In the European monarchies, the most exclusive
orders of knighthood are those that are awarded in a single class (or grade). Nowadays, orders that fall under that category include:
- The Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle in the United Kingdom.
- The Order of the Golden Fleece in Spain.
- The Order of the Elephant in Denmark.
- The Order of the Seraphim in Sweden.
Previously, the Order of the Annunziata
in the Kingdom of Italy and the Order of the Holy Spirit in the Kingdom of France were also examples of orders in the same group. All five active orders listed above and awarded by reigning monarchs are actually pretty exclusive; however, as I have noted in a different post, there is a considerable difference in their numbers of current living members (excluding the Sovereign, but including members of the Royal Family and foreign Knights). According to the Wikipedia (possibly imprecise
- Order of the Golden Fleece: 16 (including 2 Spanish royals and 10 foreign royals).
- Order of the Thistle: 19 (including 4 British royals).
- Order of the Garter: 38 (including 9 British royals and 8 foreign royals).
- Order of the Elephant: 66 (including 8 Danish royals and 34 foreign royals).
- Order of the Seraphim: 88 (including 17 Swedish royals and 35 foreign royals).
Those differences may be explained in part by the different policies each monarch uses to decorate: (i) presidents of republics; (ii) foreign Queens consort, princes consort, Crown Princes/Princesses, and other junior princes or princesses; (iii) first ladies of republics; and (iv) members of their own Royal Family or Royal House.
In the next post, I present a summary of the practice followed by the current
monarchs of Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and by the current and the previous
monarch of Spain, with a few doubts and question
s I have, which hopefully more knowledgeable posters may be able to clarify (note that practice in other previous reigns may differ considerably).