1879: The Honours List
At the upper levels of society in the British Empire, the Honours List provides a means of keeping score. Twice a year, at New Years and the Queen’s Birthday, the London Gazette publishes the list of all those elevated in social rank, granted postnominals, or otherwise recognised with a formal award. Making the Honours List is how one rises to Social Level 5, the aristocracy, or advances within the gradations of those rarified heights. Even more so than in the lower classes, there’s a pecking order, a formalised means of keeping track of who’s better than whom, and it’s called the Order of Precedence. Getting a title is a fine and wonderful thing, but may still put you at the back of the queue. Advancing from Companion of the Bath to Knight Commander sends you up the table, closer to the Prime Minister, where the serious deals are made. (Of course, other nations have their own Honours, and their own systems of awarding them, but as hideously complicated as these things get with a few hundred years of accretion, we’ll stick to the Brits for now to keep our sanity, thank you.)
Honours divide into Peerages, which grant aristocratic titles, allow a seat in the House of Lords, may carry lands, and may be hereditary; Honours proper, aristocratic titles granted for extensive service or extraordinary achievement, such as knighthoods; Decorations, given out for specific actions; and Medals, generally restricted to the military, and given for service in particular engagements or theatres, actions above and beyond the call of duty, and Good Conduct over the course of a career.
Only an enlisted man or woman with twenty years of service and a Good Conduct medal can put in an application to become a Beefeater, more properly the Guard of the Tower of London. As any Tower Guard will tell you, a Good Conduct medal means twenty years of undetected crime.
– Sgt. Pikey Ravenfeeder, Ret.
Peerages are titles granted by the Crown that give the recipient a seat in the House of Lords, may carry lands, and may be hereditary. These outrank everything else in the Order of Precedence. They divide into Hereditary Peerages, which pass down through the family line, and Life Peerages, which attach to the person honoured and do not inherit. Hereditary Peerages go back hundreds of years, into the feudal era, although they’re not worth nearly so much these days. Life Peerages were created under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act of 1876, initially intended for Law Lords so that better legal expertise could be brought into the House of Lords. Of course, that got expanded upon within less than a year, once the first one’s got their foot in the door and all that.
Honours involve the Orders of knighthood currently in standing in the British Empire, with the ranks that go along with them and the postnominal letters (the additions to the alphabet soup that follows an aristocrat’s name). A Knight, Dame, or Lady is addressed as Sir, Dame, or Lady and their given name, not their family name. This differs from a Lord or Lady who get their title from land or other inheritance, as there, the title attaches to the family lineage. It’s worth noting that inherited titles outrank bestowed titles, and so Lady Wicnell, who gets her title from the Wicnell estate, walks ahead of Lady Cynthia, who got her knighthood for serving ten years as Scotland’s Exchequer of Pleas. The postnominals also follow the order of precedence, and so someone who is both a Knight of the Thistle and a recipient of the Victoria Cross styles themselves as Sir/Lady Firstname Surname, KT, VC.
Decorations are given to individuals who have performed some considerable service, often military, worthy of personal congratulations by the Sovereign and a fancy bit of jewelry to hang on a ribbon. Some include their own named medal, such as the Victoria Cross, while others come with an associated medal, such as the Distinguished Flying Cross, that gets the recipient a Distinguished Flying Medal to pin on their jacket.
The list of Medals that can be given for military service and associated efforts runs for quite a few pages for each service. Some are awarded for a particular battle, and are never given out again after that battle is recognised. Others are given for acts meeting specific conditions, such as bravery under enemy fire. Quite a few tend to be given out posthumously, to recognize the self-sacrifice of the recipient for the greater good.
So, your character has reached SL5? Jolly good. Want to move up on the invitation lists, get brought round for tea with the right people, sit a bit closer to the Crown at the banquet? Do something worth Honours.