Page last updated at 00:55 GMT, Saturday, 12 June 2010 01:55 UK

Guide to the Honours

Amy Williams
Amy Williams was among the recipients on the 2010 Birthday list

British honours are awarded on merit, for exceptional achievement or service.

Anybody can recommend a British national for an honour, which consist of life peerages, knighthoods, appointments to the Order of the British Empire and gallantry awards to servicemen and women and civilians.

Nominations, submitted either by government departments or by members of the public, are divided into subject areas and assessed by committees comprising independent experts and senior civil servants.

Their assessments are passed to a selection committee that produces the list, independently of government, that is submitted to the Queen through the prime minister.

The Queen informally approves the list and letters are sent to each nominee. Once a nominee accepts the proposed honour, the list is formally approved.

The honours are published in the official Crown newspaper, the London Gazette.

Private nominations, made by individuals or by representatives of organisations to the Cabinet Office, traditionally make up about a quarter of all recommendations.

Honorary awards for foreign nationals are recommended by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Orders for chivalry are made after a personal decision by the Queen.

Life Peers

Life peerages are the only form of peerages regularly created by the Sovereign.

A life peer becomes a baron and sits in the House of Lords on conferment of peerage.

These are titles which they hold only during their lifetime and are not passed to their heirs.

Knights Bachelor

The honour of knighthood comes from the days of medieval chivalry, as does the method used to confer the knighthood: the accolade, or the touch of a sword by the Sovereign.

Although Knights Bachelor do not comprise an order of chivalry, knighthood is a dignity which has its origins in Britain in Saxon times. They are styled "Sir" (except for clergymen who do not receive the accolade) and their wives "Lady".

Women receiving the honour are styled "Dame" but do not receive the accolade.

The Order of the Bath

The Order of the Bath is an order of chivalry and was founded in 1725 for service of the highest calibre. The order has a civil and military division and is awarded in the following ranks: Knight Grand Cross (GCB), Knight Commander (KCB) and Companion (CB).

The Order takes its name from the symbolic bathing which in former times was often part of the preparation of a candidate for knighthood.

Order of St Michael and St George

This Order was founded by King George III in 1818 and is awarded to British subjects who have rendered extraordinary and important services abroad or in the Commonwealth. Ranks in the Order are Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GCMG), Knight or Dame Commander (KCMG or DCMG) and Companion (CMG).

Order of the Companions Honour

This is awarded for service of conspicuous national importance and is limited to 65 people. Recipients wear the initials CH after their name.

Orders of the British Empire

King George V in 1917 created these honours during World War 1 to reward services to the war effort by civilians at home and servicemen in support positions.

The orders are now awarded mainly to civilians and service personnel for public service or other distinctions and has a military and a civil division. Ranks in the Order are Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GBE), Knight or Dame Commander (KBE or DBE), Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE) and Member (MBE).

Royal Victorian Order

By 1896, prime ministers and governments had increased their influence over the distribution of awards and had gained almost total control of the system. Therefore, Queen Victoria instituted The Royal Victorian Order as a personal award for services performed on her behalf.

Today this honour is still awarded in recognition of services to the royal family. The ranks are Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GCVO), Knight or Dame Commander (KCVO or DCVO), Commander (CVO), Lieutenant (LVO) and Member (MVO).

Royal Victorian Medal

Associated with the Royal Victorian Order is the Royal Victorian Medal which has three grades: gold, silver and bronze. The circular medal is attached to the ribbon of the Order.

More than one grade may be held by the same person and the medal may be worn along with the insignia of the Order itself.

Royal Red Cross

Founded in 1883 by Queen Victoria, The award is confined to the Nursing Services. Those awarded the First Class are designated "Members" (RRC): those awarded the Second Class are designated "Associates" (ARRC).

It is said that the suggestion for the founding of this decoration was made to Queen Victoria by Miss Florence Nightingale.

Queen's Police Medal

This is awarded for distinguished service to the police force.

Queen's Fire Service Medal

This honour is given to firefighters who have displayed conspicuous devotion to duty.



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