Orders of Knighthood – Fundamental or just plain fun?

In Western Christendom the period between 1325 and1470 witnessed the creation of numerous constituted bodies whose principal members were restricted to those of noble birth and knightly profession. They were known as ‘orders of knighthood,’ men of chivalry bound together by an unbreakable bond of kinship and beliefs and it was very much a way of life.

The Orders can be divided into four main types  –

The Monarchical Orders – founded by a royal (usually a king and always a sovereign prince) and was, in every case, intended to pass by hereditary succession to its founder’s descendants or heirs. This class includes three of the Orders specifically mentioned in this blog, and active during ‘The Hundred Years War’ – ‘The Order of the Garter’ (England) ‘The Company of the Star’ (France) and ‘The Order of the Golden Fleece.’ (Burgundy, France)







Order of the golden Fleece



The Confraternal Orders

(Confraternal – a lay brotherhood devoted to some purpose, especially to a religious or charitable service.)

This class is made up of those orders which took the form of a devotional confraternity endowed with a democratic constitution. The chief office was elective rather than hereditary.

These orders could be further divided into two classes – those made up by either directly or indirectly by princes, usually subordinate but effectively sovereign princes.



 Knights Templar – Military Order founded to protect Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land in 1120

Saint George

Order of St George – founded by King Károly I of Hungary in 1325


Order of Saint Catherine

Order of St Catherine – founded in the Dauphiné of Viennois 1330 -1340



Order of St Hubert – created in the Duchy of Bar from the earlier ‘Order of the Hound’ 1422


Order of the Crescent

Order of the Crescent – founded by Duke René of Anjou in 1448.

Or secondly, those made by the baronial class and not closely associated by any princely court or dynasty.  The best known baronial order is ‘Noble Order of St George of Rougemont’ (Burgundy) around 1440


The Fraternal Orders

This class is made up of orders characterised by a simple democratic constitution under which the members were drawn from the upper and middle nobility of a principality or region, especially in France. They were bound to one another on more or less equal terms by oaths of mutual loyalty and aid, particularly in times of war. They captivated the relationship known as ‘brothers-in-arms.’ Unlike the above Orders which were founded to be perpetual, these fraternal orders were created to deal with a particular war or political crisis. They were intended to endure only while that situation lasted. They were distinguished from other temporary alliances only by the use of a distinctive device and title ‘order’ and as a result, very little evidence remains, however we do know of four –

The Compaignie of the Black Swan –  created by three princes and eleven knights in Savoy 1350.

The Corps et Ordre du Tiercelet’ or ‘Young Male Falcon’ founded by the Viscount of Thouars and seventeen barons in south-western Poitou around 1377 – 1385.

The Ourdre de la Pomme d’Or or ‘Order of the Golden Apple’ established by fourteen knights and squires in Auvergne in 1394.

The Alliance et Compagnie du Levrier  or Alliance and Company of the Hound founded by fourty-four knights and squiresin the Barrois in 1416 for a period of five years.

lady in green dress

 The Votive Orders ***

(Votive – in accordance with a vow)

These were formed to with a view of an individual project of formal heroism called an ‘enterprise of arms.’ They members undertook a collective vow to perform a chivalrous deed (or deeds) under certain conditions and usually within a specific period of time, after which the order was dissolved.

Founded by princes and lords who saw themselves as paragons of chivalric virtue in the image of heroes of the romances, the votive orders were intended primarily to enhance the heroic reputations of the participants. Not surprisingly, these orders have left even less evidence of their existence (particularly if they were formed for some secret purpose) but they may well have been numerous at the turn of the fourteenth century.  Some which were known to exist are –

Emprise de l’Escu vert a la Dame Blanche’ or ‘Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady.

Created in 1399 by the famous French soldier Jean le Maingre ‘de Boucicaut’, Marshal of France, and twelve other knights for a period of 5 years. Inspired by the ideal of courtly love *** the purpose of the order was to guard and defend the honour, estate, goods, reputation, fame and praise of all ladies, including widows. Its undertaking earned the praise of Christine de Pisan.

Boucicaut praying to St Catherine

(Marshal Boucicaut praying to Saint Catherine)

 Enterprise of the Dragon – John de Grailly, Count of Foix around 1415, along with a certain number of ladies, damsels, knights and squires for a period of one year. (House of Foix-Grailly 1382 -1436)


 Clearly then, to belong to any one of these orders was a great honour and not to be taken lightly as we shall see in the case of Jean le Bon’s (King of France 1350 – 1364) Company of the Star.




The story behind the Order of the Garter is discussed in our blog of May 2013 (see link below) in which the idea that the fallen garter from Lady Salisbury is scooped up by her royal partner. To alleviate her embarrassment, he swiftly tells his sniggering onlookers ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’‘shame be to him who thinks evil of it.’ This was to become the motto for the Order of the Garter which was created to increase King Edward III’s personal prestige both at home and abroad. He wanted to promote an image of himself as a heroic king in the tradition of Arthur by surrounding himself with a company of knights. Like its legendary model, the new Order was to be an embodiment of the ideals of chivalry. Some say, perhaps to allude to the legendary conquest of France by his ‘predecessor’ King Arthur, Edward made the belt-like garter he had chosen to distinguish the knights of his new ‘round table,’ the symbol of his campaign to vindicate his own claim to the crown of France. The Order of the Garter was a brilliant creation and within its own limited terms, it proved remarkably successful. The Order not only survived its founder but has survived twenty-nine subsequent sovereigns and retains its lustre and its social pre-eminence even today.

 Queen+Elizabeth+II+Royals+Attend+Order+Garter+3xqAodYt8A_l article-1026847-01A19D0400000578-468_468x545




With the successful foundation of the ‘Order of the Garter’ for England in 1348, France’s king, Jean le Bon, decided to implement his own version in ‘The Company of the Star.’ The order was dedicated to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The badge was to be a white star, in the middle of the star a roundel of azure (blue), in the middle of the azure, a little gold sun. There were two distinct forms of the badge – a large version in the form of a brooch to be worn on formal occasions pinned to the shoulder of the mantle, and a smaller version, set within a red roundel (the Company’s livery colour) on a ring, which like the garter knee band, was to be worn at all times.

Like Edward, Jean provided his Company with a physical establishment by assigning to it the hall and chapel of one of his own favourite residences, the manor of ‘Saint-Ouen-les-Saint-Denis.’  The manor was conveniently situated mid-way between the two principal seats of the French monarchy, the city of Paris and the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis.

 Saint Denis

 The hall was large enough to require seven fireplaces to heat it for it was to be large enough for 500 knights but sadly it never saw that many at any one time, the vows of the Company cutting down most of its own members on the first and second encounter. The order was established in part to prevent the disaster of Crécy ever repeating itself, and since the success on the battlefield was the only success which mattered, (winning at tourneys did not count) the knights of the ‘Company’ were sworn ‘not to turn their back on the enemy or retreat more than four steps.’ This allowed no margin whatsoever for an honourable retreat or surrender. They faced either success or death. Though King Jean II was captured and ransomed at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, most of his fellow knights of the Star, sadly, lost their lives. The Order did regain new life under the reign of King Charles V in the following term.



During these volatile years for France, another French duchy was to annexe itself in its own name – Burgundy – and under the reign of one of the richest Dukes of the times, Duke Philip the Good, there came to life a new order of knights knows as ‘The Order of the Golden Fleece.’


Philip the Good

 The Hundred Years War saw England with a new alliance – the Burgundians (who later handed Joan of Arc over to the English.) ***** On the occasion of his wedding to his third wife, Philip the Good created the Order of the Golden Fleece. Alas, the romantic in me still loves the tale that the golden fleece was chosen as a declaration of his lost love, his favourite mistress with golden hair who bid him farewell upon his marriage.

 The badge of the order was a collar with a pendant of the ‘golden fleece’ as it appeared hanging on the oak tree from which Jason stole it. (See Greek legends – Jason and the Argonauts). Even today examples can be seen in portraits across France. (Note the gold hanging pendant of a golden fleece just under his lace collar)

 Order of the Golden Fleece portrait

This portrait lives at the Chateau de Saint Loup, a chateau which features in a chapter in Lions and Lilies third book, ‘The Gilded Crown.’ (Note the square keep in the background. This is the original 14thC keep where King Jean II was taken by the Black Prince after his capture at the Battle of Poitiers.)

Chateau de Saint Loup

Templars           images

  A knight’s Order was the light to guide him in these difficult times. Its rules and regimes could influence a decision – take a life or save it – bring peace or invoke justice. It was a fraternity to which he gave his body and soul. It provided comradeship on a battlefield to exist hand-in-gauntlet with his non-warring family life. It encouraged his religious beliefs and strengthened his family bonds and when all else failed, gave him courage and companionship – a place where he knew he belonged.

knights of the golden fleece

By Cathy T

***  For further reading see our post – https://lionsandlilies.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/the-rules-of-courtly-love-all-31-of-them/

**** Lions and Lilies second book, titled ‘The Order of the Lily’ incorporated what was probably a fraternal order for the political situation yet, having taken a vow,  may also fall into the category of a votive order, although due to the nature of the task, a time limit was not imposed upon its success.

***** At this time King Charles VI, (son of the Dauphin Charles V in Lions and Lilies) suffered bouts of insanity and the Duke of Orleans and Burgundy (the King’s brother and cousin) fell to quarrelling over the sovereignty. The Duke of Burgundy ordered the assassination of the Duke of Orleans, thus creating two political factions  – the Burgundians, and the followers of the Duke of Orleans, known as the Armagnacs. (Led by Bernard d’Armagnac, son of Jean le Bossu, Cécile’s foster-brother in Lions and Lilies)


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