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Duchess Kate: A Royal Family Order for the Duchess?

Good evening, dear readers,

To round off the weekend we’re discussing a topic familiar to many of our readers and perhaps something new for others – Royal Family Orders. A Mail on Sunday article reports1 Her Majesty is planning to give the Duchess of Cambridge the Royal Family Order of Elizabeth II – the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a female member of the Royal family.

More from the article:

‘The Queen plans to celebrate her milestone next month when she becomes the longest-reigning Monarch by honouring the Duchess of Cambridge. Kate will receive the Royal Family Order of Queen Elizabeth II.

The 33-year-old Duchess is the only senior member not to wear a family honour.

A source said: It is an honour reserved for first division female Royals. Sophie Wessex has one, as does the Duchess of Cornwall and Princess Anne. Kate is expected to wear hers to a State dinner when the Chinese president Xi Jinping visits the UK in October.’

This is an interesting story indeed, because traditionally there is no formal Palace announcement regarding this honour.

The media and public tend to only become aware a royal has been given one when they are photographed wearing it. It is possible a Mail Online journalist has obtained an exclusive on this, however, I’m more inclined to think there’s an expectation Kate will be wearing the honour (and a tiara) at the state banquet in October.
It’s important to note a number of our knowledgeable readers mentioned the possibility of the Duchess debuting the order at the banquet once rumours began to circulate the Cambridges would be in attendance.

Let’s take at look the history of the order, along with recipients and occasions when it is worn. A Royal Family Order is an order awarded by the Sovereign of the United Kingdom to female members of the Royal family as they typically do not wear the commemorative medals as men do.

The order is a personal memento rather than a state decoration. The badge of the order consists of a portrait of the Sovereign set in diamonds, which is suspended from a ribbon. The ribbon of each Royal Family Order changes with each monarch.

Royal Family Orders originated in Britain during George IV’s reign.

His order was rather ornate in appearance, and the frame that surrounded his portrait was of diamond oak leaves and acorns. The badge was suspended from a white silk bow. Below we see an image of the order which originally belonged to George IV’s sister Charlotte, Queen of W rttemberg, circa 1820 – 1830.

Charlotte willed it to Princess Victoria, later Queen Victoria, who left it to the Crown.
After George IV, each succeeding sovereign with the exception of William IV and Edward VIII, has issued their own Royal Family Order. A slight variation came with the reign of Queen Victoria. When Victoria came to the throne the order was not issued until after her marriage.

In 1862 she created the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert. It consisted of a cameo portrait of Victoria and Albert; no other Royal Family Order has depicted both the sovereign and their consort since. Theoretically speaking Charles could choose to depict Camilla in his, or William could choose to depict Kate.
More than one Royal Family Order can be worn.

In this case, they are worn layered with the most recent on top. For example, the Queen wears the Family Orders of her father King George VI which features a rose pink sash, and her grandfather King George V, a pale blue sash.
The Royal Family Orders are worn pinned to the left shoulder at formal evening occasions when other orders and decorations are worn. If a sash is worn also over the left shoulder, the order is often pinned to the sash.

Below we Her Majesty wearing them for a state banquet for the President of Singapore at Buckingham Palace.
A stunning image of the Queen decked out in full regalia and Royal Family Orders actually graces the cover of Hello! Canada at present.
For Her Majesty’s Royal Family Order she chose a Dorothy Wilding portrait from 1952.
Does the Queen’s dazzling necklace look familiar? You may recall she loaned it to the Duchess for The Portrait Gala in February 20142.

The Nizam of Hyderabad Necklace was given to Her Majesty in 1947 by the Nizam, then ruler of a state in India.
The Queen is depicted wearing the George IV State Diadem, ribbon and star of the Order of the Garter. It is set in a diamond frame topped by a Tudor crown and set on a chartreuse yellow silk ribbon bow. Her cypher adorns the reverse side.
Below we see the late Queen Mother wearing the Royal Family Orders of her daughter Elizabeth II and husband King George VI.

The Queen’s choice of a yellow ribbon is a striking one; it very much stands out in photographs and portraits.

According to Wikipedia, the Queen has awarded the Order to the following recipients:

  • Queen Mary, wife of King George V and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI and mother of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, sister of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Diana, Princess of Wales, daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood, aunt of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, aunt of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, aunt of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, first cousin twice removed and grandaunt of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Princess Anne, Princess Royal, daughter of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Sophie, Countess of Wessex, daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy, cousin of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Birgitte, Duchess of Gloucester, cousin-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Katharine, Duchess of Kent, cousin-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II

When and how does the Queen decide to award the honour? As it is given at HM’s pleasure we will never specifically know the criteria. It would seem it is awarded to senior members of the Royal family who undertake royal engagements.

The late Diana, Princess of Wales received hers quite early on – reportedly within a year of her marriage. She wore it several times during the royal tour of Australia in 1983. The Earl and Countess of Wessex regularly represent the Queen at royal weddings across Europe, meaning we see Sophie wearing hers with some frequency.

The Countess received the Order in 2004, roughly five years after her wedding. The Duchess of Cornwall was first seen wearing hers in 2007 two years after her wedding to Charles and has sported it on many state occasions since. Below we see her wearing it at the State Opening of Parliament in May.
Interestingly, the Queen never awarded the honour to Sarah, Duchess of York.

None of her granddaughters have been given it either. Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie carry out engagements occasionally, however, neither are working royals and Zara Tindall doesn’t have a title or carry out engagements on behalf of Her Majesty.

Is it possible Kate has had the order for some time now? The only function William and Kate have attended since the royal wedding where the order would have been worn was the Annual Diplomatic Reception in December 2013, but the Duchess didn’t have it then.

It may have been given to her any time since, but it’s also possible she doesn’t have it yet.

I’m inclined to think there’s a very good chance we’ll see it at the state banquet. It’s yet to be confirmed, but it certainly looks most likely William and Kate will be in attendance. If so, it will be the most regal event, sartorially speaking, Kate has attended.

Gown, tiara, jewels, Royal Family Order…

It should be one to remember!


  1. ^ Mail on Sunday article reports (www.dailymail.co.uk)
  2. ^ The Portrait Gala in February 2014 (hrhduchesskate.blogspot.com)

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