Order of St. Patrick

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The Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick is an order of chivalry associated with Ireland. The Order was created in 1783 by George III. 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 1934, 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), also survives. St Patrick is patron of the order; its motto is Quis separabit?, or 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?"

The insignia of the order.
The insignia of the order.

Most British orders of chivalry cover the entire kingdom, but the three most exalted ones each pertain to one constituent nation only. The Order of St Patrick, which pertains to Ireland, is the third-most senior in precedence and age. Its equivalent in England, The Most Noble Order of the Garter, is the oldest documented 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 Order of St Patrick earned international coverage when, in 1907, its insignia, known generally as the Irish Crown Jewels, were stolen from Dublin Castle shortly before a visit by the Order's Sovereign, King Edward VII. Their whereabouts remain a mystery.


The Order was founded in 1783 in order to honour senior Irish peers, after the grant of substantial autonomy to Ireland the year before. The Flag of St. Patrick may have been created specifically for the order. After the Irish Free State came into being in 1922, the Executive Council decided not to continue admitting knights to the Order. During the 1940s, Arthur Forbes, 9th Earl of Granard, a Knight of St Patrick and a member of the Council of State, which advises the President of Ireland, campaigned for the revival of the Order. Taoiseach Sean Lemass considered reviving the Order during the 1960s, but did not take a decision.

It is possible, but highly unlikely, for the British monarch to revive the Order unilaterally. It is also possible that the British monarch and the Irish government could re-establish the Order as a part of a joint Anglo-Irish honours system. The Irish Sunday Independent newspaper published an article as recently as June 2004 urging the resurrection of the Order and the conferring of membership of the order jointly by the President of Ireland and the British monarch to individuals who had distinguished themselves in the field of Anglo-Irish relations. Other publications also made similar suggestions.

The Constitution of Ireland provides, "Titles of nobility shall not be conferred by the State" and "No title of nobility or of honour may be accepted by any citizen except with the prior approval of the Government." 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.


The British monarch is Sovereign of the Order of St Patrick and appoints the other members. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the monarch's representative in Ireland, served as the Grand Master. The office of Lord Lieutenant was abolished in 1922; the last Lord Lieutenant and Grand Master was Edmund Fitzalan-Howard, 1st Viscount Fitzalan of Derwent.

The Order also originally consisted of fifteen knights. In 1821, however, George IV appointed six additional knights; he did not issue a Royal Warrant authorising the change until 1829. William IV formally changed the statutes in 1833, increasing the limit to twenty-two knights. After most of Ireland separated from the United Kingdom, only two Knights of St Patrick were created: for Edward, Prince of Wales (in 1927) and Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (in 1934); on the initiative of their father, George V, with the approval of the Irish Governments of W.T. Cosgrave and Eamon de Valera respectively. They were also the last surviving members of the order, dying in 1972 and 1974, respectively. Unlike the Orders of the Garter and the Thistle, the Order of St Patrick was limited to princes and peers. Women were never admitted to the Order of St Patrick; they were not eligible to the other two orders until 1987.

The Order of St Patrick had seven officers: the Prelate, the Chancellor, the Registrar, the King of Arms, the Usher, the Secretary and the Genealogist. Many were once held by clergymen of the Church of Ireland, 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. All offices except that of Registrar and King of Arms are now vacant.

The office of Prelate was held by the Archbishop of Armagh, the most senior clergyman in the Church of Ireland. Since 1885, the office of Prelate has remained vacant. The Church of Ireland's second highest cleric, the Archbishop of Dublin, originally served as the Chancellor. 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.

The Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral was originally the Registrar of the Order. In 1890, however, the Chief Herald of Ireland, Ireland's highest heraldic officer, took the post instead. He also served as the King of Arms of the Order. 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 (the heraldic authority in north England). The post of Norroy and Ulster King of Arms still exists; it is attached to the Order of St Patrick's positions of Registrar and King of Arms. The office of Ulster King of Arms, insofar as it related to the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland), became the position of Chief Herald of Ireland. Both the Norroy and Ulster King of Arms and the Chief Herald of Ireland thus assert that they are successors of previous Ulster Kings of Arms; in practice, they cooperate.

The Usher of the Order was the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. The Irish Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod was distinct from the British officer of the same name; 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 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.

Vestments and accoutrements

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

  • The mantle was a celestial blue robe lined with white silk. The star of the Order (see below) was depicted on the left of the mantle. A blue hood was attached to the mantle.
  • The hat of the Order was made of black velvet. It was plumed with three feathers, one red, one white and one blue.
  • The collar was made of gold, consisting of roses and harps attached with knots. The central harp was surmounted by a crown. The collar was worn around the neck.

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

  • The star of the Order was an eight-pointed figure, with the four cardinal points longer than the intermediate points. Each point was shown as a cluster of rays. In the centre was the same motto, year and design that appeared on the badge. The star was worn pinned to the left breast.
The Irish Crown Jewels included the Grand Master's star and badge.
The Irish Crown Jewels included the Grand Master's star and badge.
  • The broad riband was a celestial blue sash worn across the body, from the left shoulder to the right hip.
  • The badge was pinned to the riband at the right hip (or, when collars are worn, suspended from the collar). Made of gold, it depicted a shamrock bearing three crowns, on top of a cross of St Patrick and surrounded by a blue circle bearing the motto in majusclues, as well as the date of the Order's foundation in Roman numerals ("MDCCLXXXIII").

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 became known as the Irish Crown Jewels. They, along with five collars belonging to Knights, were famously stolen in 1907; they have not since been recovered.

The robes of one former Knight of St Patrick are now on display in the Heraldic Museum in Dublin in Dublin Castle, as well as at the Tower of London. The Irish Guards take their capstar and motto from the Order.

Chapel and Chancery

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

The Chapel of the Order was originally in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. Each member of the Order, including the Sovereign, was allotted a stall in the choir of the Chapel, above which his or her heraldic devices were displayed. Perched on the pinnacle of a knight's stall was his helm, decorated with a mantling and topped by his crest. Above the crest or coronet, the knight's or lady's heraldic banner was hung, emblazoned with his or her 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, helm, mantling, crest (or coronet or crown) and sword are taken down. The stall plates, however, were not removed; rather, they remained permanently affixed somewhere about the stall, so that the stalls of the chapel were festooned with a colourful record of the Order's Knights. 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, however, remain.

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

The Chancery of the Order was the Great Hall (now St Patrick's Hall) in Dublin Castle. Each St Patrick's Day, a banquet was held in the Hall, and any new knights installed. St Patrick's Hall now serves as the location for the inauguration of the President of Ireland.

Precedence and privileges

Knights of St Patrick could prefix "Sir" to their forenames, but the form was never used in speech, as they were all peers and therefore 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" ( Baronet), "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.

Knights were also entitled to receive heraldic supporters. 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 and Knights Grand Commanders of the junior orders. (Of course, Knights of St Patrick, all being members of the Royal Family or peers, were entitled to supporters in any event.)

Although associated with the established Church of Ireland, several Catholics were appointed to the order throughout its history.

Current members and officers

  • Sovereign: Elizabeth II
  • Registrar and King of Arms: Thomas Woodcock Esq. LVO ( Norroy and Ulster King of Arms)

The Irish Executive Council under W.T. Cosgrave chose not to keep appointing people to the Order when the Irish Free State left the United Kingdom in 1922. Since then, only two people have been appointed to the Order. Both were members of the British Royal Family. The then Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII and later Duke of Windsor) was appointed with the agreement of W.T. Cosgrave in 1928 while his younger brother, Henry, Duke of Gloucester was appointed with Eamon de Valera's agreement in 1934. The Duke of Gloucester at his death in 1974 was the last surviving member of the Order. It has however never actually been abolished and its resurrection has been discussed in Irish government circles on a number of occasions.

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