The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by King George V. The Order is composed of five classes in civil and military divisions. In descending order of seniority, these are:
- Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE)
- Knight Commander or Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE or DBE)
- Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE)
- Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)
- Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE)
Only the highest two ranks automatically entitle its recipient to become a knight or dame, an honour allowing (but not prescribing) the postulant to use the title "Sir" (male) or "Dame" (female) before his or her first name (though men can be knighted separately from this and other Orders of Chivalry). Honorary knighthoods, given to individuals who are not nationals of a realm where Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State, permit use of the honour as a post-nominal but not as a title before their name. Awards in the Order of the British Empire in the Commonwealth Realms were discontinued with the establishment of national systems of honours and awards such as the Order of Canada, the Order of Australia and the New Zealand Order of Merit. Foreign recipients are classified as honorary members of the Order they receive, and do not contribute to the numbers restricted to that Order as full members do.
There is also a related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are not members of the Order, but who are nonetheless affiliated with the Order. The British Empire Medal had not been used in the United Kingdom or its dependencies since 1993, but was revived in 2012 with 293 BEMs awarded for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. In addition, BEM is used by the Cook Islands and by some other Commonwealth nations.
The Order's motto is For God and the Empire. It is the most junior of the British orders of chivalry, and the largest, with over 100,000 living members worldwide.