Order of St Patrick

This article is about the order of chivalry. For the drinking club, see The Monks of the Screw.
Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick
Insignia of a Knight of the Order of St. Patrick
Awarded by the British monarch
Type Order
Awarded for At the monarch's pleasure
Status Dormant order
Sovereign Queen Elizabeth II
Grades (w/ post-nominals) Knight (KP)
Established 1783
Next (higher) Order of the Thistle
Next (lower) Order of the Bath
Riband of the Order of St. Patrick

The Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick is a dormant British order of chivalry associated with Ireland. The Order was created in 1783 by George III at the request of the then Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Buckingham. The regular creation of knights of Saint Patrick lasted until 1922, when most of Ireland became independent as the Irish Free State. While the Order technically still exists, no knight of St Patrick has been created since 1936, and the last surviving knight, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, died in 1974. The Queen, however, remains the Sovereign of the Order, and one officer, the Ulster King of Arms (now combined with Norroy King of Arms), also survives. St Patrick is patron of the order; its motto is Quis separabit?, Latin for "Who will separate [us]?": an allusion to the Vulgate translation of Romans 8:35, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"[1]

Most British orders of chivalry cover the entire kingdom, but the three most exalted ones each pertain to one constituent country only. The Order of St Patrick, which pertains to Ireland, is the most junior of these three in precedence and age. Its equivalent in England, The Most Noble Order of the Garter, is the oldest order of chivalry in the United Kingdom, dating to the middle fourteenth century. The Scottish equivalent is The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, dating in its modern form to 1687.


The installation dinner for the founding of the order took place on 17 March 1783 in the Great Hall of Dublin Castle.

Early history

The order was founded in 1783, a year after the grant of substantial autonomy to Ireland, as a means of rewarding (or obtaining) political support in the Irish Parliament.[2] The Order of the Bath, founded in 1725, was instituted for similar reasons. The statutes of the Order restricted membership to men who were both knights and gentlemen, the latter being defined as having three generations of "noblesse" (i.e. ancestors bearing coats of arms) on both their father's and mother's side.[3] In practice, however, only Irish Peers (and occasional foreign princes with tenuous or no Irish connections) were ever appointed to the Order. The cross of St Patrick (a red saltire on a white background) was chosen as one of the symbols of the Order. A flag of this design was later incorporated into the Union Flag. Its association with St. Patrick or with Ireland prior to the foundation of the Order is unclear, however.[4] One of the first knights was The 2nd Duke of Leinster, whose arms carry the same cross.[5]

The Irish Crown Jewels

The Order of St Patrick earned international coverage when, in 1907, its insignia, known generally as the Irish Crown Jewels, were stolen from the Bedford Tower in Dublin Castle shortly before a visit by the Order's Sovereign, King Edward VII. Their whereabouts remain a mystery.


The last non-royal appointed to the order was James Hamilton, 3rd Duke of Abercorn in 1922, who served as the first Governor of Northern Ireland. When the Irish Free State left the United Kingdom that same year, the Irish Executive Council under W. T. Cosgrave chose to make no further appointments to the Order.[2] The British government continued to entertain hopes for the order's revival as a pan-Irish institution. Therefore, while there was no legal or constitutional bar to the British government continuing to make appointments from among British subjects resident in Northern Ireland, it chose not to do so.

Since then, only three people have been appointed to the Order, all members of the British Royal Family. The then-Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII and later Duke of Windsor) was appointed in 1927[6][7] and his younger brothers, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, in 1934[8] and Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI), in 1936.[9]

It is likely that these appointments were considered possible because the Irish Free State continued to recognise the British monarch as its official head of state. In 1937, however, the Irish Free State adopted a new constitution, rendering the Crown's position in Irish affairs ambiguous. The ambiguity was resolved 12 years later when the Irish Free State formally declared itself a republic and left the British Commonwealth. The basis for such appointments thus ceased and no further ones have been made.

The Duke of Gloucester at his death in 1974 was the last surviving member of the Order. The last living non-royal member of the Order, the 9th Earl of Shaftesbury, died in 1961. The Order has, however, never actually been abolished and its resurrection has been discussed in Irish Government circles on a number of occasions and never pursued.

Possible revival

Collar of the Order of St Patrick

Prime Minister Winston Churchill suggested reviving the Order in 1943 to recognise the services of General The Hon. Sir Harold Alexander in Tunisia, but the opinion of the other ministers and civil servants was that it would upset the diplomatic balance between London and Dublin.[10] Taoiseach Seán Lemass considered reviving the Order during the 1960s, but did not take a decision.[11]

The Constitution of Ireland provides, "Titles of nobility shall not be conferred by the State" (Article 40.2.1°) and "No title of nobility or of honour may be accepted by any citizen except with the prior approval of the Government" (Article 40.2.2°). Legal experts are divided on whether this clause prohibits the awarding of membership of the Order of St Patrick to Irish citizens, but some suggest that the phrase "titles of nobility" implies hereditary peerages and other noble titles, not lifetime honours such as knighthoods.[11][12] In any case, an Irish citizen would require the approval of the Government of Ireland to receive an award from a reigning monarch of the United Kingdom in this manner.



The astronomer The 3rd Earl of Rosse wearing the riband and star of the Order

The British monarch is Sovereign of the Order of St Patrick. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the monarch's representative in Ireland, served as the Grand Master.[13] The office of Lord Lieutenant was abolished in 1922; the last Lord Lieutenant and Grand Master was The 1st Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent.[14] Rather oddly, the statutes of the Order did not provide that the Grand Master be admitted to the Order as a matter of right. While some Lords Lieutenant were in fact appointed to the Order, this seems to have been the exception rather than the rule.

The Order originally consisted of fifteen knights in addition to the Sovereign.[15] In 1821, however, George IV appointed six additional knights;[16] he did not issue a Royal Warrant authorising the change until 1830. William IV formally changed the statutes in 1833, increasing the limit to twenty-two knights.[17]

The original statutes, based heavily on those of the Order of the Garter, prescribed that any vacancy should be filled by the Sovereign upon the nomination of the members. Each Knight was to propose nine candidates, of whom three had to have the rank of Earl or higher, three the rank of Baron or higher, and three the rank of Knight or higher, and a vote taken. In practice this system was never used; the Grand Master would nominate a Peer, the Sovereign would usually assent, and a chapter meeting held at which the knights "elected" the new member.[18] The Order of St Patrick differed from its English and Scottish counterparts, the Orders of the Garter and the Thistle, in only ever appointing peers and princes. Women were never admitted to the Order of St Patrick; they were not eligible to become members of the other two orders until 1987. The only woman to be part of the Order was Queen Victoria, in her capacity as Sovereign of the Order. Although it was associated with the established Church of Ireland until 1871, several Roman Catholics were appointed to the order throughout its history.[19]


The Order of St Patrick initially had thirteen officers: the Prelate, the Chancellor, the Registrar, the Usher, the Secretary, the Genealogist, the King of Arms, two heralds and four pursuivants.[20] Many of these offices were held by clergymen of the Church of Ireland, the then-established church. After the disestablishment of the Church in 1871, the ecclesiastics were allowed to remain in office until their deaths, when the offices were either abolished or reassigned to lay officials.[21] All offices except that of Registrar and King of Arms are now vacant.

Knight of the Order of Saint Patrick

The office of Prelate was held by the Lord Archbishop of Armagh, the most senior clergyman in the Church of Ireland. The Prelate was not mentioned in the original statutes, but created by a warrant shortly afterwards, apparently because the Archbishop at the time had asked to be appointed to the post.[22] Since the death of the last holder in 1885, the office of Prelate has remained vacant.[23]

The Church of Ireland's second highest cleric, the Lord Archbishop of Dublin, originally served as the Chancellor of the Order. From 1886 onwards, the office was held instead by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Since the abolition of the position of Chief Secretary in 1922, the office of Chancellor has remained vacant.[23] The Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral was originally the Registrar of the Order. In 1890, on the death of the Dean who had held the post in at the time of disestablishment, the office was attached to that of the King of Arms of the Order.[23] This position was held by Ulster King of Arms, Ireland's chief heraldic official, a post which had been created in 1552. In 1943, this post was in effect divided in two, reflecting the partition of Ireland in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. The position, insofar as it related to Northern Ireland, was combined with that of Norroy King of Arms (who had heraldic jurisdiction in the north of England). The post of Norroy and Ulster King of Arms still exists, and thus continues to hold the offices of Registrar and King of Arms of the Order of St Patrick. The office of Ulster King of Arms, insofar as it related to the Irish Free State (now officially called Ireland), became the position of Chief Herald of Ireland.

The Order of St Patrick had six other heraldic officers, many more than any other British order. The two heralds were known as Cork Herald and Dublin Herald. Three of the four pursuivancies were untitled, the fourth was held by Athlone Pursuivant, an office founded in 1552.[24]

The Usher of the Order was "the Usher at Arms named the Black Rod".[25] The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod in Ireland was distinct from the English officer of the same name, though like his counterpart he had some duties in the Irish House of Lords.[26] (The latter continues to serve as Usher to the Order of the Garter and as Serjeant-at-Arms of the House of Lords.) The Irish post has been vacant since 1933.

The offices of Secretary and Genealogist were originally held by members of the Irish House of Commons. The office of Secretary has been vacant since 1926. The position of Genealogist was left vacant in 1885, restored in 1889, but left vacant again in 1930.[27]

Current officers and members

Vestments and accoutrements

King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover in the mantle of a Knight of the Order
The badge of the Order. The statutes of the Order prescribed a sky-blue riband; the exact shade of blue used varied over time.

For important occasions, such as Coronations and investitures of new members of the Order, Knights of St Patrick wore elaborate vestments:

On certain "collar days" designated by the Sovereign, members attending formal events wore the Order's collar over their military uniform, formal day dress, or evening wear. When collars were worn (either on collar days or on formal occasions such as coronations), the badge was suspended from the collar.

Aside from these special occasions, however, much simpler accoutrements were used:

The Grand Master's insignia were of the same form and design as those of the Knights. In 1831, however, William IV presented the Grand Master with a star and badge, each composed of rubies, emeralds and Brazilian diamonds. These two insignia were designated "Crown Jewels" in the Order's 1905 Statutes, and the designation "Irish Crown Jewels" was emphasised by newspapers when they were stolen in 1907, along with the collars of five Knights; they have not since been recovered.[30][31]

A number of items pertaining to the Order of St Patrick are held in museums in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The robes of The 4th Baron Clonbrock, the 122nd Knight of the Order, are on display in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin; the robe belonging to The 3rd Earl of Kilmorey is held by the Newry Museum; the National Gallery and Genealogical Museum in Dublin both have Stars of the Order; and the Ulster Museum (part of the National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland) in Stranmillis has a large collection on display and two mantles in storage.[32] The Irish Guards take their capstar and motto from the Order.[33]

Chapel and Chancery

St Patrick's Cathedral was the Chapel of the Order.

The Chapel of the Order was originally in St Patrick's Cathedral in central Dublin.[34] Each member of the Order, including the Sovereign, was allotted a stall in the choir of the Chapel, above which his (or her, in the case of Queen Victoria) heraldic devices were displayed. Perched on the pinnacle of a knight's stall was a helm, decorated with mantling and topped by his crest. Above the crest, the knight's heraldic banner was hung, emblazoned with his coat of arms. At a considerably smaller scale, to the back of the stall was affixed a piece of brass (a "stall plate") displaying its occupant's name, arms and date of admission into the Order. Upon the death of a Knight, the banner and crest were taken down and replaced with those of his successor. After the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871, the Chapel ceased to be used; the heraldic devices of the knights at the time were left in place at the request of Queen Victoria.[35]

The Order was without a ceremonial home until 1881 when arrangements were made to display banners, helms and hatchment plates (the equivalent of stall plates, in the absence of stalls) in the Great Hall, officially called St. Patrick's Hall, in Dublin Castle.[36] On the establishment of the Irish Free State the banners of the living knights were removed. When the Hall was redecorated in 1962 it was decided that it should be hung with the banners of the members of the Order in 1922. The existing banners were repaired or new ones made; it is these banners which can be seen today.[37] The Hall, which was renamed St Patrick's Hall from its association with the Order, also served as the Chancery of the Order. Installation ceremonies, and later investitures, were held here, often on St Patrick's Day, until they were discontinued. A banquet for the Knights was often held in the Hall on the occasion of an installation. St Patrick's Hall now serves as the location for the inauguration of the President of Ireland.[38]

Unlike many of the other British Orders, the stall plates (or hatchment plates) do not form a continuous record of the Knights of the Order. There are only 34 stall plates for the 80 or so knights appointed before 1871, (although others were destroyed in a fire in 1940), and 40 hatchments plates for the 60 knights appointed subsequently. In the case of the stall plates this was perhaps due to their size, 30x36 cm (12x14 in).[39]

Precedence and privileges

A panel recording some members of the Order of St Patrick in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Since the members of the Order were required to be knights, and in practice had higher rank, many of the privileges of membership were rendered moot. As knights they could prefix "Sir" to their forenames, but the form was never used in speech, as they were referred to by their peerage dignities. They were assigned positions in the order of precedence, but had higher positions by virtue of their peerage dignities.

Knights used the post-nominal letters "KP". When an individual was entitled to use multiple post-nominal letters, KP appeared before all others, except "Bt" and "Btss" (Baronet and Baronetess), "VC" (Victoria Cross), "GC" (George Cross), "KG" (Knight of the Garter) and "KT" (Knight of the Thistle).

Knights could encircle their arms with a depiction of the circlet (a blue circle bearing the motto) and the collar; the former is shown either outside or on top of the latter. The badge is depicted suspended from the collar.[40] They were also entitled to receive heraldic supporters.[41] This high privilege was, and is, only shared by members of the Royal Family, peers, Knights and Ladies of the Garter, Knights and Ladies of the Thistle, and Knights and Dames Grand Cross of the junior orders. (Of course, Knights of St Patrick, normally all being members of the British Royal Family or peers, were mostly entitled to supporters in any event.)[42]

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Order of St Patrick.


  1. According to Galloway (pp 171–2), the motto was borrowed from the Order of the Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, but was also appropriate politically in expressing a desire for unity
  2. 1 2 "Monarchy Today: Queen and Public: Honours: Order of St Patrick". Official website of the British Monarchy. Retrieved 3 December 2006.
  3. 1783 Statutes, Article III, quoted in Nicolas, p. 9. The 1905 Statutes, quoted in Galloway p281ff, remove these restrictions on membership.
  4. Vincent Morley. "Origin of the St. Patrick's Cross Flag". Flags of the World. Retrieved 17 December 2006.
  5. See Image:Duke of Leinster coa.png
  6. The London Gazette: no. 33282. p. 3711. 7 June 1927. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  7. According to Galloway, p155, neither Cosgrave or his government registered any protest, possibly because they had no objection
  8. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34065. p. 4137. 29 June 1934. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  9. The London Gazette: no. 34265. p. 1738. 17 March 1936. Retrieved 21 December 2007.
  10. Galloway, pp152–6
  11. 1 2 Devlin, Hannah (13 November 2005). "Focus: Does Ireland need its own awards?". Sunday Times Ireland. London. Retrieved 7 December 2006.
  12. "Seanad Éireann – Volume 148 – National Cultural Institutions Bill, 1996: Second Stage". Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas. 17 October 1996. Retrieved 11 December 2006.
  13. 1783 Statutes, Article II, quoted in Nicolas, p. 9
  14. Galloway, p. 103
  15. Preamble to 1783 Statutes, quoted in Nicolas, p. 9. According to Galloway, p. 17, it was intended that there be 16 knights in addition to the Sovereign, but George III decided to take one of the 16 stalls which had been allotted in the chapel for himself.
  16. Nicolas, p. 37
  17. Galloway, p. 269
  18. Galloway, p26
  19. For example Thomas O'Hagan, 1st Baron O'Hagan, and Thomas Southwell, 4th Viscount Southwell. According to Galloway, p. 69, the first Roman Catholic was appointed to the Order in 1821.
  20. Galloway, p. 27
  21. Warrant dated 14 July 1871, quoted in Galloway, p. 249
  22. Galloway, p. 28.
  23. 1 2 3 Galloway, pp. 249–50, 277
  24. Galloway, pp. 27, 31
  25. 1783 Statutes, Article XVII, quoted in Nicolas, p. 15
  26. Galloway, p. 29
  27. Galloway, p. 252
  28. 1 2 3 1783 Statutes, Ordinances touching the Badges, Devices and Habits of our Knights Companion of our Most Illustrious order of St Patrick, quoted in Nicholas pp. 16–17
  29. 1 2 1783 Statutes, article V, quoted in Nicolas, p. 10
  30. "Dublin Castle – History: The Illustrious Order of St. Patrick". Dublin Castle. 2002. Archived from the original on 7 December 2006. Retrieved 7 December 2006.
  31. Galloway, p.81
  32. Noreen Cunningham and Madeleine McAllister. "A Robe of the Order of St Patrick". Retrieved 7 December 2006.
  33. "Irish Guards: The Regiment Today". Ministry of Defence. 2004. Archived from the original on 28 July 2006. Retrieved 7 December 2006.
  34. 1783 Statutes, article VII, quoted in Nicolas, p. 11
  35. Galloway, p. 67
  36. Galloway, p. 70
  37. Galloway, p. 202
  38. "Inauguration and removal of the President". Comhairle. 2006-11-14. Retrieved 6 December 2006.
  39. Galloway, pp. 201–209
  40. The 1783 statutes only mention encircling the arms with the collar and badge of the Order. The 1905 Statutes, article XX (quoted in Galloway, p. 282) mention the circlet and supporters as well.
  41. 1905 Statutes, article XXI, quoted in Galloway, p282
  42. Woodcock and Robinson, p93


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