What is the difference between a CBE, OBE, MBE and a knighthood?

Twice a year – at new year and in June on the date of the Queen's official birthday – British honour recipients are announced in The Gazette. Here we look at the different ranks of the Order of the British Empire, as well as some of their most famous recipients.

CBE OBE MBE Knighthood Damehood Differences

The British honours system rewards individuals with Honours, Decorations and Medals in public recognition of their merit, service or bravery. Honours are announced and awarded twice a year by Her Majesty The Queen, with lists consisting of knights and dames, appointments to the Order of the British Empire, and gallantry and bravery awards. Different awards are received depending on an individual’s achievements.

What is the Order of the British Empire?

The most well-known awards are classes of appointment to the Order of the British Empire. Instituted in 1917 by George V, the awards were created during World War I to reward services to the war effort by people not on the front line. However, they are now awarded to civilians as well as members of the armed forces.

They include (in order of precedence):

  • GBE, KBE or DBE (Knight or Dame) - Knight or Dame of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
  • CBE - Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
  • OBE - Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
  • MBE - Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

What is a Knight or Dame?

The two senior ranks of the Order of the British Empire are Knight or Dame Grand Cross, and Knight or Dame Commander. Both of these ranks entitle their members to use the title of Sir for men and Dame for women before their forename.

The honour is awarded to members who have made major contributions to any activity, usually at national level. Per tradition, knighthoods and damehoods are presented with a touch of a sword by the King or Queen.

Famous people who are Knights and Dames

Here are some notable people to receive a knighthood or damehood from The Queen:

What is a CBE?

Standing for Commander of the Order of the British Empire, the CBE is the highest ranking Order of the British Empire award (excluding a knighthood/damehood), followed by OBE and then MBE.

The CBE is awarded to individuals for having a prominent role at national level, or a leading role at regional level. CBEs are also awarded for distinguished and innovative contribution to any area.

Famous people who have a CBE

Here are some notable people to receive the CBE from The Queen:

What is an OBE?

Standing for Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an OBE is the second highest ranking Order of the British Empire award (excluding a knighthood/damehood), behind CBE but ahead of MBE.

The OBE is awarded to individuals who have made major contributions at a local level, or whose work has gained a national profile.

Famous people who have an OBE

Here are some notable people to receive the OBE from The Queen:

What is an MBE?

Standing for Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an MBE is the third highest ranking Order of the British Empire award (excluding a knighthood/damehood), behind CBE and then OBE.

The MBE is awarded for an outstanding achievement or service to the community which has had a long-term, significant impact.

Famous people who have an MBE

Here are some notable people to receive the MBE from The Queen:

See also

Footballers who have received UK honours from the Queen

The Queen's Birthday honours 2019

Find out more

Nominate someone for an honour or award (Gov)

Types of honours and awards (Gov)

The Queen and Honours (Royal)

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