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During the 15th century, orders of chivalry, or dynastic orders of knighthood, began to be created in a more courtly fashion that could be created ad hoc. These orders would often retain the notion of being a society or association of individuals, however, some of them were ultimately purely honorific, consisting of nothing but the badge. In fact, the badges themselves often came to be known informally as orders. These institutions in turn gave rise to the modern-day orders of merit of states.
In Dell'origine dei Cavalieri (1566), the ItalianscholarFrancesco Sansovino (1521-1586) distinguished knights and their respective societies in three main categories:
Dynastic orders of a sovereign royal dynasty, either an active "dynastic state actor", otherwise a "non-national dynastic order", as the head of a formerly reigning royal house operating under iure collationis[clarification needed], typically approved by Papal bulls in the case of older origins
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:
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 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:
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 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.
Most orders created since the late 17th century were no longer societies and fellowships of knights 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.
Order of St Michael and St George, is an order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later George IV of the United Kingdom, while he was acting as Prince Regent for his father, George III.
Order of Pahlavi, founded 1928 by Reza Shah, abolished 1979 after the Iranian Revolution. There were two classes. The first class, the Grand Collar, was worn by the Shah, crown prince, and awarded to heads of state. The second class, the Grand Cordon, was worn by princes and princesses.
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:
Grand Cross, Commander Grand Cross, Grand Cordon, Grand Collar
Grand Officer, Commander 1st Class, Grand Commander, Knight Commander, Knight Companion
Commander, Commander 2nd Class, Companion
Officer, Knight 1st Class, Member 1st Class
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 decorations) 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.
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. The answer to the question of whether an order is legitimate or not varies from nation to nation, 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." 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). 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.
^Vachaudez, Christophe; Walgrave, Jan (2008). Diana Scarisbrick, ed. Royal jewels : from Charlemagne to the Romanovs. New York: Vendôme Press. p. 146. ISBN978-0-86565-193-7. 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
^Anstis, John (1725). Observations introductory to an historical essay upon the Knighthood of the Bath. London: J. Woodman. p. 4. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
^The Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey (2011). "Order of the Bath". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 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.
^ abSauer, 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.
^Barber, Malcom, & Victor Mallia-Milanes, eds. (2008). The Military Orders, vol. 3, History and Heritage. Aldershot, England: Ashgate. pp. 4-6. ISBN9780754662907.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
^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.
^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. ISBN9512922657.
^Thiou, E. (2002). La noble confrérie & les chevaliers de Saint-Georges au Comté de Bourgogne sous l'Ancien régime & la révolution. Mémoire et documents.
^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. pp. 1325-1520. ISBN0-312-45842-8.
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. ISBN0-8122-1579-6.
Risk, James C. (1972). The History of the Order of the Bath and its Insignia. London: Spink & Son.