The Honours System

British honours are awarded on merit, for exceptional achievement or service.  The system is overseen by the Cabinet Office Honours and Appointments Secretariat, and British nationals or citizens of the 15 Commonwealth realms can be nominated.

Nominations, submitted either by government departments or members of the public, are divided into subject areas and assessed by committees of independent experts and senior civil servants. Their assessments are passed to a selection committee that produces the list, independently of government, before it is submitted to the Queen through the prime minister. The Queen informally approves the list and letters are sent to each nominee. Once a nominee accepts the proposed honour, the list is formally approved.

Recent Cambridgeshire recipients of honours are listed here.

Types of Honour

OrderDescription
Knights and DamesThe honour of knighthood comes from the days of medieval chivalry, as does the method used to confer the knighthood – the accolade, or the touch of a sword by the sovereign. A knight is styled “Sir” and their wives “Lady”. Women receiving the honour are styled “Dame” but do not receive the accolade, and their husbands are not styled “Sir”. The honour is given for a pre-eminent contribution in any field of activity. The rank of Knight Commander (KBE) or Dame Commander (DBE), Order of the British Empire, appears on the Diplomatic Service and Overseas list.
The Order of the BathThe Order of the Bath is an order of chivalry and was founded in 1725 for service of the highest calibre. The order has a civil and military division and is awarded in the following ranks: Knight Grand Cross (GCB), Knight Commander (KCB) and Companion (CB). The Order takes its name from the symbolic bathing which, in former times, was often part of the preparation of a candidate for knighthood.
Order of St Michael and St GeorgeThis Order was founded by King George III in 1818 and is awarded to British subjects who have rendered extraordinary and important services abroad or in the Commonwealth. Ranks in the Order are Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GCMG), Knight or Dame Commander (KCMG or DCMG) and Companion (CMG).
Order of the Companions HonourThis is awarded for service of conspicuous national importance and is limited to 65 people. Recipients are entitled to put the initials CH after their name.
Orders of the British EmpireKing George V created these honours during World War One to reward services to the war effort by civilians at home and service personnel in support positions. The ranks are Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE), and Member (MBE). They are now awarded for prominent national or regional roles and to those making distinguished or notable contributions in their own specific areas of activity.
British Empire MedalThe medal was founded in 1917 and was awarded for “meritorious” actions by civilians or military personnel, although the recipients did not attend a royal investiture. Scrapped in 1993 by former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, as part of his drive towards a “classless” society, the BEM was revived in 2012.
Royal Victorian OrderBy 1896, prime ministers and governments had increased their influence over the distribution of awards and had gained almost total control of the system. Therefore, Queen Victoria instituted The Royal Victorian Order as a personal award for services performed on behalf of the Royal Family. The ranks are Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GCVO), Knight or Dame Commander (KCVO or DCVO), Commander (CVO), Lieutenant (LVO) and Member (MVO). Associated with the Royal Victorian Order is the Royal Victorian Medal which has three grades: gold, silver and bronze. The circular medal is attached to the ribbon of the Order.
Royal Red CrossFounded in 1883 by Queen Victoria, the award is confined to the nursing services. Those awarded the first class are designated “Members” (RRC): those awarded the Second Class are designated “Associates” (ARRC).
Queen’s Police MedalAwarded for distinguished service in the police force.
Queen’s Fire Service MedalAwarded to firefighters who have displayed conspicuous devotion to duty.
Queen’s Ambulance Service MedalAwarded for distinguished service in the ambulance service.