Grand Master (order)

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Grand Master is the typical title of the supreme head of various orders of knighthood, including various military orders, religious orders and civil orders such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Orange Order. The title of Grand Master is used by the heads of Grand Lodges of Freemasons since 1717.

In military orders such as the Knights Templar or the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, the Grand Master was the formal and executive head of a military and feudal pyramid, which can be considered a 'state within the state', especially in the 'crusader' context lato sensu (notably Middle Eastern crusades aimed at Jerusalem, Iberian reconquista, pagan territories east of Germany). If an order is granted statehood (and thus widely considered sovereign), the Grand Master is also its Head of State (if within the Holy Roman Empire, a Reichsfürst) and Head of Government, and thus a true territorial Prince of the church, as was the case with the Teutonic Knights and the Maltese Knights Hospitaller.

In some orders, the head may be styled "Sovereign". In this case a Grand Master may come after the Sovereign.

As most present-day orders are essentially an honorary distinction, as some orders always were (e.g. the Order of the Golden Fleece), so are its dignities, which may be held by right of birth or another rank, e.g. a Sovereign Monarch often holds the title of Grand Master of (usually the highest) honorary order(s), or by custom awards it to a prince of the blood, especially the Heir to the throne, who in other orders may hold another high rank/title.

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