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The View from the East End (80)

By Inspector Hopkins

December 16, 2007

British Honours

by Inspector Hopkins
At the beginning of The Three Garridebs, Watson stated that the reason he remembered the date of that case so well was because “it was in the same month that Holmes refused a knighthood”. As a newer Sherlockian, I wondered what a knighthood was all about, and why Holmes would have turned it down.

So . . . what IS a “knighthood”, anyway?
Searching around on the Web can give some background on this topic, and Wikipedia happened to have an abundance of information. Using their website, I decided to learn a little more about the British peerage and their system of chivalry. Although this can get quite complicated, here’s a simplified summary of what I found out:
A “Knight” brings to mind the professional soldier of the Middle Ages complete with armour and heavy broadsword, and “jousting” upon a white horse, and all that sort of thing. That is actually how it began. But as time passed, knighthood gradually evolved into a social position of gentility, meaning the class of people who owned land. This class of people was below nobility, but above the common person. Knighthood finally evolved into a symbolic title of honour, and is contained within the British system of Honours.
Within this system, there are ten “Orders” of chivalry with the oldest dating back as far as 1348. Each order has a name, the date in which it was founded, the Sovereign (king or queen) who founded it, coat of arms, motto, etc.  Next, within each of these orders are various classes ranging from the lowest “Member” to the highest “Knight”. Further, each of these classes has an abbreviation made up of all capital letters, which the honoured person can append to their name.  For example, within the Order of the British Empire (abbreviated BE), the classes are Member, Officer, Commander, Knight Commander, and Knight Grand Cross. These are abbreviated as MBE, OBE, CBE, KBE, and GBE respectively. Women are “Dames” and men are “Knights”. Thus, if the membership in one of the top two classes is conferred on a woman, she isknown as either a Dame Grand Cross (GBE) or a Dame Commander (DBE).  Finally, only these top two Knight classes are entitled to use the “Sir” or “Dame” prefix with their names, and even then only under certain circumstances.
The Sovereign can appoint someone to a particular Order of chivalry for various reasons. They can include superior military service, personal service for the Sovereign, heroism, and so forth. In modern times, a governmental committee may recommend candidates for chivalry, subject to the approval of the Sovereign.  Besides Orders, honours can consist of Decorations and Medals as well, and some Orders do not confer a knighthood on the honoured person. Finally, even as in Sherlock Holmes’s time, some honours are awarded based solely at the discretion of the Sovereign.
According to the on-line encyclopedia, here is a summary of the British orders of chivalry:

1)    Order of the Garter, est. 1348 by King Edward III
2)    Order of the Thistle, est. 1687 by King James VII
3)    Order of the Bath, est. May 18, 1725 by King George I
4)    Order of St. Michael & St. George, est. Apr 28, 1818 by the Prince of Wales
5)    Distinguished Service Order, est. Sept 6, 1886 by Queen Victoria
6)    Royal Victorian Order, est. Apr 21, 1896 by Queen Victoria
7)    Order of Merit, est. 1902 by King Edward VII
8)    Imperial Service Order, est. Aug 1902 by King Edward VII
9)    Order of the British Empire, est. June 4, 1917 by King George V
10) Companions of Honour, est. June 1917 by King George V

Next time, based upon the above ideas, let’s see if we can deduce which knighthood Holmes might have been offered.
Until then, and thanking you for your attention, I remain as always,
Yours Faithfully,