Order of the Golden Fleece

Order of the Golden Fleece
Order of the Golden Fleece
Orden del Toisón de Oro
Ordre de la Toison d'Or
Orden vom Goldenen Vlies
Weltliche Schatzkammer Wien (216)b.JPG
Chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece (shown in the Schatzkammer in Vienna)
Awarded by the King of Spain
& Head of House of Habsburg
Motto Pretium Laborum Non Vile
Non Aliud
Awarded for At the monarch's pleasure
Status Currently constituted
Sovereign Juan Carlos I of Spain
Karl von Habsburg
Grades (w/ post-nominals) Knight/Lady
Established 1430 (see History)
Philip III, Duke of Burgundy, with the collar of the Order (portrait in c.1450 by Rogier van der Weyden)

The Order of the Golden Fleece (Dutch: Orde van het Gulden Vlies; French: Ordre de la Toison d'Or; German: Orden vom Goldenen Vlies; Italian: Ordine del Toson d'Oro; Spanish: Orden del Toisón de Oro) is an order of chivalry founded in Bruges by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy in 1430, to celebrate his marriage to the Portuguese princess Infanta Isabella of Portugal, daughter of King John I of Portugal. It evolved as one of the most prestigious orders in Europe. Today there exist two branches of the Order: the Spanish and the Austrian Fleece; the current sovereigns of both branches are respectively Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, and Karl von Habsburg, grandson of Emperor Charles I of Austria.



The Order of the Golden Fleece was established January 10, 1430, by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in celebration of the prosperous and wealthy domains united in his person that ran from Flanders to Switzerland. It is restricted to a limited number of knights, initially 24 but increased to 30 in 1433, and 50 in 1516, plus the sovereign.[1] It received further privileges unusual to any order of knighthood: the sovereign undertook to consult the order before going to war; all disputes between the knights were to be settled by the order; at each chapter the deeds of each knight were held in review, and punishments and admonitions were dealt out to offenders, and to this the sovereign was expressly subject; the knights could claim as of right to be tried by their fellows on charges of rebellion, heresy and treason, and Charles V conferred on the order exclusive jurisdiction over all crimes committed by the knights; the arrest of the offender had to be by warrant signed by at least six knights, and during the process of charge and trial he remained not in prison but in the gentle custody of his fellow knights. The order, conceived in an ecclesiastical spirit in which mass and obsequies were prominent and the knights were seated in choirstalls like canons,[2] was explicitly denied to "heretics", and so became an exclusively Catholic award during the Reformation.

The Order of the Golden Fleece was defended from possible accusations of prideful pomp by Guillaume Machaut, who asserted that it was instituted:

Non point pour jeu ne pour esbatement,

Mais à la fin que soit attribuée
Loenge à Dieu trestout premièrement
Et aux bons gloire et haulte renommée.

Translated into English:[3]

Not for amusement nor for recreation,

But for the purpose that praise shall be given to God,
In the very first place,
And to the good, glory and high renown.

The choice of the Golden Fleece of Colchis as the symbol of a Christian order caused some controversy, not so much because of its pagan context, which could be incorporated in chivalric ideals, as in the Nine Worthies, but because the feats of Jason, familiar to all, were not without causes of reproach, expressed in anti-Burgundian terms by Alain Chartier in his Ballade de Fougères instancing Jason "qui pour emportrer la toison De Colcos se veult parjurer".[4] The bishop of Châlons, chancellor of the Order, rescued the fleece's reputation by identifying it instead with the fleece of Gideon that received the dew of Heaven.[5]

The badge of the Order, in the form of a sheepskin, was suspended from a jewelled collar of firesteels in the shape of the letter B, for Burgundy, linked by flints; with the motto "Pretium Laborum Non Vile" ("Not a bad reward for labour") engraved on the front of the central link, and Philip's motto "Non Aliud" ("I will have no other") on the back (non-royal knights of the Golden Fleece were forbidden to belong to any other order of knighthood).

Habsburg Order

With the absorption of the Burgundian lands into the Habsburg empire, the sovereignty of the Order passed to the Habsburg kings of Spain, where it remained until the death of the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, Charles II, in 1700. He was succeeded as king by Philip V, a Bourbon. The dispute between Philip and the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne, the Archduke Charles, led to the War of the Spanish Succession, and also resulted in the division of the Order into Spanish and Austrian branches. In either case the sovereign, as Duke of Burgundy, writes the letter of appointment in French.

Spanish Order

The Duke of Wellington wearing the Spanish Fleece
Prince Albert wearing the Spanish Fleece in 1842

The Spanish Order of the Fleece has been a source of controversy in the past, particularly during the Napoleonic period. The award of the Order to Napoleon and his brother Joseph angered the exiled King of France, Louis XVIII, and caused him to return his collar in protest. These, and other awards by Joseph, were revoked by King Ferdinand on the restoration of Bourbon rule in 1813.

In 1812 the acting government of Spain awarded the order to the Duke of Wellington, an act confirmed by Ferdinand on his resumption of power, with the approval of Pope Pius VII. Wellington therefore became the first Protestant to be awarded the Golden Fleece. It has subsequently also been awarded to non-Christians, like Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand.

There was another crisis in 1833 when Isabella II became Queen of Spain in defiance of Salic Law. Her right to award the Fleece was challenged by Spanish Carlists.[citation needed]

Sovereignty remained with the head of the Spanish house of Bourbon during the republican (1931–39) and Francoist (1939–1975) periods and is held today by the present King of Spain, Juan Carlos.

Knights of the Order are entitled to be addressed with the style His/Her Excellency in front of their name.[6]

Living members of the order

Below a list of the names of the living knights and ladies, in chronologic order and with between brackets the date when they were inducted into the Order:

Austrian Order

Ferdinand I, Emperor of Austria as Grand Master of the Fleece
Neck Chain of a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece, shown in the Schatzkammer (Vienna), Austria.
Neck Chain of the Herald of the Order.

The Austrian Order did not suffer from the political difficulties of the Spanish, remaining an award solely for Catholic royals and nobles. The problem of female inheritance was avoided on the accession of Maria Theresa in 1740 as sovereignty of the Order passed not to herself but to her husband, Francis.

Upon the collapse of the Austrian monarchy after the First World War, King Albert I of Belgium requested that the sovereignty and treasure of the Order be transferred to him as the ruler of the former Habsburg lands of Burgundy. This claim was seriously considered by the victorious allies at Versailles but was eventually rejected due to the intervention of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who took possession of the property of the Order on behalf of the dethroned emperor, Charles I of Austria. Sovereignty remains with the head of the house of Habsburg, which was handed over in 2007 by Otto von Habsburg to his eldest son, Karl von Habsburg.

Living members of the order

Below a list of the names of the living knights, in chronological order and with between brackets the date when they were inducted into the Order:

  • HI&RH Archduke Heinrich of Austria (1955)
  • HI&RH Archduke Franz Salvator of Austria, Prince of Tuscany (1958)
  • HI&RH Archduke Joseph Arpád of Austria (1960)
  • HRH The Duke of Bavaria (1960)
  • HIllH Count Johann Larisch of Moennich (1960)
  • HI&RH Archduke Karl of Austria (1960) - Sovereign of the Order since 2007
  • HI&RH Archduke Andreas Salvator of Austria, Prince of Tuscany (1961)
  • HI&RH Archduke Karl Salvator of Austria, Prince of Tuscany (1961)
  • HI&RH Prince Lorenz of Belgium, Archduke of Austria-Este (1961)
  • HI&RH Archduke Michael Koloman of Austria (1961)
  • HI&RH Archduke Michael Salvator of Austria, Prince of Tuscany (1961)
  • HI&RH Archduke Georg of Austria (1961)
  • HI&RH Archduke Carl Christian of Austria (1961)
  • HI&RH Archduke Joseph of Austria (1961)
  • HM The King of the Belgians (1961)
  • HRH Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (1961)
  • Renaud, Viscount of Chabot-Tramecourt (1961)
  • HSH Prince Albrecht of Hohenberg (1961)
  • HRH The Duke of Württemberg (1961)
  • HRH The Margrave of Meissen (1961)
  • HSH The Prince of Lobkowicz (1961)
  • Count Johann of Hoyos-Sprinzenstein (1961)
  • HH The Prince of Waldburg-Zeil and Trauchberg (1961)
  • HSH The Prince of Liechtenstein (1961)
  • HH Prince Clemens of Altenburg (1961)
  • HRH The Duke of Braganza (1961)
  • HIllH Count Joseph of Neipperg (1961)
  • HH The Duke of Hohenberg (1961)
  • HSH The Prince of Schwarzenberg (1961)
  • HI&RH Archduke Joseph of Austria (1961)
  • HSH The Prince of Khevenhüller-Metsch (1961)
  • HSH The Prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg (1961)
  • Count Gottfried of Czernin of Chudenitz (1961)
  • HSH The Prince of Orsini-Rosenberg (1961)
  • HSH The Prince of Windisch-Grätz (1961)
  • Olivier, Count of Ormesson (1961)
  • Baron Johann Friedrich of Solemacher-Antweiler (1961)
  • Baron Nicolas Adamovich de Csepin (1961)
  • Count Alexander of Pachta-Reyhofen (1961) - Chancellor of the Order
  • HEm Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna (1961) - Chaplain of the Order
  • Baron Wulf Gordian of Hauser (1961) - Treasurer of the Order
  • Count Philipp of Clam-Martinic (1961) - Registrar of the Order
  • Count Karl-Albrecht of Waldstein-Wartenberg (1961) - Herald of the Order

See also


  1. ^ http://www.antiquesatoz.com/sgfleece/origins.htm
  2. ^ Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919) 1924:75.
  3. ^ "Not for amusement nor for recreation, But for the purpose that praise shall be given To God, in the very first place, And to the good, glory and high renown" (Quoted in Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages [1919] 1924:75).
  4. ^ "Who, to carry off the fleece Of Colchis, was willing to commit perjury."
  5. ^ Huizinga 1924:77.
  6. ^ Satow, Ernest Mason, Sir - A Guide to Diplomatic Practice, page 249
  7. ^ Spanish: [1] BOE 07-10-02, Spanish Official Journal (accessed on June 13, 2007)
  8. ^ Spanish: [2] BOE 07-04-14, Spanish official journal (accessed on June 9, 2007)
  9. ^ Spanish: [3] BOE 07-06-09, Spanish Official Journal (accessed on June 9, 2007)
  10. ^ Spanish: [4] BOE 07-06-16, Spanish Official Journal (accessed on June 23, 2007)
  11. ^ Spanish: [5] BOE 10-01-23, Spanish Official Journal (accessed on January 23, 2010)
  12. ^ Spanish: [6] BOE 10-01-23, Spanish Official Journal (accessed on January 23, 2010)


  • Weltliche und Geistliche Schatzkammer. Bildführer. Kunsthistorischen Museum, Vienna. 1987. ISBN 3-7017-0499-6
  • Fillitz, Hermann. Die Schatzkammer in Wien: Symbole abendländischen Kaisertums. Vienna, 1986. ISBN 3-7017-0443-0
  • Fillitz, Hermann. Der Schatz des Ordens vom Goldenen Vlies. Vienna, 1988. ISBN 3-7017-0541-0
  • Boulton, D'Arcy Jonathan Dacre, 1987. The Knights of The Crown: The Monarchical Orders of Knighthood in Later Medieval Europe, 1325–1520, Woodbridge, Suffolk (Boydell Press), (revised edition 2000.

External links

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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