The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of knighthood established by King George I on 18 May 1725.
The Order’s unusual title refers to a part of the elaborate medieval ceremony which preceded the appointing of a knight. Except on the battlefield, the honour of knighthood was not conferred until the candidates had prepared themselves first by cleansing their body - immersing themselves in a bath and then by purifying their soul through fasting, vigils, and prayer. Mens sana in corpore sano – inwardly and outwardly the intentions of the knight should be honest and pure (a sound mind in a sound body).
The Order of the Bath was founded as a regular military order on the advice of the first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole (in office 1721-42), who saw the Order’s potential as a source for political rewards. It consisted of the Sovereign, a Great Master and 36 Knights Companions. These original knights were mainly supporters of Walpole, either in the House of Lords or the Commons. However, this practice for awarding the Order as compensation for political support soon ceased, and it is now conferred as a reward either for outstanding military service or exemplary civilian merit.
The ceremonies of bathing, vigils, and fasting, although meticulously described in the Statutes of the Order, have never been performed.