The Order of St. John whose Sovereign Head is the Queen, has been accused
by members of its ruling body of trying to "sell" honorary knighthoods in
America to raise funds.
High-ranking officers of the Order, which founded St John Ambulance, are furious that the charity has created a Priory in the United States and will make rich Americans honorary Knights of the Order of St John, a title awarded by the Queen.
Members of the Chapter General have expressed "grave discomfort" that St John is playing on the reputation of the Queen and the Duke of Gloucester, Grand Prior of the Order, to raise money.
One said last night: "They are selling the Queen's Order to wealthy Americans. That seems wrong."
Officers also fear that Americans will be attracted by the "snob value" of a title which has no social standing. Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett's Peerage, said: "It is not a knighthood in the normal sense of the word. These 'knights' will not receive any accolade: they could not call themselves 'Sir'."
The creation of the American Priory - which will be inaugurated by the Duke of Gloucester at a $350-a-head dinner in Washington next month - has divided the chapter general, the charity's ruling body. Sir Colin Imray, secretary General of the Order of St John, described it as a "travesty of the truth" to say that knighthoods would be sold.
"The honour is a by-product of working as a volunteer or raising funds," Sir Colin said.
But Dr Anthony Blowers, a former director-general of the charity and now chairman of its Fellowship Committee, believes the principles of the Order, founded in 1099, with the mottos Pro Fide (For the Faith) and Pro Utilate Hominum (In the Service of Mankind), have been betrayed.
He raised the question at a meeting in December. "It is distasteful and against the whole principle of St John," he said.
He said it was a shame that the Order was not better served by "people who have given 20 or 30 years' service".
Dr Herbert Ellis, former Chief Commander of the St John Ambulance, also has misgivings about the fund-raising tactics.
"The 'reward' is devalued for others," he said.
Another senior source said "Americans, starved of this kind of thing, are susceptible to titles. But those of us who have put years of our life into making the Order what it is feel that it just cheapens the honour."
The Order of St John, which was set up during the Crusades, is the foundation behind the St John Ambulance, which treats 200,000 casualties in Britain every year.
It is a Royal Order of Chivalry and the Queen has to authorise the appointment of knights. Americans may not be made full knights: they can only be granted honorary knighthoods. The American Priory is being formed out of a Society of St. John, founded in America soon after the second World War.
It joins existing Priories in South Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
It will not run ambulances or provide first aid - its main purpose is fund-raising.
Last month The Sunday Telegraph disclosed that St John is facing a deficit of £2.8 million and may have to cut the ambulance service if it cannot make it up.
Traditionalists dislike the trend from service to fund-raising.
"Opinion is divided about whether a bloke who raises $250,000 should be entitled to an honour as a bloke who trains doctors." said one.
"Gongs are there to rewards service, not giving."
© Copyright Telegraph Group Limited, London, 1996
This article was originally published in the 14 April 1996 issue of The
and is reproduced with permission.
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