THE ORDER OF THE GOLDEN FLEECE
The noble Order of the Golden Fleece is originally a dynastic order that still enjoys international recognition to this day. Dynastic means that the Order is attached to the person of a sovereign or the legitimate successor of a sovereign or to the state. The Order of the Golden Fleece was originally a Catholic Dynastic Order.(1)
The Order of the Golden Fleece presently belongs to two branches of royal families, the Spanish branch and the Austrian branch of the order. It has passed down to the Spanish branch through King Juan Carlos, the ruling Sovereign of Spain, and through the Austrian branch through the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria.
Both branches of the Order descend from a common historical background which is as follows.
The Noble Order of the Golden Fleece was founded in Bruges on the 10th of January 1430 by Philip the Good, Duke of Bergundy (1396-1467), to mark his marriage to Isabella, Infanta of Portugal. The object of the Order was the glory and praise of God Almighty, the Honour of Mary, the Mother of Jesus the Christ and of all the Celestial Army, and the protection and defence of the Christian Faith, especially by undertaking a Crusade to liberate the Holy Places in Jerusalem. It was also intended to honour the Apostle St. Andrew, Patron of the House of Bergundy,m and to promote the spirit and cause of Christian chivalry, to stimulate the practice of virtue, and to ensure the tranquillity of the Duchy.
The Sovereignty of the Order was to be restricted to its founder and his successors, to whom the Knights awarded the Order were to swear indefectible fidelity, and the same fidelity to the Christian Faith. Those on whom the Order was bestowed had to swear a special oath of fidelity to the sovereign, Philip the Good (and consequently, to his successors).
The number of knights to be awarded the honour was 44, later reduced to 31 in number, besides the Head and Sovereign of the Order.
Emperor Charles V (1519-1556) raised the number to 51; King Philip of Spain (1605-1665) later fixed the number at 61, where it remains to this day.
Knights who belonged to this Order could not belong to other orders of knighthood, except Sovereigns who already were heads of other orders. The order was to "outshine" the order of the Garter. Sovereigns who held the order owed each other love and brotherliness.
Charles the Bold, Duke of Bergundy and second head and Sovereign of the Order included his brother-in-law, Edward IV, King of England (1461-1483) and the Kings Ferdinand I of Naples (1458-1494) and John II of Sicily (1458-1479) among the first 15 knights he elected between 1468 and 1473.
On the death of Charles the Bold, the order wen to the Archduke Maximilian of Austria and later Emperor (1459-1519), who became Sovereign or Grand Master of the Order in place of his wife, Marie De Bourgogne, daughter of Charles the Bold. According to the rules of chivalry of the times, women could not be Sovereign or Grand Masters of an Order of Knighthood.
When the knights of the order met, they met in Chapter.
Maximilian was followed by Philip the Handsome, second Head and Sovereign of the House of Habsburg (1478-1506) and assumed Head of the Order in 1494. He proceeded to elect 31 Knights to the Order, among whom were Henry VII, King of England, and his 14 year old son Henry (1505) who became King Henry VIII in 1509.
The artist Holbein painted Henry VIII wearing the Catholic Order of the Golden Fleece in 1563, three years after Pope Clement VII had excommunicated him.
In 1516 Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain and third Head and Sovereign of the House of Habsburg (1500-1558) became Sovereign (or Grand Master) of the Order, enriching the Order with many privileges, making it the most important Order of the time. The Papacy also granted it special spiritual privileges.
Charles V included among the Knights of the Order, the King of France, Francis I, the Kings of Portugal, Hungary, Scotland and Poland, plus the Dukes of Bavaria, Saxony, Florence, Savoy and Denmark.
Charles V abdicated in 1555 in favour of his son Philip II, King of Spain and now the fourth Head and Sovereign of the House of Habsburg (1527-1598), who in 1577 obtain ed from Gregory XIII (1572-1585) the exclusive right to appoint knights to vacant posts. He then conferred the order on the Kings of France, Francis II and Charles IX, the future Emperors Rudolph, Mathias and
Ferdinand and many Lords int he Lowlands, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and Italy. He remained Sovereign and Grand Master of the Order until 1598 when he passed to his daughter Isabella his Sovereignty of 17 Provinces and to Philip III, King of Spain, the Grand Mastership of the Order, making him the fifth head and Sovereign of the House of Habsburg (1578-1621). Philip III was succeeded by Philip the IV (1606-1665) and Carlos II (1661-1700).
With the death of Carlos II, the spanish branch of the House of Habsburg ended.
The throne of Spain was then claimed by Louis XIV for the House of Bourbon, in the person of Philip of Anjou, who actually became King of Spain and first head and Sovereign of the House of Bourbon in 1701. At the same time, the new Emperor, Charles VI, eighth Head and Sovereign of the House of Habsburg (1685-174) took possession of the Low Countries, Sardinia, Naples and Milan.
Both claimed Sovereign or Grand Mastership of the Order of the Golden Fleece, Philip V because he was King of Spain and Charles V because as a result of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) he had become ruler of the Low Countries, whence the Order originated.
As a result of the conflicting claims, the Order was divided into two branches, the Spanish and the Austrian.
In 1724, the Congress of Cambrai was asked to resolve the dispute. But nothing was decided. All efforts to resolve the issue under international law have failed to date.
The two houses have an unwritten agreement to confer the Order independently.
With your kind indulgence, I shall take a few minutes to discuss what has become of the Spanish Branch of the Order.
The Order passed through ten successive Sovereign Masters, among whom was a female Sovereign, Isabella II, Queen of Spain and Head and Sovereign of the House of Bourbon (1833-1868). During her reign she was also head of the House of Bourbon under a provisional government of the nation under President Joaquin Marie Lopez (1843). The Order was unlawfully suppressed by the Spanish Republic under the dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco (1931-1941).
King Alfonso XIII, King of Spain and ninth Head and Sovereign of the House of Bourbon (1886-1941), never renouncing his Sovereign Mastership of the Order, made no nominations to the Order during his exile.
Generalissimo Franco (1892-1975) respecting the dynastic character of the Order, left the Sovereign Mastership to the Head of teh House of Bourbon, though he did assume the Grand Mastership of the Order of Carlos III.
King Alfonso renounced his Sovereign Mastership of the Order in favour of the Infant of Spain, Don Juan de Bourbon y Battenberg, Count of Barcelona and Head of the Spanish branch of the House of Bourbon (19412), who renounced the Sovereign Mastership eventually in 1977.
Since then, the Head and Sovereign of the Spanish branch of the Order of the Golden Fleece is a reigning monarch, Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, born in 1938. Since 1941 he was a member of the order as Infant of Spain and Prince of Astorias.
Membership of the Order presently includes only 10 Knights, among whom, besides King Juan Carlos, are Leopold II, ex-king of the
Belgians; Umberto II, ex-king of Italy; Baudouin I, King of the Belgians; and Constantine, ex-King of the Hellenes. The late Hiro-Hito, former Emperor of Japan, was also a member of the Order.
A new badge has been designed, without the motto. It is no longer aristocratic or religious in character, but more a Royal Order with a civil character, still classified however as a dynastic order.
Nominations to the order are made ;with the agreement of the Spanish Council of Ministers, thus now not exclusively the prerogative of the Sovereign to nominate candidates for the Order.
Non-catholics and non-christians have been awarded the Order since 1812 when the National Junta of Cadiz conferred it on Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington and Duke of Ciudad Rodrigo in gratitude for helping Spain during her struggle with Napoleon.
Ferdinand VII, King of Spain and xisth Head and Sovereign of the HBouse of Bourbon (1784-1833), confirmed the award. He made George Frederick, Prince of Wales, Regent of the ;United Kingdom of Great Britain, eventually to become King George IV (1762-1830), a member of the ORder.
Also female Sovereigns, beginning with Isabella II are now allowed to become lSovereign or Grand Masters of the ORder, as also can a foreign Sovereign.
1. The Holy See recognizes all legitimate dynastic orders if corresponding with the requirement of international norms, whether granted by a reigning sovereign or by a sovereign in exile or his legitimate successor and head of the royal family and house.