On the Order's insignia, St Michael is often depicted subduing Satan.
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is a British order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) whilst he was acting as Prince Regent for his father, George III. The Order includes three classes, in order of seniority:
Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GCMG)
Knight or Dame Commander (KCMG or DCMG)
It is used to honour individuals who have rendered important services in relation to Commonwealth or foreign nations.
The Order's motto is Auspicium melioris aevi (Latin for "Token of a better age"). Its patron saints, as the name suggests, are St Michael the Archangel and St George. One of its primary symbols is that of St Michael trampling over Satan.
The Order is the sixth-most senior in the British honours system, after The Most Noble Order of the Garter, The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick, The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, and The Most Exalted Order of the Star of India. The third of the aformentioned Orders—which relates to Ireland, no longer a part of the United Kingdom—still exists but is in disuse; no appointments have been made to it since 1934. The last of the Orders on the list, related to India, is also in disuse for similar reasons.
The Order was originally founded to commemorate the British protectorate over the Ionian Islands, which had come under British control in 1814 and had been granted its own constitution in 1817. It was intended to reward "natives of the Ionian Islands and of the island of Malta and its dependencies, and for such other subjects of his majesty as may hold high and confidential situations in the Mediterranean."
In 1864, however, the protectorate was repudiated and the Ionian Islands became a part of Greece. The Order's basis was revised in 1868; membership was granted to those who "hold high and confidential offices within Her Majesty's colonial possessions, and in reward for services rendered to the Crown in relation to the foreign affairs of the Empire."
The British Sovereign is the Sovereign of the Order and appoints all other members of the Order (by convention, on the advice of the Government). The next-most senior member is the Grand Master. The office was formerly filled by the Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands; now, however, Grand Masters are chosen by the Sovereign. The current Grand Master is HRH The Duke of Kent.
The Order originally included 15 Knights Grand Cross, 20 Knights Commanders and 25 Companions. Several expansions have been made; now, the limits are 125, 375 and 1750, respectively. Members of the Royal Family who are appointed to the Order do not count towards the limit; neither do foreigners appointed as "honorary members."
The Order has six officers: the Prelate, the Chancellor, the Secretary, the Registrar, the King of Arms and the Usher. The Order's King of Arms is not a member of the College of Arms, like many other heraldic officers. The Usher of the Order is known as the Gentleman Usher of the Blue Rod; he does not, unlike his Order of the Garter equivalent (the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod), perform any duties related to the House of Lords
Vestments and accoutrements
Members of the Order wear elaborate costumes on important occasions (such as coronations), which vary by rank:
- The mantle, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is made of Saxon blue satin lined with crimson silk. On the left side is a representation of the star (see below). The mantle is bound with two large tassels.
- The collar, worn only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross, is made of gold. It consists of depictions of crowned lions, Maltese Crosses, and the cyphers "SM" and "SG," all alternately. In the centre are two winged lions, each holding a book and seven arrows.
At less important occasions, simpler insignia are used:
- The star is an insignia used only by Knights and Dames Grand Cross and Knights and Dames Commanders. It is worn pinned to the left breast. The Knight and Dame Grand Cross' star includes seven-armed, silver-rayed 'Maltese Asterisk' (for want of a better description - see Maltese Cross), with a gold ray in between each pair of arms. The Knight and Dame Commander's star is a slightly smaller eight-pointed silver figure formed by two Maltese Crosses; it does not include any gold rays. In each case, the star bears a red cross of St George. In the centre of the star is a dark blue ring bearing the motto of the Order. Within the ring is a representation of St Michael trampling on Satan.
- The badge is the only insignia used by all members of the Order; it is suspended on a blue-crimson-blue ribbon. Knights and Dames Grand Cross wear it on a riband or sash, passing from the right shoulder to the left hip. Knights Commanders and male Companions wear the badge from a ribbon around the neck; Dames Commanders and female Companions wear it from a bow on the left shoulder. The badge is a seven-armed, white-enamelled 'Maltese Asterisk' (for want of a better description - see Maltese Cross); the obverse shows St Michael trampling on Satan, while the reverse shows St George on horseback killing a dragon, both within a dark blue ring bearing the motto of the Order.
On certain "collar days" designated by the Sovereign, members attending formal events may wear the Order's collar over their military uniform or evening wear. When collars are worn (either on collar days or on formal occasions such as coronations), the badge is suspended from the collar.
All collars which have been awarded since 1948 must be returned to the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood. The other insignia may be retained.
The original home of the Order was the Palace of St Michael and St George, the residence of the Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands and the seat of the Ionian Senate. Since 1906, the Order's chapel has been in St Paul's Cathedral in London. (The Cathedral also serves as the home of the chapel of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.) Religious services for the whole Order are held quadrennially; new Knights and Dames Grand Cross are installed at these services.
The Sovereign and the Knights and Dames Grand Cross are allotted stalls in the choir of the chapel, above which their heraldic devices are displayed. Perched on the pinnacle of a knight's stall is his helm, decorated with a mantling and topped by his crest. Under English heraldic law, women other than monarchs do not bear helms or crests; instead, the coronet appropriate to the dame's rank, if there is one, is used (see coronet). Above the crest or coronet, the stall's occupant's heraldic banner is hung, emblazoned with his or her coat of arms. At a considerably smaller scale, to the back of the stall is affixed a piece of brass (a "stall plate") displaying its occupant's name, arms and date of admission into the Order. Upon the death of a Knight, the banner, helm, mantling and crest are taken down. The stall plates, however, are not removed; rather, they remain permanently affixed somewhere about the stall, so that the stalls of the chapel are festooned with a colourful record of the Order's Knights and Dames Grand Cross since 1906.
Precedence and privileges
Members of the Order of St Michael are assigned positions in the order of precedence. Wives of male members also feature on the order of precedence, as do sons, daughters and daughters-in-law of Knights Grand Cross and Knights Commanders; relatives of female members, however, are not assigned any special precedence. (As a general rule, individuals can derive precedence from their fathers or husbands, but not from their mothers or wives.) (See order of precedence in England and Wales for the exact positions.)
Knights Grand Cross and Knights Commanders prefix "Sir," and Dames Grand Cross and Dames Commanders prefix "Dame," to their forenames. Wives of Knights may prefix "Lady" to their surnames, but no equivalent privilege exists for husbands of Dames. Such forms are not used by peers and princes, except when the names of the former are written out in their fullest forms. Furthermore, honorary members and clergymen do not use the accolade of knighthood.
Knights and Dames Grand Cross use the post-nominal "GCMG"; Knights Commanders and Dames Commanders use "KCMG" and "DCMG" respectively; Companions use "CMG." These abbreviations are sometimes interpreted satirically as (in reverse order) "Call Me God"; "Kindly Call Me God"; and "God Calls Me God." (There is no jocular equivalent for DCMG.)
Knights and Dames Grand Cross are also entitled to receive heraldic supporters. They may, furthermore, enircle their arms with a depiction of the circlet (a circle bearing the motto) and the collar; the former is shown either outside or on top of the latter. Knights and Dames Commanders and Companions may display the circlet, but not the collar, surrounding their arms. The badge is depicted suspended from the collar or circlet.
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- "Knighthood and Chivalry." (1911). Encyclopędia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
- Orans, L. P. "The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George." (http://www.pinetreeweb.com/bp-stm&stg.htm)
- Velde, F. R. (2003). "Order of Precedence in England and Wales. (http://www.heraldica.org/topics/britain/order_precedence.htm)