Military Wiki

Chivalric orders are societies and fellowships of knights[1] founded in imitation of the military orders of the Crusades. After the crusades, the memory of these crusading military orders became idealised and romanticised.

Modern historiography tends to take the fall of Acre in 1291 as the final end of the age of the crusades. 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 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 a mere courtly fashion that 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.[2]


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

  • Monarchical 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 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
    • Self-styled orders: self-proclaimed imitation-orders without statutes or restricted memberships

Medieval orders

Monarchical orders

  • Late medieval monarchical orders (14th and 15th centuries) are orders of chivalry with the presidency attached to a monarch:
Order of Saint George, founded by Charles I of Hungary in 1325
Order of the Band, founded by Alfonso XI of Castile in ca. 1330
Order of the Garter, founded by Edward III of England in 1348[3]
Order of the Star, founded by John II of France in 1351
Order of the Most Holy Annunciation, founded by Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy in 1362.
Order of the Ermine, founded by John V, Duke of Brittany in 1381: First order to accept Women.
Order of the Dragon, founded by Sigismund of Hungary in 1408.
Order of the Golden Fleece, founded by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy in 1430
Order of St Michel, founded by Louis XI of France in 1469[4]
  • Post-medieval foundations of chivalric orders:
Order of Saint Stephen (1561)
Order of the Holy Spirit (1578)
Blood of Jesus Christ (military order) (1608)
Order of the Thistle (1687)[5]
Order of Saint Louis (1694)
Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary (1764)
Order of St. Patrick (1783)[6]
Order of Saint Joseph (1807)
  • Monarchical orders whose monarch no longer reigns but continues to bestow the order:
Order of the Golden Fleece (Austrian branch)
Order of the Holy Spirit
Order of Prince Danilo I of Montenegro
Order of Saint Peter of Cetinje
Royal Order of Saint George for the Defense of the Immaculate Conception (Bavaria)
Order of the Crown (Romania)
Order of Carol I (Romania)
Order of the Immaculate Conception of Vila Viçosa (Portugal)
Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George (Two Sicilies)
Order of the Eagle of Georgia (Georgia)

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:
Order of Saint Catherine, founded by Humbert II, Dauphin du Viennois in ca. 1335
Order of Saint Anthony, founded by Albrecht I of Bavaria in 1384
Society of the Eagle, founded by Albrecht II von Habsburg in 1433
Society of Our Lady (Order of the Swan), founded by Frederick II, Elector of Brandenburg in 1440
Order of Saint Hubert, founded by Gerhard V of Jülich and Berg in 1444
Order of the Crescent, founded by René d'Anjou in 1448
Society of Saint Jerome, founded by Friedrich II of Wettin in 1450
  • Baronial orders, founded by noblemen of lower rank:
Order of Saint Hubert (Barrois, 1422)
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:

Compagnie of the Black Swan, founded by 3 princes and 11 knights in Savoy (1350)
Corps et Ordre du Tiercelet, founded by the vicomte de Thouars and 17 barons in Poitou (1377–1385)
Ordre de la Pomme d'Or, founded by 14 knights in Auvergne (1394)
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:

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
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
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's retinues fashionably termed orders. They are without statutes or restricted memberships:

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

Honorific orders

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

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

Together with the monarchical 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.[7]

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 monarchs 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 1866[10]
  • Wilhelmsorden (Order of Wilhelm) of Hesse-Kassel, founded 1851, abolished 1875[10]
  • 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.

Imitation chivalric orders

Some organisations claim to be chivalric orders but are actually private membership organisations that have not been created by a state or a reigning monarch.[11] The answer to the question of whether an order is legitimate or not varies from nation to nation,[12] François Velde wrote an "order of knighthood is legitimate if it is defined as legal, recognized and acknowledged as such by a sovereign authority. Within its borders, a sovereign state does as it pleases. Most, if not all, modern states have honorific orders and decorations of some kind, and those are sometimes called orders of knighthood."[13] Exactly what makes one order legitimate and another self-styled or false is a matter of debate with some arguing that any monarch (reigning or not) or even the descendants of such can create an order while others assert that only a government with actual internationally recognized authority has such power (regardless of whether that government is republican or monarchial in nature).[14][15]

See also

  • Order (decoration)
  • Papal Orders of Chivalry
  • Military orders
  • Honorary title
  • Self-styled orders


  1. 1.0 1.1 "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. Velde, François Velde (25 February 2004). "Legitimacy and Orders of Knighthood". Heraldica. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  3. "Order of the Garter". Official website of the British Monarchy. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  4. Diana Scarisbrick, ed (2008). Royal jewels : from Charlemagne to the Romanovs. New York: Vendôme Press. pp. 146. ISBN 978-0-86565-193-7. "Louis XI founded the Order of Saint Michael in 1469. Initially, there were thirty-six knights, but their numbers increased to such a point that the order began to lose its prestige. Louis XIV reformed the order on 12 January 1665, reducing the number of knights to one hundred" 
  5. "Order of the Thistle". Official website of the British Monarchy. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  6. "Monarchy Today: Queen and Public: Honours: Order of St Patrick". Official website of the British Monarchy. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  7. Definition adapted from, accessed 2010-02-20.
  8. Anstis, John (1725). Observations introductory to an historical essay upon the Knighthood of the Bath. London: J. Woodman. pp. 4. 
  9. The Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey (2011). "Order of the Bath". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 11 December 2012. "The Most Honourable Order of the Bath was established as a military order by Letters Patent of George I on 18 May 1725, when the Dean of Westminster was made Dean of the Order in perpetuity and King Henry VII's Chapel designated as the Chapel of the Order." 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Sauer, Werner (1950) (in German). Die Orden und Ehrenzeichen des Kurfürstentums Hessen-Kassel. Hamburg: Verlag Kleine Reihe für Freunde der Ordens- und Ehrenzeichenkunde. pp. 19–24. 
  11. Barber, Malcom, & Victor Mallia-Milanes, eds. (2008). The Military Orders, vol. 3, History and Heritage. Aldershot, England: Ashgate. pp. 4–6. ISBN 9780754662907. 
  12. Hoegen Dijkhof, Hendrik Johannes (2006). The legitimacy of Orders of St. John: a historical and legal analysis and case study of a para-religious phenomenon. Amsterdam: Hoegen Dijkhof Advocaten (van Universiteit Leiden). pp. 35–41.;jsessionid=DDF25989E047570D717DA9A7BDDCC613?sequence=4. 
  13. Velde, François Velde (25 February 2004). "Legal Definitions of Orders of Knighthood". Heraldica. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  14. Brett-Crowther, Michael Richard (1990). Orders of Chivalry under the Aegis of the Church.. London: Lambeth Diploma of Student in Theology Thesis. pp. 80–90. 
  15. Kurrild-Klitgaard, Peter (2002). Knights of fantasy : an overview, history, and critique of the self-styled "Orders" called "of Saint John" or "of Malta", in Denmark and other Nordic countries. Turku: Digipaino. ISBN 9512922657. 


  • 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

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).