After a brief break from our blog last month while we worked round the clock to get the Museum ready for opening (we hope you’ll forgive us!), we are back with July’s Object of the Month!
This month’s object is the star and badge of the Order of the Star of India, awarded to
Field Marshal the Earl Archibald Percival Wavell. This object is a favourite of some of the staff, and not just because it is made of diamonds!
The Order of the Star of India was introduced by Queen Victoria on 23 February 1861, “being desirous of affording to the Princes, Chiefs and People of the Indian Empire, a public and signal testimony of Her regard.” It is the fifth most senior order of chivalry in Britain.
Three classes of the Order were awarded: Knights Grand Commander, Knights Commander, and Companions. Field Marshal Wavell, perhaps the most distinguished soldier to serve in The Black Watch, was made a Knight Grand Commander (GCSI), the class awarded to princes or chiefs of India and to British subjects for particular service to the Indian Empire. Wavell was Commander-in-Chief in India from 1941 until 1943, when he became Viceroy of India; he held this position until he retired in early 1947. It was shortly after he became Viceroy that Wavell was appointed a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India.
Knights Grand Commanders of this order would have worn elaborate outfits at important ceremonies or occasions that would include a light blue mantle, or cloak, and a gold collar with lotuses, roses and palm branches surrounding an imperial crown. The star and badge that we hold in our collection, along with the accompanying plain white sash, would have been worn on less important occasions.
The star is a five-pointed star made of diamonds in the middle of a circular band of light blue enamel with the motto of the Order: “Heaven’s light our guide.” This is all set on a circular star of shimmering golden rays; twenty-six large rays alternating with twenty-six small rays. The badge features an onyx cameo with the bust of Queen Victoria wearing an imperial crown, in the middle of a gold oval once again bearing the motto, this time in diamonds on a pale blue background, topped by a five-pointed star also made of diamonds. Unfortunately the badge in our collection has lost its blue enamel background and the gold plating of the badge has worn off over the majority of it.
Many of the British chivalric orders incorporate a cross in their design. A star was used for the insignia of this Order because the cross was considered inappropriate by many of the Indian people appointed to the Order.
The last appointments to the Order of the Star of India were made shortly after the Partition of India in 1947, at the 1948 New Year Honours. The last living member of the Order died in 2009. However, the Order was never formally abolished and the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, remains Sovereign of the Order.
The Star of India is displayed in our Second World War gallery in a case about Field Marshal the Earl Wavell alongside thirty other orders, decorations and medals awarded to Wavell during his career. Wavell was the only Black Watch officer to reach the rank of Field Marshal, the most senior rank in the British Army.