Fount of honour
The fount of honour refers to a nation's head of state
Head of State
A head of state is the individual that serves as the chief public representative of a monarchy, republic, federation, commonwealth or other kind of state. His or her role generally includes legitimizing the state and exercising the political powers, functions, and duties granted to the head of...

, who, by virtue of his or her official position, has the exclusive right of conferring legitimate titles of nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

 and orders of chivalry to other persons.


During the High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

, European knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

s were essentially armoured, mounted warriors; it was common practice for knight commanders to confer knighthoods upon their finest soldiers
Man-at-arms was a term used from the High Medieval to Renaissance periods to describe a soldier, almost always a professional warrior in the sense of being well-trained in the use of arms, who served as a fully armoured heavy cavalryman...

, who in turn had the right to confer knighthood on others upon attaining command.

This "master-apprentice" system of knighthood began to change during the Crusades
The Crusades were a series of religious wars, blessed by the Pope and the Catholic Church with the main goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem...

, when military order
Military order
A military order is a Christian society of knights that was founded for crusading, i.e. propagating or defending the faith , either in the Holy Land or against Islam or pagans in Europe...

s of chivalry were founded. As knights under these orders were bound by vows of obedience towards the orders' Grand Master
Grand Master (order)
Grand Master is the typical title of the supreme head of various orders of knighthood, including various military orders, religious orders and civil orders such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Orange Order...

s, they were prohibited from unilaterally granting knighthoods to others. This form of knighthood proved particularly attractive for monarch
A monarch is the person who heads a monarchy. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and occasionally rules for life or until abdication...

s, as a way to ensure their knights owed undivided allegiances to the monarchs themselves; to this end these monarchs either acquired grand masterships of existing orders, or created orders
Order (decoration)
An order or order of merit is a visible honour, awarded by a government, dynastic house or international organization to an individual, usually in recognition of distinguished service to a nation or to humanity. The distinction between orders and decorations is somewhat vague, except that most...

 of their own. (In the case of the British Knight Bachelor
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...

, such knights have never been allowed to have their own soldiers in the first place, therefore their allegiances to the British Monarch have never been an issue.)

Many of the old-style military knights resented what they considered to be a royal encroachment
Encroachment is a term which implies "advance beyond proper limits," and may have different interpretations depending on the context. Encroachment may refer to one of the following:* Temporal encroachment* Structural encroachment...

 on their independence. Julian Pitt-Rivers noted that "while the sovereign is the 'fount of honour' in one sense, he is also the enemy of honour in another, since he claims to arbitrate in regard to it" ("Honour and Social Status", 30 in Peristiany, ed., Honour and Shame, Chicago, 1970). In the biography of William Marshall
William Marshall
-Politicians, noblemen and military leaders:*William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke , 12th-13th-century Anglo Norman nobleman*William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke -Politicians, noblemen and military leaders:*William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke (1146–1219), 12th-13th-century Anglo Norman...

 the author bemoans the fact that, in his day, the spirit of chivalry has been imprisoned; the life of the knight errant, he charges, has been reduced to that of the litigant in courts.

The 13th century witnessed the trend of monarchs, beginning with Emperor Frederick II (as King of Sicily) in 1231, to reserve the right of fons honorum to themselves, gradually abrogating the right of knights to elevate their esquires to knighthood.

After the end of feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

 and the rise of the nation-state
The nation state is a state that self-identifies as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign entity for a nation as a sovereign territorial unit. The state is a political and geopolitical entity; the nation is a cultural and/or ethnic entity...

s, orders and knighthoods, along with titles of nobility (in the case of monarchies), became the domain for the monarchs (heads of state) to reward their loyal subjects (citizens) - in other words, the heads of state became their nations' "fountains of honour".

Legality of honour

The question whether an order is a legitimate Chivalric order
Chivalric order
Chivalric orders are societies and fellowships of knights that have been created by European monarchs in imitation of the military orders of the Crusades...

 or a self-styled order
Self-styled orders
Pseudo-chivalric orders or self-styled orders are organizations which falsely claim to be chivalric orders. Most self-styled orders arose in or after the mid-eighteenth century and many have been created in the present day, though most are short-lived and endure no more than a few decades.A...

 coincides with the fons honorum. A legitimate fount of honour is a person who held sovereignty either at or before the moment when the order was established. (Holding sovereignty before the founding of an order is considered effective in creation of a genuine chivalric order only if the former sovereign had not abdicated his sovereignty before the foundation of the order but, instead, had been deposed or had otherwise lost power.)

Modern application

Contrary to a popular myth, a person who is a knight or of noble birth does not have the right to confer titles of nobility, knighthood or Orders of Chivalry upon others. According to tradition and international law , no person or organization, other than the Head of State, or the Head of a Royal House or Dynasty—whether regnant or non-regnant—can be a fount of honour. This is because any other person lacks the required sovereignty (present or past) to have established this right, even if he or she is of royal blood.

In the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, where the fount of honour is the Monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

, some private societies have permissions from the Monarch to award medals, but these are to be worn on the right side of the chest. In France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, however, with very few exceptions, non-government orders and medals are not allowed to be worn at all. . In Spain the fount of titles of nobility is H.M. King Juan Carlos as the Head of the State.

See also

  • Australian honours system
    Australian Honours System
    -History:The Commonwealth of Australia, until 1975, used the Imperial or British honours system. Only a handful of peerages were created for Australians, some in recognition of public services rendered in Britain rather than Australia. Some hereditary peers and baronets whose titles derive from...

  • British honours system
    British honours system
    The British honours system is a means of rewarding individuals' personal bravery, achievement, or service to the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories...

  • Canadian honours system
    Canadian honours system
    The orders, decorations, and medals of Canada comprise a complex system by which Canadians are honoured by the country's sovereign for actions or deeds that benefit their community or the country at large...

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