INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION FOR ORDERS OF CHIVALRY

THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION FOR ORDERS OF CHIVALRY
PIER FELICE DEGLI UBERTI

The International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences brings together scholars and other interested parties from all the nations of Europe and from many countries around the world. The I Congress was held in Barcelona in 1929; at the II Congress, held in 1953, it was decided that future meetings would be held every two years (there have been two exceptions) [1]. The main themes have changed greatly over the years and some disciplines have ceased to form any part of the congresses' study. Abandoned subjects include sphragistics and iconography, dealt with at Paris, and vexillology (which was to have been one of the themes at congresses after Bern). Meanwhile, genetics, which had been a subject of discussion at Stockholm in 1960, did not reappear until the Ottawa Congress of 1996.
 
Chivalric Orders was another discarded subject, despite featuring in the congresses held at Rome/Naples, Madrid, Stockholm and Edinburgh, as well as in a few papers presented at Madrid in 1982 [2]. Unlike the other abandoned disciplines, Chivalric Orders had been the focus of a special commission that existed through the various early congresses and, as is here explained, evolved into the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry.
 
The International Commission for Orders of Chivalry was founded at the V International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences, held at Stockholm from 21 - 28 August 1960 [3]. This Congress , held under the High Patronage of HRH Prince Bertil of Sweden, was presided over by Baron Carl Hamilton of Hageby as President, by Baron Giovanni di Giura, the Marquis de Desio, Count Thierry de Limburg-Stirum, and Mr. Invar Andersson as Vice Presidents and by Mr. Gunnar Scheffer, Director of the Swedish State Heraldry Service, as Secretary General.
 
The report of the Commission for State Heraldry (composed of Baron Alessandro Monti della Corte, President; Noble Prof. Gèza Grosschmid Zsögöd de Visegrad, Vice President; Roger Harmignies, Rapporteur; and, as members, John Philip Brooke Brooke-Little; Lt. Col. Robert Gayre of Gayre and Nigg; Robert Matagne; Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, Bt.; Elisabeth Prins; Conrad M.J.F. Swan and Paul Warming) stated that "the decisions of the III Congress at Madrid [4] (1955) were recalled relative to the juridical and historical conditions which had to apply to independent, both dynastic and family, orders of chivalry and it was recommended to prepare a list, albeit provisional, of the said orders so that they might be studied and then approved at the following congress." [5]
 
The VI International Congress was held at Edinburgh from 8 - 14 September 1962 under the Honorary Presidency of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and was presided over by HG The Duke of Hamilton as President, by Baron Giovanni di Giura, Count Thierry de Limburg-Stirum, and Baron Carl Hamilton of Hageby as Vice Presidents and by Lt. Col. Robert Gayre of Gayre and Nigg as Secretary General. Members of the Honorary Committee included: HM King Umberto II, HRH the Count of Paris, HRH the Count of Barcelona, HIH the Grand Duke Vladimir Kirilovich, HRH Prince Ranieri of the Two Sicilies, Duke of Castro, HRH Philip Duke of Württemberg and HSH Prince Ernest August of Lippe.
 
On 13 September the Congress began work on its third theme, which concerned "Chivalric Orders", "under the Presidency of HSH The Prince of Schwarzenberg, with Miss Rosalie Bailey as Vice President. Baron Monti della Corte read, in both English and French, the report and findings of the Study Commission over which he presided. Amongst others who spoke on this important subject were: Count Limburg-Stirum, Marquis de Santa Maria de Silvela and de Castañar, Don Manuel de Aranegui, the President himself and our friend Don Achille di Lorenzo Baron Monti della Corte and Prince Schwarzenberg replied and gave every necessary clarification. Not all lectures on the programme were given due to the lengthy report of Baron Monti della Corte . . ." [6]
On 14 September the Commission made its report on the principles involved in assessing the validity of Orders of Chivalry and these were accepted by the Congress. In addition, on the motion of M. Paul Adam of Paris, it was unanimously agreed in plenary session of the Congress, that the International Commission (composed of the high personalities of the Congress, and leading experts in the field of chivalry, nobiliary and heraldic law) [7] should become a permanent autonomous body in the following terms: "After having rendered homage for the work of the Commission on Orders of Chivalry, and to its president, Baron Monti della Corte, the Congress considered it proper that it should have an autonomous status and that it should continue its activities in a permanent form, in order to apply the principles [8] developed in its report presented to the Congress." [9]
 
In pursuance of these instructions and endowed with new authority, the International Commission published the findings of its deliberations during the period 1960-98, with meetings held in 1964 (The Hague), 1966 (Paris), 1967 (Brussels), 1970 (Vienna and Munich, where the "Noble Corporations" were added), 1984 (Washington, where "Other Noble Corporations" were added), 1998 (Dublin, where "Ecclesiastical Decorations" were added), 1999 (Rome and London), 2000 (London, where it was decided to widen the areas of study to include the classification of "Bodies of a Chivalric Character" and those "inspired by chivalry"), 2001 (Casale Monferrato, where it was decided to widen the areas of study to include the classification of "Bodies which referred to Orders or awards which had been awarded by state bodies in the past"), and 2002 (Dublin, where it was decided to modify the 2001 Register so as to include only European Dynastic Orders, transforming the previous category of "Knightly (civil and military) bodies derived from Orders of former states" into the new area of "Other Institutions of Chivalric character" categorized as: "Revivals of ancient chivalric institutions originally founded as Orders by the dynastic successor of the founding authority; New chivalric institutions founded by the head of a former reigning dynasty; Successors of chivalric institutions originally founded under the authority of a state". At the Bruges General Assembly of 2004 it was decided to print an updated Register to include those Orders missing from the 2002-2003 edition and, by so doing, to complete the Register according to the principles of the Edinburgh Congress of 1962. Every commissioner was requested to send to the Executive Committee proposals for a new classification of Chivalric Orders and award systems that could be discussed and agreed upon during the General Assembly held in San Marino in April 2005.
 
In pursuance of these instructions and authority, the International Commission thereby published the findings of its deliberations during the period 1960-98, with meetings being held in 1964 (The Hague), 1966 (Paris), 1967 (Brussels), 1970 (Vienna and Munich, when the Noble Corporations were added), 1984 (Washington, when other Noble Corporations were added), 1998 (Dublin, when Ecclesiastical Decorations were added), 1999 (Rome and London), 2000 (London, when it was decided to widen the areas of study classifying those Bodies of a chivalrous nature and those inspired by chivalry), 2001 (Casale Monferrato, when it was decided to widen the areas of study classifying the Bodies which referred to orders or awards which had been awarded by state bodies in the past), 2002 (Dublin, when it was decided to modify the 2002 Register - in addition to what was published in the 2001 Register - so as to include only European dynastic orders, transforming the previous category Knightly (civil and military) bodies derived from orders of former states into the new Other institutions of chivalric character categorized as: Revivals of ancient chivalric institutions originally founded as orders by the dynastic successor of the founding authority; New chivalric institutions founded by the head of a former reigning dynasty; Successors of chivalric institutions originally founded under the authority of a state).
 
The San Marino General Assembly was summoned for the purposes of modifying the Edinburgh principles and to start a Register to include State Orders and awards of the world. The different proposals presented by the commissioners were discussed and there was a great divergence of opinion. The Executive Committee therefore decided to continue the Register according to the principles of Edinburgh (but to include a caveat explaining that the principles, when applied to the modern day, were not completely valid) and to include footnotes noting any scholarly difference of opinion. It was also decided to enlarge the Register so as to include a new category for State Orders and awards of the world. This change will be featured in the 2006 Register.
 
The Commission has published updated versions of its Register of Orders of Chivalry (in 1964, 1970, 1978, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2003), the latest being issued in 2004. The decisions arrived at by the ICOC since its inception have been thoroughly reviewed and a number of bodies included in those lists published subsequent to the original 1964 Register have been removed and will not be included in the future. The 1964 Register has thus been corrected and modified.
 
Whenever a Register was published it was always subject to criticism or praise depending on the position of the commentator. The high level of interest in the reports and decisions of the Commission - whether positive or negative - indicates the esteem in which it has been held by the academic community. It is perhaps worth recalling the words of Prof. Aldo Pezzana [10]: "In conclusion one may state that the Commission has produced a work of the greatest interest, for which we must be grateful to its authoritative members and in particular to its President, Baron Monti della Corte, whose standing as a scholar of historical-heraldic studies and as Chancellor of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus need no recalling here.
"If any reserve or proposal has been made, it was because the work of the Commission is of such importance and it is the duty of all scholars, however modest, including the present writer, to attempt a contribution in order to further perfect its work".
 
We quote also the recent words of Dr. Alberto Lembo in his paper "The Italian State and non-national Orders of Chivalry" (presented at a conference entitled "The Dynastic Orders of the I. & R. Grand Ducal House of Tuscany and the Royal House of Bourbon-Parma"): "I believe it is worthwhile to widen the horizon of references and to insert as a contribution to solutions to those questions being dealt with here those principles expressed by the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry at the close of the V International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences presented by its President Alessandro Monti della Corte at Edinburgh on 14 September 1962. These are, of course, indications of a private organisation but whose authority is more than sufficiently known." [11]
 
Although it is true that numerous attacks were made on the Commission due to the inclusion of Orders or positions that favoured one or other claimants in dynastic disputes, it is important to note that the study of Chivalric Orders and awards is open to manifold interpretations, mainly because there is no supreme authority (except for the Holy See whose authority is limited to Catholic Orders of Chivalry), which is able to resolve definitively and without controversy the various protests and disputes [12]. Even among specialists personal opinions sometimes conflict and, at times, radical revisions were made, without these revisions necessarily being determined by serious analysis or changing circumstances [13].
It should therefore be acknowledged that in the past some serious mistakes [14] were indeed made, with organisations of questionable chivalric character included in the Register alongside historical Chivalric Orders. The newly nominated Commission has now determined that it is necessary to re-examine the 1964 Register and use that as its initial point of reference.
 
From 1984 to 1995 the Commission, which was presided over by an elderly President, considered the Register to be virtually complete and held only occasional meetings (although some members of the Executive Committee met with the President rather more frequently) [15]. With the death of the President in 1995 the Commission, which had already seen the passing of many of its elderly members, required re-vitalisation. This process began in 1996 with the publication of a new Register, based on the 1978 edition. A greatly enlarged Register was published in 1998; unfortunately, this Register included some Orders and bodies which had not received the necessary approval of the Executive Committee. Consequently, it was decided to thoroughly revise the structure and membership of the Commission and its executive committee.
 
At the Senate of the Italian Republic (Hall of the former Hotel Bologna) on 3 June 1999 at the close of the conference "New Sources for Family History at the start of the III Millennium" new statutes were presented; these were subsequently modified in London on 5 November 1999 and again on 9 November 2000, when it was decided that "all aspects of chivalry (concerning independent, semi-independent and dynastic Orders, award systems, noble corporations, other noble bodies, and ecclesiastical decorations) which appeared in the 1998 Register had to undergo a complete revision on a scientific basis, therefore all Registers dating from after 1964 are hereby abrogated; moreover it is also decided to insert some new subdivisions in the next Register concerning organisations of a chivalric nature and chivalric inspiration."
 
On 27 September 2001, to remove any doubt that members of the Commission might indirectly influence the Commission's free decision-making process, it was decided to widen Article VII of the statutes thus: "... those who are legal representatives, heads or officers of anybody whose present status, legitimacy or governance has been the subject of past controversy and which may at some time be subject to examination by the Commission and considered for inclusion in the International Register of Orders of Chivalry cannot be involved in determining the status of any Order or institution of which they are an officer. It was further proposed to include a new subdivision: Organizations dependent or deriving from Orders or Awards founded by or under the authority of a sovereign state."
 
The Commission is a private body, the worth of whose decisions depends upon the qualifications and scholarly reputation of its component members. The new statutes, therefore, require that each member of the Commission should enjoy a reputation as specialists in the study of Chivalric Orders, decorations and awards systems and that their work has been published in serious specialist journals or that they have held positions of authority qualifying them particularly as participants.
 
The seat of the Commission was moved to Milan, a city which was formerly part of the Comunidad Hispanica, and thus the Cronista de Armas of the Kingdom of Spain, Don Vicente de Cadenas y Vicent (the organiser of the Madrid International Congress in 1955, the proponent of the decisions which led to the birth of the Commission in 1960 and the organiser of the Madrid International Congress in 1982, during which the last papers on Chivalric Orders were presented) received a petition for a certification of the Commission's armorial bearings which had been in use by the Commission since 1962. Certification of the Arms was granted on 28 January 2000, and legalised by the "Ministerio de Justicia" of the Kingdom of Spain on 4 February 2000. [16]
 

Since January 2001 the Commission has published as its official organ the quarterly journal Il Mondo del Cavaliere, rivista internazionale sugli Ordini cavallereschi, which has already attained a considerable academic reputation. The Commission has held a number of conferences on chivalric matters in Italy, the United States of America and Spain and it has extended its patronage to the Associazione Insigniti Onorificenze Cavalleresche - AIOC - Amici della Commissione Internazionale per lo studio degli Ordini Cavallereschi which brings together those with an interest in Orders of Chivalry and award systems.
The "Members" of the Commission, up to a maximum of seventy-five, are selected from among the leading specialists in the field and their observations and comments are on a consultative basis. From the membership up to ten "Fellows" may be selected and these, while being part of the Executive Committee, have consultative votes.
 
The seriousness of the Commission is demonstrated by the requirement that Members not " be part of or . . . participate in meetings organised by self-styled Chivalric Orders, award systems, noble corporations, or dubious nobiliary bodies, or hold ecclesiastical decorations etc, not listed in the ICOC Register."
 
The seriousness of the Commission is shown by the prohibition of Members “to be part of or to participate in meetings organised by self-styled chivalric orders, award systems, noble corporations, or dubious nobiliary bodies, or hold ecclesiastical decorations etc, not listed in the ICOC Register.” The Executive Committee is composed of the President[17]/Chairman, the Vice President, the Deputy Chairman and the Secretary General. Patrons, are chosen for their position in international society and include heads of state, church leaders and heads or members of reigning or formerly reigning royal houses.
 
The Executive Committee is composed of the President [17]/Chairman, the Vice President, the Deputy Chairman and the Secretary General. "Patrons" are chosen for their position in international society and include heads of state, church leaders and heads or members of reigning or formerly reigning royal houses.
 
The original purpose of the foundation of the Commission was to prepare an International Register of Orders of Chivalry which was irreproachable, scientific and widely accepted, something which over time has proved arduous, difficult and sometimes unattainable. The guiding principle of scholarly impartiality and the maintenance of a consistent standard has not only been retained, but is considered an essential element guiding the deliberations of the Commission. The Register is not closed, nor final, and will always be reviewed in the light of new evidence or changing circumstances. Moreover, the Commission welcomes open discussions on subjects between members with differing points of view, as this will assist the process of arriving at a sensible and reasoned conclusion.
 
In the twenty-first century the Commission decided to expand its horizons, widening its principles in order to bring them into line with the objective reality of today's society and inevitable historical changes. The compilation of the Register, cannot be limited to the chivalric material of the past, thus the Commission has to provide to non-specialists, a comprehensive source of information and an explanation of the categories examined. The Commission also hopes to establish this publication as the authoritative source of record for specialists, the officers of Chivalric and Merit Orders, and state functionaries charged with responsibility in such matters: to this purpose, maintaining the traditional Register according to the Edinburgh principles, it was decided to create a second part which will list all the state honours and award systems of the world.

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