Orders, decorations, and medals of the United Kingdom

The British honours system is a means of rewarding individuals' personal bravery, achievement, or service to the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories. The system consists of three types of award – honours, decorations and medals:
Appointments to the various orders and awards of other honours are usually published in the London Gazette.

Brief history

Although the Anglo-Saxon monarchs are known to have rewarded their loyal subjects with rings and other symbols of favour, it was the Normans who introduced knighthoods as part of their feudal government. The first English order of chivalry, the Order of the Garter, was created in 1348 by Edward III. Since then, the system has evolved to address the changing need to recognise other forms of service to the United Kingdom.

Modern honours

As the head of state, the Sovereign is the 'fount of honour', but the system for identifying and recognising candidates to honour has changed considerably over time. Various orders of knighthood have been created as well as awards for military service, bravery, merit, and achievement which take the form of decorations or medals. Most medals are not graded. Each one recognises specific service and as such there are normally set criteria which must be met. These criteria may include a period of time and will often delimit a particular geographic region. Medals are not normally presented by the Sovereign. A full list is printed in the 'order of wear', published by the London Gazette.

Orders of honours

Honours are split into classes and are graded to distinguish different degrees of achievement or service, according to various criteria. Nominations are reviewed by honours committees made up of government officials and private citizens from different fields, who meet twice a year to discuss the candidates and make recommendations for appropriate honours to be awarded by the Queen.

New Year and Birthday honours

A list of approximately 1,350 names is published twice a year, at the New Year and on the date of the Sovereign's birthday. Since their decisions are inevitably subjective, the twice-yearly honours lists often provoke criticism from those who feel strongly about particular cases. Candidates are identified by public or private bodies, by government departments, or are nominated by members of the public. Depending on their roles, those people selected by the honours committee are submitted either to the Prime Minister, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, or Secretary of State for Defence for their approval before being sent to the Sovereign for final approval. Certain honours are conferred solely at the Sovereign's discretion, such as appointments to the Order of the Garter, the Order of the Thistle, the Royal Victorian Order, and the Order of Merit. The honour's insignias are then presented by the Sovereign or her designated representative. The Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and the Princess Royal have deputised for the Queen at investiture ceremonies at Buckingham Palace.

Prime Minister's Resignation Honours

By convention, a departing prime minister is allowed to nominate Prime Minister's Resignation Honours, to reward political and personal service. In recent history, only Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have not taken up this privilege.

Crown Honours Lists

Current orders of chivalry

The current system is made up of six orders of chivalry and four orders of merit. The statutes of each order specify matters such as the size of the order, the use of post-nominal letters and insignia design and display.
Complete nameRanks RibbonEstablishedFounderMottoAwarded to/for/byAssociated awardsRefs
The Most Noble Order of the GarterKnight
23 April 1348King Edward IIIHoni soit qui mal y pense Relating to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, appointments are made at the Sovereign's sole discretion-
The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the ThistleKnight
29 May 1687King James VII & IINemo me impune lacessit Relating to Scotland, appointments are made at the Sovereign's sole discretion-
The Most Honourable Order of the BathKnight/Dame Grand Cross
Knight/Dame Commander,
18 May 1725King George ITria iuncta in uno Civil division: senior civil servants; Military division: senior military officers. The Sovereign makes all appointments to the Order on the advice of the Government.-
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint GeorgeKnight/Dame Grand Cross
Knight/Dame Commander
28 April 1818King George IV Auspicium melioris ævi Diplomats and colonial service. The Sovereign makes all appointments to the Order on the advice of the Government.-
The Distinguished Service OrderCompanion - plus bars6 September 1886Queen Victoria-Military officers for leadership while on active service. The Sovereign makes all appointments to the Order on the advice of the Government.-
The Royal Victorian OrderKnight/Dame Grand Cross
Knight/Dame Commander
21 April 1896Queen VictoriaVictoria Services to the Crown. Appointments are made at the Sovereign's sole discretionThe Royal Victorian Medal, The Royal Victorian Chain
The Order of MeritMember 23 June 1902King Edward VIIFor meritMilitary, science, art, literature, culture. Members are personally appointed by the Sovereign with the assistance of their private secretaries. Limited to 24 members.-
The Imperial Service OrderCompanion 8 August 1902King Edward VIIFor faithful serviceCivil servant for 25 years The Imperial Service Medal
The Most Excellent Order of the British EmpireKnight/Dame Grand Cross
Knight/Dame Commander
4 June 1917King George VFor God and the EmpireMiscellaneous. The Sovereign makes all appointments to the Order on the advice of the Government.The British Empire Medal
The Order of the Companions of HonourCompanion 4 June 1917King George VIn action faithful and in honour clearArts, science, politics, industry, religion. The Sovereign makes all appointments to the Order on the advice of the Government.-

Dormant orders of chivalry

Orders were created for particular reasons at particular times. In some cases these reasons have ceased to have any validity and orders have fallen into abeyance, primarily due to the decline of the British Empire during the twentieth century. Reforms of the system have sometimes made other changes. For example, the British Empire Medal temporarily ceased to be awarded in the UK in 1993, as was the companion level award of the Imperial Service Order. The British Empire Medal was revived, however, in 2012 with 293 BEMs awarded for the 2012 Birthday Honours, and has continued to be awarded in some other Commonwealth nations.

Order of St Patrick

Complete nameRanks RibbonEstablishedFounderMottoAwarded to/forAssociated awardsRefs
The Most Illustrious Order of Saint PatrickKnight 17 March 1783King George IIIQuis separabit? Relating to Ireland

The Order of St Patrick was founded in 1783 by George III for the Kingdom of Ireland, and after the Acts of Union 1800 continued for Irish peers in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. After the Irish Free State's secession in 1922, only members of the royal family were appointed to the order, the last in 1936. The last surviving knight was Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who died on 10 June 1974. Although dormant, the order technically still exists, and may be used as an award at any time. Queen Elizabeth II is the current sovereign of this order.

Imperial orders

These orders, relating to the British Raj or the British Indian Empire, are also dormant. The senior order, the Order of the Star of India, was divided into three grades, Knight Grand Commander, Knight Commander and Companion, of which the first and highest was conferred upon the Princes and Chiefs of Indian states and upon important British civil servants working in India. Women were not eligible to receive the award. The junior order, the Order of the Indian Empire, was divided into the same ranks and also excluded women. The third order, the Order of the Crown of India, was used exclusively to honour women. Its members, all sharing a single grade, consisted of the wives and close female relatives of Indian Princes or Chiefs; the Viceroy or Governor-General; the Governors of Bombay, Madras and Bengal; the Principal Secretary of State for India; and the Commander-in-Chief in India. Upon Indian independence in 1947, appointments to all these orders ceased.
Maharaja Tej Singh Prabhakar Bahadur of Alwar, who was a KCSI and the last surviving member of the Order of the Star of India, died in February 2009, aged 97. The last surviving member of the Order of the Indian Empire, HH Maharaja Meghrajji III of Dhrangadhra-Halvad, a KCIE died in August 2010, aged 87. Queen Elizabeth II was appointed to the Order of the Crown of India and is the last surviving former member of that order. The Queen remains also the Sovereign of the Indian orders as they have never been abolished.
The Order of Burma was created in May 1940 by King George VI of the United Kingdom to recognise subjects of the British colony of Burma. This order had one class which entitled the member to the postnominal letters OB but no title. It was originally intended to reward long and faithful service by military and police. In 1945 the Royal Warrant was altered to allow for membership for acts of gallantry as well as meritorious service. The Order was one of the rarest awarded with only 33 appointments by the time appointments were discontinued in 1948 when Burma declared independence.

Orders formerly associated with the British monarch

Royal Guelphic Order

The Royal Guelphic Order, also known as the Hanoverian Guelphic Order, was an honour founded by George, Prince Regent in the name of his father King George III in 1815. In the United Kingdom it was used only briefly, until the death of William IV in 1837 that resulted in the ending of the personal union with the Kingdom of Hanover due to succession to the throne of Hanover following the Salic Law, unlike in the United Kingdom where women could inherit the throne. The order continued for some time as a national order of Hanover until the defeat and forced dissolution of the kingdom by Prussia in 1866. Since then the order has been a house order to be awarded by the House of Hanover. The order's current head is Ernst August Prinz von Hanover, head of the house of Hanover. The Order includes two Divisions, Civil and Military. During the personal union of the United Kingdom and Hanover it originally had three classes, but with several reorganizations since 1841 as house order today it has four classes and an additional Cross of Merit.


Current awarded decorations in order of wear:
Complete namePost-nominal lettersRibbonEstablishedFounderAwarded to/forAssociated awardsRefs
Victoria CrossVC29 January 1856Queen VictoriaBritish Empire, Commonwealth and 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."
George CrossGC24 September 1940King George VICommonwealth subjects for "... acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger."George Medal
Conspicuous Gallantry CrossCGCOctober 1993Queen Elizabeth IIBritish and allied forces for "... an act or acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy."Conspicuous Gallantry Medal
Royal Red Cross, Class IRRC27 April 1883 Queen VictoriaMembers of the Military Nursing Service for "... exceptional services in military nursing"
Distinguished Service CrossDSC1901 as the Conspicuous Service Cross

October 1941 renamed the Distinguished Service Cross
King Edward VIIBritish, Commonwealth and allied forces at sea for "... gallantry during active operations against the enemy."Distinguished Service Medal
Military CrossMC1914King George VBritish, Commonwealth, and allied forces on land for "... gallantry during active operations against the enemy."Military Medal
Distinguished Flying CrossDFC3 June 1918King George VBritish, Commonwealth, and allied forces in the air for "... gallantry during active operations against the enemy."Distinguished Flying Medal
Air Force CrossAFC3 June 1918King George VBritish, Commonwealth, and allied air forces for "... gallantry while flying but not on active operations against the enemy."Air Force Medal
Royal Red Cross, Class II ARRC1917King George VMembers of the Military Nursing Service for "... exceptional services in military nursing."
Order of British IndiaOBI1837–1947
Not awarded since Indian independence in 1947.
East India Companyfor "long, faithful and honourable service".
Indian Order of MeritIOM1837–1947
Not awarded since Indian independence in 1947.
East India CompanyIndian citizens in the armed forces and civilians for gallantry.
Kaisar-i-Hind Medal10 April 1900 – 1947
Not awarded since Indian independence in 1947.
Queen VictoriaCivilians of any nationality for "... distinguished service in the advancement of the interests of the British Raj".

On 1 July 2009, BBC News reported that the Queen had approved a new posthumous award, the Elizabeth Cross, to honour members of the armed forces killed in action or by terrorist attack since World War II. The cross itself is given to the family of the deceased.

Other honours and appointments

Hereditary peerage

There are five ranks of hereditary peerage: duke, marquess, earl, viscount, and baron. Until the mid 20th century, peerages were usually hereditary, and, until the end of the 20th century, English, Scottish, British, and UK peerages carried the right to a seat in the House of Lords.
Hereditary peerages are now normally given only to members of the Royal Family. The most recent were the grants to the Queen's youngest son, the Earl of Wessex, on his marriage in 1999; to the Queen's grandson Prince William, who was made the Duke of Cambridge on the morning before his marriage to Catherine Middleton on 29 April 2011; and to the Queen's grandson Prince Harry, who was made the Duke of Sussex on the morning before his marriage to Meghan Markle on 19 May 2018. No hereditary peerages were granted to commoners after the Labour Party came to power in 1964, until Margaret Thatcher tentatively reintroduced them by two grants to men with no sons in 1983: Speaker of the House of Commons George Thomas and former Deputy Prime Minister William Whitelaw. Both these titles died with their holders. She followed this with an Earldom in 1984 for former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan not long before his death, reviving a traditional honour for former Prime Ministers. Macmillan's grandson succeeded him on his death in 1986. No hereditary peerages have been created since, and Thatcher's own title was a life peerage. The concession of a baronetcy, was granted to her husband Denis following her resignation.
Hereditary peerages are not "honours under the crown" and so cannot normally be withdrawn. A peerage can be revoked only by a specific Act of Parliament, and then for only the current holder, in the case of hereditary peerages. A hereditary peer can disclaim his peerage for his own lifetime under Peerage Act 1963 within a year after inheriting the title.

Life peerage

Modern life peerages were introduced under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, following a test case which established that non-statutory life peers would not have the right to sit in the House of Lords. At that time, life peerages were intended only for Law Lords, there being a desire to introduce legal expertise into the chamber to assist appellate law work, without conferring rights on future generations of these early working peers because the future generations might contain no legal experts.
Subsequently, under the Life Peerages Act 1958, life peerages became the norm for all new grants outside the Royal Family, this being seen as a modest reform of the nature of the second legislative chamber. However, its effects were gradual because hereditary peers, and their successors, retained until recently their rights to attend and vote with the life peers. All hereditary peers except 92–chosen in a secret ballot of all hereditary peers–have now lost their rights to sit in the second chamber. All hereditary peers retain dining rights to the House of Lords, retaining its title as "the best club in London".
All Life Peers hold the rank of baron and automatically have the right to sit in the House of Lords. The title exists only for the duration of their own lifetime and is not passed to their heirs. Some life peerages are created as an honour for achievement, some for the specific purpose of introducing legislators from the various political parties and some under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, with a view to judicial work. There is a discrete number appointed as "People's Peers", on recommendation of the general public. Twenty-six Church of England bishops have a seat in the House of Lords.
As a life peerage is not technically an "honour under the Crown", it cannot normally be withdrawn once granted. Thus, while knighthoods have been withdrawn as "honours under the Crown", convicted criminals who have served their sentences have returned to the House of Lords. In the case of Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, he has chosen only to exercise dining rights and has yet to speak following his release from his conviction for perjury.


A baronetcy is the lowest title of honour in the United Kingdom. It carries the title sir. A Baronetcy is, in the order of precedence, below a Barony but above most knighthoods. Baronetcies are not peerages. When a baronetcy becomes vacant on the death of a holder, the heir, if he wishes to be addressed as "Sir", is required to register the proofs of succession. The Official Roll of Baronets is kept at the Ministry of Justice by the Registrar of the Baronetage. Anyone who considers that he is entitled to be entered on the roll may petition the Crown through the Lord Chancellor. Anyone succeeding to a baronetcy therefore must exhibit proofs of succession to the Lord Chancellor. A person who is not entered on the roll will not be addressed or mentioned as a baronet or accorded precedence as a baronet, effectively declining the honour. The baronetcy can be revived at any time on provision of acceptable proofs of succession. As of 2008, 158 baronetcies are listed as presumedly not extinct, but awaiting proofs of succession.
As with hereditary peerages, baronetcies generally ceased to be granted after the Labour Party came to power in 1964. The sole subsequent exception was a baronetcy created in 1990 for the husband of Margaret Thatcher, Sir Denis Thatcher, later inherited by their son Mark Thatcher.


Descended from medieval chivalry, knights exist both within the orders of chivalry and in a class known as Knights Bachelor. Regular recipients include High Court judges and Chief Constables. Knighthood carries the title sir; the female equivalent dame exists only within the orders of chivalry–Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire is usually awarded as an equivalent of a Knight Bachelor.

Order of St John

Members of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem may wear the Order's insignia but the ranks within the Order of St John do not confer official rank in the order of precedence and, likewise, the abbreviations or postnominal initials associated with the various grades of membership in the Order of St John do not indicate precedence among the other orders. Thus someone knighted in the order does not take precedence with the knights of other British orders nor should they be addressed as "Sir" or "Dame".

Other orders

Other British and Commonwealth orders, decorations and medals which do not carry titles but entitle the holder to place post-nominal letters after his or her name also exist, as do a small number of Royal Family Orders.

British honours in the Commonwealth realms

Until the mid-20th century, the British honours system was the primary – and generally the sole – honours system utilised across the various dominions and territories of the British Empire, which became the Commonwealth of Nations from 1949. Today, British honours and decorations continue to be awarded to citizens of Commonwealth realms and British Overseas Territories. Within the Commonwealth realms, however, the nature of the British honour or decoration awarded and the permissibility of its conferment varies from government to government. The British honours system comprises both dynastic honours, which are honours in the personal gift of the Sovereign, and British state honours or decorations, which are not. Dynastic honours continue to be conferred by the Sovereign in her capacity across the Commonwealth realms, though outside the United Kingdom they are typically non-titular honours such as the Order of Merit or the lower grades of the Royal Victorian Order.
In 1917 and 1919, the government of Canada passed the Nickle Resolutions, which, despite being non-binding, gradually ended the conferment of titular honours – peerages, baronetcies and knighthoods – to Canadians. Occasional conferments of knighthoods and imperial honours, notably following the Second World War, continued until 1955, when the Canadian government officially ended all awards of imperial honours to Canadians. In 1967, Canada established its own honours system with the Order of Canada and created its own system of bravery decorations in 1972, followed by its own system of military decorations for valour in 1993. Canadian service personnel remained eligible to receive the imperial Victoria Cross until 1993, when a Canadian version was instituted.
In 1975, the Australian government established its own honours system with the creation of the Order of Australia, also creating its own system of bravery decorations in that year. Indigenous police and fire service decorations followed from 1986, with a new system of military decorations created in 1991. Imperial honours continued to be conferred on Australians through 1989, when the last recommendations were made. With effect from 5 October 1992, the Australian government discontinued the awarding of imperial honours. Also in 1975, New Zealand instituted its first indigenous honour, the Queen's Service Order, followed by the Order of New Zealand in 1987. In 1996, it replaced imperial honours with the New Zealand Order of Merit, and replaced imperial gallantry and bravery decorations with New Zealand decorations in 1999.
Other Commonwealth realms have continued to apply the imperial honours system together with their own honours systems. Jamaica established its own honours system in 1969 with the passage of the National Honours and Awards Act, followed by Barbados and Saint Lucia in 1980, the Solomon Islands in 1981, Belize in 1991, Antigua and Barbuda in 1998, Papua New Guinea in 2004 and Grenada in 2007. The government of the Bahamas continues to solely utilise imperial honours. In 2007, it passed a National Honours Act which established a Bahamian honours system; however, it had not come into effect as of 2015.
In practice, legislation across the Commonwealth realms regulating the awarding of imperial honours to citizens of a realm, including knighthoods and damehoods, does not necessarily prevent a citizen of a Commonwealth realm from receiving a substantive award of an imperial honour for service in the United Kingdom or to its government. There continue to be numerous examples of Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians who have been honoured by the British government and are permitted to use the honour or its accompanying style whether they are resident in their own nation or in the United Kingdom.

Honorary awards

Citizens of countries that do not have the Queen as their head of state sometimes have honours conferred upon them, in which case the awards are "honorary". In the case of knighthoods, the holders are entitled to place initials after their name but not style themselves "Sir" as they are not entitled to receive the accolade. Examples of foreigners with honorary knighthoods are Billy Graham, Bill Gates, Bob Geldof, Bono and Rudolph Giuliani, while Arsène Wenger and Gérard Houllier are honorary OBEs. Honorary knighthoods are of Orders of Chivalry rather than as Knights Bachelor as the latter confers no postnominal letters.
Recipients of honorary awards who later become subjects of Her Majesty may apply to convert their awards to substantive ones. Examples of this are Marjorie Scardino, American CEO of Pearson PLC, and Yehudi Menuhin, the American-born violinist and conductor. They were granted an honorary damehood and knighthood respectively while still American citizens, and converted them to substantive awards after they assumed British nationality, becoming Dame Marjorie and Sir Yehudi. Menuhin later accepted a life peerage with the title Lord Menuhin.
Sir Tony O'Reilly, who holds both British and Irish nationality, uses the style "Sir", but has also gained approval from the Irish Government to accept the award as is necessary under the Irish Constitution. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, the German soprano, became entitled to be known as "Dame Elisabeth" when she took British nationality. Irish-born Sir Terry Wogan was initially awarded an honorary knighthood, but by the time he collected the accolade from the Queen in December 2005, he had obtained dual nationality and the award was upgraded to a substantive knighthood.
Bob Geldof is often erroneously referred to as "Sir Bob"; he is not entitled to this style as an honorary knight as he is a citizen of the Republic of Ireland.
There is no law in the UK preventing foreigners from holding a peerage, though only Commonwealth and Irish citizens may sit in the House of Lords. This has yet to be tested under the new arrangements. However, some other countries have laws restricting the acceptances of awards granted to would-be recipients by foreign powers. In Canada, where the House of Commons of Canada has opposed the granting of titular honours with its Nickle Resolution, then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien advised the Queen not to grant Conrad Black a titular honour while he remained a Canadian citizen.


Each year, around 2,600 people receive their awards personally from The Queen or a member of the Royal Family. The majority of investitures take place at Buckingham Palace, but some also take place at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh and at Windsor Castle. There are approximately 120 recipients at each Investiture. The Queen usually conducts the investitures, although the Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal or, more recently, the Duke of Cambridge also hold some investitures on behalf of the Queen.
During the ceremony, the Queen enters the ballroom of Buckingham Palace attended by two Gurkha orderly officers, a tradition begun in 1876 by Queen Victoria. On duty on the dais are five members of the Queen's Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard, which was created in 1485 by Henry VII; they are the oldest, but not most senior, military corps in the United Kingdom. Four gentlemen ushers are on duty to help look after the recipients and their guests.
The Queen is escorted by either the Lord Chamberlain or the Lord Steward. After the National Anthem has been played, he stands to the right of the Queen and announces the name of each recipient and the achievement for which they are being decorated. The Queen is provided with a brief background for each recipient by her equerry as they approach to receive their decorations.
Those who are to be knighted kneel on an investiture stool to receive the accolade, which is bestowed by the Queen using the sword used by her father, George VI as Duke of York and Colonel of the Scots Guards. Occasionally an award for gallantry may be made posthumously and in this case the Queen presents the decoration or medal to the recipient's next-of-kin in private before the public investiture begins.
After the investiture ceremony, those honoured are ushered out of the ballroom into the Inner Quadrangle of Buckingham Palace, where the royal rota of photographers are stationed. Here recipients are photographed with their awards. In some cases, members of the press may interview some of the more well-known people who have been honoured.


A small number of people each year refuse the offer of an award for personal or political reasons.

Notable examples

Honours are sometimes revoked, for example if a recipient is subsequently convicted of a serious criminal offence. The Honours Forfeiture Committee is an ad hoc committee convened under the chairmanship of the Head of the Home Civil Service, to consider cases where information has been received which indicates an individual is unsuitable to hold an award. Sometimes the original decision to grant an honour was made on the basis of inaccurate information, but normally cases relate to actions that took place after the award was made. Recommendations are made to The Monarch of the United Kingdom, who has the sole authority to rescind an honour.
In 2009, Gordon Brown confirmed that the process remains as set out in 1994 by the then Prime Minister John Major in a written answer to the House of Commons:
In October 2016, the House of Commons approved a motion to ask the Honours Forfeiture Committee to strip Sir Philip Green of his knighthood for his role in the downfall of British Home Stores. It was the first time MPs voted to recommend rescinding a knighthood.

Notable examples

Honours, decorations and medals are arranged in the "Order of Wear", an official list which describes the order in which they should be worn. Updates to the Order of Wear are published in The London Gazette when necessary. The current Order of Wear was published on 11 January 2019. Additional information on the social events at which an award may be worn is contained in the insignia case given to each recipient.
The list places the Victoria Cross and George Cross at the top, followed by the orders of knighthood arranged in order of date of creation. Below the Knights of the Garter and Thistle, individuals of a higher rank precede those of a lower rank. For instance, a Knight Grand Cross of any order precedes any Knight Commander. For those of equal rank, members of the higher-ranked Order take precedence. Within the same Order, precedence is accorded to that individual who received the honour earlier.
Not all orders have the same number of ranks. The Order of Merit, the Order of the Companions of Honour, the Distinguished Service Order and the Imperial Service Order are slightly different, being single-rank honours, and have been placed at appropriate positions of seniority. The precedence of Knight Bachelor is below the knights of the different orders and above those with the rank of Commander or lower.
Decorations are followed by medals of various categories, being arranged in date order within each section. These are followed by Commonwealth and honorary foreign awards of any level. Miscellaneous details are explained in notes at the bottom of the list.
The order of wear is not connected to and should not be confused with the order of precedence.


For peers, see Forms of address in the United Kingdom.
For baronets, the style Sir John Smith, Bt is used. Their wives are styled Lady Smith. A baronetess is styled Dame Jane Smith, Btss.
For knights, the style Sir John Smith, is used, attaching the proper postnominal letters depending on rank and order. Their wives are styled Lady Smith, with no postnominal letters. A dame is styled Dame Jane Smith, . More familiar references or oral addresses use the first name only, e.g. Sir John, or Dame Joan.
Wives of knights and baronets are styled Lady Smith, although customarily no courtesy title is automatically reciprocated to male consorts.
Recipients of orders, decorations and medals receive no styling of Sir or Dame, but they may attach the according postnominal letters to their name, e.g., John Smith, VC. Recipients of gallantry awards may be referred to in Parliament as "gallant", in addition to "honourable", "noble", etc.: The honourable and gallant Gentleman.
Bailiffs or Dames Grand Cross, Knights/Dames of Justice/Grace, Commander Brothers/Sisters, Officer Brothers/Sisters, Serving Brothers/Sisters, and Esquires of the Order of St John do not receive any special styling with regards to prenominal address i.e. Sir or Dame. They may, however, attach the relevant postnominal initials. In the Priory of Australia and the United States, the rank of Serving Brother/Sister is no longer granted. The rank now awarded is referred to as Member of the Order of St John for both men and women.
For honours bestowed upon those in the entertainment industry, it is an accepted practice to omit the title for professional credits.


Reforms of the system occur from time to time. In the last century notable changes to the system have included a Royal Commission in 1925 following the scandal in which Prime Minister David Lloyd George was found to be selling honours. The sale of British Honours, including titles is now prohibited by the Honours Act 1925. There was a further review in 1993 when Prime Minister John Major created the public nominations system.
In July 2004, the Public Administration Select Committee of the House of Commons and, concurrently, Sir Hayden Phillips, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Constitutional Affairs, both concluded reviews of the system. The PASC recommended some radical changes; Sir Hayden concentrated on issues of procedure and transparency. In February 2005, the Government responded to both reviews by issuing a Command paper detailing which of the proposed changes it had accepted. These included diversifying and opening up the system of honours selection committees for the Prime Minister's list and also the introduction of a miniature badge. Furthermore, the 2004 review suggested a regular report on the transparency and operation of the system at a suggested frequency of every 3 years. These reviews have taken place in , , and . The most recent review covers the period 2015 to 2018 and shows a notable shift towards community and voluntary recognition, and a continued emphasis on ensuring that the Honours System reflects British societal diversity.
As of 2012, same-sex civil partners of individual recipients of British honours are not themselves granted honours by way of their partnered relation. In July 2012, Conservative MP Oliver Colvile introduced a private member's bill, titled "Honours Bill", to amend the honours system to both allow husbands of those made dames and for civil partners of recipients to receive honours by their relationship statuses.


A scandal in the 1920s was the sale by Maundy Gregory of honours and peerages to raise political funds for David Lloyd George.
In 1976, the Harold Wilson era was mired by controversy over the 1976 Prime Minister's Resignation Honours, which became known as the "Lavender List".
In 2006, The Sunday Times newspaper revealed that every donor who had given £1,000,000 or more to the Labour Party since 1997 was given a Knighthood or a Peerage. Moreover, the government had given honours to 12 of the 14 individuals who have donated more than £200,000 to Labour and of the 22 who donated more than £100,000, 17 received honours. An investigation by the Crown Prosecution Service did not lead to any charges being made.
The Times published an analysis of the recipients of honours in December 2015 which showed that 46% of those getting knighthoods and above in 2015 had been to fee-paying public schools. In 1955 it was 50%. Only 6.55% of the population attends such schools. 27% had been to Oxford or Cambridge universities.
The lack of racial diversity continues to attract criticism, with 89.6% of all award recipients identified as white, and only 3.2% of higher award winners identifying as BAME in 2019. Although the trend has been positive, with an increase in ethnic minority recipients between 2014 and 2019 from 6.5% to 10.4%, there continues to be a significant gap in the ethnic diversity of the honours recipients versus corresponding census data at any point in recent years.