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The Order of the Bath

    The Sovereign
    Great Master: The Prince of Wales
    Three classes with Military and Civil Divisions
    Knights or Dames Grand Cross (G.C.B)
    Knights or Dames Commanders (K.C.B.or D.C.B.)
    Companions (C.B.)

In medieval times bathing was regarded as symbolic rather than sanitary. Queen Isabella of Spain for example, is thought to have taken only one bath in her entire life, that being on the night before her wedding. Other stories tell of candidates for knighthood, who apparently 'stank so abominably', the Sovereign was quite unable to get within reach to perform the Ceremony.

This may well have led to the Order of the Bath not normally being conferred upon candidates until they had been properly prepared for their Investiture. The inner soul was purified by fasting, vigils and prayer and the body cleansed by bathing. It was a strictly Military Order which eventually fell into disuse.

King George I revived the Order in 1725 as a Military Order of Knighthood with one class and one division. In January 1815, the Prince Regent (later George IV) found it necessary to reward many distinguished Army and Naval Officers at the close of the Napoleonic Wars and enlarged membership of the Order by creating an extra Division. This was not greeted with great enthusiasm by existing members who saw the enlargement as reducing the Order's value. Some even refused to wear their insignia, except in the presence of the Sovereign.

In 1815, the opportunity was formally taken to abolish the rites of bathing, vigils and other preparations for installation to the Order, although in practice these had not been followed since the reign of Charles II. The Order became open to women in 1971.

Henry VII's Chapel in Westminster Abbey is associated with the Order and thirty-four of the most senior Knights Grand Cross are allotted stalls here. These Knights are entitled to have their Banners, Crests and Stall Plates affixed above their stalls. When a stall becomes vacant through death, it is offered to the next senior Grand Cross.

Inclusion 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 Clive, Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Field Marshal Earl Kitchener, Field Marshal Earl Haig and Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty.

Admission to the Civil Division is through personal services rendered to the Crown or the performance of public duties 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.

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