The Knights of the Bath are members of the Order of the Bath, an English order of chivalry. The Order of the Bath is one of the most prestigious orders of chivalry in England, and being selected to join is considered a great honor. Membership in the Order of the Bath is restricted to citizens of the English Commonwealth; most members are high ranking military personnel or civil servants. As with other orders of chivalry, the monarch grants membership, although he or she may consult with other members of the British government.
The Order of the Bath was founded in 1725. The name of the order references the traditional medieval process of knighting, in which the knight-to-be took a symbolic bath to put body and mind into a state of purity and clarity. Typically, knights meditated all night in church after bathing, centering their minds before coming before the Monarch to be knighted. John Anstis is generally credited with providing the inspiration for the Order of the Bath. After George I agreed to establish the order, Anstis drew up the rules of membership in his role as Garter King of Arms, creating regulations which the Knights of the Bath must follow and establishing the hierarchy and procedures for the order.
The creation of the Knights of the Bath represented a significant shift in British culture. Previously, honors were given only to a limited number of people, in chivalric orders like the Order of the Garter, which has a very limited membership. Historians have suggested that Anstis pushed for the creation of the Order of the Bath to create a tool which could be used for political favors; Knights of the Bath would understandably be pleased with their nomination and probably willing to compensate or assist people who put their names into the ear of the Sovereign.
The highest ranking person in the Order of the Bath is the British Monarch, followed by a Grand Master, who ensures that members obey the rules of the order. By tradition, the Grand Master is typically a member of the British Royal Family. Following the Grand Master come the Knights and Dames of the Grand Cross, after which come the Knights and Dames Commander, and finally the Knights Companions of the Bath. Membership in this hierarchy is divided between civilians and military personnel; at one point, the Knights of the Bath were all members of the military, but this tradition was abolished by Queen Victoria.
The Knights of the Bath often show up at ceremonial events and processions, and they also traditionally have an investiture ceremony every four years to initiate new members. They are entitled to privileges such as the use of titles like DCB for a Dame's Companion of the Bath, and they are also permitted to wear special vestments including cloaks, hats, sashes, and pins.