The history of the Ancient Order of St. George dates back to the two knightly associations of the House of Luxembourg in the 14th and 15th century, when in 1308 King of Germany (and later Holy Roman Emperor) Henry VII endowed the “Order of the Ancient Nobility” and in 1408 the King of Hungary (and later Holy Roman Emperor) Sigismund instituted the “Order of the Dragon”. Both founders were striving to fortify Christendom and knightly virtues.
As a result of his defeat by the Ottomans at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, Sigismund placed the so called “Confraternity With the Dragon” (ref. Ouroboros) of Ancient Nobility under the protection of Saint George, from which the Order still today derives its name of two components.
Following the extinction of the House of Luxembourg in the middle of the 15th century, the Order remained affiliated to the Holy Roman Emperors of the House of Habsburg. Since the 19th century the Order has upheld a firm loyalty to the archducal House of Austria. Accordingly, Dr. Otto von Habsburg was patron of the Ancient Order of St. George from 1972 until his death in July 2011.
On 6 December 1768 the Order was newly founded as a secular order of chivalry by Philipp Ferdinand Count von Limburg-Styrum. Among its aims was the preservation of the memory of the Four Roman Emperors of the House of Luxembourg, Henry VII (ruled 1308-1313), Charles IV (ruled 1347- 1378), Wenceslas (ruled 1378-1410) and Sigismund (ruled 1410-1437).
The members of the essential ecumenical Order stemmed predominantly from the German, Flemish, Walloon and French aristocracy. Its division into German and French speaking parts was laid down in the first reorganization of the Order in 1789. In 1806, as consequence of the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire the sovereignty over the County of Styrum by the House of Limburg-Styrum was mediatised. Thereby the Order lost its status as a Dynastic Order and, in the absence of a Grand Master, the Order went into abeyance.
A second reorganizational convention was called in 1838 by the vice-chancellor Dr. Joseph Vicomte de Kerckhove-Varent, which opened the membership of the Order to those of non-aristocratic descent, while emphasizing however conservative objectives. Its official language became now German, since French had widely ceased its currency, as a result of the French Revolution.
Based on the reorganizational convention of 1926 in Hanover, Germany, the statutes were adapted under the guidance of the Order's Governor, Count Bernhard zu Stolberg-Stolberg, to consolidate the life within the Order. From then on it was called the Ancient Chivalric Order of St. George, also referred to as the Order of the Four Roman Emperors, with bailiwicks of Wendland (along the river Elbe), Lower Saxony, North-Rhine-Westphalia and Austria-Hungary. As a visual expression of the renewal of the Order and in the spirit of its founders and patrons, the image of St. George the dragon slayer was incorporated into the Order´s insignia.
Because of the political situation in the German Reich, in 1935 the seat of the Order was transferred to Salzburg in the bailiwick of Austria-Hungary, from where it engaged actively against the National Socialism, for an independent Austria and for the reinstatement of its archducal House of Habsburg. Three years later, following the so called “Anschluss” (Austria´s annexation by the German Reich), the Order was prohibited for political reasons by the Nazis. Like many other Christian associations, the Order was officially dissolved, its assets confiscated and its activities forbidden (as it had already happened in Germany in 1934, after the National Socialists had seized power. The dissolution had taken place under the Governor of the Order, Prince Johannes von und zu Liechtenstein (a former Captain in the Austro-Hungarian Navy), who, after the irrevocable resignation of his predecessor, Count Bernhard zu Stolberg-Stolberg, had been unanimously elected (“per acclamationem”) at the knights´ general convention on 19 June 1937.
While continuing to be recognized as governor by the remaining Knights of the Order during World War II, Prince Johannes safeguarded the continuity of the Order and immediately after the war began building it up again with its seat in Vienna, Austria. His efforts of consolidation resulted in his official registration of the Order in 1951 as “St. George´s Club” which he led as its president. This step was necessary, because of the still unclear legal situation of secular orders, which had been closed down during the Third Reich.
Under the next Governor of the Order, Count Karl von und zu Trauttmansdorff-Weinsberg, who had updated the order´s statutes, which had officially been confirmed by the authorities in 1960, the “St. George´s Club”, was renamed the “Ancient Order of St. George”, as the Order is called today. Since then, its head and chief representative again carries the title “Ordensgouverneur” (Governor of the Order). As such, the Ancient Order of St. George successfully exists to this day.
In 1999 Prince Gundakar von und zu Liechtenstein was elected Governor of the Order. Since 2001 Count Peter zu Stolberg-Stolberg has assisted him as Vice Chancellor, and since 2004 as the Order´s Chancellor.
Certain persons who had left the Ancient Order of St. George at the end of 2007 founded an association with a similar name in January 2008. In 2011 it was renamed “St. Georgs-Orden – Ein europäischer Orden des Hauses Habsburg-Lothringen”.
According to its statutes, the Ancient Order of St. George is open to members of all levels of society, professions and Christian denominations. In both public and private life, they fight against the roots and implications of the “eight evils”: illness, desolation, homelessness, hunger, unkindness, guilt, indifference and disbelief. The Order expects from its members impeccable conduct, respectability, sense of true nobility, Christian charity and morals, as well as strict adherence to law and order. Furthermore, the Order acknowledges Christian natural justice and ethics as the source of all rights. The aims of the Order are also reflected in its Latin motto “Illustrioribus et Nobilitati” (for the distinguished and noble).
St. George, patron saint of chivalry and the English Lord Chancellor, St. Thomas More (1487-1535), patron saint of lawyers, Christian statesmen and politicians, serve for members of the Order as symbolic paragons for the conduct of life.
Knights of St. George are there for one another until the end of their lives, especially when another is in need of help and protection in a difficult situation in life. Besides its charitable activities, the Order sees itself today as an opinion-forming think tank, hosting regular gatherings with professionals speaking about relevant social, cultural and political matters. The admission of novices as full members takes place at the Order´s festive Annual General Convention, around the memorial day of St. George (23 April). At the same time, selected members are recognized for special merits. Since the year 2000, the Order arranges every summer a 2-day philosophical symposium with high-level speakers on socio-politically relevant themes (e.g. 2012: “Natural Law vs. Legal Positivism”, 2013: “Truth or Everything is Relative”, 2014: “From the Nation State to Supranationality”).
The governors of the Ancient Order of St. George since its reorganizational convention in 1926:1926-1937 Count Bernhard zu Stolberg-Stolberg
1937-1959 Prince Johannes von und zu Liechtenstein
1959-1970 Count Karl von und zu Trauttmansdorff-Weinsberg
1979-1987 Prince Emanuel von und zu Liechtenstein
1987-1999 Count Leonhard von Wolkenstein zu Rodenegg
Since 1999 Prince Gundakar von und zu Liechtenstein
The Order´s badge is a white-enamelled, eight-pointed cross with golden flames in the corners and topped with the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire. On the four arms of the cross the initial letters (H, C, W, S) of the four emperors from the House of Luxembourg are located (Henry VII, Charles IV, Wenceslas I and Sigismund). In the middle of the cross there is a light blue medallion, depicting in gold St. George on horseback, slaying the dragon. The light blue medallion on the back of the cross blazons in gold the Order´s motto: “ILLUSTRIORIBUS ET NOBILITATI” (or abbreviated “ILLUSTR ET NOB”). Wearing the insignia, it is affixed to a golden-edged light blue cordon. Officers of the Austrian Army are permitted to wear the Order´s insignia on their uniforms, as per decree of the Austrian Ministry of Defence. The Order´s insignia and its Latin motto are officially registered as trademarks in Austria (Reg. Nos. 246973 and 247000), Germany (Reg. Nos. 302008053367 and 302008053400) and the European Union (CTMs 011307311 and 011307287).Ferdinand Freiherr von Biedenfeld: Geschichte und Verfassung aller geistlichen und weltlichen, erloschenen und blühenden Ritterorden. Bernhard Friedrich Voigt, Weimar 1841, Zweiter Band S. 63-81.
Gustav Adolph Ackermann: Ordensbuch sämtlicher in Europa blühender und erloschener Orden. Rudolph & Dieterici, Annaberg 1855.
Ritterorden vom Alten Adel oder der vier Römischen Kaiser – Fundationsbrief. Wilhelmsdorf 1768.
Maigne, W.: Dictionnaire encyclopédique des ordres de chevalerie civils et militaries créés chez les différents peuples. Paris 1861.
Kerckhove, J. de: Notice sur l´origine et le rétablissement de l´ordre chapitral d´ancienne noblesse des quatre empereurs. Anvers 1839.
Kerckhove, J. de: Statuts de l´ordre chapitral d´ancienne noblesse des quatre empereurs. Anvers 1839.
Procházka, R.: Österreichisches Ordenshandbuch. München 1974.