The British founded the Order in 1878 to reward British and native officials who served in British India. The Order originally had only one class (Companion), but expanded to comprise two classes in 1887. The British authorities intended the Order of the Indian Empire as a less exclusive version of the Order of the Star of India (founded in 1861); consequently, many more appointments were made to the former than to the latter.
On 15 February 1887, the Order of the Indian Empire formally became "The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire" and was divided into two classes: Knights Commander and Companions, with the following as Knights Commanders, listed up to 1906
However, on 21 June 1887, a further proclamation regarding the Order was made; the Order was expanded from two classes to three – Knight Grand Commander, Knight Commander and Companion. Seven Knights Grand Commander were created, namely:
General Sir Frederick Sleigh Roberts (promoted from a Knight Commander)
Also from 1897, 3 honorary Knights Commanders were made.
Including Léon Émile Clément-Thomas (1897), Col. Sir Eduardo Augusto Rodriques Galhardo (Jan 1901) and Sir Hussien Kuli Khan, Mokhber-ed-Dowlet (June 1902).
Emperor Gojong of Korea was made an honorary Knight Grand Commander on 17 December 1900.
Appointments to both the Order of the Star of India and the Order of the Indian Empire ceased after 14 August 1947. As the last Grand Master of the orders, the Earl Mountbatten of Burma was also the last known individual to have publicly worn the stars of a Knight Grand Commander of both orders, during the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977. The Orders have never been formally abolished, and King Charles III remains the Sovereign of the Orders. There are no living members of the order.
The British Sovereign serves as the Sovereign of the Order. The Grand Master held the next-most senior rank; the position was held, ex officio, by the Viceroy of India. Members of the first class were known as "Knights Grand Commanders" rather than "Knights Grand Cross" so as not to offend the non-Christian Indians appointed to the Order.
At the time of foundation in 1878 the order had only one class, that of Companion, with no quota imposed. In 1886, the Order was divided into the two classes of Knights Commander (50 at any given time) and Companions (no quota). The following year the class of Knight Grand Commander (25 at any given time) was added; the composition of the other two classes remained the same. The statute also provided that it was "competent for Her Majesty, Her heirs and successors, at Her or their pleasure, to appoint any Princes of the Blood Royal, being descendants of His late Majesty King George the First, as Extra Knights Grand Commanders".
By Letters Patent of 2 Aug 1886, the number of Knights Commander was increased to 82, while Commanders were limited to 20 nominations per year (40 for 1903 only). Membership was expanded by Letters Patent of 10 June 1897, which permitted up to 32 Knights Grand Commander. A special statute of 21 October 1902 permitted up to 92 Knights Commander, but continued to limit the number of nominations of Commanders to 20 in any successive year. On 21 December 1911, in connection with the Delhi Durbar, the limits were increased to 40 Knights Grand Commander, 120 Knights Commander, and 40 nominations of companions in any successive year.
British officials and soldiers were eligible for appointment, as were rulers of Indian Princely States. Generally, the rulers of the more important states were appointed Knights Grand Commanders of the Order of the Star of India, rather than of the Order of the Indian Empire. Women, save the princely rulers, were ineligible for appointment to the Order. Female princely rulers were admitted as "Knights" rather than as "Dames" or "Ladies". Other Asian and Middle Eastern rulers were also appointed as well.
Members of the Order wore elaborate costumes on important ceremonial occasions:
The mantle, worn only by Knights Grand Commander, comprised dark blue satin lined with white silk. On the left side was a representation of the star (see photo at right).
The collar, also worn only by Knights Grand Commander, was made of gold. It was composed of alternating golden elephants, Indian roses and peacocks.
At less important occasions, simpler insignia were used:
The star, worn only by Knights Grand Commander and Knights Commander, had ten points, including rays of gold and silver for Knights Grand Commander, and of plain silver for Knights Commander. In the centre was an image of Victoria surrounded by a dark blue ring with the motto and surmounted by a crown.
The badge was worn by Knights Grand Commander on a dark blue riband, or sash, passing from the right shoulder to the left hip, and by Knights Commander and Companions from a dark blue ribbon around the neck. It included a five-petalled crown-surmounted red flower, with the image of Victoria surrounded by a dark blue ring with the motto at the centre.
The insignia of most other British chivalric orders incorporate a cross; the Order of the Indian Empire does not, in deference to India's non-Christian tradition.
Members of all classes of the Order were assigned positions in the order of precedence. Wives of members of all classes also featured on the order of precedence, as did sons, daughters and daughters-in-law of Knights Grand Commanders and Knights Commanders. (See order of precedence in England and Wales for the exact positions.)
Knights Grand Commanders used the post-nominal "GCIE", Knights Commanders "KCIE" and Companions "CIE." Knights Grand Commanders and Knights Commanders prefixed "Sir" to their forenames. Wives of Knights Grand Commanders and Knights Commanders could prefix "Lady" to their surnames. Such forms were not used by peers and Indian princes, except when the names of the former were written out in their fullest forms.
Knights Grand Commanders were also entitled to receive heraldic supporters. They could, furthermore, encircle their arms with a depiction of the circlet (a circle bearing the motto) and the collar; the former is shown either outside or on top of the latter. Knights Commanders and Companions were permitted to display the circlet, but not the collar, surrounding their arms. The badge is depicted suspended from the collar or circlet.
Mahamahopadhyay Pandit Mahesh Chandra Nyayratna Bhattacharyya of Calcutta, eminent Sanskrit scholar, principal of the Sanskrit College, academic administrator, philanthropist and social reformer. He was made a Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) on 24 May 1881, six years before the title of Mahamahopadhyay was conferred as a personal distinction on the occasion of the Jubilee of the reign of Queen Victoria, for eminence in oriental learning. He was arguably the first Bengali CIE. The titles entitled him to take rank in the Durbar immediately after titular Rajas.
Sir V. Bhashyam Aiyangar, The first Indian to be appointed Advocate-General of the Madras Presidency and Law member of the executive council of the Governor of Madras between 1897 and 1900, was created as a CIE in 1895, however his later promotion to the rank of Knight Bachelor in 1900 often overshadows his CIE status.
Mahadev Govind Ranade, a distinguished Indian scholar, social reformer and author. He was a founding member of the Indian National Congress and owned several designations as member of the Bombay legislative council, member of the finance committee at the centre, and the judge of Bombay High Court. In 1897, Ranade served on a committee charged with the task of enumerating imperial and provincial expenditure and making recommendations for financial retrenchment. This service won him the decoration of CIE.
Nawab Sir Khwaja Salimullah Bahadur of Dhaka Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (GCIE) – 23 December 1911, Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (KCSI) – New Year Honours, 1909, Companion of the Order of the Star of India (CSI) – New Year Honours, 1906.
Abdul Karim, "the Munshi", Queen Victoria's favourite Indian servant, was created a CIE.
^Buckland, C. E. (1901). Bengal Under the Lieutenant-Governors: Being a Narrative of the Principal Events and Public Measures During Their Periods of Office, from 1854 to 1898, p. 699. Calcutta: S. K. Lahiri & Co.