History of the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands

In September 1815, shortly after establishing the Military Order of William, King Willem I also founded a civilian order of merit for service to the community. 

The original intention was to create a single order of knighthood for both bravery and merit. However, with the threat of Napoleon’s return from exile in Elba, priority was given to a reward for bravery. And so the Military Order of William was the first to be founded.

Contribution to rebuilding the country

Government, economy and society had to be rebuilt in the Netherlands after the French occupation (1795-1813). King Willem I intended to use the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands to reward those who made a significant contribution to the rebuilding process, so politicians, officials, architects, inventors, scientists and also artists were honoured.

Medal of honour

In addition to its three classes – Knight, Commander and Knight Grand Cross – the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands included a medal of honour. Unusually for its time, the medal rewarded people in the lower social classes. Every recipient of the medal of honour was also granted an annual sum of 400 guilders: a great deal of money for most people in the Netherlands. The medal of honour was awarded for the last time around 1960.

For merit only

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a kind of automatic honours system grew up for people who had held certain posts for a long time. As that was never the intention, the government ended this practice in 1994 by amending the relevant legislation. Since then, honours have been conferred only in cases of outstanding or exceptional service to the community.