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What is the Order of the Thistle?

The King has appointed his youngest brother, the Duke of Edinburgh, to the Order of the Thistle. Prince Edward was given the honour to mark his 60th birthday on March 10th 2024. The Order is the highest chivalric order in Scotland.

Appointments to the Order are made solely on the discretion of The King. Charles III receives no political advice about who to appoint.

King James VII founded the first confirmed iteration of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle in 1687. He claimed that he was reviving an earlier order; it may have been an order under King James III (who reigned from 1460 to 1488), but this has not been conclusively confirmed. 

King James founded the Order shortly before he was forced to flee during the Glorious Revolution in 1688; it was revived by Queen Anne in 1704 and has existed since. 

The Order of the Thistle is granted to an individual based on public service to the country or someone who has held public office. There can be a maximum of sixteen full members at any one time. In 1987, Queen Elizabeth II began granting full admission to women as full members. 

The thistle is the order’s symbol, and members wear green robes with a white lining, a black velvet hat, and a gold collar depicting thistles (as well as sprigs of rue). 

The Chapel of the Order of the Thistle is in St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh. This chapel was not completed until 1911 under King George V’s reign after his father, King Edward VII, commissioned it. 

The Duke of Edinburgh can wear the mantle and insignia at appropriate events while he is in Scotland now.

King Charles III has appointed three other people to the Order of the Thistle, alongside his brother. They include Professor Baroness Sue Black, Baroness Black of Stone, the world leading anatomist and forensic anthropologist whose work has been used to assist in international war crimes investigations.

Also honoured is Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws, one of the most distinguished lawyers in the country and a founder of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford.

Professor Sir Geoff Palmer is also made a Knight of the Order of the Thistle. Sir Geoff is a global figure in scientific research with specialisms including cereal technology. He has also worked tirelessly in race relations.

In 2023, Queen Camilla was made an Extra Lady of the Order of the Thistle; The Princess Royal was made an Extra Lady of the Order of the Thistle in 2000, and The Duke of Rothesay (Prince William) was made an Extra Knight in 2012. They are supernumerary members and are not included in the count of 16 members. 

The installation ceremony for the new members of the Order of the Thistle is expected to take place this summer.

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