Chivalric order

Chivalric order

Chivalric orders are societies and fellowships of knights[1] that have been created by European monarchs in imitation of the military orders of the Crusades. After the crusades, the memory of these crusading military orders became idealised and romanticised, resulting in the late medieval notion of chivalry, and is reflected in the Arthurian romances of the time.

Modern historiography tends to take the fall of Acre in 1291 as the final end of the age of the crusades. But in contemporary understanding, many further crusades against the Turks were planned and partly executed throughout the 14th century and well into the 15th century. The late medieval chivalric orders thus very much understood themselves as reflecting an ongoing military effort against Islam, even though such an effort with the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the fall of Constantinople in the 1450s was without realistic hope of success. During the 15th century, orders of chivalry became more and more a mere courtly fashion and could be created ad-hoc, some of them purely honorific, consisting of nothing but the badge. These institutions in turn gave rise to the modern-day orders of merit.



Heraldist D'Arcy Boulton (1987) classifies chivalric orders in the following manner:

  • Monarchical or dynastical orders
  • Confraternal orders
  • Fraternal orders
  • Votive Orders
  • Cliental pseudo-orders
  • Honorific orders

Based on Boulton, this article distinguishes:

  • Chivalric orders by time of foundation:
    • Medieval chivalric orders: foundation of the order during the middle ages or renaissance
    • Modern chivalric orders: foundation after 1789
  • Chivalric orders by religion:
    • Catholic chivalric orders: membership exclusively for members of the Catholic Church
    • Protestant chivalric orders: blessed by the heads of Protestant churches
    • Orthodox chivalric orders: blessed by the heads of Orthodox churches
  • Chivalric orders by purpose:
    • Monarchical and dynastical chivalric orders: foundation by a monarch who is a fount of honour; either ruling or not ruling
    • Confraternal chivalric orders: foundation by a nobleman, either high nobility or low nobility
    • Fraternal chivalric orders: founded for a specific purpose only
    • Votive chivalric orders: founded for a limited period of time only by members who take a vow
    • Honorific chivalric orders: consist only of honorific insignia bestowed on knights on festive occasions, consisting of nothing but the badge
    • Pseudo-chivalric orders: self proclaimed imitation-orders without statutes or restricted memberships

Medieval orders

Monarchical or dynastical orders

  • Late medieval monarchical orders (14th and 15th centuries) are orders of chivalry with the presidency attached to a monarch:
  1. Order of Saint George, founded by Charles I of Hungary in 1325
  2. Order of the Garter, founded by Edward III of England in ca. 1348
  3. Order of the Most Holy Annunciation, founded by Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy in 1362.
  4. Order of the Ermine, founded by John V, Duke of Brittany in 1381: First order to accept Women.
  5. Order of the Dragon, founded by Sigismund of Hungary in 1408.
  6. Order of the Golden Fleece, founded by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy in 1430
  7. Order of St Michel, founded by Louis XI of France in 1469
  • Post-medieval foundations of chivalric orders:
  1. Order of Saint Stephen (1561)
  2. Order of the Holy Spirit (1578)
  3. Blood of Jesus Christ (military order) (1608)
  4. Order of the Thistle (1687)
  5. Order of Saint Louis (1694)
  6. Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary (1764)
  7. Order of Saint Joseph (1807)
  • Monarchical orders whose monarch no longer reigns but continue to be bestowed, are called dynastical orders:
  1. Order of the Golden Fleece (Austrian branch)
  2. Order of the Holy Spirit
  3. Order of Prince Danilo I of Montenegro
  4. Order of Saint Peter of Cetinje
  5. Royal Order of Saint George for the Defense of the Immaculate Conception (Bavaria)
  6. Order of the Crown (Romania)
  7. Order of Carol I (Romania)
  8. Order of the Immaculate Conception of Vila Vicosa (Portugal)
  9. Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George (Two Sicilies)

Confraternal orders

Confraternal orders are orders of chivalry with the presidency attached to a nobleman:

  • Princely orders were founded by noblemen of higher rank. Most of these were founded in imitation of the Order of the Golden Fleece, after 1430:
  1. Order of Saint Catherine, founded by Humbert II, Dauphin du Viennois in ca. 1335
  2. Order of Saint Anthony, founded by Albrecht I of Bavaria in 1384
  3. Society of the Eagle, founded by Albrecht II von Habsburg in 1433
  4. Society of Our Lady (Order of the Swan), founded by Frederick II, Elector of Brandenburg in 1440
  5. Order of Saint Hubert, founded by Gerhard V of Jülich and Berg in 1444
  6. Order of the Crescent, founded by René d'Anjou in 1448
  7. Society of Saint Jerome, founded by Friedrich II of Wettin in 1450
  • Baronial orders, founded by noblemen of lower rank:
  1. Order of Saint Hubert (Barrois, (1422)
  2. Noble Order of Saint George of Rougemont, also called Confraternity of Saint-Georges of Burgundy (Franche-Comté, 1440)

Fraternal orders

Fraternal orders are orders of chivalry that were formed off a vow & for a certain enterprise:

  1. Compagnie of the Black Swan, founded by 3 princes and 11 knights in Savoy (1350)
  2. Corps et Ordre du Tiercelet, founded by the vicomte de Thouars and 17 barons in Poitou (1377–1385)
  3. Ordre de la Pomme d'Or, founded by 14 knights in Auvergne (1394)
  4. Alliance et Compagnie du Levrier, founded by 44 knights in the Barrois (1416–1422), subsequently converted into the Confraternal order of Saint Hubert (see above)

Votive orders

Votive orders are orders of chivalry, temporarily formed on the basis of a vow. These were courtly chivalric games rather than actual pledges as in the case of the fraternal orders. Three are known from their statutes:

  1. Emprise de l'Escu vert à la Dame Blanche (Enterprise of the green shield with the white lady), founded by Jean Le Maingre dit Boucicaut and 12 knights in 1399 for the duration of 5 years
  2. Emprise du Fer de Prisonnier (Enterprise of the Prisoner's Iron), founded by Jean de Bourbon and 16 knights in 1415 for the duration of 2 years
  3. Emprise de la gueule de dragon (Enterprise of the Dragon's Mouth), founded by Jean comte de Foix in 1446 for 1 year.

Cliental pseudo-orders

Cliental pseudo-orders are not orders of chivalry and were princes' retinues fashionably termed orders. They are without statutes or restricted memberships:

  1. Ordre de la Cosse de Genêt (Order of the Broom-Pod), founded by Charles VI of France ca. 1388
  2. Order of the camail or Porcupine, created by Louis d'Orléans in 1394
  3. Order of the Dove, Castile, 1390
  4. Order of the Scale of Castile, ca. 1430

Honorific orders

Honorific orders were honorific insignia consisting of nothing but the badge:

  1. Order of the Stoat and the Ear, founded by Francis I, Duke of Brittany in 1448
  2. Order of the Golden Spur, a papal order (since the 14th century, flourishes in the 16th century)

Together with the monarchical and dynastical chivalric orders (see above) these honorific orders are the prime ancestors of the modern-day orders of knighthood (see below) which are orders of merit in character.

The distinction between these orders and decorations is somewhat vague, except that these honorific orders still implied a membership in a group. Decorations have no such limitations, and are awarded purely to recognize the merit or accomplishments of the recipient. Both orders and decorations often come in multiple classes.[2]

Modern orders

Most orders created since the late 17th century were no longer societies and fellowships of knights[1] who followed a common mission, but were established by dynastic houses or governments with the specific purpose of bestowing honours on deserving individuals. In most European monarchies, these new orders retained some outward forms from the medieval orders of chivalry (such as rituals and structure) but were in essence orders of merit, mainly distinguished from their republican counterparts by the fact that members were entitled to a title of nobility. While some orders required noble birth (such as the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary, established in 1764), others would confer a title upon appointment (such as the Military Order of Max Joseph, established in 1806) while in yet other orders only the top classes were considered knights (such as in the Order of St Michael and St George, established in 1818). Orders of merit which still confer privileges of knighthood are sometimes referred to as orders of knighthood. As a consequence of being not an order of chivalry but orders of merit or decorations, some republican honours have thus avoided the traditional structure found in medieval orders of chivalry and created new ones instead, e.g. the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria, or the Legion of Merit of the United States.

Current orders

Former orders

  • Order of St. Stanislaus, founded by King Stanislaus II Augustus Poniatowski of Poland in 1765.
  • Order of the Iron Helmet of Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel) (in present-day Germany), founded 1814, abolished ...
  • Wilhelmsorden (Order of Wilhelm) of Hesse-Kassel, founded 1851, abolished 1875
  • Order of the African Star, founded by King Leopold II of the Congo Free State on 30 December 1888, which became a Belgian order in 1908 and has not been awarded since the independence of Congo in 1960
  • Royal Order of the Lion, founded by King Leopold II of the Congo Free State on 9 April 1891, which became a Belgian order in 1908 and has not been awarded since the independence of Congo in 1960
  • Ludewigsorden (Order of Louis) of the Grand Duchy of Hesse, founded 1807, abolished 1918
  • Order of the Norwegian Lion, founded 1904, abolished 1952
  • Order of Pahlavi, founded 1928 by Reza Shah, abolished 1979 after the Iranian Revolution. There were two classes. The first class, the Grand Collar was worn by the Shah, crown prince, and awarded to heads of state. The second class, the Grand Cordon was worn by princes and princesses.

Self-styled chivalric orders

Self-styled orders are organisations that claim to be chivalric orders in the same sense as orders such as the Austrian Order of the Golden Fleece or the French Order of Saint Michael, which actually are able to convey knighthood. The self-styled orders are membership organisations and have not been created by a state or a monarch.

With few exceptions, self-styled orders began to arise in the middle of the eighteenth century, and they continue to emerge. Some are short-lived and only last a few decades. There are differing opinions about what principles or rules should be applied to distinguish an organisation as a genuine chivalric order or a merely self-styled one.

Most scholars agree that a chivalric order (that is, an order which can bestow knighthood) must have a fons honorum ("fount of honour") provided by its founder and current principal patron for it to be considered a true chivalric order. A fount of honour is defined as someone who held sovereignty either currently or formerly at the time of the creation of the order. Further, former holding of sovereignty is considered allowable only for the creation of an order in those cases where the former sovereign did not abdicate his position. For example, an Order of St John of Jerusalem, which previously was merely a self-styled "order", came to be supported by the exiled King Peter of Yugoslavia, who had not abdicated. After the king's death in 1970 his successor, Crown Prince Alexander, refused to continue patronage and in fact repudiated the various and competing successor "orders"; thus, without a continuing fons honorum, these orders lapsed back into "self-styled" status. A minority of scholars disagree, arguing that a non-reigning claimant to a throne cannot continue an order of chivalry.

Some organisations have provided a false fons honorum to satisfy the need. In these cases, the founder or patron of the "order" has essentially assumed a false title of nobility in addition to assuming some sort of sovereignty, current or former.

Although not recognised by any international treaty, an organisation exists that seeks to provide criteria against which to judge orders of chivalry, the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry. The rules by which the Commission adjudges an order of chivalry to be genuine are listed on the website of the Commission.[9]

The International Commission for Orders of Chivalry [10] was created in August 1960, originally as an instrument of the International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences. However, criticism of the work of the Commission at the time caused the International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences to abandon the work. The Commission continues as an independent organisation, though neither its decisions nor the criteria it employs to reach those decisions are universally accepted.

There are, however, organisations that appear to have a chivalric character and are seen as being akin to orders of chivalry. Examples of such organisations are listed in Appendix 5, of: Sainty, Guy, World Orders of Knighthood & Merit, Burke's Peerage & Gentry, 2006.

See also


  1. ^ a b "St. George's Chapel: History: Order of the Garter". See the definition of the Order of the Garter as "a society, fellowship and college of knights" there. - St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. 2005. Archived from the original on 15 September 2006. Retrieved 6 November 2006. 
  2. ^ Definition adapted from, accessed 2010-02-20.
  3. ^ Sainty, Guy Stair, ed. World Orders of Knighthood and Merit, Burke's, August 2006
  4. ^ Sovereign Military Order of Malta and The Alliance of the Orders of St. John of Jerusalem (22 October 2004). "The Orders of St. John: A Shared Tradition"
  5. ^ "Sovereign Order of Malta – Official site". Retrieved 2010-08-21
  6. ^ Register of Orders of Chivalry. Report of the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry. Accessed 2 August 2011
  7. ^ according to Anstis in Observations p4, knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath
  8. ^ from Statutes of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath 1725, although Risk says the order was founded on 11 May 1725
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ [2]


  • John Anstis,Observations introductory to an historical essay upon the Knighthood of the Bath, London: James Woodman, 1752
  • D'Arcy Jonathan Dacre Boulton, The knights of the crown : the monarchical orders of knighthood in later medieval Europe, 1325–1520, Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, Palgrave Macmillan (February 1987), ISBN 0-312-45842-8; Second revised edition (paperback): Woodbridge, Suffolk and Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2000
  • Richard W. Kaeuper, Elspeth Kennedy, Geoffroi De Carny, The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi De Charny: Text, Context, and Translation, University of Pennsylvania Press (December, 1996), ISBN 0-8122-1579-6
  • James C. Risk, The History of the Order of the Bath and its Insignia, London: Spink & Son, 1972
  • Statutes of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, 1725

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