Royal gift made to order for Prince William

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What do you get your grandson for his 30th? How about the highest honour in Scotland? David O’Leary reports on the Queen’s present to William

WHEN Prince William sits down to open his birthday presents next month, there is at least one he can be sure he won’t have already.

The Queen has solved the problem of what to buy a man who has everything by gifting him Scotland’s top honour.

The heir to the throne, it has been revealed, will become a Knight of the Order of the Thistle, joining an exclusive club whose origins are unclear but are firmly rooted in the Lothians.

Sure, he may not get much use out of the pressie, although it does come with a guaranteed seat at St Giles’ where the chapel of the order is based. So what does it actually mean, who are the knights and what do they do?

Appointments to the Order of the Thistle are entirely the personal gift of the Queen and are not made on the advice of the Prime Minister, as are most other Honours.

The exact foundation date of the Order, whose motto is Nemo Me Impune Lacesit (No One Provokes Me With Impunity), lies somewhat obscured by the mists of time.

Some accounts credit the order as being founded by Achaius, King of Scots, who while engaged in battle at Athelstaneford in East Lothian in 786 with the Saxon King Athelstan of East Anglia, saw in the heavens the cross of St Andrew.

After he won the battle, Achaius is said to have established the Order of the Thistle, naming St Andrew as patron saint and adopting his form of the cross as a flag, namely the Saltire.

What is known, however, is that King James VII issued letters patent “reviving and restoring the Order of the Thistle to its full glory, lustre and magnificency” in 1687.

The Lord Lieutenant of East Lothian and president of the Scottish Council of the Scout Association, Sir Garth Morrison, pictured below, was installed into the Order in 2007.

He said: “The Order may have been in existence in one form or another before 1687 but that is the date we recognise as the official institution of the order.

“It’s a joy to see the continuation of its fine history as Prince William, representing another royal generation, joins our ranks. It is a great honour for Scotland.”

There are 16 ordinary Knights and Ladies of the Thistle – there is no restriction on Royal Knights. Previously, the only women members were the Queen, who is head of the order, and the Queen Mother.

Then in 1987 the Queen changed the rules and decreed that “common” women be allowed to join.

Former Christian Aid chair, Lady Marion Fraser, of Gifford, East Lothian, then became the first, and so far only, woman from outside the royal family to be appointed. The Princess Royal, Princess Anne, was conferred with the Order of the Thistle in 2001.

Prince William, known as the Earl of Strathearn in Scotland, will receive the honour – second only to the Order of the Garter in the UK – at St Giles’ Cathedral on July 5.

As for what William will be able to do with his birthday present, the answer is probably not much. Sir Garth said: “The Order meets once a year for a service on St Andrew’s Day and also whenever a new knight is installed. It should be quite an event as Prince William and his wife the Countess of Strathearn will definitely draw a crowd.”

The ceremony will take 40 minutes and feature a procession from the Signet Library to the Thistle Chapel where Prince William will pledge an oath of allegiance to uphold the values of the Order.

The Queen, of course, will then be left with a new problem – what to get him next year.

Knights and ladies

The Queen

The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip

The Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles.

The Princess Royal, Princess Anne.

The Earl of Airlie

The Earl of Elgin and Kincardine

The Viscount of Arbuthnott

The Earl of Crawford and Balcarre

Lady Marion Fraser

Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

Lord Wilson of Tillyorn

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

Sir Eric Anderson

Lord Steel of Aikwood.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen

Lord Cullen of Whitekirk

Sir Garth Morrison

Lord Hope of Craighead

Lord Patel