Posted by Sir Randal MacNiall Bundy on January 16, 1998 at 21:49:22:
History of Orders of Chivalry: a Survey
(Studies relavent to "The Knights of Ladonia")
Submitted by Sir Randal MacNiall Bundy
1) 1100 to 1291: the military-monastic orders:
The Crusades provided the conditions for the emergence of a new institution combining elements of monasticism
with elements of chivalry. It was soon imitated in Spain and in Eastern Europe.
2) 1335 to 1470: the monarchical orders of chivalry:
In partial imitation of the monastic orders, kings created institutions designed to reward and bind subjects to them.
Also, at the same time a wide variety of associations came into being, which are classified here.
3) 1560 to present: Orders of Merit:
The emergence of centralized states made monarchical orders unnecessary, and they turned into pure orders of
merit, rewarding past behavior rather than encouraging future loyalty. Other orders of merit, many without
nobiliary requirement, were also created from 1693.
Orders of Chivalry are, primarily, a historical phenomenon peculiar to Western European Christendom of the Middle
Ages. It is in that context that they are most easily defined and understood.
An Order of Chivalry is a certain type of institution. In the category of orders of chivalry, a number of institutions have
been placed over time. One can distinguish several phases in the history of that type of institution. The original form,
during the Crusades, deserved its name of order, since it consisted of individuals bound together by a permanent
religious rule of behavior. After the Crusades were over, in the 14th c., monarchs used the trappings of these orders to
create a new institution to serve their purpose of binding vassals to their person. After the Renaissance, the old
monarchical orders (and some monastic orders) became pure orders of merit, and other orders of merit were created,
once more using the trappings of orders of chivalry.
As a result, we have today such disparate institutions as the Order of Malta, The Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the
Garter, the Golden Fleece (one of the two, at any rate), Bath, Calatrava, all using the name "order of chivalry" or "order
of knighthood" even though they are all very different organizations in history, form and purpose.
1100 to 1350: The Military-Monastic Orders
Orders of chivalry first appear in the context of Western Europe's military activities against non-Christian populations
and states. Starting in the 11th century, Western Europe went into an aggressive expansionary phase, leading it into
conflict with non-Christian populations on two fronts: in Spain and in the Middle East. These wars were engaged in for a
variety of motives, but they were, at least in some respects, religious wars. The first orders of chivalry inherit this dual
aspect, religious and military.
The first orders of chivalry were associations of individuals, committing themselves to certain goals and regulated
activities. The commitment typically took the form of vows, and the regulation of activities took the form of a Rule and
an institutional structure defined by statutes and managed by officers. Thus, orders of chivalry were religious orders, in
the same sense that purely religious or monastic orders were created at the same time (Carthusians, Cistercians,
Franciscans, Dominicans, etc). The goals were both the sanctification of their members through their devotional and
charitable activities, as well as participation in the fight against the "Infidels", either by protecting pilgrims or actively
taking part in defensive or offensive military operations.
A lot has been written about the origins of this new institution. As with heraldry, it seems difficult for some to accept that
Western Europe could invent anything on its own; but, as in the case of heraldry, no convincing evidence has ever been
adduced to show that orders of chivalry were an imported concept. Rather, this institution must be seen in the context of
the 11th century, when monks and clerics were trying to establish a code of conduct for the new professional class of
knights by turning them into "soldiers of Christ." During the Crusades, where religious fervor was at its peak and military
skills at a premium, it was natural that these religious and military components fused into the military-monastic orders.
The first orders of chivalry in the Middle East (Templars founded as a military order ca. 1119, Saint-John ca. 1080,
militarized ca. Saint Lazarus ca. 1100, Teutonic Knights founded ca. 1190) were all created by private initiatives, as
were the Orders in the Iberic peninsula (Avis in 1143, Alcantara in 1156, Calatrava in 1158, Santiago in 1164)
created in imitation of the orders in the Holy Land. They typically saw their statutes confirmed or recognized by the
Pope after a few years.
Orders of chivalry, like the Church in general, were recipients of many donations, often in the form of land (e.g., a lord
would become a knight and give his possessions to his order). Quickly, the orders became large landowners throughout
Western Europe, far from their center of activity. As a result, structures were created to manage these estates which had
been entrusted to them: these estates became known as commendatoriae (cf. the English verb "to commend") and
their managers commendatores. Only later was the word corrupted into commander, which gives it a semblance of
military rank which it never was.
As religious orders, these institutions naturally fell under the authority of the Pope, who typically approved the statutes of
the order and thereby gave it a form of official recognition. In practice, the orders managed their own affairs, but in times
of crises or uncertainty, the pope could and often did intervene directly, either by abolishing an order, merging it with
another order (which usually came down to a transfer of assets to the other order), reforming its statutes, appointing a
grand-master, etc. The large degree of autonomy that the orders had enjoyed for long periods of time sometimes led
them to resent such outside interference. However, only the Order of Saint-John and the Teutonic Order ever gained
enough independence and territorial sovereignty to be thought of as "sovereign orders", and in both cases this only
happened after the 14th century. It should be kept in mind that the military-monastic orders were, before all, religious
orders. They owned land in various countries, their membership was international, and they managed their own affairs,
but so did the Benedictines and the Jesuits, and no one ever calls them "sovereign".
The military aspect of these monastic orders explains why they are called Orders of Chivalry. Fighting was a
professional activities, and professionals were called knights. Entrance into the social-professional category of
knighthood entailed a number of religious rituals which made the idea of a monk-knight only an extension of the general
idea of knight. The orders simply recruited individuals who had attained, or could attain, the status of knight. This
connection became even stronger as time passed and knighthood became romanticized even as it was losing its
I call these orders military-monastic, to emphasize their dual nature, which sets them apart from any other organization
of the time. While it may appear difficult for modern-day Christians to understand how one could sanctify oneself by
killing, this notion did not seem shocking in a time which took the expression milites Christi quite literally. Some orders,
however, did separate the tasks, and had fighting knights alongside praying chaplains (e.g., the Order of Saint-John). In
fact, these orders reflected in their structure (chaplains, knights, sergeants) the Three Orders of feudal society (clergy,
nobility and third estate).
At this point, then, orders of chivalry are an association of individuals, typically members of the knightly class,
committing themselves through solemn vows to obey the rules and statutes of a religious order and to engage as
professional soldiers in a permanent religious war, but also in religious and charitable activities. As religious orders, these
associations usually need the approval of the Pope, and fall to some degree under his authority.
Lesser-known orders in the Middle East, the Iberic peninsula and Eastern Europe include :
the Sword, founded by Guy of Lusignan, king of Cyprus, in 1192, disappeared with the conquest of Cyprus by
the Turks in 1571,
Saint Blasius in Armenia (13th c.-15th c.),
Saint-John and Saint-Thomas in the Middle East (1254),
Saint Thomas of Acre founded as a military order by Peter des Roches, bishop of Westminster, in 1228,
Mountjoy later known as Holy Redeemer and Montfragüe, founded in 1175 and merged with Calatrava in
Our-Lady of the Rosary in 1209 by the archbishop of Toledo, soon extinct
Our-Lady-of-Mercy in 1233 in Aragon, played a part in the conquests of Valencia and Majorca but became a
purely religious order in the 14th century,
Sant-Jordi d'Alfama by the king of Aragon in 1201 (merged with Montesa in 1399),
Concord in the 1240s by Ferdinand III of Castile, disappeared after his death in 1252,
Saint-James of the Sword, an offshot of the Spanish order in Portugal in 1275,
the Sword-Brethren, created in 1197 by a citizen of Bremen, soon militarized by the bishop of Riga, and merged
in 1237 with the Teutonic Order.
After 1291: The Orders look for new missions
A major change occurred in 1291, when Acre, the last Crusader stronghold in Palestine, fell to the Arabs. The
remaining orders of chivalry had to find a new raison d'être, since the Holy Land was lost with little hope of regaining it.
Some orders managed the transition skillfully: the Teutonic Knights, who had already settled in Eastern Europe and
absorbed the native Order of the Sword-Brethren, transferred all of their activities to Eastern Europe, where they
engaged in colonization of still-pagan areas in Poland and the Baltic, and later in fighting against Orthodox Russia (and
even Catholic Poland). The Order of Saint-John conquered Rhodes in the early 1300s and transformed itself into a
naval power, pursuing the fight against Arabs and later Turks. Remnants of other orders found refuge in Rhodes under
the protection of the Order of Saint-John.
The Templars, which, by virtue of their vast network of fund-collecting, had become bankers of sorts, resisted attempts
at a merger with the Order of Saint-John, a project the Pope and other rulers insisted on to better marshall resources for
new crusades. Impatient with this resistance, irritated at the disorder and lack of morality which prevailed in the order,
and probably mindful of the Temple's riches, the King of France arrested the Templars, had them tried on trumped-up
charges, and coerced the Pope into pronouncing the dissolution of their order (1312). The Order of Saint-John became
the recipient of the Templars' estates. Two offshoots of the Templars survived in the form of new Orders: the Order of
Christ in Portugal (1318) and the Order of Montesa in Spain (1319). Another group with origines from the Knights Templars
is the Freemason Organization of the Knights Templar (See Born in Blood by John J. Robinson).
1335 to 1470: The Monarchical Orders of Chivalry
A new generation of orders
As the Crusades became a thing of the past (the last one floundering in 1271), they became romanticized, just as
chivalry itself. The aura of orders of chivalry was being actively maintained by the exploits of the Knights of Saint-John
ruling their kingdom of Rhodes and fighting the Turks; but most of all by the popularity of the Arthurian novels,
international bestsellers of the time, detailing the glorious deeds of the Knights of the Round Table. Indeed, the knights of
Saint-John, alone in their kingdom of Cyprus and fighting the nearby Infidels, seemed to many to be the epitome of the
Arthurian myth. The emergence of this myth, that of a group of loyal knights devoted to a monarch did not take place in
a vacuum of by accident. The 13th and 14th centuries saw the end of feudalism and the emergence of what would
become the nation-states of modern Europe, centered on increasingly powerful monarchs. However, the glue of the
feudal system, personal fealty to one's immediate superior in the hierarchy, needed a substitute. Until such time as the
concept of absolute monarchy became fully developed, monarchs seized on the concept of orders of chivalry. They thus
created institutions which recycled some of the trappings of the original orders of chivalry, but with the aim to create a
close-knit and devoted circle of noblemen around the person of the sovereign. These were the monarchical orders of
These were not the only associations to be called, either at the time or later, "orders of chivalry". The second generation
of orders of chivalry, which might be collectively called lay orders of knighthood, included a wide variety of
institutions and associations.
It should be noted that, at the time, lay devotional confraternities were quite common: these were lay institutions which
grouped members for devotional activities, met regularly, and had some form of statutes. One might think of them as the
medieval (and religious) equivalent of clubs. Also, princes and lords made a common use in the 14th century of badges
and liveries which they distributed to their servants but also to their followers. The fact that some confraternities, and
some orders of knighthood, also began using insignia and outer marks of membership results in a great deal of confusion.
D'Arcy Boulton (1987) has proposed a classification of these associations:
1.Monarchical Orders: organizations loosely modeled on lay devotional confraternities, but whose presidential
office (and the control of membership) was attached to a crown or dominion, and whose main purpose was to
foster loyalty to the president (Garter, Golden Fleece).
2.Confraternal Orders: these are like the first kind, but with an elective presidence and cooptive membership.
Boulton further distinguishes two classes:
Princely Orders founded by princes. Most were created after the Golden Fleece in 1430. These are
similar to the monarchical orders, but the presidency was not hereditary.
Order of Saint George, founded by Charles I of Hungary in 1325-6,
Order of Saint Catherine, founded ca. 1335 by Humbert, Dauphin du Viennois,
Order of St. Anthony, founded in 1384 by Albrecht I of Bavaria (although this order may not have
Society of the Eagle, founded by Albrecht von Habsburg in 1433,
Selschapp unnser Liuen Frowen (Society of Our Lady, a.k.a. Order of the Swan, founded in
1440 by Friedrich II of Brandenburg,
St. Hubertus Orden (Order of Saint Hubert), founded in 1444 by Gerhard V of Jülich and Berg,
Ordre du Croissant (Order of the Crescent), founded by René d'Anjou in 1448,
Society of St. Jerome, founded in 1450 by Friedrich II of Wettin, Elector of Saxony.
Baronial Orders which were like aristocratic versions of the professional guilds of the time. Examples:
Order of Saint-Hubert, in Barrois, 1422
Noble Order of Saint George of Rougemont, Franche-Comté, 1440
3.Fraternal Orders: these were a form of brotherhood-in-arms, formed for a specific purpose and a limited
duration, binding members with pledges of aid an loyalty. They are similar to the emprises of the time, and
distinguished by the use of the name "order" and of insignia. Only four are known:
Compagnie of the Black Swan, created by 3 princes and 11 knights in Savoy in 1350,
Corps et Ordre du Tiercelet (a kind of falcon), founded by the vicomte de Thouars and 17 barons in
Poitou between 1377 and 1385,
Ourdre de la Pomme d'Or founded by 14 knights in Auvergne in 1394,
Alliance et Compagnie du Levrier founded by 44 knights in the Barrois in 1416 for 5 years, converted
into a Confraternal order of Saint-Hubert in 1422.
4.Votive Orders: these were a form of emprise or association formed for a specific purpose and for a definite
term, on the basis of a vow (hence the term votive); these were chivalric games, without the mutual pledges which
characterized fraternal orders. Only three are known, on the basis of their statutes:
Emprise de l'Escu vert à la Dame Blanche (Enterprise of the green shield with the white lady), created in
1399 by Jean le Maingre dit Boucicaut and 12 knights for 5 years,
Emprise du Fer de Prisonnier (Enterprise of the Prisoner's Iron) undertaken by Jean de Bourbon and 16
knights for 2 years in 1415,
Enterprise of the Dragon, undertaken by Jean comte de Foix for 1 year.
5.The Cliental Pseudo-Orders: these were not really orders in that they had no statutes, no limited membership,
etc. They were a group bound by a simple oath of allegiance to a prince who bestowed a badge or insignia.
These were in fact glorified retinues, misnamed orders, which makes them often confused with princely orders:
Ordre de la Cosse de Genêt (Order of the Broom-Pod), founded by Charles VI of France ca. 1388,
Order of the camail or Porcupine, created by Louis d'Orléans in 1394,
Order of the Dove, Castile, 1390,
Order of the Scale of Castile, ca. 1430,
Order of the Thistle of Scotland.
6.Honorific Pseudo-Orders: these bodies of knights required no specific obligations, and were usually just an
honorific insignia bestowed with knighthood, upon a festive occasion or a pilgrimage. They consisted of nothing
else than the badge:
Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, bestowed by the custodian of the Holy Sepulchre to knights who made the
pilgrimage, starting in the 15th century. It was formally organized into an order of merit by the Pope in
Knights of St. Catherine of Mount-Sinai, bestowed in similar conditions from the 12th to the 15th century.
Order of the Golden Spur, a papal order, many times reformed.
Knights of the Bath, in England. The name was used again for an order of merit created in 1725.
Boulton's classification allows us to concentrate on the most complex, long-lived and influential of these associations, the
monarchical orders of chivalry. The first example is perhaps the Order of Saint-George founded in 1325 by Charles
I of Hungary. Although its statutes did not define a hereditary presidency, it was clearly intended to function as a
monarchical order. another is the Order of the Sash (Banda) founded in Castile by Alfonso XI in 1330. Alfonso XI in
1330, which probably lost its formal character in the 1360s and, by 1416, was merely a device or insignia, persisting
until the 1470s. The English king Edward III formed the Order of the Garter, in 1344, the best known of its kind. The
French Ordre de l'Étoile (Order of the Star) soon followed in 1351.
Other monarchs or powerful lords followed suit. Here is a partial list of these orders:
Saint-George, Hungary (1325-95?),
Sash or Band, Castile (1330-1474?),
Garter, England (1344-present),
Star, France (1351-64?),
Knot, Naples (1352-62?),
Collar or Annunziata in Savoie (1362-present),
Tress, Austria (1365-95?),
Golden Shield, founded by Louis de Bourbon (1367-1410?),
Saint George, Aragon (1371-1410?)
Ermine, Brittany (1381-1522),
Ship, Naples (1381-6?),
Salamander, Austria (1390-1463?),
Jar, Aragon (1403-1516),
Dragon (Renversé), Hungary (1408-93),
Golden Fleece in Burgundy (1430-present),
Eagle, Austria (1433-93)
Saint Maurice, Savoie (1434),
Elephant, Denmark, Norway and Sweden (1457?-1523?), later revived
Ermine, Naples (1465-94),
Saint-Michel, France (1469-1791).
In the above list, the character of some orders is difficult to ascertain because of the lack of documentation, and the
boundary between monarchical and princely orders is not very sharp.
In fact, Boulton's classification has been criticized as too rigid and detailed. In Germany, in particular, there were dozens
of noble associations in the Middle Ages which combined various characteristics which span Boulton's categories. The
main lesson to be drawn from such studies include:
1.In the 14th and 15th centuries, a large variety of associations of noblemen and/or knights appeared, which were
then or later called "orders" or "orders of chivalry".
2.These associations span a whole gamut of arrangements, from rigidly controlled institutions with detailed statutes
to informal associations limited in time. A number were created by or organized around kings or powerful feudal
lords, while others were private initiatives. Their objectives varied: some were designed to honor recipients as
well as bind them to an individual or authority, others were formed for a specific purpose, military or devotional,
limited or indefinite in time.
3.Almost all used some kind of badge, insignia, or protector saint by which they were known. This common feature
has led to the common denomination of "order of chivalry", and the term "order of chivalry" has thereby become
confused and imprecise.
4.The last ones appear in the1460s, and a handful survive beyond the 1530s.
New wine in old bottles
These institutions were quite different in nature from the military-monastic orders, yet they have been placed in the same
category. The confusion was of course voluntary, so that some of the prestige and fighting spirit of the famous crusading
orders might be acquired by these monarchical creations. To this end, various outward elements of the military-monastic
orders were adapted. For example, the structure of the institutions were imitated, by copying nomenclature of members
and officers. Members were knights, the head of the order (always the sovereign, whereas the military-monastic orders
typically elected their head) was the grand-master. Insignia were developed, to be worn by members on their cloaks or
in the form of badges, suspended from collars or attached to vestments. This was a direct borrowing from the
military-monastic orders, but the insignia were not based on the cross anymore, but on an emblem (garter, golden
fleece) or the figure of a patron saint (Saint Michael). Members met regularly in chapters where matters pertaining to the
order were discussed. The orders were placed under the protection of a tutelary saint (in imitation of the devotion of the
order of Rhodes to Saint-John the Baptist), and regularly held religious offices. The knights swore oaths of allegiance,
but to the sovereign rather than to the rule of the order, which was never monastic in nature. The sovereign usually
controlled the membership, at least to some degree. Occasionally, a crusading spirit was explicitly invoked, as was the
case originally for the Golden Fleece (whose emblem recalled the quest of the Argonauts).
From chivalry to merit
As time went by, many of these orders simply disappeared precisely because they had been too closely tied to their
founder, or because of political changes such as the absorption of the founder's domains in a kingdom. Those orders
that did survive (in 1525, only four orders survived: Garter in England, Annunziata in Savoy, Golden Fleece in Spain and
Saint-Michel in France) began to change in nature, because they had outlived their purpose. With the 16th century, the
monarchs' transition from powerful head of the feudal pyramid to absolute ruler of a modern state was complete, and the
need for binding a restless nobility to the sovereign's person became less pressing. In fact, there are no creations of
monarchical orders between 1469 and 1578, due also to the fact that, by that time, most countries had at least one such
order in existence (and a number of dominions had been united, obviating the need for different orders).
However, the prestige which still surrounded these monarchical orders made them useful for other purposes, namely
honoring and rewarding good behavior. As a sign of this changing functions, some of the elements borrowed from
military-monastic orders were abandoned; for example, the Order of the Golden Fleece held its last chapter in 1555.
Restriction of membership to the knightly class became meaningless as the knightly class itself had already evolved from
a professional class to a hereditary caste (on the Continent; interestingly, this did not happen in England, and
membership in the knightly class by itself became a reward granted by the sovereign to individuals who had no military
training, starting in the 15th century).
For some of the old military-monastic orders, the transition was at times abrupt. The Spanish orders, which had lost
their primary purpose with the end of the Reconquista in 1492, were quickly brought under royal control, each time with
papal assent (Santiago in 1476, Alcantara in 1474, Calatrava in 1489, Avis in 1550, Christ in 1551, Montesa in 1587).
Some orders (Alcantara, Calatrava) were relieved of their vow of chastity. Similarly, the Pope approved the merger of
the Order of Saint-Lazarus with Savoie's order of Saint-Maurice in 1572. This merger was effected only in Italy,
however, and the remaining estates of the order in France were joined with the newly created Order of Notre-Dame du
Mont-Carmel in 1608. The Pope accepted the transfer of assets but never recognized the Grand Master of the new
order as "Grand Master of Saint Lazarus". The French king never made himself Grand Master of the order, but did
keep a close eye on it, making himself "protector" in 1757 and appointing the Grand Master himself.
Thus, when a military-monastic order had estates over several countries, the fate of various parts diverged. The Teutonic
Order was all at once secularized by the Elector of Brandenburg in 1525, who, embracing Lutheranism, dispensed with
papal assent. In England, Henry VIII simply confiscated the assets of the Order of Saint-John without any pretence of
perpetuating the order. Restored by Mary in 1557, it was finally abolished in England in 1560. But in German lands, the
Bailiwick of Brandenburg of the Order of Saint-John had already acquired a degree of autonomy, and some of its
priories decided of their own movement to follow the local movement and embrace Protestantism. The situation was
settled by the Treaty of Augsburg in 1648, and the Evangelical Order of Saint-John or Johanniter Order emerged
with Hohenzollerns as Grand Masters, retaining some of its religious nature. It has subsisted to this day (with an interlude
from 1812 to 1852).
The transition from monarchical order to order of merit proved disastrous in some cases: the Order of Saint-Michel in
France was quickly devalued by being handed out too generously, and lost all prestige within 100 years of existence. It
was replaced in its role as premier French order by the Saint-Esprit in 1578, with a numerus clausus of 100. This order
was the first purely political order; only its strict nobiliary requirements distinguished it from the next generation of
orders. Its insignia broke with the tradition of monarchical orders, and set a precedent, by borrowing from the Order of
Saint-John (now Malta) and using a Maltese cross, albeit with a dove (to represent the Holy Ghost) in the middle. This
use of the Maltese cross would be much imitated (Saint-Louis, Bath, etc). Also, the Saint-Esprit used distinctively
colored blue ribbons and sashes; again in imitation of the Order of Malta, and again repeated by many later orders of
1560 to present: Orders of Merit
New orders soon multiplied throughout Europe, to serve the new purpose devolved on some of the old
military-monastic orders or the more recent monarchical orders. In reality, they were orders of merit, designed solely
as a reward for past services to the sovereign, and entailing no real commitment to any course of action, or any loyalty
to the sovereign beyond what was required of any subject. Some of the orders maintained nobiliary requirements and
limited membership (Saint-Esprit in France, Black Eagle in Prussia, Saint-Andrew in Russia, Passion in Saxony, San
Gennaro in Sicily). But many orders followed a pattern set by Louis XIV when he created the Order of Saint-Louis,
with a Maltese cross and red ribbon and sashes; he also imitated Maltese nomenclature with three ranks: grand-cross,
commander and knight. These ranks would be imitated by many later orders. The Order of Saint-Louis was awarded
for military merit; it had no nobiliary requirement, no limited membership, no chapter, no mandatory activities, etc.
Although it was considered and called an order of chivalry at the time, it was already a new breed of order.
Many such orders were created in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the following list can only be very partial (an asterisk
marks those who were knightly, or more exactly nobiliary orders):
* San Stefano in Tuscany (1561),
* Saint-Esprit in France (157
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