The Honours System
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As with so many of our institutions, the honours system is hard for British people to comprehend, let alone those from other countries. The basic premise – that those who have performed outstanding service should be honoured – is clear enough. But the order of precedence of different grades, and why certain people get honours when others do not, can be hard to grasp.
The Normans , big on hierarchy in their pyramidal feudal system, can be credited with introducing the concept here; but it was Edward III in 1348 who first formalised things by creating The Order of the Garter . Other monarchs followed suit, including Queen Victoria , Edward VII , and George I .
Honours include peerages, knighthoods, baronetcies, and various orders such as The Royal Victorian Order, and The Distinguished Service Order, plus decorations and medals. Within most orders there are different ranks, though in line with our continuing national bondage to class, that last word would suit equally well.
Inevitably money seems to play a role in the receipt of honours. James I in effect created the baronetcy to raise money, though at least it was reasonably open – each new baronet had to pay £1 per day for three years, the money used to fund 30 soldiers. Lloyd George , via his creature Maundy Gregory, openly sold honours to raise money for his Liberal Party: a knighthood would set you back £10,000, a peerage £50,000. It can only be coincidence that anyone who donated £1 million or more to the Labour party from 1997 to the June 2006 became a peer or a knight of the realm.
And then there are questions of who truly deserves an award. Today a few are decided by ‘the people’, creating ‘people’s peers’. Most are awarded by the government, though nominations come from many corners; and some are in the gift of the Queen . The monarch can bestow the most senior knighthood, that of the Order of the Garter: thus we have the strange situation where Prince William , a junior army officer of minimal experience, was in 2008 made a member of that august body; in 2004 Tim Berners-Lee , the creator of the world wide web who decided to forego any royalties from it, was given a knighthood of a lesser order, and its second rank to boot. Even more scandalously, there is the question of disgraced recipients retaining their honours: notoriously, Jeffrey Archer in spite of his perjury and prison term remains a peer.

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