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The Most Honourable Order of the Bath


The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is today the premier meritorious Order of the Crown. Principally awarded to serving officers of the armed forces as well as to a limited number of civilian servants of the Crown who are not members of the Foreign Service. Originally membership comprised the Sovereign, the Great Master of the Order, and 36 Knights Grand Cross.

Due to the limited number of stalls (seats) available in Henry VII Chapel only the most senior Knights Grand Cross can be installed. As a result, when a stall becomes vacancy through death, it is then offered to the next senior Grand Cross on a allotment basis between the Military and Civil Divisions. These Knights are entitled to have their Banners, Crests and Stall Plates affixed upon their stalls.

nclusion in the Military Division, regarded as the highest class of British military honour obtainable, is governed by rank. Former members have included such illustrious leaders as Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Field Marshal Earl Kitchener, Field Marshal Earl Haig, and Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

Admission to the Civil Division is through personal services rendered to the performance of public duties or which merit Royal favour. Numbers in each class are normally limited but may be increased in the event of war or other special circumstances. Foreigners can be admitted as Honorary Members on recommendation by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, these high honours have included Two former Presidents of the United States of America Ronald Reagan in 1989 and George Bush Senior in 1993 and  the former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani in 2002.


Present seal of the Order of the Bath, comprising the Arms of the Order.



The History of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath :-

 Westminster Abbey :-

 Henry VII Chapel :-

 Knights of the Bath , Crowns, Crests, Banners and Stall Plates :-

 The procession, service and Instillation of the Knights of the Bath :-



The History of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath

The second highest order of chivalry in England the title of the Order is late medieval in origin, it arose from the ritual washing (inspired by the ritual of baptism), a symbol of spiritual purification, followed by a night of prayer and meditation before the Knights of the Bath attended the mass and then receive there accolade. Medieval knights frequently carried out there vigil of fasting, prayer and purification in the Chapel Royal of St John the Evangelist in the Tower of London. There is an account of this ceremony in the reign of King Henry IV which remained until the time of King Charles II. 

The Order was established by King George I by letters patent under the Great Seal dated 18 May 1725, with one class and one division. The Dean of Westminster was made Dean of the Order in perpetuity and King Henry VII Chapel designated as the Chapel of the Order. This patent specifically recalls how in former times 'upon special occasions a 'Degree of Knighthood, which hath been denominated the Knighthood of the Bath', has been conferred'. This certainly happened as far back as the coronation of Henry IV in 1399.

In 1815, the decision  was formally taken to abolish the ancient rites of bathing, vigils and the other preparations for installation to the Order.  From the reign of King James I a special badge with three crowns was appropriated to the Knights of the Bath and most likely to represent the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. 

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the Prince Regent  later to be King George IV  found it necessary to reward many of the distinguished Army and Naval Officers and enlarged membership of the Order by creating an extra Division. This however was not greeted with great enthusiasm by the existing members who saw this enlargement as reducing the Order's status and value.



The Star and neck badge of the Knight Commander ( KCB, military )and Star of the Knights Grand Cross ( GCB, Military )


This enlargement of the order was into three classes of knights, which comprised ; after the Sovereign and the Great Master, 115 Knights (and Dames) Grand Cross (G.C.B), 328 Knights (and Dames) Commanders (K.C.B. or D.C.B.), 1815 Companions (both men and women) (C.B.), with six officers, Dean, Bath King of Arms Secretary and Registrar, Genealogist, Gentleman Usher of the Scarlet Rod, and the Deputy Secretary, however numbers might indeed be increased in times of war or in the event of any military or civil action or service which merits 'peculiar honour or reward'.

A small number of distinguished civilians were also admitted in 1847 and a civil division of Knights Commander and Companions was added. As a result of the increased numbers after 1812, due in part to the Napoleonic wars, no installations took place in the chapel until 1913 when George V revived the instillation service, so after almost a century forty - six Knights Grand Cross were installed and the erection of stall-plates, banners, mantling and crests was to begin again.

Ladies were admitted to the Order in 1971 and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester being the first Dame Grand Cross.  His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and the Sovereign occupy their stalls at the west end of the chapel during the installation service. The Princess of Wales was appointed Great Master of the Order on the 28 May 1975, the 250th Anniversary of the re-establishment of the Order of the Bath.

In 1972 on the 26 of October, for the first time a foreign Head of State, was invited by HM The Queen, the Sovereign of the Order to take part in the service wearing a Mantle and Collar.  H.E.. Dr Gustav W. Heinemann an Honorary knight of the Bath and President of the Federal German Republic was then on a State Visit to Great Britain.



Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is the most famous, historic and widely visited churches in the whole Christian world, Since 1066 every Sovereign apart from King Edward V and King Edward VIII have been crowned here in and has been for many centuries the burial place of kings, queens and princess. 

During the middle ages it was a monastery of a community of Benedictine monks and houses the shrine of the only English King to be canonised and therefore recognised as a Saint, Edward the Confessor, sometimes called the last of the English Kings.


The West Entrance of Westminster Abbey

According to legend, a church was first founded on the site of Westminster Abbey in the seventh century by Sebert, King of the East Saxons. This church was then succeeded by a great monastery created by Edward the Confessor (1042-66) on a adjacent site on Thorny Island. This great Norman Abbey was completed in 1065 and stood surrounded by the many ancillary buildings which were required for the community of monks who passed their lives of prayer here. Its focal point being a church which was dedicated to St Peter.

Less then 200 hundred years after the first abbey's completion King Henry III replaced it with something on a grander scale. Over the years the old abbey was gradually demolished and replaced, unfortunately nothing of the old church now remains. The quire, sanctuary, transepts and some bays of the nave were completed by the time of King Henry's death in 1272. 

After centuries of laborious but erratic progress and lack of money the nave was finally completed in 1517. The year of the Reformation began in 1540 when the Abbot of Westminster was compelled to surrender his monastery which was then dissolved, the Confessor's shrine was dismantled, statues destroyed and any form of adornment was to be abandoned. The remains of this shrine which was later re-erected and can be seen behind the High Alter today.  

Between 1540 to 1550, in the newly created diocese of Westminster the abbey became a cathedral.  During the accession of Queen Mary 1 in 1556 a community of monks re-established itself, however this brief existence was not to last and in 1560 Queen Elizabeth I's Royal Charter designated the abbey to be a collegiate church with a dean and chapter of 12 cannons. In 1745 the building was finally completed when the Western Towers were built to Sir Christopher Wren's design.



Henry VII Chapel

The Lady Chapel or Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey is the place where the installation of the knights of the Bath takes place, and is one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in the world. Work began to built the chapel in 1503 on the orders of King Henry VII and was intended it to be the final resting place for the saintly Henry VI. It was however never used for this purpose as it was Henry VII himself who was finally buried here in an elaborate tomb alongside his wife, Elizabeth of York, whose image appears eight times in every pack of playing cards made to this day.


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Henry VII Chapel's in Westminster Abbey    -    The beautiful Fan-vaulted ceiling of the chapel 


The chapel's architect is thought to be Robert Vertue who was one of the king's master masons; his brother William was responsible for the design of the similar vaulting ceiling for St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle (the chapel for the knights of the Garter) at about the same time. The architecture is in the late Perpendicular style, many royal emblems are marked in much of the wonderful decoration work and these include Tudor roses, the portcullis of the Beauforts, the Welsh dragon, the greyhound of Richmond, the fleurs-de-lis, and the Lion of England. All are superbly produced throughout the chapel's decorations in stone, wood and bronze.

Despite the widespread destruction of the various fittings inside the chapel including the stained glass windows during the Reformation. Out of the 107 original carved statues of the saints in the niches high above the stalls in the chapel, 95 still remained intact which represents one of the largest and finest collections of late medieval statues throughout England. The oak stalls on either side of the chapel are intricately carved and have tall canopies which are now used by the members of the Knights Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, but were originally intended for use by the monks when they worshipped in this part of the Abbey. 

The Sovereign's Stall


These carved canopies are now used to display the heraldic achievements for the most senior Knights of the Bath, their Crests, Helms, Swords and Stall Plates are placed beneath the Banners in Henry VII historic Chapel in Westminster Abbey. 


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Many of the 48 Knights of the Bath Crests created by Ian G Brennan now placed in position upon the Knights helmets in Henry V11; Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey


As King Edward the Confessor is regarded as the founder of Westminster Abbey and Queen Elizabeth I regarded as the foundress of the present Collegiate Church it was natural that when she died in 1603 she should be buried in the Abbey. Elizabeth and her half sister Mary Tudor share the same tomb in the north aisle of the Lady Chapel. 


Queen Elizabeth I and Mary I tomb in Westminster Abbey


George II, the first sovereign of the House of Hanover to be buried in England and the last British monarch to lead his army in battle is also buried here close to the more recent addition to the Chapel, the Battle of Britain stained glass memorial window.  In the past, famous holders of the Order have included Admiral Lord Nelson, The Duke of Wellington, Lord Kitchener and Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, all were awarded with the Order of the Bath. The Queen is Sovereign of the Order with the Prince of Wales the Great Master.


The wax effigy, preserved in Westminster Abbey of Lord Nelson who was made a 'Knight of the Bath' by King George III in September 1797 following the Battle of Cape St Vincent. It shows Nelson wearing the 'Bath sash and star' (uppermost of the four worn) with Lord Nelson's Stall-plate which was attached to the back of the stall he occupied in Henry VII Chapel in 1803 (Stall S20).



 Knights of the Bath, Crowns, Crests, Banners and Stall Plates

Above the stalls in Henry VII Chapel are placed the medieval symbols of chivalry, On top of the stall is the knights helm (or helmet) on this is placed his crest or in the case of the sovereigns the crest is replaced with a crown, which again is used as a form of recognition.

Crests were originally worn on top of the Knights helm (helmet) during pageants and tournaments in the thirteen and fourteenth century and are used as a form of identification.  Each carved Crest is placed upon a wreath, which is also carved from wood to represent a circle of two twisted ropes of silk each of a different colour. The purpose of the wreath was to disguise the join between the helm and the Crest.

Sculptor Ian G Brennan has been commissioned to produce all forty eight Knights of the Bath Crests since 1989 and are often carved from lime wood prior to being painted and gilded. These Knights crests vary from between 10 and 24 inches high and can take Ian between three and five weeks to complete.


Shown in Ian G Brennanís studio are four carved and painted Knights of the Bath crests, a carved coronet for a Lady of the Garter along with two Knights of the Garter Crests for Windsor Castle which Ian also has produced for over two decades.

To view all the Knight of the Bath Crests that have been created between 1989 and 2011 which were then placed in Henry VII : Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey for the Knights Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath; please click here..

The carved Crest and Royal Banner above the stall of HRH The Prince of Wales, the Great Master of the Order of the Bath



A selection of Bath Crests all carved by Ian from Lime Wood. Approximately 18 inches high


The crest for Sir Douglas Lowe in position in Henry VII Chapel



 Ian working from the coloured drawings supplied to him by the Royal College of Arms two Knights of the Bath crests which were carved from lime wood



The completed carved and painted crests for Air Chief Marshal Sir Neil Wheeler and Admiral Sir Anthony Griffin 




The crests in position upon the Knights helmets in Henry VII Chapel Westminster Abbey


Beneath the carved and painted crests the knights mantling hangs either side of the helm, which is symbolic of the cloth that would have help protected the knight in his armour from the rain or sun. The knights banner which was often carried in battle bearing his coat of arms, these arms were also often worn as a tabard over his armour which along with his crest helped to identify him.


The Knights Banners

There is also the half drawn sword which represents the fact that in theory every Knight of the Bath has his hand on his sword ready to defend the Sovereign at any time. A brightly coloured brass enamel stall-plate showing the knights full coat of arms, title and the date of appointment to the Order is attached to the back of the stall soon after the instillation service and remains there in perpetuity.        


Stall Plate of various Knights of the Bath


The installation ceremony in recent times takes place usually every four years;due to the limited number of stalls (seats) available in Henry VII Chapel only the most senior Knights Grand Cross can be installed. Nine new Knights Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (GCB) were installed at Westminster Abbey by HRH The Prince of Wales on Tuesday 25 May 2010 and took place in the Abbey's Lady Chapel - which is also the Chapel of the Order of the Bath, of which the Prince of Wales is the Great Master.

The wait between appointment to the Order and installation therefore can involve many years. Due to this fact the Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbattern of Burma and Field-Marshal Sir Gerald Templer who were both appointed in 1955 were only installed along with there Crest and Banner in 1972.

Foreign nationals may receive honorary membership of the Order and receive the insignia; however they are not eligible to use the style 'Sir'.  Two former Presidents of the United States of America have received this honour, Ronald Reagan in 1989 and George Bush Senior in 1993.

Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf both U.S. Military Generals were also appointed as honorary Knights Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II and more recently being honoured this way was the Film Director Steven Spielberg.  On February 13th in 2002 the former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani also receives this high honour and was given an honorary knighthood from the Queen. 



The Procession , Service and Instillation of the Knights of the Bath

The invited guests and family of the Knights of the Bath take up their seats inside Westminster Abbey and await the procession to commence. The first to arrive at the West door of the Abbey are The Queens Body Guard of the Yeoman of the Guard wearing their fine Tudor uniforms enter the Abbey and take up their positions.

His Royal Highness The Princes of Wales the Great Master of the Order is next to arrive at the West door and is received by the Dean and Chapter before entering the Chapel of Saint George.  A Fanfare of Trumpets is then sounded then all in the Nave stands as Her Majesty The Queen arrives at the West door and is also greeted by the Dean and Chapter before entering the Chapel of Saint George.                              

Canaletto's painting of the procession of the Knights of the Bath at Westminster Abbey (1747)

A few moments later the procession of Officers and Knights Grand Cross enters Westminster Abbey and then passes through the Nave into the Quire. The service itself begins with the Choir singing a psalm before the Dean of the Order reads the lesson. After this part of the service, all would stand as the The Sovereign and The Great Master proceed to their Stalls ( seats ) in  Henry VII Chapel and are then conducted by the Dean to their stalls. The Cannon would then move to their positions in the Chapel of the Order and the rest of the Procession including The Knights Grand Cross enter the Chapel would then proceed to the seats allotted to them.


The Instillation Ceremony        

This ancient instillation ceremony itself starts by The Bath King of Arms bowing to the Knights Grand Cross who are to be installed; he would then proceed to the Altar where he receives the Book of Statutes on a cushion from the Deputy Secretary. The Dean and senior Cannon who is holding the Bible along with Scarlet Rod proceeds to the middle of the Chapel where all four bow to the Great Master. 

The Great Master would then descend from his Stall attended by the Dean would then proceed to the Stalls of the Knights Grand Cross to be installed, after the Great Master receives from the Bath King of Arms the Book of Statutes the volume is delivered to the Senior Knights. The Dean would then administer the Oath to the Knights being installed who simultaneously repeat the words of the Oath.

The Great Master would then perform the Act of Instillation by seating the Knights in their Stalls, the Knights then bow to the Great Master and are then return to their seats. After  all the Knight Grand Cross are installed, The Great Master, Dean and the Gentleman Usher of the Scarlet Rod returns to their stalls and sit down. Bath King of Arms then proceeds to the middle of the Chapel close to the Altar bows to the Knights who then descend into the middle of the Chapel and then stand beneath their Crests and Banners.                                                                                                                                                 

The Stalls and Altar and in the Chapel of the Order of the Bath


All those in the Chapel then stand as the Sovereign would then proceed to the Altar, kneels down and makes her offering of gold and silver before returning to her Stall and sits down. The Registrar, Secretary and Genealogist wait on the newly installed Senior Knights to proceed to the Altar and in turn make their offering of gold and silver. The Knight then stands and draws their Sword, offering the Sword to the Dean who receives it and lays it upon the Altar.  The Swords are then redeemed from the Dean who restores it with the Admonition. Each newly Installed Knight then turns towards the Altar, partially draws his Sword and holds it forward with the hilt towards the Altar before replacing it in the sheath in unison with the other Senior Knights. 

The Ceremony  having now been concluded, the Procession of the Order is formed and returns the same way as it entered the Chapel. The Great Master and Sovereign passing to their Stalls in the Quire, as the Procession enters the Presbytery the Congregation stands as the Fanfare is sounded. The Congregation remains standing as the Choir sings which is then followed by a General Thanksgiving and Blessing given by the Dean.

At the conclusion of the Service  the Procession of the Order including The Great Master and Sovereign proceed down the North Isle to the West End of the Nave and then pass Eastwards again up the South Aisle to the East Cloister Door whilst Hymns are sung by the Congregation.



Henry VII Chapel, showing the location of stall plates for previous Knights Grand Cross, installed during the last few centuries



North Side  Stalls                                                                               South Side Stalls

24 Bernard Viscount Montgomery of Alamein ( 1945 )   Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton  ( 1910 )   24
23 William, Lord Birdwood ( 1923 ) Richard Fortescue Phillimore ( 1929 ) 23
22 Rufus, Earl of Reading  ( 1915 ) Lord Cochrane ( 1812 ) 22
21 Arthur, Earl ( Duke ) of Wellington ( 1803 ) David, Earl Beatty ( 1916 ) 21
20 Archibald, Viscount Waverell  ( 1941 ) Horatio, Viscount Nelson ( 1803 ) 20
19 Morton, Lord Henley ( 1803 ) Frederick Haldimand ( 1788 )  19
18 Douglas, Earl Haig ( 1915 ) Richard Harrison ( 1903 ) 18
17 Robert, Viscount Galway ( 1788 )  William Howe   ( 1779 ) 17
16 George, Lord Rodney ( 1788 ) William Hamilton ( 1772 )   16
15 Roger, Lord Keyes  ( 1930 ) Francis, Reginald Wingate ( 1914 ) 15
14 Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien  ( 1913 ) Henry Macleod Leslie Rundle ( 1911 ) 14
13 Robert, Lord Clive ( 1779 ) Richard Lord Onslow  ( 1753 )  13
12 Edward Howbart Seymour  ( 1900 ) Frederick, Earl of Cavan ( 1926 ) 12
11 Francis, Lord Southborough  ( 1916 ) Hugh, Lord Trenchard  ( 1924 ) 11
10 Edmund Robert freemantle  ( 1899 ) John ligonier ( 1744 ) 10
9 William, Lord Dudley  ( 1911 ) Harold, Viscount Alexandra of Tunis   ( 1942 ) 9
8 Arthur, Earl of Liverpool  ( 1920 ) Louis, Earl Mountbattern of Burma   ( 1955 ) 8
7 Clive. Lord Wigram   ( 1933 ) Alan, Viscount Alanbrooke   ( 1942 ) 7
6 James Hill-Johnes   ( 1893 ) Evelyn, Earl of Cromer   ( 1895 )  6
5 William Earl of Albermarle  ( 1725 ) John, Viscount Jellicoe     ( 1915 ) 5
4 Garnet, Viscount Wolsley  ( 1890 ) Ivone, Kirkpatrick  ( 1956 ) 4
3 Lord Kitchener of Khartoum  ( 1898 ) Gilbert, Lord Campion  ( 1949 )  3
2 Adolphus, Duke of Teck  ( 1911 ) Louis, Prince of Battenberg   ( 1887 ) 2

 Entrance to the Chapel of the Order



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