The Order of Merit was instituted in 1902 by King Edward VII. The membership of the order is limited to the sovereign plus 24members. There is no limit on the number of foreign honorary members, although only ten such members have been admitted. The Order of Merit is the sole gift of the sovereign. The badge is an eight-pointed cross of red and blue enamel surmounted by the imperial crown; in the centre, upon blue enamel and surrounded by a laurel wreath, are the words in gold lettering 'For Merit'. The insignia for the military division (when used) is differentiated by crossed swords in the centre of the badge.

Past British holders of the Order have included

Florence Nightingale and Lord Lister (medicine)

Lawrence ALMA-TADEMA, William Holman HUNT, Augustus Edwin JOHN and Graham SUTHERLAND (artists)

Henry MOORE (sculptor)

Sir Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten (composers)

Thomas Hardy, James Barrie, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Graham Greene and Ted Hughes (Writers)

Bertrand Russell (philosopher and mathematician)

Sir Winston Churchill and Earl Attlee (former Prime Ministers)

General Baden-Powell (founder of the Scout Movement)

Field Marshals Roberts, Haig, Kitchener and Earl Alexander of Tunis

Admirals Jellicoe, Beatty and Earl Mountbatten of Burma

Sir Geoffrey de Havilland (aircraft designer)

Cardinal Basil Hume (Roman Catholic Church)

The present members (May 2010) of the Order of Merit are Queen Elizabeth II (as Sovereign), Nelson Mandela (honorary member) and the 24 listed below.

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh KG KT OM GBE AC QSO PC (1968), Royal Consort

The Revd Owen Chadwick OM KBE (1983), Theological Historian

Sir Andrew Huxley OM FRS (1983), Physiologist and Nobel Laureate (Medicine)

Dr Frederick Sanger OM CH CBE FRS (1986), Biochemist and Double Nobel Laureate (Chemistry)

The Rt Hon. The Baroness Thatcher LG OM PC FRS (1990), British Prime Minister (1979-1990)

Dame Joan Sutherland OM AC DBE (1991), Coloratura Soprano

Sir Michael Atiyah OM FRS (1992), Mathematician, Fields medalist and Abel Laureate

Lucian Freud OM CH (1993), Painter

Sir Aaron Klug OM FRS (1995), Biophysicist and Nobel Laureate (Chemistry)

The Rt Hon. The Lord Foster of Thames Bank OM RA (1997), Architect and Pritzker Laureate

Sir Denis Rooke OM CBE (1997), Industrial Engineer

Sir James Black OM FRS (2000), Pharmacologist and Nobel Laureate (Medicine)

Sir Anthony Caro OM CBE (2000), Sculptor

Sir Roger Penrose OM FRS (2000), Mathematical physicist

Sir Tom Stoppard OM CBE (2000), Playwright

HRH The Prince of Wales KG KT GCB OM AK QSO PC ADC (2002), Heir to the Throne

The Rt Hon. The Lord May of Oxford OM AC FRS (2002), Ecologist

The Rt Hon. The Lord Rothschild OM GBE (2002), Philanthropist

Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE FRS (2005), Broadcaster

The Rt Hon. The Baroness Boothroyd OM PC (2005), First female Speaker of the House of Commons

Sir Michael Howard OM CH KBE MC (2005), Military historian

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA (2007), Inventor of World Wide Web

The Rt. Hon. The Lord Rees of Ludlow OM FRS (2007), Astronomer Royal

The Most Rev. The Lord Eames OM (2007), Anglican Primate of All Ireland


Order of Merit