|Status Currently constituted|
Established 1430 (see History)
|Motto Pretium Laborum Non Vile
Awarded for At the monarch's pleasure
Sovereign Felipe VI of Spain Archduke Karl of Austria
The Order of the Golden Fleece (Spanish: Orden del Toisón de Oro, German: Orden vom Goldenen Vlies) is a Roman Catholic order of chivalry founded in Bruges by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy in 1430, to celebrate his marriage to the Portuguese princess Infanta Isabella of Portugal, daughter of King John I of Portugal. It became one of the most prestigious orders in Europe. Today, two branches of the Order exist, namely the Spanish and the Austrian Fleece; the current sovereigns are Felipe VI, King of Spain, and Karl von Habsburg, grandson of Emperor Charles I of Austria, respectively. The chaplain of the Austrian branch is Cardinal Graf von Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna.
The Order of the Golden Fleece was established on 10 January 1430, by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in celebration of the prosperous and wealthy domains united in his person that ran from Flanders to Switzerland. It is restricted to a limited number of knights, initially 24 but increased to 30 in 1433, and 50 in 1516, plus the sovereign. The Order's first King of Arms was Jean Le Fèvre de Saint-Remy. It received further privileges unusual to any order of knighthood: the sovereign undertook to consult the order before going to war; all disputes between the knights were to be settled by the order; at each chapter the deeds of each knight were held in review, and punishments and admonitions were dealt out to offenders, and to this the sovereign was expressly subject; the knights could claim as of right to be tried by their fellows on charges of rebellion, heresy and treason, and Charles V conferred on the order exclusive jurisdiction over all crimes committed by the knights; the arrest of the offender had to be by warrant signed by at least six knights, and during the process of charge and trial he remained not in prison but in the gentle custody of his fellow knights. The order, conceived in an ecclesiastical spirit in which mass and obsequies were prominent and the knights were seated in choirstalls like canons, was explicitly denied to heretics, and so became an exclusively Catholic award during the Reformation. The officers of the order were the chancellor, the treasurer, the registrar, and the King of Arms, or herald, "Toison d'Or".
The Duke's stated reason for founding this institution had been given in a proclamation issued following his marriage, in which he wrote that he had done so "for the reverence of God and the maintenance of our Christian Faith, and to honor and exalt the noble order of knighthood, and also ...to do honor to old knights; ...so that those who are at present still capable and strong of body and do each day the deeds pertaining to chivalry shall have cause to continue from good to better; and .. so that those knights and gentlemen who shall see worn the order ... should honor those who wear it, and be encouraged to employ themselves in noble deeds...".
The Order of the Golden Fleece was defended from possible accusations of prideful pomp by the Burgundian court poet Michault Taillevent, who asserted that it was instituted:
Translated into English:
The choice of the Golden Fleece of Georgian Kingdom of Colchis as the symbol of a Christian order caused some controversy, not so much because of its pagan context, which could be incorporated in chivalric ideals, as in the Nine Worthies, but because the feats of Jason, familiar to all, were not without causes of reproach, expressed in anti-Burgundian terms by Alain Chartier in his Ballade de Fougères referring to Jason as "Who, to carry off the fleece of Colchis, was willing to commit perjury." The bishop of Châlons, chancellor of the Order, rescued the fleece's reputation by identifying it instead with the fleece of Gideon that received the dew of Heaven.
The badge of the Order, in the form of a sheepskin, was suspended from a jewelled collar of firesteels in the shape of the letter B, for Burgundy, linked by flints; with the motto "Pretium Laborum Non Vile" ("No Mean Reward for Labours") engraved on the front of the central link, and Philip's motto "Non Aliud" ("I will have no other") on the back (non-royal knights of the Golden Fleece were forbidden to belong to any other order of knighthood).
With the absorption of the Burgundian lands into the Spanish Habsburg empire, the sovereignty of the Order passed to the Habsburg kings of Spain, where it remained until the death of the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, Charles II, in 1700. He was succeeded as king by Philip V, a Bourbon. The dispute between Philip and the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne, the Archduke Charles, led to the War of the Spanish Succession, and also resulted in the division of the Order into Spanish and Austrian branches. In either case the sovereign, as Duke of Burgundy, writes the letter of appointment in French.
The controversial award of the Order to Napoleon and his brother Joseph, while Spain was occupied by French troops, angered the exiled King of France, Louis XVIII, and caused him to return his collar in protest. These, and other awards by Joseph, were revoked by King Ferdinand on the restoration of Bourbon rule in 1813. Napoleon created by Order of 15th August 1809 the Order of the Three Golden Fleeces, in view of his sovereignty over Austria, Spain and Burgundy. This was opposed by Joseph I of Spain and the new order was never awarded.
In 1812 the acting government of Spain awarded the order to the Duke of Wellington, an act confirmed by Ferdinand on his resumption of power, with the approval of Pope Pius VII. Wellington therefore became the first Protestant to be awarded the Golden Fleece. It has subsequently also been awarded to non-Christians, such as Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand.
There was another crisis in 1833 when Isabella II became Queen of Spain in defiance of Salic Law that did not allow women to become heads of state. Her right to award the Fleece was challenged by Spanish Carlists.
Sovereignty remained with the head of the Spanish house of Bourbon during the republican (1931–39) and Francoist (1939–1975) periods and is held today by the present King of Spain, Felipe VI.
Knights of the Order are entitled to be addressed with the style His/Her Excellency in front of their name.
Below a list of the names of the living knights and ladies, in chronologic order and, within parentheses, the year when they were inducted into the Order:
- King Felipe VI of Spain (1981) – As reigning King of Spain, Sovereign of the Order since 2014 after his father abdicated his rights to him.
- King Juan Carlos I of Spain (1941) – Former Sovereign of the Order as King of Spain from 1975 to 2014.
- King Constantine II of Greece (1964)
- The King of Sweden (1983)
- Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg (1983)
- The Emperor of Japan (1985)
- Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands (1985)
- The Queen of Denmark (1985)
- The Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Realms (1989)
- King Albert II of Belgium (1994)
- The King of Norway (1995)
- Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria, Former Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria, 2001–2005 (2004)
- The Grand Duke of Luxembourg (2007)
- Javier Solana (2010)
- Víctor García de la Concha (2010)
- Nicolas Sarkozy, Former President of the French Republic and Co-Prince of Andorra, 2007–2012 (2011)
- Enrique Valentín Iglesias García (2014)
- The Princess of Asturias (2015)
The Austrian Order did not suffer from the political difficulties of the Spanish, remaining (with the exception of the British prince Regent, later George IV) an award solely for Catholic royalty and nobles. The problem of female inheritance was avoided on the accession of Maria Theresa in 1740 as sovereignty of the Order passed not to herself but to her husband, Francis.
Upon the collapse of the Austrian monarchy after the First World War, King Albert I of Belgium requested that the sovereignty and treasure of the Order be transferred to him as the ruler of the former Habsburg lands of Burgundy. This claim was seriously considered by the victorious allies at Versailles but was eventually rejected due to the intervention of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who took possession of the property of the Order on behalf of the dethroned emperor, Charles I of Austria. Sovereignty remains with the head of the House of Habsburg, which was handed over on 20 November 2000 by Otto von Habsburg to his elder son, Karl von Habsburg.
Below a list of the names of the living knights, in chronological order, followed in parentheses by the date, when known, of their induction into the Order:
- Archduke Joseph Arpád of Austria (1960)
- The Duke of Bavaria (1960)
- Count Johann Larisch of Moennich (1960)
- Archduke Karl of Austria (1961) – Sovereign (Grand Master) of the Order since 2000
- Archduke Andreas Salvator of Austria, Prince of Tuscany
- Archduke Carl Salvator of Austria, Prince of Tuscany
- Prince Lorenz of Belgium, Archduke of Austria-Este
- Archduke Michael of Austria
- Archduke Michael Salvator of Austria, Prince of Tuscany
- Archduke Georg of Austria
- Archduke Carl Christian of Austria
- Archduke Joseph of Austria (born 1933)
- King Albert II of Belgium
- Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg
- Prince Albrecht of Hohenberg
- The Duke of Württemberg
- The Prince of Lobkowicz
- Count Johann of Hoyos-Sprinzenstein
- The Prince of Liechtenstein
- Prince Clemens of Altenburg
- The Duke of Braganza
- Count Josef Hubert of Neipperg
- The Duke of Hohenberg
- The Prince of Schwarzenberg
- Archduke Joseph of Austria (born 1960)
- The Prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg
- Count Gottfried of Czernin of Chudenitz
- Mariano Hugo, Prince of Windisch-Graetz
- Baron Johann Friedrich of Solemacher-Antweiler
- Baron Nicolas Adamovich de Csepin
- Bernard Guerrier de Dumast (fr) (2001)
- The Prince of Panagyurishte (2002)
- The King of the Belgians (2008)
- The Prince of Ligne (2011)
- Prince Charles-Louis de Merode (2011)
- Archduke Ferdinand Zvonimir of Austria
- The Margrave of Meissen (2012)