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Chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece (shown in the Schatzkammer in Vienna)
The Order of the Golden Fleece ( ; ; ; ; ) is an order of chivalry founded in Brugesmarker in 1430 by Duke Philip III of Burgundy to celebrate his marriage to the Portuguesemarker princess Isabel of Aviz.


The Order of the Golden Fleece was modeled on the Englishmarker Order of the Garter, but dedicated to Saint Andrew. Philip had been elected to membership of the Garter in 1422, but had declined to avoid offending the king of France. Like the Garter it was restricted to a limited number of knights, initially 24 but increased to 30 in 1433 and 50 in 1516—plus the sovereign. 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 was explicitly denied to "heretics", and so became an exclusively Catholic award during the Reformation, though the choice of the pagan Golden Fleece of Colchis as the symbol of a Christian order caused some controversy.

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" ("Not a bad reward for labour") 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 Habsburg empire, the sovereignty of the Order passed to the Habsburg kings of Spainmarker, where it remained until the death of the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, Charles II, in 1700. He was succeeded as king by Philip of Anjou, a Bourbon. There followed a dispute between the Houses of Habsburg and Bourbon over the Golden Fleece, which resulted in the division of the Order into Spanish and Austrianmarker branches. In either case the sovereign, as Duke of Burgundy, writes the letter of appointment in French.

The Spanish Order

The Duke of Wellington wearing the Spanish Fleece
Ferdinand I, Emperor of Austria as Grand Master of the Fleece
The Spanish Order of the Fleece has been a source of controversy in the past, particularly during the Napoleonic period. The award of the Order to Napoleon and his brother Joseph angered the exiled king of Francemarker 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.

In 1812 the acting government of Spain illegally awarded the order to the Duke of Wellington, an act confirmed by Ferdinand on his resumption of power, with the approval of the pope. Wellington therefore became the first Protestant to be awarded the Fleece. It has subsequently also been awarded to non-Christians, like Bhumibol Adulyadej, King of Thailand.

There was another crisis in 1833 when Isabella II became Queen of Spain in defiance of Salic Law. Her right to award the Fleece was challenged by 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, Juan Carlos.

Members of the Order

Austrian Order

Prince Albert wearing the Spanish Fleece in 1842

The Austrian Order did not suffer from the political difficulties of the Spanish, remaining an award solely for Catholic royals 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, Karl of Austria. Sovereignty remains with the head of the house of Habsburg, but the present head, Otto von Habsburg, has transferred the sovereignty to his eldest son, Karl Habsburg-Lothringen.

Members of the Order

See also


  • Weltliche und Geistliche Schatzkammer. Bildführer. Kunsthistorischen Museum, Vienna. 1987. ISBN 3-7017-0499-6
  • Fillitz, Hermann. Die Schatzkammer in Wien: Symbole abendländischen Kaisertums. Vienna, 1986. ISBN 3-7017-0443-0
  • Fillitz, Hermann. Der Schatz des Ordens vom Goldenen Vlies. Vienna, 1988. ISBN 3-7017-0541-0
  • Boulton, D'Arcy Jonathan Dacre, 1987. The Knights of The Crown: The Monarchical Orders of Knighthood in Later Medieval Europe, 1325-1520, Woodbridge, Suffolk (Boydell Press), (revised edition 2000.

External links and footnotes

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