Category Archive 'Chivalric Orders'

09 May 2014

Installation of the Order of the Bath

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Edmund Blair Leighton, The Accolade, 1901, Private Collection.

Clive Aslet, in the Telegraph, reports that today Queen Elizabeth II will be presiding over ceremonies linking today’s Britain with the chivalrous traditions of the Middle Ages.

Foreign tourists in the vicinity of Westminster Abbey today, may be in luck. They’ll glimpse Her Majesty the Queen participating in a ceremony that only enters her diary once every eight years: the Installation of the Order of the Bath.

Like the Woolsack, hunting with hounds and the last of the hereditary peers, it’s a piece of traditional pageantry that escaped the reforming zeal of New Labour – perhaps because it is so arcane that they failed to notice it. Certainly most Britons, were they to see the parade of Knights Grand Cross or Knights Commander (Dames too, now), in their gorgeous crimson satin mantles, freighted with stars and tassels, would be as flummoxed as visitors from overseas.

What’s going on? Can there be any earthly point in such flummery, as the nation – otherwise dressing down on Fridays – struggles with the challenges of modern life?

Scrape beneath the surface and the ritual turns out to be more interesting than one might suspect. As a body of knights, one couldn’t expect them to do much practical defending of the faith. It is one of the few occasions in the year when Her Majesty can be sure of being in the company of distinguished people who make her seem, in comparison with their years, positively youthful.

But the ceremony is also an instance of the British ability to preserve and reinvent tradition. You would have to be a firebrand Roundhead to object to something so abstruse, so harmlessly picturesque as the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. And yet it also serves, however obliquely, as a reminder of the chivalric values that – whether or not doors are still held open for ladies – underpin our sense of public virtue. Does honour mean anything, in these fallen days of cash for questions and parliamentary expenses scandals? It does here.

Republicans might object that today’s ceremony, held in Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey, where the Sovereign and the most senior Knights and Dames Grand Cross will occupy stalls in the choir, is an anachronism. Of course it is. That is – and always has been – the point about chivalry. Even in the Middle Ages, it was a romantic throwback to a supposed golden age. Washing ceremonies – yes, the Order of the Bath really is to do with bathing, not a place in Somerset – appear at William I’s coronation, but the touchstone of chivalry was located in an era that far predated him.

Read the whole thing.

Wikipedia entry.

10 Feb 2013

Order of St. John Celebrates 900th Anniversary

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click on picture for larger image

Yesterday, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (SMOM), the oldest surviving crusading order, celebrated the 900th Anniversary of its receipt of the Papal Bull, “Pie postulatio voluntatis,” from Pope Paschal II which approved the founding of a hospital in Jerusalem, and recognized the foundation as a religious order under Papal Authority, free to elect its own superiors, and immune to all other secular and religious authority.

Some 4500 knights of the Order from countries all over the world marched in procession and attended a Papal mass in the Basilica of St. Peter.

Membership in the Order has been a coveted distinction for centuries. Such famous Americans as the late CIA Director William Casey and the late conservative writer William F. Buckley Jr. were knights of Malta.

The Order once enjoyed sovereignty of the islands of Rhodes and Malta in the Mediterranean. Although the Order is still recognized today as a sovereign entity, issues its own postage stamps and passports, and has diplomatic relations more than 100 countries, its territoriality is currently restricted to two buildings in Rome.

The Order of St. John is most famous historically for the heroic defense of the island of Malta by 500 knights assisted by a few thousand Spanish and Maltese auxiliaries against nearly 50,000 Turks in 1565.

NPR news story.

10 Jan 2011

Order of the Golden Fleece

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19th century medal of the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece

The Order of the Golden Fleece was founded January 10, 1430 in Bruges, by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy and is the oldest of the great chivalric orders of the Middle Ages.

The Order of the Golden Fleece was founded, according to Philip’s proclamation:

[F]for the reverence of God and the maintenance of our Christian Faith, and to honor and exalt the noble order of knighthood, and also …to do honor to old knights; …so that those who are at present still capable and strong of body and do each day the deeds pertaining to chivalry shall have cause to continue from good to better; and .. so that those knights and gentlemen who shall see worn the order … should honor those who wear it, and be encouraged to employ themselves in noble deeds…”.

The name of the Order and its badge, a pendant sheep’s fleece made of gold, represented the fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts – a heroic legend which must have reminded Philip of the Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail. The badge is suspended from a Collar in the form of a Fire-Steel (fusil), throwing off flames (the central fire-steel being elaborated later into an ornate, enameled jewel, from which the badge was hung).

The motto of the Order, Pretium Laborum Non Vile (“Not a bad reward for labor”) traditionally appeared on the front of gold versions of the collar and, on the reverse, the motto Non Aliud (a translation of Philip the Good’s motto “Autre n’auray” – “I will have no other”). Non-sovereign knights were traditionally forbidden by the Order’s statutes to accept membership in any other orders of knighthood.

Membership was originally limited to twenty-four knights, but was gradually increased to 51. When Burgundy was absorbed into the Empire, sovereignty over the order passed to the House of Hapsburg. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) divided the Order into separate branches under the patronage of both Spanish and Austrian Hapsburgs. Its members have typically been drawn from the ranks of sovereign European princes and the most prominent military heroes. Ironically, both Napoleon Bonaparte and his adversary, the Duke of Wellington, were members of the Spanish Order.

The connection of the Austrian Order to the state was lost in 1918, but the Austrian Order is still regarded as “an independent legal entity in international law”, and its current sovereign is Archduke Karl Habsburg-Lothringen

The sovereign of the Spanish Order is King Juan Carlos of Spain.

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