The Order of Merit: A Guide to the Prestigious Award

by | Apr 6, 2024 | Aristocracy, Nobility, Noble Titles, Royal Titles

One of the enduring connections between monarchies and their subjects is the recognition of great or worthy achievements. 

The entire system of the aristocracy was built on the practice of kings and queens choosing to honour and elevate certain individuals. 

The titles of aristocracy and nobility that we know today – ranks such as Duke and Duchess, Count and Countess, Lord and Lady etc – were originally created and designated to those who showed outstanding service or merit towards their sovereign or their country. 

Throughout modern history, this practice of recognising worthy achievements has continued and still thrives today, all around the world. 

One of the popular options for modern monarchs is to grant honours and memberships to exclusive groups, and one that has endured in many countries is the Order of Merit. 

What Is The Order Of Merit? 

The Order of Merit is an award of recognition, usually granted by a monarch or sovereign. 

The Order of Merit is a popular honour that’s offered by many countries around the world. Although it has its roots in the ancient Orders of Knights that were common during medieval times, it’s still considered a thriving and contemporary award in modern society. 

Historically, the Order of Merit awards were granted by kings and queens, in the rich tradition of royal rulers honouring their most loyal or outstanding subjects. 

King Edward VII, founder of the Order of Merit

King Edward VII, founder of the Order of Merit – W. & D. Downey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

However, some countries that no longer have an official monarchy still have an Order of Merit, and the honours are conferred on the individuals on behalf of the state rather than a king or queen. 

The Order Of Merit (Commonwealth) 

One of the most well-known Orders of Merit is the one established by the British king, Edward VII at the turn of the 20th century. 

Known as the Commonwealth Order of Merit, this exclusive order follows the pattern of many honourary systems and awards around the world. It has its roots in the recognition of notable service within the military – many monarchs follow a great tradition of rewarding valiant efforts in the armed services. 

The Commonwealth Order of Merit also recognises and rewards civilian individuals who have performed outstanding works or made significant contributions in the fields of science, culture and the arts. 

It’s been dubbed ‘the most exclusive club in the world‘, as there’s a limit to 24 living members. Unlike the New Year’s Honours List which adds new members to its number every year, The Order of Merit is a much smaller and more exclusive collection of noteworthy individuals. 

Membership of the Order of Merit doesn’t involve a new noble rank or title, such as the Sir or Dame stylings that are granted alongside a knighthood or damehood. 

However, members are entitled to add the relevant letters to their name, similar to other royal honours, and in this case, the styling O.M. is added after the surname. 

Florence Nightingale – The First Female Member

As an indication of the calibre of individuals singled out as candidates for the Order of Merit, the first female member awarded the honour was Florence Nightingale, widely regarded as the founder of modern nursing. 

She was granted membership in 1907, just five years after the Order was founded, in honour of the intentions of his parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who were keen to recognise and award the works of notable citizens. 

Since Florence Nightingale’s admission to the Order of Merit, a number of other females have also received the honour. 

Currently, four of the twenty-four places within the order are held by women. These are; Oxford professor and historian Margaret MacMillan, Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, a nurse and professor of nursing, Baroness Benjamin, a TV presenter and social reform ambassador, and Dame Ann Dowling, a professor and mechanical engineer. 

Famous Members Of The Order Of Merit

The Order of Merit is limited to twenty-four living members, although noteworthy individuals from other countries are sometimes granted honorary membership. 

While the list of members changes less frequently than some of the more high profile honours systems, and there’s a considerable proportion of political members and aristocrats, there are also a few household names that many people may recognise. 

David Attenborough

The popular broadcaster received the Order of Merit in recognition of his many decades of work in television exploring natural history and the global environment. 

David Hockney

One of the most popular and at times controversial artists of the 20th century, David Hockney received the Order of Merit in recognition of his services to art and culture. 

Sir James Dyson

The famous inventor of one of the world’s most pioneering home appliances – the Dyson vacuum cleaner – Sir James Dyson has received numerous awards for his many inventions and his services to science and industry, as well as his philanthropic works. 

Floella Benjamin

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Floella Benjamin became a household name as a popular presenter in the TV programme Play School. Her admission to the Order of Merit is just one of her notable achievements, which include an OBE and DBE for her charitable works. She has also been nominated as a life peer in the House of Lords.  

Betty Boothroyd

As the pioneering first female Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd was honoured for her life’s work in politics with an Order of Merit, along with a range of other honours and awards. 

Tom Stoppard

The playwright and screenwriter received the award in recognition of his life’s work in the field of literature and media. Tom Stoppard is best known for his work in plays, film and television, including Empire of the Sun, Shakespeare In Love, Parade’s End and Anna Karenina.

The kind of individuals who devote their lives to the support of the common good or to services that enrich the community also tend to be quiet and unassuming types who don’t promote their great deeds and worthy works. 

This is why awards such as the Order of Merit are still valuable in the modern world. When a king or queen grants special honours to certain people, the world tends to take notice, and the media attention can serve as an incentive and inspiration for others to devote their lives to similar great works or worthwhile causes.

If learning about this prestigious award has made you curious about acquiring a prestigious Noble Title of your own get in touch using the enquiry form in the sidebar or you can contact our Geneva office directly between 10.00-19.00, Monday to Friday on +41 225 181 360.

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