Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Royal Focus: Royal Family Order

Since the reign of King George IV, most sovereigns have created a form of royal family order for members of the royal family, usually female, to wear on formal occasions. Two monarchs who did not create orders (as we know them today) are William IV and Edward VIII. Edward abdicated before he could do so and William IV's order consisted of two square crowned buckles with the ciphers of him and his consort, Queen Adelaide.

William IV & Queen Adelaide Family Order
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

The order as we know it today features a portrait of the sovereign surrounded by diamonds and suspended from a silk bow which changes color upon each new reign. Some versions vary in size depending on the recipient. For instance, King Edward VII gave his wife Queen Alexandra a larger and more elaborate version of his order. Lesser versions of these orders exist for Mistresses of Robes and Ladies-in-waiting.

Orders are normally worn with evening dress, and if more than one order is worn, they are layered with the more recent order is at the top. They are usually pinned to the left shoulder but there have been some exceptions to this. In C.R. Leslie's painting, The Christening of Victoria, The Princess Royal, Queen Adelaide, the Duchess of Kent and the Duchess of Gloucester can be seen wearing the George IV order on their right shoulder.  In the past, family orders have been worn by royal brides (Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary and Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent), funerals, coronations, day-time events and State Openings of Parliament. Since King George IV's time, the appearance of the order has changed and evolved:

Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

King George IV regarded his order as a personal memento rather than a state decoration. His order is made of gold and silver and features diamond frame of oak leaves and acorns. The King is depicted in his Field Marshal's uniform, Golden Fleece, stars of Garter, Holy Spirit, Black Eagle and St Andrew on a dark background with a white, fringed bow.

Sovereign's badge of the Order of Victoria & Albert
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Unlike King George IV, Queen Victoria did not create an royal family order. Instead, she created her own Victoria and Albert order. The order began as a family token given to her elder daughters at their confirmations. However, after Prince Albert's death, as a way to honor his memory, Victoria established the order on February 10, 1862, her twenty-second wedding anniversary.

Unlike other sovereign family orders, both the Queen and Prince Albert appear on the cameo badge. The badge is made of white on brown onyx, silver gilt, enamel, diamonds, rubies and emeralds on a white silk ribbon. The Queen's own badge features Prince Albert's head above her own. For recipients, the Queen's head is in front of Prince Albert's.

The order was divided into four classes and was granted to the Queen's daughters, daughters-in-law, grand-daughters who were British princesses and other European Queens. Classes were in a descending order for members of the Royal Family and Royal Household and the design varied depending on the Class. The second class featured a shell cameo instead of stone and set with pearls rather than diamonds. The First Class order was given to her daughter in law, Princess Alexandra (future Queen Alexandra), the day before her 1863 wedding and she wore it on her wedding dress the following day. Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (later Queen Mary) also wore the Victoria and Albert badge, along with the Order of the Crown of India, on her wedding day in 1893.

 Although there was no official register, a list of known recipients by class is here. The last holder of this order, Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria, died in 1981.

King Edward VII Family Order
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

King Edward VII's family order was maintained as an informal family gift rather than an official order. It depicts the King wearing a Field Marshal's uniform with Garter sash and Bath badge on a brown background. The badge is suspended on a blue, yellow and red striped ribbon - the King's racing colors. His portrait is painted on enamel and this is the form it the badge has taken ever since. Queen Alexandra, his daughter's, daughter-in-law and his sisters were amongst the recipients.

Order of Queen Alexandra
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

His wife, Queen Alexandra had her own unofficial order given to family members and those in her service. The design of the badge is inspired by a miniature portrait of King Christian IX and Queen Louise given out to mark their Silver Wedding anniversary. Like Alexandra's, it is set in an oval frame of pearls and diamond crosses set with diamond chips and suspended from a red and white bow. Alexandra's own version (above) has Edward VII in Field Marshal's uniform with Garter sash and ribbons in front of Queen Alexandra who wears a white dress, pearl choker and crown. Alexandra's Danish heritage is also reflected in the red and white ribbon; the colors of the Danish flag.

In the image above, the Queen wears the orders of her father, King George VI and her grandfather, King George V. The King George V order was established in 1911 and came in four sizes, the largest for Queen Mary and smaller badges for his sisters, aunts, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. The King is wearing the uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet and he wears the Star and Riband of the Garter and the Royal Victorian Chain. His miniature is surrounded by brilliant cut diamonds and surmounted by a diamond imperial crown, which has a crimson enameled cap of maintenance. The pale blue silk ribbon is the same color as King George IV's. The Queen is the only surviving recipient of King George V's family order.

The King George VI family order was established in 1937. Like his father, the King wears the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, the Star and Riband of the Garter and the Royal Victorian Chain. King George VI's riband color is pale pink. The Queen and Princess Alexandra (received in 1951) are the only surviving recipients of this order.

Queen Elizabeth II's family order was established in 1952 and given to several royal ladies on Christmas day of that year. Her miniature portrait is based on a photograph by Dorothy Wilding and bordered by baguette and brilliant cut diamonds and surmounted by a Tudor Crown in diamonds on a red enamel cushion. Her riband bow is chartreuse yellow. The Queen is wearing the King George IV State Diadem and the Star and Riband of the Garter. The jewels she is wearing are the Nizam of Hyderabad diamond necklace and her diamond and pearl drop earrings; a wedding gift from the Sheikh of Bahrain. The Queen never wears her own order. The queen has lesser versions of her order, given to her Mistress of the Robes and Ladies-in-waiting.

Given at the discretion of the sovereign, there is no specific timeline for when a royal lady receives the royal family order, nor is it automatic for those marrying into the royal family. There is also no specific age for recipients and even children have received it. In 1826, at the age of seven, Princess Victoria, (future Queen Victoria), received the order from her uncle, George IV. The present Queen received the orders of her grandfather, King George V and her father, King George VI as a child and can be seen wearing them at her parent's coronation in 1937.

Princess Anne received her mother's order in 1969, the Duchess of Gloucester in 1973, Katharine, the Duchess of Kent, reportedly not long after her marriage in 1961 and Sophie Wessex in 2004 (five years after her marriage). Despite marrying the Queen's (reportedly) favorite son, Sarah Ferguson never received the order nor has Princess Michael of Kent.

As it is never announced in advance, it is difficult to know exactly when an order is given. Therefore, we have to go by when it was worn in public for the first time. Despite being a senior royal, Diana did not wear a royal order when she attended her first or second State Opening of Parliament in November 4th, 1981 and November 3rd, 1982 respectively. Diana wore the order a few weeks later, for the first time on November 18, 1982 (16 months after her marriage) at a banquet honoring Queen Beatrix at Hampton Court palace.

Camilla Parker Bowles married Prince Charles in April 2005 and attended her first state banquet in October of the same year. She is not wearing the order at that event, instead she wore something more striking, the Delhi Durbar tiara. She reportedly received the order two years after her marriage and can be seen wearing it in October 2007. This was widely interpreted as a visible sign of acceptance by the Queen.

At present, there is speculation about whether Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge has received the order. Rumors abounded that she would wear it at the October 2015 banquet to mark the Chinese State visit but this turned out to be false. Should Catherine wear it in the near future, it will likely provoke some deeper scrutiny by the media and royal watching community, with various possible interpretations. Could Catherine having the order be seen as a sign of approval and support of the current status quo of her not being a full-time royal? Or could it be the Queen's form of a 'nudge' to finally step up to the plate? We will only learn when we see her in public wearing it.

© Marilyn Braun 2016

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.


Royal Orders by Hugo Vickers
Royal Insignia in The Royal Collection
The Royal Encyclopedia
The official website of the British Monarchy
The Royal Collection Website
The Queen's Jewels
Project Gutenberg
Victoria & Albert in Love
Five Gold Rings: A Royal Wedding Souvenir Album