Grand Master of the Order of the British Empire

The Grand Master of the Order of the British Empire is the next most senior officer after the Sovereign of the Order, currently Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

There have been three Grand Masters since the order was founded in 1917:

  • (1917–1936) The Prince of Wales (ceased to be Grand Master when he inherited the crown as King Edward VIII and became Sovereign of the order)
  • (1936–1953) Queen Mary
  • (1953–present) The Duke of Edinburgh
Edward VIII

Edward VIII (Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David; 23 June 1894 – 28 May 1972) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Empire, and Emperor of India, from 20 January 1936 until his abdication on 11 December of that year.

Edward was the eldest son of King George V and Queen Mary. He was created Prince of Wales on his sixteenth birthday, nine weeks after his father succeeded as king. As a young man, he served in the British Army during the First World War and undertook several overseas tours on behalf of his father.

Edward became king on his father's death. However, he showed impatience with court protocol, and caused concern among politicians by his apparent disregard for established constitutional conventions. Only months into his reign, he caused a constitutional crisis by proposing to Wallis Simpson, an American who had divorced her first husband and was seeking a divorce from her second. The prime ministers of the United Kingdom and the Dominions opposed the marriage, arguing a divorced woman with two living ex-husbands was politically and socially unacceptable as a prospective queen consort. Additionally, such a marriage would have conflicted with Edward's status as the titular head of the Church of England, which at the time disapproved of remarriage after divorce if a former spouse was still alive. Edward knew the British government, led by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, would resign if the marriage went ahead, which could have forced a general election and would ruin his status as a politically neutral constitutional monarch. When it became apparent he could not marry Wallis and remain on the throne, Edward abdicated. He was succeeded by his younger brother, George VI. With a reign of 326 days, Edward is one of the shortest-reigning monarchs in British history.

After his abdication, Edward was created Duke of Windsor. He married Wallis in France on 3 June 1937, after her second divorce became final. Later that year, the couple toured Germany. During the Second World War, Edward was at first stationed with the British Military Mission to France, but after private accusations that he was a Nazi sympathiser, he was appointed Governor of the Bahamas. After the war, Edward spent the rest of his life in retirement in France. He and Wallis remained married until his death.

Mary of Teck

Mary of Teck (Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes; 26 May 1867 – 24 March 1953) was Queen consort of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Empress consort of India as the wife of King George V.

Although technically a princess of Teck, in the Kingdom of Württemberg, she was born and raised in the United Kingdom. Her parents were Francis, Duke of Teck, who was of German extraction, and Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, who was a granddaughter of King George III. She was informally known as "May", after her birth month.

At the age of 24, she was betrothed to her second cousin once removed Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, the eldest son of the Prince of Wales, but six weeks after the announcement of the engagement, he died unexpectedly during an influenza pandemic. The following year, she became engaged to Albert Victor's only surviving brother, George, who subsequently became king. Before her husband's accession, she was successively Duchess of York, Duchess of Cornwall, and Princess of Wales.

As queen consort from 1910, she supported her husband through the First World War, his ill health, and major political changes arising from the aftermath of the war. After George's death in 1936, she became queen mother when her eldest son, Edward VIII, ascended the throne, but to her dismay, he abdicated later the same year in order to marry twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. She supported her second son, George VI, until his death in 1952. She died the following year, during the reign of her granddaughter Elizabeth II, who had not yet been crowned.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, 10 June 1921), is the husband of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms.

Philip was born into the Greek and Danish royal families. He was born in Greece, but his family was exiled from the country when he was an infant. After being educated in France, Germany and the United Kingdom, he joined the British Royal Navy in 1939, aged 18. From July 1939, he began corresponding with the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth, whom he had first met in 1934. During the Second World War he served with distinction in the Mediterranean and Pacific Fleets.

After the war, Philip was granted permission by George VI to marry Elizabeth. Before the official announcement of their engagement in July 1947, he abandoned his Greek and Danish royal titles and became a naturalised British subject, adopting the surname Mountbatten from his maternal grandparents. He married Elizabeth on 20 November 1947. Just before the wedding, he was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich. Philip left active military service when Elizabeth became queen in 1952, having reached the rank of commander, and was formally made a British prince in 1957.

Philip and Elizabeth have four children: Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Through a British Order in Council issued in 1960, descendants of the couple not bearing royal styles and titles can use the surname Mountbatten-Windsor, which has also been used by some members of the royal family who do hold titles, such as Princess Anne and Princes Andrew and Edward.

A keen sports enthusiast, Philip helped develop the equestrian event of carriage driving. He is a patron, president or member of over 780 organisations and serves as chairman of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award for people aged 14 to 24. He is the longest-serving consort of a reigning British monarch and the oldest ever male member of the British royal family. Philip retired from his royal duties on 2 August 2017, at the age of 96, having completed 22,219 solo engagements since 1952.

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