By Alastair Bruce
The Queen, acting on the advice of her Foreign Secretary David Miliband, has “degraded” Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe from his appointment as an Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (Civil Division).
This was done as a “mark of revulsion” at the way this increasingly un-civil ruler has shown “abject disregard for the democratic process” in his country.
The term “stripped of his knighthood” is more apt today, but in mediaeval times a ceremony of Degrading would have been staged to remove a knight from an order of chivalry.
Unfortunately, we are unlikely to see the Bath King of Arms and the order’s genealogist casting down Mugabe’s banner, stall plate, helmet, sword and crest from the Chapel of the Bath, in Westminster Abbey, then kicking them all the way out of the building and into the nearest gutter.
When this was the practice, it was generally a precursor to the headman’s axe.
However, Mugabe’s name will now be physically removed from the Register of the Order of the Bath.
The last person stripped of the Bath was Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. The axe did not follow for him but a Romanian bullet did – just four days later.
Mugabe was given the honour once awarded to Nelson and Wellington by the Queen on May 17, 1994, when she was advised to invite him on a state visit to the UK by the Prime Minister, John Major.
She presented him with a black box containing the insignia of the Bath, which consisted of an eight-pointed flaming silver breast star, a crimson sash and a gold oval badge with the order’s motto, “Tria Juncta In Uno”. This refers to the three kingdoms of England (including Wales), Scotland and Ireland joined in one.
The tradition of honouring visiting heads of state is an old one. Henry VIII made the visiting Holy Roman Emperor a Knight of the Garter and was given the Golden Fleece in return. Only monarchs get the Garter now but Presidents get the Bath.
The Order of the Bath was founded in 1399 and revived in 1725. The name comes from the symbolic act of washing by new knights in the 14th Century. Washing was rare then. After soaking in a bath they were led dripping wet to a bed and covered in cloth to soak away impurity before symbolically washing their souls with prayer.
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath Companion of the Bath
Motto “Tria juncta in uno”
Three Joined in One
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (formerly The Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath) is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on May 18, 1725. The name derives from the medieval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing (as a symbol of purification) as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath. George I “erected the Knights of the Bath into a regular Military Order”. He did not (as is often stated) revive the Order of the Bath, since it had never previously existed as an Order, in the sense of a body of knights who were governed by a set of statutes and whose numbers were replenished when vacancies occurred.