Thursday, 6 December 2012

Royal Family Orders

Princess Alice of Teck (later Countess of Althone), 1911.  A Lady of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert and member of the Royal Family Orders of Edward VII, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II
One of the most attractive and exclusive distinctions awarded by the British Crown are the Royal Family Orders bestowed on the ladies of the royal household.

Many references state that these orders were established by George IV in 1820. This is not quite true.  George did establish a personal order, but his successor William IV did not have one and Queen Victoria did not establish one until thirty years into her reign.  It was not until 1902 and the succession of Edward VII that the orders as we now understand them (established on the accession of each monarch) begain.

The order is the personal gift of the monarch.  The award is not gazetted and no public announcement of the gift is made.  There are therefore no lists of members, other than those made by spotting recipients wearing them at formal state events.

George IV

George IV: Obverse

Victoria wearing the family order of George IV, c.1826
The order was instituted by George IV in 1820.  It consisted of a miniature portrait surrounded by a frame  of diamond oak leaves and acorns surmounted by a crown.  It was worn from a bow of sky blue moire ribbon.

Among others, George conferred the order on his sister, Princess Charlotte Augusta, wife of Frederick William, King of Wurtlemberg, and his neices Princess Augusta Caroline, who married the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and Princess Victoria of Kent (later Queen Victoria).

The Royal Order of Victoria and Albert

Queen Victoria's badge had Prince Albert in front

Badge of the 1st Class
The Royal Order of Victoria and Albert was instituted by Queen Victoria in as award to commemorate Prince Albert.  It had its origins in a gift of a cameo jewel given to mark the confirmation of Victoria and Albert's eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, the Princess Royal, in 1856.  This gift was repeated upon the occasion of Princess Alice’s confirmation three years later. It is possible that the design of the badges was the Prince’s, though based on the joint portrait by William Wyon made for the Great Exhibition in 1851.  The gift for Princess Helena’s confirmation was ordered before her father’s death.  It was given to the Princess by her mother, who wrote in her journal:
When we got back we went to dear Albert’s room, where I gave Lenchen our presents. Amongst others she got our Order which I have established as a Family Order called the 'Victoria & Albert'.

Badge of the Order of Victoria and Albert (Third Class)
Badge of the 3rd Class
The date given for the establishment of the order was 10 February 1861, the twenty-second anniversary of Victoria and Albert's wedding.  A second class was added in 1864, and the Order was extended to four classes in March 1880, but limited to the Sovereign and forty-five ladies. The first two classes were reserved for Royal Ladies - the second class being specifically for those of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters who were not British princesses, the third class for the Mistress of the Robes and Ladies of the Bedchamber, and the fourth class for Women of the Bedchamber.

Badge of the 4th Class
The badge is an oval onyx cameo bearing a conjoined portrait of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  The badges of the first and second class were set in diamonds and surmounted by an imperial crown set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds , the badge of the second class being the smaller of the two.  The badge of the third class was set in pearls and that of the fourth class was a monogram 'V & A' set with pearls and surmounted by an imperial crown (this should not be confused with the insignia of the Order of the Crown of India, which is a monogram 'VRI').  The badge was worn from a bow of white moire ribbon.

A list of some members of the order can be found here.

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, the last surviving member of the first class, died in 1962, and the last surviving member was Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, who died in 1981.  The order is still technically extant, Queen Elizabeth being the sovereign of the order, but no awards have been made since the death of Queen Victoria.

Edward VII and Queen Alexandra
 Edward VII: Obverse

Edward VII instituted a family order before his coronation in 1902.

The badge consisted of a portrait of the king in Field Marshal's uniform with Garter sash and Bath badge with a oak and acorn wreath of diamonds. It was suspended from a ribbon bow of dark blue bordered by narrow stripes of yellow and broader stripes of crimson with narrow black edges.

A picture of the badge awarded the Edward's daughter Princess Victoria can be seen here (with a nifty zoom in facility). 

Queen Alexandra
Known recipients are:-
  • Queen Alexandra
  • Queen Maud of Norway
  • The Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary)
  • Princess Louise, Princess Royal, Duchess of Fife
  • Princess Victoria
  • Princess Helena
  • Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll
  • Princess Beatrice
  • Duchess of Albany
  • Princess Alice of Albany (Countess of Althone)
  • Princess Alexandra of Fife (Duchess of Fife)
  • Princess Maud of Fife
Queen Alexandra also established a family order, consisting of a miniature of Edward VII and Alexandra set in an oval frame of pearls and diamond crosses patées hung from a red and white ribbon.

Princess Victoria's badge of Queen Alexandra's order can be seen here.

George V

George V: Obverse

Established in 1911.
Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood, by Anthony Buckley, 1961 - NPG  - © estate of Kenneth Hughes / National Portrait Gallery, London
Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood

Known recipients are:-
  • Queen Mary
  • The Duchess of York (Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother)
  • Princess Elizabeth of York (Queen Elizabeth II)
  • Princess Margaret of York (Countess of Snowdon)
  • Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester
  • Princess Marina. Duchess of Kent
  • Princess Mary (Princess Royal, Countess of Harewood)
  • Princess Louise (Princess Royal, Duchess of Fife)
  • Princess Alexander of Teck (Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone)
  • Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein
  • Princess Louise (Duchess of Argyll)
  • Princess Henry of Battenburg
The current Queen, who was made a member of the order to mark the 1935 Silver Jubilee, is the last surviving member of George VI's Family Order.

Edward VII

Edward did not establish a royal family order.

George VI

George VI: Obverse

Established 1937.
Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent

Known recipients are:-

  • Queen Mary
  • Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother)
  • Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II)
  • Princess Margaret (Countess of Snowdon)
  • Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester
  • Princess Marina. Duchess of Kent
  • Princess Mary (Princess Royal, Countess of Harewood)
  • Princess Alice (Countess of Athlone)
  • Princess Alexandra (Lady Ogilvy)
The Queen and Princess Alexandra are the only surviving members of the order.

Elizabeth II

Elizabeth II: Obverse

Established 1953.

Known members are:-
Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
  • Queen Mary
  • Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
  • Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood
  • Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone
  • Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester
  • Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent
  • Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
  • Diana, Princess of Wales
  • Mary, Duchess of Devonshire
Current Members
There may be other, as yet unidentified members of Queen Elizabeth's Royal Family Order.  It is to be expected that her grand-daughters, Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice and Zara Phillips are members, but this is not known.  The Duchess of Cambridge would be expected to become a member in due course, if she is not one already.

Mistress of the Robes Badges

Evelyn Emily Mary Cavendish (née Petty-Fitzmaurice), Duchess of Devonshire
Duchess of Devonshire wearing the badge of the Mistress of the Robes (top)
These can be mistaken for badges of royal family orders, but show the Queen Consort rather than the Monarch.  They were established by Queen Alexandra (her badge differed from her ladies' order by having a portrait of her alone).

Those who have been Mistress of the Robes for the present queen (Mary, Duchess of Devonshire and Fortune, Duchess of Grafton) have been members of the royal family order.

Other ladies-in-waiting have had badges consisting of the jewelled letter 'E' within an oval frame, worn on a pink silk ribbon.

Other Royal Families

The Royal Families of other countries also have personal family orders.  For an excellently illustrated discussion of these, see the Royal Order of Splendour page.


  1. Under Edward VII and Queen Alexandra section the picture you have attributed as "Queen Maud" is rather Queen Alexandra herself, I believe.

    1. Yes, you're quite right. An embarrassing mistake that I'll correct.


  2. I saw a portrait in an antique shop of a lady temp 1830s wearing a monogram in diamonds suspended on a blue ribbon. Artist unknown. Sitter u identified. The monogram appears to resemble that of Queen Adelide. I theorize that it is the badge of the Mistress of the Robes of Queen Adelaide, consort of William IV. That would point to the sitter being that of the then Duchess of Leeds, the only lady to help the post during William's reign. How can I confirm this? I need to see a portrait of the duchess, which I have not found on the Internet. I'd like to ascertain that the duchess wore such a badge. The portrait is very fine, because the painter is unknown the price is modest.

    1. That would be Charlotte, wife of the 7th Duke?

      There's a portrait at,_6th_Duke_of_Leeds#/media/File:Charlotte_Townshend_(1776-1856),_by_Anne_Mee_nee_Foldsone.jpg

  3. Sorry for the typos. "Sitter unidentified." "That would point to the sitter being the then Duchess of Leeds... The only lady to hold the post.."


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