Chivalric order

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A chivalric order, order of chivalry, order of knighthood or equestrian order is an order, confraternity or society of knights[1] typically founded during or in inspiration of the original Catholic military orders of the Crusades (circa 1099-1291), paired with medieval concepts of ideals of chivalry.

During the 15th century, orders of chivalry, or dynastic orders of knighthood, became a mere courtly fashion that could be created ad hoc, some of them purely honorific, consisting of nothing but the badge. These institutions in turn gave rise to the modern-day orders of merit of states.[2]



In Dell'origine dei Cavalieri (1566), the Italian scholar Francesco Sansovino (1521–1586) distinguished knights and their respective societies in three main categories:

Over time, the above division became no longer sufficient, and heraldic science distinguished orders into: hereditary, military, religious and fees.

Holy See[edit]

The Secretariat of the State of the Holy See - medieval pioneer - distinguishes orders in the following manner:[3]


In a more generous distribution proposed in The Knights in the Crown: The Monarchical Orders of Knighthood in Late Medieval Europe (1987), the Canadian heraldist D'Arcy Boulton classifies chivalric orders as follows:

Based on Boulton, this article distinguishes:

  • Chivalric orders by time of foundation:
    • Medieval chivalric orders: foundation of the order during the Middle Ages or the Renaissance
    • Modern chivalric orders: foundation after 1789
  • Chivalric orders by religion:
  • Chivalric orders by purpose:
    • Monarchical chivalric orders: foundation by a monarch who is a fount of honour; either ruling or not
    • Confraternal chivalric orders: foundation by a nobleman, either high nobility or low nobility
    • Fraternal chivalric orders: founded for a specific purpose only
    • Votive chivalric orders: founded for a limited period of time only by members who take a vow
    • Honorific chivalric orders: consist only of honorific insignia bestowed on knights on festive occasions, consisting of nothing but the badge
    • Self-styled orders: self-proclaimed imitation-orders without statutes or restricted memberships


Another occurent chronological categorisation is into:[citation needed]

Medieval orders[edit]

Monarchical orders[edit]

  • Late medieval monarchical orders (14th and 15th centuries) are orders of chivalry with the presidency attached to a monarch:
Order of Saint George, founded by Charles I of Hungary in 1325
Order of the Band, founded by Alfonso XI of Castile in ca. 1330
Order of the Garter, founded by Edward III of England in 1348[4]
Order of the Star, founded by John II of France in 1351
Order of the Most Holy Annunciation, founded by Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy in 1362.
Order of the Ermine, founded by John V, Duke of Brittany in 1381: First order to accept Women.
Order of the Dragon, founded by Sigismund of Hungary in 1408.
Order of the Golden Fleece, founded by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy in 1430
Order of Saint Michael, founded by Louis XI of France in 1469[5]
  • Post-medieval foundations of chivalric orders:
Order of Saint Stephen (1561)
Order of the Holy Spirit (1578)
Blood of Jesus Christ (military order) (1608)
Order of the Thistle (1687)[6]
Order of Saint Louis (1694)
Order of the Seraphim (1748)
Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary (1764)
Order of St. Patrick (1783)[7]
Order of Saint Joseph (1807)
  • Monarchical orders whose monarch no longer reigns but continues to bestow the order:
Order of the Golden Fleece (Austrian branch)
Order of the Holy Spirit
Order of Prince Danilo I of Montenegro
Order of Saint Peter of Cetinje
Royal Order of Saint George for the Defense of the Immaculate Conception (Bavaria)
Order of the Crown (Romania)
Order of Carol I (Romania)
Order of the Immaculate Conception of Vila Viçosa (Portugal)
Order of Saint Michael of the Wing (Portugal)
Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George (Two Sicilies)
Order of the Eagle of Georgia (Georgia)
Order of Queen Tamara (Georgia)
Order of the Crown of Georgia (Georgia)

Confraternal orders[edit]

Confraternal orders are orders of chivalry with the presidency attached to a nobleman:

  • Princely orders were founded by noblemen of higher rank. Most of these were founded in imitation of the Order of the Golden Fleece, after 1430:
Order of Saint Catherine, founded by Humbert II, Dauphin du Viennois in ca. 1335
Order of Saint Anthony, founded by Albrecht I of Bavaria in 1384
Society of the Eagle, founded by Albrecht II von Habsburg in 1433
Society of Our Lady (Order of the Swan), founded by Frederick II, Elector of Brandenburg in 1440
Order of Saint Hubert, founded by Gerhard V of Jülich and Berg in 1444
Order of the Crescent, founded by René d'Anjou in 1448
Society of Saint Jerome, founded by Friedrich II of Wettin in 1450
  • Baronial orders, founded by noblemen of lower rank:
Order of Saint Hubert (Barrois, 1422)
Noble Order of Saint George of Rougemont, also called Confraternity of Saint-Georges of Burgundy (Franche-Comté, 1440)

Fraternal orders[edit]

Fraternal orders are orders of chivalry that were formed off a vow & for a certain enterprise:

Compagnie of the Black Swan, founded by 3 princes and 11 knights in Savoy (1350)
Corps et Ordre du Tiercelet, founded by the vicomte de Thouars and 17 barons in Poitou (1377–1385)
Ordre de la Pomme d'Or, founded by 14 knights in Auvergne (1394)
Alliance et Compagnie du Levrier, founded by 44 knights in the Barrois (1416–1422), subsequently converted into the Confraternal order of Saint Hubert (see above)

Votive orders[edit]

Votive orders are orders of chivalry, temporarily formed on the basis of a vow. These were courtly chivalric games rather than actual pledges as in the case of the fraternal orders. Three are known from their statutes:

Emprise de l'Escu vert à la Dame Blanche (Enterprise of the green shield with the white lady), founded by Jean Le Maingre dit Boucicaut and 12 knights in 1399 for the duration of 5 years
Emprise du Fer de Prisonnier (Enterprise of the Prisoner's Iron), founded by Jean de Bourbon and 16 knights in 1415 for the duration of 2 years
Emprise de la gueule de dragon (Enterprise of the Dragon's Mouth), founded by Jean comte de Foix in 1446 for 1 year.

Cliental pseudo-orders[edit]

Cliental pseudo-orders are not orders of chivalry and were princes's retinues fashionably termed orders. They are without statutes or restricted memberships:

Ordre de la Cosse de Genêt (Order of the Broom-Pod), founded by Charles VI of France ca. 1388
Order of the camail or Porcupine, created by Louis d'Orléans in 1394
Order of the Dove, Castile, 1390
Order of the Scale of Castile, ca. 1430

Honorific orders[edit]

Honorific orders were honorific insignia consisting of nothing but the badge:

Order of the Stoat and the Ear, founded by Francis I, Duke of Brittany in 1448
Order of the Golden Spur, a papal order (since the 14th century, flourishes in the 16th century)

Together with the monarchical chivalric orders (see above) these honorific orders are the prime ancestors of the modern-day orders of knighthood (see below) which are orders of merit in character.

The distinction between these orders and decorations is somewhat vague, except that these honorific orders still implied a membership in a group. Decorations have no such limitations, and are awarded purely to recognize the merit or accomplishments of the recipient. Both orders and decorations often come in multiple classes.[8]

Modern orders[edit]

Most orders created since the late 17th century were no longer societies and fellowships of knights[1] who followed a common mission, but were established by monarchs or governments with the specific purpose of bestowing honours on deserving individuals. In most European monarchies, these new orders retained some outward forms from the medieval orders of chivalry (such as rituals and structure) but were in essence orders of merit, mainly distinguished from their republican counterparts by the fact that members were entitled to a title of nobility. While some orders required noble birth (such as the Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary, established in 1764), others would confer a title upon appointment (such as the Military Order of Max Joseph, established in 1806) while in yet other orders only the top classes were considered knights (such as in the Order of St Michael and St George, established in 1818). Orders of merit which still confer privileges of knighthood are sometimes referred to as orders of knighthood. As a consequence of being not an order of chivalry but orders of merit or decorations, some republican honours have thus avoided the traditional structure found in medieval orders of chivalry and created new ones instead, e.g. the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria, or the Legion of Merit of the United States.

Current orders[edit]

Former orders[edit]

Typical insignia and ranks[edit]

Lemuel Francis Abbott's portrait of Admiral Lord Nelson depicting his honours embroidered on his coat jacket
Insignia of the British Order of the Garter.

Following the example set by the French Legion of Honour, founded by Napoleon, most multi-level European orders comprise five ranks or classes. The highest is usually called the Grand Cross, then descending with varying titles. Alternatively the ranks are referred to by number (for example "Ist class" instead of "Grand Cross"). Typical rankings are:

Class Common names
I Grand Cross, Commander Grand Cross, Grand Cordon, Grand Collar
II Grand Officer, Commander 1st Class, Grand Commander, Knight Commander, Knight Companion
III Commander, Commander 2nd Class, Companion
IV Officer, Knight 1st Class, Member 1st Class
V Knight, Knight 2nd Class, Chevalier, Member

Each of these ranks wear insignia, usually badge (often enamelled) on a ribbon. Typically these insignia are worn from a sash in the case of the senior ranks, around the neck (also see neck orders) for the middle ranks and on the left chest for the lower grades. Some orders use insignia in the form of a cross, but there can also be medals or stars, military awards may have crossed swords added onto the insignias. Ladies may wear the badge on a bow on the left chest. In orders following the example set by the French Legion of Honour, the two highest classes also wear a star (or 'plaque') on the chest. In special cases the senior class may wear the badge on a collar, which is an elaborate chain around the neck.

In certain countries with feudal heritage the higher ranks (usually at least the Grand Cross) may have vestments proper to them, including a mantle and a hat. An example of such a modern-day order is the Order of the British Empire.



The orders have influenced organizations which are completely separate and distinct from them. Since at least the 18th century, Freemasonry has incorporated symbols and rituals of several medieval military orders in a number of Masonic bodies, most notably, in the "Red Cross of Constantine" (derived from the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George), the "Order of Malta" (derived from the Sovereign Military Order of Malta), and the "Order of the Temple" (derived from the historical Knights Templar), the latter two featuring prominently in the York Rite.


Main article: Self-styled orders

Some organisations claim to be chivalric orders but are actually private membership organisations that have not been created by a state or a reigning monarch.[12] The answer to the question of whether an order is legitimate or not varies from nation to nation,[13] François Velde wrote an "order of knighthood is legitimate if it is defined as legal, recognized and acknowledged as such by a sovereign authority. Within its borders, a sovereign state does as it pleases. Most, if not all, modern states have honorific orders and decorations of some kind, and those are sometimes called orders of knighthood."[14] Exactly what makes one order legitimate and another self-styled or false is a matter of debate with some arguing that any monarch (reigning or not) or even the descendants of such can create an order while others assert that only a government with actual internationally recognized authority has such power (regardless of whether that government is republican or monarchial in nature).[15][16]Historically, nobility and knights have also formed Orders of Knighthood. The Noble Order of Saint George of Rougemont is a Baronial Order and the Ordre de la Pomme d'Or was founded by 14 knights in Auvergne in 1394.[17][18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "St. George's Chapel: History: Order of the Garter". See the definition of the Order of the Garter as "a society, fellowship and college of knights" there. - St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. 2005. Archived from the original on 15 September 2006. Retrieved 6 November 2006. 
  2. ^ Velde, François Velde (25 February 2004). "Legitimacy and Orders of Knighthood". Heraldica. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Order of the Garter". Official website of the British Monarchy. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  5. ^ Vachaudez, Christophe; Walgrave, Jan (2008). Diana Scarisbrick, ed. Royal jewels : from Charlemagne to the Romanovs. New York: Vendôme Press. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-86565-193-7. Louis XI founded the Order of Saint Michael in 1469. Initially, there were thirty-six knights, but their numbers increased to such a point that the order began to lose its prestige. Louis XIV reformed the order on 12 January 1665, reducing the number of knights to one hundred 
  6. ^ "Order of the Thistle". Official website of the British Monarchy. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  7. ^ "Monarchy Today: Queen and Public: Honours: Order of St Patrick". Official website of the British Monarchy. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  8. ^ Definition adapted from, accessed 2010-02-20.
  9. ^ Anstis, John (1725). Observations introductory to an historical essay upon the Knighthood of the Bath. London: J. Woodman. p. 4. 
  10. ^ The Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey (2011). "Order of the Bath". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 11 December 2012. The Most Honourable Order of the Bath was established as a military order by Letters Patent of George I on 18 May 1725, when the Dean of Westminster was made Dean of the Order in perpetuity and King Henry VII's Chapel designated as the Chapel of the Order. 
  11. ^ a b Sauer, Werner (1950). Die Orden und Ehrenzeichen des Kurfürstentums Hessen-Kassel (in German). Hamburg: Verlag Kleine Reihe für Freunde der Ordens- und Ehrenzeichenkunde. pp. 19–24. 
  12. ^ Barber, Malcom, & Victor Mallia-Milanes, eds. (2008). The Military Orders, vol. 3, History and Heritage. Aldershot, England: Ashgate. pp. 4–6. ISBN 9780754662907. 
  13. ^ Hoegen Dijkhof, Hendrik Johannes (2006). The legitimacy of Orders of St. John: a historical and legal analysis and case study of a para-religious phenomenon (PDF). Amsterdam: Hoegen Dijkhof Advocaten (van Universiteit Leiden). pp. 35–41. 
  14. ^ Velde, François Velde (25 February 2004). "Legal Definitions of Orders of Knighthood". Heraldica. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  15. ^ Brett-Crowther, Michael Richard (1990). Orders of Chivalry under the Aegis of the Church. London: Lambeth Diploma of Student in Theology Thesis. pp. 80–90. 
  16. ^ Kurrild-Klitgaard, Peter (2002). 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: Digipaino. ISBN 9512922657. 
  17. ^ Thiou, E. (2002). La noble confrérie & les chevaliers de Saint-Georges au Comté de Bourgogne sous l'Ancien régime & la révolution. Mémoire et documents.
  18. ^ Bossuat, A. (1944). Un ordre de chevalerie auvergnat; l'ordre de la Pomme d'or'. Bidle/in bistoriqia it stienti/iqm dt I'Aupergite, Uiv (1944), 83-98; H. Morel,'Unc associa, 523-4.


  • Anstis, John (1752). Observations introductory to an historical essay upon the Knighthood of the Bath. London: James Woodman. 
  • Burke, John (1725). Statutes of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. 
  • D'Arcy Jonathan Dacre Boulton (2000) [February 1987]. The knights of the crown: the monarchical orders of knighthood in later medieval Europe. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1325–1520. ISBN 0-312-45842-8. 
  • Kaeuper, Richard W.; Kennedy, Elspeth; De Carny, Geoffroi (December 1996). The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi De Charny: Text, Context, and Translation. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-1579-6. 
  • Risk, James C. (1972). The History of the Order of the Bath and its Insignia. London: Spink & Son. 

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