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o discourse about Chivalry and Knightly Orders today could seem out of date and in contrast with current political, philosophical and social orientation – fed and developed in a logic of demagogic egalitarianism – which wants to deny History and Traditions.

The Equestrian institution however – to confirm that universal law of distinction that is common to all men because a basic part of his being – appeared and developed in all parts of the world right back in ancient times: man, who Carducci defines “Matter and Spirit – reason and sense”, continued to constantly develop through the millenniums with the final aim that is found in Dante’s warning:

Consider your progeny:
You were not born to live as brutes,
but to follow virtue and knowledge.
(Inferno XXVI, 118-120)

The intrinsic and immanent force behind the knightly institution is that it has always been tied, everywhere, to civil, political and religious progress for society, and has always been able to affirm its role in each era and institutional context.

The aim of preserving and protecting traditions that add to the meaning of a peaceful and fruitful cohabitation, has allowed perpetuating the historic and social function of this noble institution, and in the current times of bewilderment and crisis, the fertile germs have survived in the soul of those persons who are full of spiritual values, supporting the restorative, innovative and reformative mission.

The inspiring principle, the new military life was free for everyone, is that which the Capitularies declared: the Capitulare missorum, in 786 AD, not only talks of knights who were not nobles but also of servants who, as vassals of their Lord, could possess arms and horse; the Capitulare de causis diversis, in 807, contains the order given by Carlo Magnum to all the caballarii to come well-equipped to his placitum, also ordering that the less well-off should arm one knight for every seven of them; the Edictum Pistense, in 864, by Charles II that forbids Counts and Ministers of the King using violence against the persons or the property of the Franks with horses.

Serving on horseback gradually became a title of honour and motive of force for the feudal classes: miles, in the 9th and 10th centuries meant both a soldier on horseback and a feudatory.

However, where feudalism right from its origins was established as a closed class, following a strict hierarchy, which reported to the Emperor, chivalry soon had its own customs and laws, remaining, in principle, open to all, with no other distinction than valour.

Furthermore, whereas in the feudal world a specific oath of loyalty tied the vassal to a specific Lord, a Knight only had to swear loyalty to supreme principles of justice, honour, reverence to God, protection of women and defence of the weak, and these principles had to inspire their actions.

This essence of the Chivalry also explains the education features: Chivalry, which was not identified with nobility, was however a social group, with specific functions and ideals, knights were recruited among the noble classes and the lords, and felt bound by moral and religious bonds which, in part, were distinct from those of cast and nation, and could therefore it became a sort of supreme organization.

The knight’s motto was “my soul for God, for life for the King, my heart for the Dame, honour for me”, and he had to learn to defend the faith, to serve the weak and oppressed and raise his spirit in the cult of the woman, consecrating worthy thoughts and deeds: sentiments of honour, ability with arms, courage and spirit of adventure mixed with the platonic and romantic cult of Woman, all idealised by the awareness of being soldiers of Christ and his Church.

Another feature of knightly education was the importance given to courtesy, which was etiquette for the knight: respect for others, benevolence towards the lower classes, loyalty to the given word and service the knight was consecrated to, contempt for all cowardice, love for military glory, readiness to give and little interest in riches.

The knight’s duties were summarised in the following Decalogue:
1. You will believe in the teachings of the Church and observe its commandments;
2. You will protect the Church;
3. You will respect and defend the weak;
4. You will love your nation;
5. You will not back off when faced with the enemy;
6. You will war without respite and pardon against the unbelievers;
7. You will faithfully perform your feudal duties if they do not go against the law of God;
8. You will not lie and will maintain your given word;
9. You will be generous and liberal with all;
10. Everywhere and at all times you will be a champion of right and good against injustice and ill.

Given the fact that chivalry and feudalism could not mix together neither overlap, the equestrian institution grew based on the principle of parity between knights, which was the basis for the progressive distinction from the feudal society, due to the recognition of the same needs, hopes and, therefore, united by a common spiritual bond and unity of sentiments which sewed the seeds for their universal order.

Back in the 11th century in fact, at the time of the first crusade, we can see the new knightly moral: the foundation of hospitals where the pilgrims were looked after – like St. John in Jerusalem – supported by the Caliphs who, against yearly tributes, allowed freedom of cult, help and protection.

When, in 1076, the horde of Turks invaded the Arabian empire, taking over Constantinople and threatening to subjugate all of Europe, a sad period of Christian persecution began against those who went to Palestine and for the people working in the hospitals that were built during the period of the pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

The subsequent Christian persecution induced Pope Urban II to banish the first Crusade from Clermont in France in 1095, which knights from the Christian States were taking part in, headed by Godfrey from Buglione and Raymond from Toulouse, who raised Christ’s Cross as emblem of the grand enterprise.

This was the time when Chivalry reached the height of its prestige and power because, to the original aim of the hospital monks, the Knights added those of supervising and defending with arms the Holy Sepulchre, to protect Christians and pilgrims who went to the Holy Land, to cure the injured and sick in the various military expeditions, to free Christians held in captivity and slavery (consider the heroic vow of the paid soldiers, to given themselves in slavery to free their prisoner brothers).

Thus religious and military Orders were spontaneously formed and organized.

Thus the Chivalry was formed, and subsequent events in the 12th and 13th centuries brought about eminently personal dignitaries, and proof is given by various precepts, like forbidding inheriting the title, as each knight had to earn for himself, and the right of each knight to create new ones, meaning that each one of them held the spirit that lived within the Knight: heroes of courage and pity, creators of power, virtue and beauty, able to transmit this spirit to the new brothers for the defence and triumph of Faith.

After the middle of the 13th century and, more so, during the 14th, Chivalry progressively declined, in step with the spreading of the mercenary troops, and the practice of arms became a job in fact. By the 15th century, decline was complete, because by now Chivalry had begun to lose part of its importance as a military order, as the invention of gunpowder reduced its superiority.

Only the Knightly Orders remained, to pass down the name and many of the immortal ideals – of blood, spirit, virtue and merit – which had always been an intimate part of them.

The Orders lost the nature they held at the time of the first Crusades and became apanage of the Sovereigns, who shaped them into institutions tied to personal or state wealth, whose purpose was defined in compensation for acts of devotion to the Nation or Dynasty, or recognition of individual and social merits in the various fields of creative expression and human charity and civil and Christian virtues.

Behaviour rules for members of the Orders, originally bound by religious vows, became – in imitation of the high and glorious Knightly heritage: values, wealth and model of moral support for humanity, in all times: for example, faith in God, honesty, human solidarity, protection of the weak and defenceless, cult of honour, respect for the given word, repudiation of lies and violence, loyalty towards one’s enemies, respect for women, protection for widows and orphans, loyalty to the Sovereign – a pregnant moment of moral and spiritual identification in belonging to the abstractly intended Knightly Order.

Historic events which caused the closure of certain Orders could not attack the deep-rootedness of the peoples and families whose members had been decorated and been titled by them, and the custom of granting honours for merit to those who had demonstrated their worth became apanage of each modern state.

We should also observe that these institutions, when they belonged to the dynastic wealth of previously reigning families, were able to reaffirm their position not only historically but also legally.

In fact, international law recognises the institution of pretender to the throne, which arises if the debellatio is missing, i.e. the loss of sovereignty by waiving right to one’s functions and relative prerogatives involved with exercising power, because the sovereign, no matter how he is dethroned, maintains the right to certain manifestations of reigning power: thus sovereign titles are due to the sovereign as such and his descendents, and remain thus even when he has lost his sovereignty over land, because sovereignty belongs to the family wealth (even if it is deprived of the jus gladii, i.e. the right to obedience by the subjects; the jus majestatis, i.e. the right to respect and honours due his rank; and the jus imperii, i.e. the power of command).

This means that a sovereign could be dethroned and banished from the country, but he could never lose his native qualities: thus the pretender to the throne arises, who maintains intact all the sovereignty rights as long as their application does not obstacle the changed juridical-institutional position, while the others are suspended. Among the conserved rights is the jus honorum, i.e. the right to grant noble titles and ranks of knightly orders possessed or inherited that are part of the personal and dynastic wealth of the lineage.

When a knightly order conforms to international law, it has the legitimate right to grant honours on a par with any national State.

I would like to add a few more considerations about the so-called independent Knightly Orders, because the intimate history of equestrian institutions can only be considered by recalling the imprimatur of the Holy See, even if this aegis, being an independent Order, and therefore autonomous from States and Nations, has no value except psychological.

Supreme Master of truth, rich of the vast experience of universal human understanding, the Catholic Church has always given the right value to the ambition to be distinguished – natural among men – correcting the faults and avoiding proud degeneration of the single and, generally, the Orders.

This is why we consider the Vatican State made a mistake in the fifties last century in discriminating those Orders which, for actions or virtue, were no less than those that were recognised by law n. 178 of 3rd March 1951 which, in substance, changed the course of history and knightly traditions in Italy, to the exclusive advantage of a doubtful monopolization (in any case, the Vatican lists, those of the Home Office and the SMOM do not have any historic, legal or sentence value).

I felt it right to point out this fact for the so-called “independent” orders, some of which are often indicated as unfounded, false, fraudulent, etc.

Independent Orders, taken overall i.e. in their uniform and amorphous plurality, have the intrinsic “wrong” in Italy of being independent from an independence that is not a synonym of sovereignty.

Plurality in this way damages and is a disadvantage for the single Orders that are involved, because they are accused of wrongs and errors that are, probably, the fault of only a few.

This happens with independent Orders that are not, so to speak, national, because they are not recognised if the Order does not belong to a foreign State; therefore each person who is decorated by an Order that is not recognized or authorized by the above law 178/1951, could be subject to administrative sanctions; a fact we have come across in our professional sphere.

However, Knightly distinctions express, from any point of view and today more than ever, an indelible trace and glorious manifestation of Institutions that are founded in History, representing memorable events and a heritage of cultural and religious traditions, which have managed to remain alive even after many centuries.

In our time, Chivalry means radiant traditions and testimony of how many noble acts have been performed by the single members within the group, and remind us of their glorious example and stimulate us to think back over their gestures, magnanimous enterprises and generous actions.

Don Francesco Maria Mariano
duke of Otranto