After a wait of almost a quarter of a century, seven of Britain's most distinguished military officers were finally installed before the Queen at Westminster Abbey yesterday as Knights Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of The Bath.
In a colourful ceremony, its pomp and pageantry dating back centuries, the seven, attired in the order's flowing crimson satin mantles, made their oaths and formally took up their places in the Knights Grand Cross stalls in the Abbey's Lady Chapel of King Henry VII.
It had been a long journey. For while they had been granted their knighthoods (GCB) back in the 1980s - and were therefore entitled to display their banner and crest in the chapel - the longevity of previous holders of the honour has made the waiting list for one of the coveted 34 stalls set aside for the most senior knights longer than even the most exclusive of London clubs.
New knights - or Dames Grand Cross - can only move in when a previous occupant has died. Inevitably, some on the waiting list do not make it.
Formal installations take place just once every four years, and are attended by the Prince of Wales, who is the Order's Great Master, with the Queen attending once every eight years.
Yesterday she arrived at the Abbey to a fanfare, wearing the crimson mantle - held by a pageboy - over a white lace dress, and a sparkling diamond tiara.
She joined the solemn procession of knights - several septuagenarians, more octogenarians and at least one nonagenarian, with some leaning heavily on sticks - through the Abbey to the chapel.
During the installation service, which dates back 281 years, she knelt before the altar to make the traditional offering of gold and silver, symbolic of surrendering worldly treasure. The coins were two gold sovereigns -one from 1926, the year of her birth, and the other from 2006 - and two shillings - from 1570 and 1571, the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Field Marshal Sir John Stanier, 80, who at 24 years has had the longest wait of all, was the senior knight to be installed, which required him to draw his sword and hold it aloft, while the others partially drew theirs before replacing them in their sheaths in unison.
All uttered the oath, which still contains the original pledge to "defend maidens, widows and orphans".(snip)
Yesterday's newly installed knights would be relieved that the medieval rituals, which demanded that the knights bath, then sleep in coarse russet cloth before being woken to spend a night of prayer and vigil in the chapel, have never been implemented.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
From the Telegraph, some Anglican tat: