The fount of honour (Latin: fons honorum) refers to a person, who, by virtue of his or her official position, has the exclusive right of conferring legitimate titles of nobility and orders of chivalry on other persons.
During the High Middle Ages, European knights were essentially armoured, mounted warriors; by virtue of its defining characteristic of subinfeudation, in feudalism it was common practice for knights commander to confer knighthoods upon their finest soldiers, who in turn had the right to confer knighthood on others upon attaining command. For most of the Middle Ages, it was possible for private individuals to form orders of chivalry. The oldest existing order of chivalry, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, was formed as a private organization which later received official sanction from church and state.
The 13th century witnessed the trend of monarchs, beginning with Emperor Frederick II (as King of Sicily) in 1231, retaining the right of fons honorum as a royal prerogative, gradually abrogating the right of knights to elevate their esquires to knighthood. After the end of feudalism and the rise of the nation-state, orders and knighthoods, along with titles of nobility (in the case of monarchies), became the domain of the monarchs (heads of state) to reward their loyal subjects (citizens) – in other words, the heads of state became their nations' "fountains of honour".
Many of the old-style military knights resented what they considered to be a royal encroachment on their independence. The late British social anthropologist, Julian A. Pitt-Rivers, noted that "while the sovereign is the 'fount of honour' in one sense, he is also the enemy of honour in another, since he claims to arbitrate in regard to it." By the early thirteenth century, when an unknown author composed L'Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal), (a verse biography of William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, often regarded as the greatest medieval English knight) Richard W. Kaeuper notes that "the author bemoans the fact that, in his day, the spirit of chivalry has been imprisoned; the life of the knight errant, he charges, has been reduced to that of the litigant in courts."
The question whether an order is a legitimate chivalric order or a self-styled order coincides with the subject of the fons honorum. A legitimate fount of honour is a person or entity who holds sovereignty when the order is awarded; ultimately, it is the authority of the state, whether exercised by a reigning monarch or the president of a republic, that distinguishes orders of chivalry from private organizations. Other persons, whether commoners, knights, or noblemen, no longer have the right to confer titles of nobility, knighthood or orders of chivalry upon others.
The official website of the British monarchy states: "As the 'fountain of honour' in the United Kingdom, The Queen has the sole right of conferring all titles of honour, including life peerages, knighthoods and gallantry awards." Some private societies in the United Kingdom (such as the Royal Humane Society) have permission from the monarch to award medals which may be worn by those in uniform provided the private society's medal is worn on the right-side rather than the usual left. In Spain the fount of honour is King Felipe VI as the head of state.
In France, only decorations recognised by the Grand Chancery of the Legion of Honour may be worn publicly, and permission must be sought and granted to wear any foreign awards or decorations. Dynastic orders are prohibited unless the dynasty in question is currently recognised as sovereign. (For example, the Royal Victorian Order is explicitly recognised, whereas the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus is not.) Failure to comply is punishable by law. A non-exhaustive list of collectively authorised orders is published by the government.
The Papal Orders of Knighthood comprise five orders awarded directly by the Holy See and two others which it 'recognises and supports': the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. In response to queries regarding the Catholic Church's relationship to a large number of self-proclaimed Roman Catholic chivalric orders, the Holy See issued a statement in 2012 stating that any body other than its own seven approved orders, 'whether of recent origin or mediaeval foundation, are not recognised by the Holy See' and that 'the Holy See does not guarantee their historical or juridical legitimacy, their ends or organisational structures... to prevent the continuation of abuses which may result in harm to people of good faith, the Holy See confirms that it attributes absolutely no value whatsoever to certificates of membership or insignia issued by these groups, and it considers inappropriate the use of churches or chapels for their so-called "ceremonies of investiture".'
Every knight has the power to create knights
In practice, it may be found that the Royal Knighthoods still extant and the true Orders of Merit are identical, but they can differ in their external presentation. The Order can be either the prerogative of The Sovereign, which means that the reigning member of the Royal House rules the institution as the Master of the Order, or it can be a State institution, the President of the country, as Grand Master of the State Orders, having the final decision in all question concerning the Order.
Before the Royal Charter of Incorporation of 1888, the Order of St. John had no official status in Britain or throughout the British Empire as an honour. The situation was not unlike that now experienced by bodies using the name designation The Order of St. Lazarus. The Order of St. John was simply a charitable organization that involved itself in the teaching of first aid ambulance duties that happened to have attached to it an order of chivalry; on that was unrecognized by all relevant authorities--the Order of Malta, Papal officials, and, most important, the government of the United Kingdom...The involvement of the Prince of Wales was central in affording legitimacy to the Order as it evolved from what was little more than a private club to an official British order of chivalry engaged in important charitable works
As the 'fountain of honour' the Queen has the sole right of conferring all titles of honour, including life peerages, knighthoods and gallantry awards.
only the Life Saving Medal of the Order of St John, The Royal Humane Society medals, Stanhope Gold Medal and the medal of The Royal National Lifeboat Institution may be worn on the right side of the chest
Pursuant to the Constitution, the King is a symbol of the unity of the State, and as such, it is incumbent upon him to participate in important State acts...It is also incumbent upon the King to...Confer civil and military positions, as well as award honours and distinctions (Article 62 f).
These two dispositions are meant to protect the ensemble of authentic national and foreign distinctions by attempting to prevent the attire of fake decorations. These may stem from territorial entities which have not acceded to sovereignty or even from countries, nations, empires or kingdoms that are the pure and simple products of someone’s overactive imagination, a fan of fiction or even a megalomaniac, if not purely mercantile acts or even the patent intention to abuse and swindle others.