Founded in 1725 by George I, the Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry which usually honours officers of the Armed Services, as well as a small number of civil servants.
The title of the Order, which carries the motto Tria Juncta in uno (Three joined in one), has its origins in the late Middle Ages and stems from the ritual washing of a would-be knight as he prepared for the conferment of a knighthood.
Before they could be knighted the candidates had to undertake various rituals designed to purify their inner soul through fasting, vigils, prayer and bathing.
The Order was first mentioned in an official document in 1128 when 15-year-old Geoffrey count of Anjou was knighted, and to mark Henry V’s coronation in 1413 ‘fifty gallant young gentlemen, candidates for Knighthood of the Bath, according to custom went into the baths prepared severally for them’.
Many traditional ceremonies had started to disappear by the end of the fifteenth century, although ‘Knights of the Bath’ were still made at coronations. However, the Order was revived by George I in 1725 as a military order when then Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, needed an additional source for political rewards.
George I’s statutes stated that: ‘Whereas in case of a war in Europe we are determined that this Realm should be in a posture of defence against the attempts of our enemies, We do hereby ordain that from henceforth every Companion of the said Military Order in case of any danger of invasion from foreign enemies or from rebellion at home shall maintain at his own cost four men-at-arms for any number of days the Sovereign shall think proper.’
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 the Prince Regent, who would go on to become George IV) expanded the order and formally abolished the bathing rites, as well as vigils and fasting.
The installing of new Knights, putting them into their stalls at the Order’s spiritual home – the Lady Chapel of King Henry VII at Westminster Abbey – ended in 1847.
But it was revived again in 1913, this time by George V, in a modified form that continues today with Knights installed as a group.
The erection of stall-plates, banners and crests of the Knights was followed again. These markers hang above the stall until a Knight’s death when they are returned to his family, but a copper stall-plate enamelled with his coat of arms remains as a permanent record.
Knights may wait many years before a stall becomes vacant – Lord Mountbatten could not take up his place for 17 years.
Women were admitted to the Order in 1971, with Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester the first Dame Grand Cross.
The Order now consists of the Sovereign (The Queen), the Great Master (The Prince of Wales) and three classes of members, with statutes providing for 120 Knights and Dames Grand Cross, 295 Knights and Dames Commander and 1,455 Companions.
Source: The British Monarchy