Grand Master (order)

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Grand Master or Sovereign Grand Master is the typical title of the supreme head of various orders, including military orders, orders of knighthood, religious orders, as well as of modern civil fraternal orders such as the Freemasons and the Odd Fellows. Additionally, numerous modern self-styled orders attempt to imitate habits of the former bodies, albeit widely considered invalid.

As most present-day orders are essentially honorary distinctions - as some 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. Thus, a sovereign monarch often holds the title of Grand Master of the highest honorary orders, or by custom awards it to a Prince of the blood, regularly the heir to the throne, who in other orders may hold another high rank/title.

In some orders, such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the head may be styled "Sovereign", e.g. Sovereign Grand Master.


Medieval era[edit]

In medieval 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 hierarchy, which can be considered a "state within the state", especially in the crusader context lato sensu, notably aimed at the Holy Land or pagan territories in Eastern Europe, as well as the reconquista in the Iberian peninsula.

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 Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Modern era[edit]

The title of Grand Master has been used by the heads of Grand Lodges of Freemasons since 1717, and by Odd Fellows since the 18th century.

See also[edit]