This Order was instituted on 27th April 1818 by the Prince Regent (later George IV), and it was intended to commemorate the placing of the Ionian Islands under British protection; originally it was intended for distinguished citizens of the islands, and also of Malta. At first, the Order was conferred upon those holding high position and commands in the Mediterranean; the islands there, acquired as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, were at that time very strategically placed and thus of importance to Britain.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, due to the expansion of the British Empire, the Order was then extended to those who had given distinguished service in the Dominions and Colonies, as well as foreign affairs generally. Today, the Order is awarded to men and women who have held, or will hold, high office, or who render extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country. It can also be conferred for important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.
The Order consists of the Sovereign, a Grand Master (currently The Duke of Kent), and includes three classes: 125 Knights and Dames Grand Cross (GCMG), 375 Knights and Dames Commander (KCMG and DCMG), and 1750 Companions (CMG). Members of the Royal Family may be appointed as Extra Knights and Dames Grand Cross. Foreigners can be appointed as honorary members.
The Order's motto is Auspicium melioris aevi ('Token of a better age'). The banners of arms of the Knights and Dames Grand Cross are hung in the Chapel of the Order, which is in St Paul's Cathedral. Unique to this Order is the arrangement under which the enamelled metal plates of the complete armorial achievement of all three classes are placed in the seats of the Chapel.
The Star and Badge of the Order feature the cross of St George, the Order's motto, and a representation of the archangel St Michael holding in his right hand a flaming sword and trampling upon Satan. The collar of the Order is composed alternately of the lions of England royally crowned and of white enamelled Maltese crosses, and of the cyphers SM (St Michael) and SG (St George); the centre of the collar consists of two winged lions each holding a book and seven arrows, surmounted by an imperial crown. The composition of the collar is therefore a reminder of the origins of the Order.