THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS ORDER OF THE GOLDEN FLEECE
© Guy Stair Sainty
The most renowned of all Collar Orders, the Golden Fleece is now divided into two separate and distinct institutions, albeit both using similar regalia. The senior, given by the King of Spain, has at least in part the features of a State Order but is nonetheless the successor of the original Burgundian foundation. Today it is the highest ranking and most prestigious of the Chivalric Orders of the Crown of Spain. The later Austrian or, more properly, Habsburg Order given by the Archduke Otto (Dr Othon von Habsburg-Lothringen), has retained much of its original character as a Noble, Monarchical, Confraternity but may be more properly regarded as purely Dynastic Order of early eighteenth century origin. To understand the history of these two foundations and the schism which led to the foundation of the latter, it is necessary to examine the origins of the Burgundian state, whose ruler founded the Order in 1430.
PHILIP THE GOOD, DUKE OF BURGUNDY
(from Ancien Armorial Equestre de la Toison d'Or, facsimile edition, Paris 1890)
The sixth century kingdom of Burgundy was one of the earliest Christian Gallic states but, based at Arles, had little connection with the Capetian duchy established in the fourteenth century, other than its name. In the early ninth century an artificial Burgundian kingdom was created, following the death of the Emperor Charlemagne, to provide a suitable inheritance for his youngest son. This was short lived and, by the middle of the century, it had been divided into what are now generally known as Provence, the Franche-Comté (or County of Burgundy, attached initially to the Crown of Lotharingia but later an immediate fief of the Empire), and the Duchy of Burgundy, which became a fief of the French Crown. This last, with its capital at Dijon, was given by King Robert I of France to his third son Robert before 1043. With the death of the latter's last male descendant in the male line, Philip I, Duke of Burgundy, in 1361, it returned as a fief to the Crown (its absorption was confirmed by royal letters patent of November 1361).
The Duchy, with all that it possessed in the County of Burgundy, was then granted as a Duché-Pairie (Duchy-Peerage - the premier Peerage of France) by Jean I, King of France, to his fourth son Philip of France and his heirs and successors, by royal letters patent dated 6 September 1363. These required that, like all peerages, it revert to the Crown in the event of the failure of heirs.  This donation was confirmed the following year by Duke Philip II's elder brother, now King as Charles V, by royal letters patent of 2 June 1364, and again by further letters patent of 15 September 1378 denying the pretensions to the title of Philip, Duke of Orléans.  These established what is best explained as a "perpetual entailed trust", which initially included the Duchy of Burgundy and, subsequently, the Sovereignty of the Order of the Golden Fleece. This latter institution having been founded by the Burgundian Dukes in their own right, and not by virtue of their possession of Burgundy, could never be subject to the authoriy of the French Crown.
In 1369 the new Duke concentrated his power by marrying Marguerite, Countess of Flanders and Artois, the widow of the preceding Duke of Burgundy. She not only brought him these two wealthy Counties but gave him the opportunity to successfully claim the Imperial County of Burgundy (Franche-Comté). His wife's aunt was Sovereign Duchess of Brabant, Lotharingia (German Lorraine), and Limburg, and Duke Philip soon forced her to name his second surviving son, Antoine, heir to these vast estates (with the death of the latter's second son in 1430, these properties passed to the senior Ducal line). Duke Philip II died in 1404, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Jean, who paid homage to the King for his French fiefs within a month of his father's death. 
Duke Jean further consolidated the Burgundian estates, obtaining control of most of the Netherlands, then the wealthiest lands in northern Europe. Assassinated in 1419, he was succeeded by his only son, Duke Philip III the Good. By 1430 Philip was not only Duke of Burgundy and Premier Peer of France, but also Sovereign Duke of Brabant, Lotharingia, and Limburg (acquiring Luxembourg in 1443), Count of Flanders and Peer of France, Count of Artois, Burgundy (Franche-Comté), Hainaut, Holland, Zeeland, Namur and Charolais, Marquess of the Holy Roman Empire, Lord of Frieseland, etc, and wealthier than any contemporary European Monarch.
Reflecting his ambitions to establish himself as an independent Sovereign and, if possible, acquire the title of King once attached to Burgundy, he shortly afterward assumed the style by the grace of God. When his cousin King Charles VII protested, he backed-down, explaining that this style was only intended to refer to his non-French territories, confirmed in ducal letters patent of 26 November 1448 and royal letters patent of the King 28 January 1489. Although the Dukes of Burgundy had supported the English in their war with France and Philip himself had coveted the French Crown, the Duke was reconciled with his cousin in 1435 and paid homage for his Duchy-Peerage of Burgundy at the coronation of Louis XI in 1461.
Duke Philip III died in 1467, leaving his vast territories, already divided by a variety of internal disputes, in the less than able hands of his only surviving son, Charles the Rash. The new Duke was not only threatened by revolt in the Netherlands, but quarreled with both the Duke of Lorraine and the Swiss, with whom he began a disastrous war in 1476. Killed at the siege of Nancy 5 January 1477, the inheritance he had acquired ten years earlier was left in even more serious disorder. His only daughter, the twenty-two year old Marie, was still the greatest heiress in Europe but was unable to prevent the seizure of the Duchy-Peerage (of which she was the legitimate heiress by the original letters patent of creation), effected by royal letters patent of 11 May 1478 because of the treasonable conduct of her father.  Despite Marie's protests, neither she nor her husband (Maximilian of Habsburg, Archduke of Austria), were in a position to challenge Louis XI, and were unable to resist the forfeiture of the Duchy of Burgundy. The heir male, her cousin Jehan, Count of Nevers, attempted unsuccessfully to assert a claim to the duchies of Brabant and Limburg but did not challenge the confiscation of the Duchy-Peerage of Burgundy. Maximilian, recognizing the foolishness of resuming the war with France was willing to forego Burgundy itself in return for peaceful enjoyment of his wife's other territories and accepted the de facto loss of the territories of the Duchy at Arras on 23 December 1482. 
The foundation of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1430 had marked a revival of interest in chivalric institutions which, over the past half-century, had generally fallen into disregard. The military importance of mounted knights, heavily and expensively armored, had become much less significant as they had proved far from invincible in the face of more maneuverable companies of trained bowmen and foot-soldiers. The numerous internecine conflicts of the previous fifty years had given European Monarchs neither the time nor the means to stage magnificent tournaments, designed to foster the traditions of chivalric prowess and most of the monarchical knightly Orders founded during the previous century had disappeared (with the notable exception of the English Garter, Savoyard Collar and Aragonese Stole and Jar).  In 1396 the future Duke Jean of Burgundy, then Count of Nevers, had been drastically defeated at the battle of Nicopolis - when the Burgundian army, accompanied by the flower of French chivalry, suffered almost total destruction at the hands of the Turks, whom they had been attempting to drive from Christian Hungary. Although a total disaster, causing Duke Philip to pay the immense sum of 400,000 gold florins to ransom his heir, this crusade demonstrates that, in Burgundy at least, there was a strong desire to emulate the best traditions of Christian Chivalry.
HUGH DE LANNOY, Knight of the Golden Fleece
Jean's son, Philip III, like his father and grandfather, was faced with the difficult task of uniting as one state vastly disparate territories, whose borders were neither contiguous, nor followed any consistent geographical boundaries and whose population was divided by language and history. To give cohesion to his state, to imitate the neo-Arthurian Order of his sometime ally the King of England, and to revive the chivalric traditions that he admired, the Ordre de la T(h)oison d'Or was founded on 10 January 1430 to celebrate his marriage to the Infanta Isabella of Portugal, as his third wife, three days earlier.
Philip had been elected a knight of the Garter in 1422 but, when he asked to have this honor deferred because of a possible conflict of loyalties, his request had been construed by the Garter companions as declining membership (the only person in the history of the Order to do so).  Philip's own Order was in many ways similar to the Garter, also having written statutes precisely describing the duties and obligations of membership. The essential difference was that the obligations of the companions of the Golden Fleece towards their Sovereign and each other were more extensive, while the financial requirements were less stringent.  Like the Garter, the Order was dedicated to a patron, the Apostle Saint Andrew but, unlike the older Order whose patron was later represented on its badge, the only association was that Saint Andrew's Day remained the Order's principal feast. 
The statutes likewise provided that there should be a limited number of knights, described as chevaliers and compaignons. Initially there had been twenty-four nominations, but six more were added in 1433 and the earliest surviving statutes limit the membership to thirty-one, including the Sovereign. With the accession of the Emperor Charles V as Sovereign, the Order became the sole chivalric award for a multitude of states, some of which had earlier had their own Orders, now fallen into disuse or considered of inferior standing. The statutory limitation of the numbers, although larger than both the Garter and the Annunziata, proved to be disadvantageous as some of the greatest nobles of the Empire were thereby excluded. This rule was amended by the Papal Bull Praeclarae devotionis sinceritas of 8 December 1516, increasing the limit to fifty-one companions, including the Sovereign. 
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...".  From the late 1430's, however, the date of the earliest surviving statutes,  the prologue thereto describes the Order's purpose slightly differently, referring to "the very great and perfect love that we have for the noble estate and order of knighthood ... we desire the honor and increase, by which the true Catholic Faith, the faith of our mother, the Holy Church, and the tranquillity and prosperity of the public may be, as far as possible, defended, guarded and maintained; we, to the glory and praise of the Almighty, our Creator and Redeemer, in reverence of his glorious mother the Virgin Mary, and to the honor of my lord Saint Andrew, Apostle and Martyr...". 
The Order was, above all, a Christian foundation, even if its badge was not a Christian symbol. The exclusion of heretics confirmed in the Bull Praeclarae devotionis sinceritas meant that, following the reformation, it remained an exclusively Roman Catholic foundation. The name of the Order and its badge, a pendant sheep's fleece made of gold, was a new device for the House of Burgundy and was certainly intended to represent the fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts - an heroic legend which paralleled the Arthurian origins of the Order of the Garter. The adoption of a pagan image as the badge of a Christian Order led to a protest by the Order's first Chancellor, Jean Germain, Bishop of Nevers, who preferred that it should recall Gideon's fleece (which was neither gold nor a prize for courage). Later in the century, Chancellor Guillaume Filastes added the fleeces of Jacob, Mesa, Job and David to be associated with this image, making six in all and supposedly corresponding to the virtues of magnanimity, justice, prudence, fidelity, patience and clemency.  The badge was to be suspended from a Collar adapted from an earlier livery badge to that of a Fire-Steel (fusil),  resembling the Lombard B for Burgundy, throwing off flames (the central fire-steel being elaborated later into an ornate, enameled jewel, from which the badge was hung), and used to form the links of the Collar of the Order with the Fleece suspended below. These fire-steels, twenty-eight in number, alternated with pairs of finger rings, always in gold, while the statutes required that the Collar was not to be enriched with jewels - to give equality to the knights - a provision which, however, was later more honored in the breach. The central, elaborated B of the Collar came to bear the motto Pretium Laborum Non Vile ("Not a bad reward for labor") and, on the reverse, the motto Non Aliud (a translation of Philip the Good's motto "Autre n'auray" - "I will have no other").  During the sixteenth century the practice developed of wearing the badge suspended from a red ribbon on informal occasions and, today, this is how the badge is almost invariably worn in both the Spanish and Habsburg Orders. 
Duke Philip had acknowledged that it was necessary to define the succession of the dignity of "Chef et Souverain" ("Chief and Sovereign") of the Order, as well as his and his successors role as such. This title was limited to "us and our heirs and successors, Dukes of Burgundy, Chiefs and Sovereigns of our present Order and friendly Company of the Golden Fleece" and that "we, in our time, shall be the Chief and Sovereign; and, after us, our successors, Dukes of Burgundy". It was further provided that the husband of a Duchess of Burgundy in her own right would exercise the Sovereignty (although it was unclear whether he must relinquish this on the birth of a male heir, or when the latter attained his majority), or, if he left a son of minor age, that the office of Sovereign would be exercised by a regent, elected from among the companions, who would relinquish the post upon the son reaching his majority.  Marie's husband, Maximilian (already a companion) was elected Sovereign following his marriage but, after holding the title for two years, resigned it to his son, while retaining the regency until the latter came of age. The only subsequent occasion when the Sovereignty of the Order was inherited by a woman was when Isabel II became Queen of Spain in 1833. Against all previous precedent the conferral of the Order was subsequently made in her name instead of that of her husband who would normally have become Sovereign, as was required under the Statutes. During her minority the Sovereignty of the Order was exercised by her mother as Regent of Spain, following the example of Queen Mariana (Reina Gobernadora of the Kingdom during the minority of her son, Carlos II, from September 17th, 1675, until 6 November 1675, during which time she conferred thirty-nine Collars of the Order). Isabel II's son, Alfonso XII, assumed the Sovereignty after his mother's abdication of the Spanish Crown but did not exercise it until his own accession following the deposition of the Savoy-Aosta dynasty.
ANTOINE DE CROY, Knight of the Golden Fleece
The loss of the duchy of Burgundy itself did not mean the disappearance of the "perpetual entailed Burgundian trust", to which the Chiefship and Sovereignty was attached. Established in law by the letters patent of 1363 and 1364, defining the succession to the ducal titles, these same rules of succession were automatically extended to the Sovereignty of the Golden Fleece, as it was united with the titular honor of Duke of Burgundy. The Sovereignty of the Order could not be included in the act of confiscation of 1478, as it had never been an apanage of the French Crown and was never under the latter's authority. Thus, following a brief interregnum after the death of Charles the Bold, Maximilian was elected Chief and Sovereign as the husband of her who would have been Duchess of Burgundy under the terms of the original creation. He was succeeded first by his son Philip, and then by his grandson Charles (the Emperor Charles V), all using the title of Duke of Burgundy as the symbol of their right of inheritance to the perpetual trust.  While the kings of France never recognized the use of the title of Duke by either the Habsburgs or the Bourbon Kings of Spain, they did acknowledge the right to the Chiefship and Sovereignty of the Golden Fleece and, indeed, Francis I, Francis II, Charles IX, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X all accepted membership, first from the Habsburg and, later, the Bourbon Sovereigns of the Order. 
The King of France
Unlike the Garter, the Golden Fleece under the first Burgundian Sovereigns never established a permanent seat, although such had been originally intended. The regular meetings of the Chapter-General of the Order required under the Statutes were therefore held wherever the Order's Sovereign was then installed. The Chapter was expected to examine the conduct of the Sovereign and companions, adjudicate disputes between them and punish any infractions of the statutes. Such meetings were held regularly in the early years of the Order, but with increasing infrequency, so that in the one hundred and twenty-four years between the foundation of the Order and the abdication of Charles V, only twenty-two Assemblies were held. 
PIERRE DE BAUFFREMONT, Knight of the Golden Fleece
Philip III had intended to establish the chapel of the ducal palace at Dijon as the ecclesiastical seat and appointed canons who were charged with the duty of celebrating the feast days of the Order (and did so until 1791). The knights themselves only met there once before the loss of Burgundy, subsequent Chapters taking place at Bruges or Brussels. Although the Treasure of the Order continued to be maintained at Bruges until the end of the eighteenth century,  the real seat of the Order moved to Spain with the succession of King Philip II. The particular character of the Golden Fleece - an Order whose sovereignty was attached to a title rather than a Crown, is part of the reason why the Assemblies ceased to be a regular feature. The original members had mostly been vassals of the first Sovereign, but with the succession of the Emperor Charles V, whose territories spanned most of continental Europe and with the admission of an increasing number of foreign companions, such assemblies became impractical. Furthermore, unlike the Garter, which imposed a financial obligation on new members designed to support the seat of the Order, no such requirements were made of the companions of the Golden Fleece. The Golden Fleece came to be an élite society or companionage of sovereigns, princes and great nobles whose statutory duties became largely nominal by the middle of the sixteenth century.
The administration of the Order was placed in the hands of four officers. The most senior was the Chancellor, originally always a Prelate or doctor of theology and often a Bishop, who retained the common seal and presided over the examination and election of the companions, audited the accounts and acted as spokesman for the Sovereign during his absence. Next in rank was the Treasurer, who retained all the documentary records concerning the privileges of the Order and the companions and also its jewels, vestments, library, works of art and mantles, as well as controlling the funds of the Order. The lesser officers were the Greffier (or Registrar), formerly a lowly clerk but in later centuries a nobleman, who kept the statutes and recorded the proceedings of the Chapters and "laudable and honorable" deeds of the knights; and the King of Arms who was responsible for supplying the Greffier with the information concerning the deeds of the knights and, as chief heraldic officer, examining the noble proofs and arms of each companion. The largely ceremonial post of King of Arms of the Order continued to be maintained in Spain until 1931 and has not been revived but in Austria all four offices are maintained. The Habsburg Order presently has an additional post of Almoner who is a Bishop and assists the Chancellor 
As in the other monarchical Orders, the statutes provided for a ceremony of investiture. To ensure that there could be no doubt that a companion had received news of his election, he was required to send a letter of acceptance and undertake to attend the next Chapter to be inducted. Foreign princes could be given their Collars without undergoing formal induction. Indeed, since the ceremony involved a promise to defend the lordships and rights of the Sovereign, an inappropriate promise for one Sovereign to make to another, they were dispensed entirely from formal induction. Ordinary companions, on the other hand, including the greatest nobles, were required to be so invested and could not be admitted by proxy. Following the loss of Burgundy and the increasing infrequency of meetings of the Chapter, such ceremonial investitures became less frequent and companions came to be invested at the court of the Sovereign, in a special ceremony but as part of the ordinary business of the court. The knights were also entitled to a formal habit, a floor-length mantle and hat made of scarlet cloth decorated with fusils, flints, sparks and fleeces, all in gold embroidery. This statute was amended in 1473 and it was declared that in future the mantle should be made of red velvet lined with white satin.  Today the mantle is no longer worn and formal investitures have been dispensed with in both the Spanish and Habsburg Orders.
When the Emperor Charles abdicated the Spanish Crowns and Sovereignty of the Netherlands to his son Philip, on 25 October 1555, he had already resigned the title of Duke of Burgundy and the Chiefship and Sovereignty of the Golden Fleece three days earlier (22 October).  The Sovereignty of the Order remained with the Habsburg Kings of Spain until the death of King Charles II of Spain in 1700. The dispute that followed, which came to be called the War of the Spanish Succession, represented a continuation of the endeavor to establish a European balance of power. The struggle between the Habsburgs and Bourbons of France and Spain, and later the Hohenzollerns and Romanovs, always complicated by the competing interests of Great Britain, continued until the First World War.
The immediate heir, according to the laws of mixed succession which governed both the Crown of Spain and the perpetual Burgundian Trust established under the original letters patent conferring the Duchy-Peerage of Burgundy on the Valois, was Louis, the Grand Dauphin, only surviving son of the Infanta Maria-Teresa, herself the eldest sister of King Charles II and wife of King Louis XIV. The Bourbon claim was complicated by the fact that Maria-Teresa had solemnly renounced her rights to these inheritances in an oath, sworn on the Gospels, under the terms of the Treaty of the Pyrenees of 1660. It was immediately challenged by the Habsburg Archduke Carl, who demanded both the Spanish and Netherlands successions, using several important but nonetheless flawed arguments. Basing their pretensions firstly on the renunciation of 1660, the Habsburgs also justified their claim as the descendants of a sister of Philip IV of Spain, ignoring the fact that this Infanta herself had had an older sister with living descendants by her husband Louis XIII. It was asserted, as an alternate justification, that the Golden Fleece Sovereignty had become a Habsburg family inheritance and, as the law of succession to the Austrian Archduchy required, like most German Crowns, that it must first pass to the male heirs of the collateral line, it could not pass through a female until the extinction of the entire male representation of the family. This was likewise flawed, as one could not legally graft post facto a new system of succession on an existing inheritance in order to deprive a legitimate heir. The allegation that the Sovereignty of the Golden Fleece was attached to possession of the Netherlands was entirely without merit, although after the First World War it led some Belgian officials to claim the Sovereignty on behalf of their King. 
The fundamental weakness of the Habsburg claim was that whatever the laws of succession of the Archduchy of Austria and their other German Crowns, they could neither explicitly or implicitly impose them upon the succession to the titular Duchy of Burgundy, which had been inherited by the Habsburgs under the French letters patent of 1363 and 1364 that had established the "perpetual Burgundian trust". The Sovereignty of the Golden Fleece was attached to the titular duchy of Burgundy and neither to the Headship of the House of Habsburg nor to Sovereignty of the Netherlands. Furthermore, the renunciation by the Infanta Maria-Teresa had been required as part of the French obligations under the terms of the Treaty of the Pyrenees and the Spanish King, her father, had been in fundamental breach of these terms by his failure to pay the Infanta's dowry, thus voiding any reciprocal duties imposed under its terms.
The validity of dynastic renunciations has been much debated but it would seem that, when the Monarchical succession relies upon a long-established hereditary primogeniture system, the inherent right of succession of unborn generations cannot be prejudiced by the acts of individual members of the royal house. The essential characteristic of an hereditary monarchy is that succession to the Crown should be removed from the political arena and this principle guarantees its independence.  Thus, the renunciation made by the Infanta Maria-Teresa for immediate political reasons in 1660, could not affect the inalienable rights of her descendants, particularly those rights to the Golden Fleece which passed by its own particular laws of succession.
King Charles II had provided that his various Crowns, including the titular Duchy of Burgundy, would pass to the second son of the Grand Dauphin, Philip of France, Duke of Anjou, to avoid the combination of the French and Spanish Crowns.  Philip was duly proclaimed King of Spain, etc and, as titular Duke of Burgundy, assumed the Sovereignty of the Golden Fleece.  The Pope had also assented to the succession of Philip, as heir to his great-uncle, confirming the invalidity of the renunciation of the Infanta Maria-Teresa. By the terms of the Treaties of Utrecht and Raastadt of 1713 and 1714, the succession of Philip was recognized by all the Powers, although the Habsburgs acquired Sovereignty of the Netherlands and Naples, and Sicily was given to the Duke of Savoy. The younger son of the Habsburg Emperor had also been proclaimed King of Spain following the death of Charles II, but did not assume the Sovereignty of the Golden Fleece until after the death of his elder brother in 1711 when he became Emperor, making his first nominations in the following year. The treasure of the Order, retained in Brussels, now fell into the hands of the Habsburgs and was subsequently transferred to Vienna, where it remains. The Order has since been divided into two, separate institutions, both awarded today.
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