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Orders of Chivalry

Orders of Chivalry evolved from Holy Orders, a fraternity of monks or friars who observed an accepted code of conduct in the monasteries of the medieval Catholic Church. The military direction to these orders developed when the crusaders took up arms to defend the Christian faith.

In the 14th century, English Kings began to assume power from the Roman Church and as part of this process instituted their own Orders and appointed themselves Grand Masters. Members were selected from the ranks of those of noble birth who undertook to lead blameless lives, support charity and promote the power and prestige of the King.

Gradually the significance of Orders changed from appointment and dedication to a code, to that of a reward for services. As symbols of membership, participants were presented with insignia in the form of gold chains, badges, medallions and weapons. The highest awards often included a title, the right to bear a coat of arms, and gifts of land endowing the holder with rank and status in society.

The religious alliance has remained strong and each Order has its own Chapel of Dedication. Today's premier Order, The Most Noble Order of the Garter, was founded by Edward III in 1348 when the King created a band of 25 knights from amongst his close friends and commanders. Saint George was chosen as the patron saint and a new chapel built for the Order at Windsor. Garter Knights passing through the town were obliged to attend Mass there. Saint George's Chapel, Windsor is still the centre of ceremonies associated with the Order of the Garter.

King Richard II (1377-99) and his cousin Henry IV (1399- 1413) promoted the use of chains to be worn round the neck as tokens of royal favour. These represented pledges of loyalty to the kings and are still an essential part of insignia.

As dynasties changed in the struggle for power and monarchs and great families fell from favour, new sovereigns often abolished titles and awards conferred by their predecessors and created new orders of their own. Those which fell into disuse were sometimes revived. The Order of the Bath, which is believed to have been instituted in 1399, was established in its modern form by George I as a military order of knighthood. James II restored The Order of the Thistle in 1687; it subsequently fell into disuse during the reign of William and Mary. Queen Anne revived it in 1703.

Others became obsolete through changing circumstances. Notable examples are the Order of Saint Patrick (instituted in 1783 as a gesture of goodwill towards Ireland), the Order of the Indian Empire which ceased to be given following India's independence in 1947 and the British Empire Medal which is no longer awarded in the United Kingdom. While some orders have a long history others, such as The Order of the British Empire, are modern in conception.

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