Are there Knights or Dames in your family tree?

The Britain, Knights Of The Realm & Commonwealth Index records the details of over 35,000 individuals who have been awarded orders of chivalry by the British monarchy, and is filled with fascinating details surrounding the lives and achievements of some of the most distinguished figures in UK history.

The British Honour System

The honours system was introduced as a means of rewarding individuals' personal bravery, achievements, or service. While Anglo-Saxon monarchs were known to have rewarded loyal subjects with rings and other symbols of favour, it was the Norman Kings who first introduced knighthoods to Britain in the 14th century.

Discover: Are You Related to Royalty?

The first English order of chivalry, the Order of the Garter, was created in 1348 by Edward III with 25 founder knights and is ranked as the highest British civil and military honour obtainable. The earliest records of the order were unfortunately destroyed by fire, making it difficult for historians to be certain of its original purposes, the significance of its emblem, and the origin of the order's motto; "shame on him who thinks evil of it". One theory is that Edward wished to create an elite order similar to the Round Table of Arthurian legend to assist him in his the fight for the French crown.

King Edward III, first sovereign of the Order

Although the reigning monarch remains the "fountain of honour" when it comes to recognising service, the processes of identifying candidates has changed considerably over time. Various orders of knighthood have been created throughout history as well as awards for military service, individual bravery, merit, and achievement which take the form of decorations or medals.

The Records

The Knights of the Realm Index is comprised of individual transcripts that list a recipient's name, birth year, death year (if applicable), the type of award they received and the date they received it. Transcripts can also include a biography which will often include the recipient's rank or position/occupation and any additional remarks, such as where they were dubbed.

Read: How I Found Out I'm Descended From Royalty

The index was created by Colin J Parry over a 40 year period to determine how many knights were made in each century and, furthermore, to discover who received such honours and orders of chivalry. Parry chose to start his database with knighthoods from the 16th century, as earlier awards are difficult to verify. However, Parry has been able to confirm a number of earlier knighthoods, which has led to the inclusion of several hundred pre-1500 knights in the database.

The index covers 17 different honours and decorations, both current and dormant.

A painting by Edmund Leighton depicting a fictional scene of a knight receiving an accolade

Honours are split into classes (or orders) and graded to distinguish different degrees of achievement or service. Each order comes with its own title which is often abbreviated. For a comprehensive list of abbreviations used in this record set, follow the link for our complete list of abbreviations used in Britain, Knights of the Realm index. You can also learn more about the history of the various honours and titles covered by reading our Britain, Knights of the Realm chronologies page.

Knight Bachelor (Kt Bach) is the lowest rank of knighthood for a male recipient and is not part of an order of chivalry. The lowest rank of knighthood for female recipients is the Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (DBE).

Knight Banneret (Kt Bann) is a higher military ranking than Kt Bach and is conferred by the sovereign only on the battlefield (although proxies could suffice as long as the recipient's standard was on the battlefield). Knight bannerets were medieval knights who led troops into battle under their own banner. The last confirmed bestowal of a Knight Banneret was by Charles I in 1642.

Dormant Orders

  • The Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick – Established on 17 March 1783 by King George III. Awarded for service relating to Ireland. Its motto was 'Quis Separabit?', meaning 'who will separate us?'
  • Most Exalted Order of the Star of India – Established in 1861 by Queen Victoria with the motto 'Heaven's light our guide'. The star was awarded to Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian rulers, viceroys, governors, and senior administrators, as well as commanders-in-chief, senior military officers and Indian civil servants.
  • Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire – Established in 1878 by Queen Victoria with the motto Imperatricis auspiciis ('under the auspices of the Empress'), the order was also awarded to Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian rulers, viceroys, governors, and senior administrators, as well as commanders-in-chief, senior military officers and Indian civil servants.

The installation dinner for the founding of the Order of St Patrick that took place on 17 March 1783 in the Great Hall of Dublin Castle.

Current Orders

  • The Most Noble Order of the Garter – awarded for meritorious service regarding England and Wales.
  • The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle - Established on 29 May 1687 by King James II and VII, is the Scottish equivalent of the Order of the Garter.
  • The Most Honourable Order of the Bath – Established on 18 May 1725 by King George I and awarded to senior civil servants and senior military officers, as well as for service relating to the civil or military division.
  • The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George – Established on 28 April 1818 by King George IV, as Prince Regent, and is awarded to diplomats and for colonial service.
  • The Royal Victorian Order – Established on 21 April 1896 by Queen Victoria, is awarded for services to the Crown.
  • The Order of Merit – Established 23 June 1902 by King Edward VII and awarded for services/contributions in one of the following fields: science, art, literature, culture, or military.
  • The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – Established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and awarded for miscellaneous military and civil service.
  • The Order of Australia, The Order of Australia and the Order of Barbados – created during the reign of Elizabeth II to recognise 'extraordinary and pre-eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service' to the crown, country or humanity at large.
  • New Zealand Order of Merit – Established by Elizabeth II in 1996 to recognise those who have 'rendered meritorious service to the Crown and nation or who have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions or other merits'.

Decorations

  • Victoria Cross – Established on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria. Awarded to those of the British Empire/Commonwealth and to allied military personnel for 'most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy'. To search for your own ancestors receiving the VC, you can explore our comprehensive Victoria Cross Recipients 1854-2006.

This collection is packed with fascinating details surrounding some of the most influential figures in British and world history. If you are fortunate to find a distinguished ancestor within the records, be sure to search our collection of historic British Newspapers for corresponding reports. It's also worth noting that, the index will be updated every six months (January and June) in response to the New Year Honours list and Queen's Birthday Honours list respectively.

Ready to Get Started?