapel inside Westminster Abbey, where the actual investiture of the knights will take place on Friday morning.
The origins of the Order of the Bath are from the traditional ceremony where knights would be bathed before being invested in a ritual ‘purification’ – nowadays knights are not bathed as part of the ceremony.
The order itself was properly established by letters patent under the great seal on 18 May 1725, instituted by King George I.
Members of the order will join Her Majesty in the chapel in the full dress of the Order – including The Queen herself in the order’s full mantle.
Some of the other traditions of the order however (perhaps fortunately) are not maintained. Traditionally, when the procession of Knights used to leave by the west door after the service the king’s cook, with carving knife in hand, would stand at the door of the Abbey and threatened each knight as he left promising to “hack off your spurs from your heels” if he dishonoured the Order.
Whilst the Bath service is service is held every four years, the Sovereign only attends each alternate service meaning the next time Her Majesty would attend the service would be in 2022, her platinum jubilee year.
Nowadays, there are 3 grades in the Order of the Bath since the changes made by the Prince Regent in 1815 to expand the order. The lowest grade of the order is Companion, which allows the member to add the letters CB after their name. There is then the first grade of knightood – Knight/Dame Commander (KCB/DCB) and then Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GCB) members at these grade use the title of Sir or Dame.
One of the privileges of the Order of the Bath is that members and their children may be married in Westminster Abbey, a privilege otherwise reserved only for the Royal Family. Members also get their heraldic banners hung up in the Abbey.
The order is typically reserved for those in the diplomatic and civil service and officers of the Armed Forces these days, though the order does allow for honorary appointments too for people from foreign nations. For example, President of South Africa Jacob Zuma holds an honorary GCB – this differs from a substantive GCB mainly in that the holder is not entitled to the usual style of Sir.
In the order of precedence for chivalric orders in the United Kingdom, the Order of the Bath ranks just behind the Order of the Thistle and just ahead of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
The Queen’s appearance at the Bath service on Friday will be one of many services for her orders of chivalry she will attend this year. As well as the annual Order of the Garter service on 16th June at Windsor Castle, Her Majesty is also set to attend the Order of the Thistle service this year (which is held every other year) in June/July.
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