Order of Merit
Order of Merit OM
This is a very exclusive Order (the Ordinary Members of which do not exceed 24 in number) instituted by King Edward VII on 23 June 1902 by letters patent, for 'exceptionally meritorious service in Our Crown Services or towards the advancement of the Arts, Learning, Literature and Science'. The Order is in the sole gift of the Sovereign. The Order has only one class, which is divided into civil and military divisions. It carries with it no special title or personal precedence.
Among present members are HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, HRH The Prince of Wales, Sir Anthony Caro, Baroness Thatcher, Dame Joan Sutherland, Lucien Freud, Sir Tom Stoppard, Baroness Boothroyd, Sir David Attenborough and Sir Timothy Berners-Lee. Nelson Mandela is an Honorary Member.
Soon after the Order's foundation Buckingham Palace decided to commission portraits of its members. The practice ceased on the outbreak of the 1914-18 War, but it was revived by The Queen in 1988. The Royal Collection holds over 70 portraits of past members, including those of Lord Kitchener, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Hardy, Edward Elgar and Henry James. To commemorate the centenary year of the Order in 2002 an exhibition of 29 portraits of members of the Order, together with badges and other historic memorabilia from the Royal Archives, was mounted at Windsor Castle. Lucian Freud presented his self-portrait etching to The Queen.
The Badge of the Order consists of a cross of red and blue enamel of eight points, having the words 'For Merit' in gold letters within a laurel wreath on a blue enamel centre, surmounted by the Imperial Crown. The badge given for military service has two silver swords with gold hilts placed saltire-wise (in the form of an X) between the angles of the cross.
The badge of the Order is always worn round the neck by gentlemen. Ladies wear the badge on a bow on the left side, except with coats of military pattern when the badge is worn as for a man.