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It appeared for the first time on the collar of the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciate or Ordine Supremo della Santissima Annunziata, the primary dynastic order of the kingdom. This ceased to be a national order when Italy became a republic in 1946. The order remains under the jurisdiction of the head of the House of Savoy, however, as hereditary Sovereign and Grand Master.
The meaning of the letters has been a matter of some controversy, to which a number of interpretations have been offered. The motto is believed an acronym of:—
- Fortitudo Eius Rhodum Tenuit (Latin: "His strength conquered Rhodes" or "By his bravery he held [or occupied] Rhodes"), referring to the victory of Amadeus V, Count of Savoy (1249–1323), who fought against the Saracens at the 1310 siege of Rhodes; or either
- Fortitudo Eius Rempublicam Tenet (Latin: "His bravery [or strength] preserves [or defends] the Republic"); or
- Fides Est Regni Tutela (Latin: "Faith is the protector of [our] Kingdom").
It has also been suggested that the letters are actually the Latin word fert (third-person singular present active indicative of ferre), meaning "[he] suffers/bears", possibly referring to Jesus bearing the sins of the world.