Pseudo-chivalric orders or self-styled orders are organizations which falsely claim to be chivalric orders. Most self-styled orders arose in or after the mid-eighteenth century and many have been created in the present day, though most are short-lived and endure no more than a few decades.
A chivalric order must have a fount of honour (or fons honorum) as either its founder or its principal patron in order to be considered a chivalric order; a fount of honour is a person who held sovereignty either at or before the moment when the order was established. (Holding sovereignty before the founding of an order is considered effective in creation of a genuine chivalric order only if the former sovereign had not abdicated his sovereignty before the foundation of the order but, instead, had been deposed or had otherwise lost power.) Some organisations create a false fons honorum in order to satisfy this requirement and give themselves apparent legitimacy; often, the founder or patron of a self-styled order has assumed a false title of nobility as well as supposed current or former sovereignty.
Contrary to a popular myth, a person who is a knight or of noble birth does not have the right to confer titles of nobility or Orders of Chivalry on others. According to tradition and international law, no person or organization, other than the Head of State, or the Head of a Royal House or Dynasty—whether regnant or non-regnant—can be a fount of honour. This is because any other person lacks the required sovereignty to do so, even if he or she is of royal blood.
In the United Kingdom, where the fount of honour is the Monarch, some societies have permission from the Monarch to award medals, but these are to be worn on the right side of the chest. In France, however, with very few exceptions, no non-governmental orders and medals are permitted to be worn. In Sweden, decisions about medals and orders worn to military uniform has been delegated to the General Staff.
Self-styled orders may share certain other characteristics:
- They long ago were suppressed by the Holy See, protector of mediaeval Western military religious orders in the Holy Land or on the Iberian Peninsula;
- No sovereign Western state recognises them as legitimate orders of knighthood;
- They claim to be under the high protection of or to be headed by Episcopi vagantes or to be headed by obscure princes;
- They are linked closely to bearers of false titles of nobility.
Although not officially recognised by any international treaty, the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry (ICOC) has developed widely accepted principles employed in determining which organizations are genuine chivalric orders (many of which are listed on the website of the Commission) rather than self-styled ones. The Commission was created as a temporary committee of the International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences in August 1960, though it has been transformed into a permanent and independent international body. The principles established by the ICOC for determining genuine orders of chivalry may form a set of reasonable guidelines for such, especially given that there are no other generally recognized international guidelines available.
The ICOC's most recent Register and Provisional List of Orders was published in 2007.
The ICOC has published the following statement on their website: "...it should be acknowledged that some serious mistakes were made, where organizations were included in the Register alongside historical chivalric orders despite not being such, and because of this it has been necessary to go back to the 1964 Register and use that as a starting point." "These [organizations] include, first and foremost, the so-called 'Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller' (or 'Royal Yugoslav Order of Saint John'), included from 1970, and the so-called 'Niadh Nask,' included from 1996/1998."
Certain other organisations (such as the Augustan Society and the International Fellowship of Chivalry-Now, which state publicly that they are not chivalric orders) that may appear to have a chivalric character, nevertheless carefully distinguish themselves from legitimate orders of chivalry, thus differentiating themselves from self-styled orders.
- International Order of Saint Stanislaus
- Knights Hospitaller Mimic Orders
- Niadh Nask
- Noble Order of Saint George of Rougemont
- Order of Saint Blaise
- Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem
- Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Oecumenial Knights of Malta
- International Commission for Orders of Chivalry
- Official Statement of the Holy See on Self-Styled Orders
- French Law and Unofficial Orders
- Italian Law and Unofficial Orders;
- Fantasy Royalty
- Ordres et contre-ordres de chevalerie by Arnaud Chaffanjon, Mercure de France Paris 1982.
- Faux Chevaliers vrais gogos by Patrice Chairoff, Jean Cyrile Godefroy Paris 1985.
- The knightly twilight by Robert Gayre of Gayre, Lochore Enterprises Valletta 1973.
- Orders of knighthood, Awards and the Holy See by Peter Bander van Duren and Archbishop H.E. Cardinale (Apostolic Delegate in the United Kingdom), Buckinghamshire 1985.
- World Orders of Knighthood and Merit by Guy Stair Sainty(editor) and Rafal Heydel-Mankoo (deputy editor), Burke's Peerage 2006.
- Ephemeral Decorations, Gillingham, H. E. New York, 1935. American Numismatical Society: Numismatic Notes and Mongraphs 66.
- Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard, 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 2002, ISBN 951-29-2265-7
- History of Orders of Chivalry: A Survey
- International Commission for Orders of Chivalry
- Legitimacy and Orders of Knighthood, by François Velde
- The Self-Styled Orders, by Guy Stair Sainty
- Fake Titles
- Order of Malta Statement on Mimic Orders