Here, I will only give a brief introduction to The Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, as it is officially named. The outstanding authoritative work by James Risk should be consulted for more details, also a series of future blogs by ChrisC, will go into details about the various insignia and Army recipients.
The ancient ritual of conferring a Knighthood “by the Bath” dates back several hundred years, but was not formalized into an order until George I, by Letter Patent created the Order in 1725. The statutes called for no more than 35 simultaneous Knights Companions, who were entitled to the post nominal letters ‘KB’. The limitation in the number of Knights Companions was dropped in 1812. Despite its name, the Order was initially mostly used as a political instrument. An honor conferred on men of high positions, both socially and economically. The first installation in 1727 only had three naval or military Knights. From 1727 to January 1815, a total of 195 Knights Companions were appointed to the Order. The social distribution can be seen in Fig. 2, click here for a partial list of naval officers.
Towards the end of the Napoleonic War, it became evident that a great many officers had distinguished themselves and were deserving of recognition. It was decided to reorganize the Order into three classes. Strangely, it was not intended to cover recognition from before 1803, including the French Revolutionary War. The classes were:
- 1st Class: Knights Grand Crosses (GCB), limited to 72 (including up to 12 Civilians). All the old Knights Companions (KB) were to become GCBs.
- 2nd Class: Knights Commanders (KCB), limited to 180.
- 3rd Class: Companions (CB), an unspecified number initially, but by June 1815, 363 Companions were announced and by Dec. a further 26 added, for a total of 389 initial appointments.
Future appointments to the 1st Class were only to come from the 2nd Class. Admission to the order required the recipient to have been awarded a Gold Medal or have been mentioned in the official dispatches as having distinguished himself. Advancement in the Order was tied to the naval (or military) rank of the individual. Initially naval Post-Captains were admitted to the 2nd Class (KCB), but it was later changed to require flag rank (Rear Admiral and above).
All insignia had to be returned upon the death of the recipient. This was apparently adhered to very strictly. Badges and stars were reissued to later recipients. This ruled ceased in 1859 and insignia could be kept by families from then on. This is worth remembering when considering the provenance of a Napoleonic period medal group with insignia of the Bath.
In the three tabs below (click on text), details of the distribution of 1815 awards in the three classes are summarized.
1st Class: Knights Grand Crosses (GCB)
2nd Class: Knights Commanders (KCB)
The distribution of KCBs between the Army and Navy was a bit more equitable than the GCBs. Of the 195 total, 100 went to the Army, the Navy got 80 and finally the HEIC got 15. However, only eight of the 1815 KCBs claimed the NGS medal, which is about 10% of the Navy’s share of KCBs. I suspect a similar percentage of the Army was able to claim the MGS medal. The table below indicates the recipients and their NGS clasps. Click on the name to see a portrait of the recipient.
|Adm Sir William James Whitshed||St. Vincent|
|V-Adm Sir Robert Stopford||1 Jun 1794 • 17 Jun 1795 • St. Domingo • Basque Roads • Java • Syria|
|R-Adm Thomas Byam Martin||Santa Margaritta 8 Jun 1796 • Fisgard 20 Oct 1798 • Implacable 26 Aug 1808|
|R-Adm George Cockburn||14 Mar 1795 • Minerve 19 Dec 1796 • St. Vincent • Egypt • Martinique • BS 29 Apr 1813|
|R-Adm Edward Codrington||1 Jun 1794 • 23 Jun 1795 • Trafalgar • Navarino|
|Captain John Talbot||Victorious wh. Rivoli|
|Captain Sir Edward Hamilton||Surprise wh. Hermione|
|Captain Sir Alexander Gordon||23 Jun 1795 • St. Vincent • Nile • Off Rota 4 Apr 1808 • Lissa • Pelagosa 29 Nov 1811 • The Potomac 17 Aug 1814|
Stopford’s and Cockburn’s medals are in the NMM, Byam Martin’s and Codrington’s are in the RNM, while Talbot’s, Whitshed’s (NGS), and Hamilton’s medals are known to exist and are presumably in private hands. Gordon’s medals seem not to have been sighted.
3rd Class: Companions (CB)
The awards for Companion of the Bath, were announced in two installments, the first, on 4 June 1815 with a total of 363 recipients, out of which 219 went to the Army, 118 to the Navy, and to the HEIC 26. A second installment, on 8 December 1815, introduced a small correction for officers who somehow had been overlooked. The final numbers were, Army: 227, Navy: 136, and HEIC: 26, for a total of 389 Companions. Of the recipients from the Navy, 47 or ~35% of the share claimed the NGS medal. Just as for the KCBs, I suspect a similar percentage for the Army would have claimed the MGS medal.
During the period 1816-1850, there were several additional awards of CBs to the Navy, a large number of theses officers had also seen service during the Napoleonic War and close to 53% would eventually claim the NGS medal. The table below summarizes the numbers and the occasion.
|Occasion||CBs awarded||# who claimed NGS|
|Medical Officers 1850||6||5|
The combination of the awards of the Order of the Bath and the NGS 1793-1840 medal, where the Bath was given for meritorious and gallant service during the Napoleonic wars is quite scarce. Of the 80 naval KCBs awarded in 1815, only 8 claimed the NGS. Of the 136 naval CBs awarded, 47 claimed the NGS. Of these at least 7 are in museums. It is also clear that during 1815 the Army was awarded significantly more GCBs, and CBs than the Navy. The distribution of KCBs was a bit more equitable, but the Navy was still about 20% behind.
Between 1816-1850, about 101 naval CBs were awarded for various conflicts and also to some extent to men who had been overlooked earlier. Of these, 53 men claimed the NGS. Some of them naturally also served in the Napoleonic War. So in total there are about 47 + 53 = 100 CB-NGS groups for officers who were possibly involved in the conflicts 1793-1815, but only 47 of these, were without a doubt given for service in this period.
Post 1850, clearly there were multitudes of Order of the Bath appointments to deserving naval officers, notably for the Crimean conflict and those that followed, however the vast majority of these officers who in addition also claimed the NGS in 1848 (almost exclusively for Syria) would have been very junior during the wars 1793-1815, if at all present.
As mentioned in the introduction, I’ve created a database of naval officers who received the CB and NGS medal, some of these made advancements in the Order and eventually made KCB or GCB. The database lists those advancements as well. However, officers who were appointed directly into the 2nd Class of Knights Commanders (KCB), have not yet been added. Here is the link again.
- London Gazette, 4 Jan 1815 issue, and 16 Sep 1815, and many issues beyond that date.
- James Risk, The History of the Order of the Bath and its insignia, London 1972.
- Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas, History of the Order of Knighthood of the British Empire, London 1842 (volume 3).
- Patrick Marioné, The Complete Navy List 1793-1815 CD (2003).