The International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences brings together scholars and others with an interest in these subjects from all nations of Europe and from countries throughout the world.
The I Congress was held in Barcelona in 1929 and from the II Congress, of 1953, it was to be held every two years, with two exceptions . The main themes have changed greatly over the years with some disciplines no longer among the subjects discussed at the congresses. Examples of abandoned subjects are sphragistics and iconography dealt with at Paris, vexillology (which was to have been one of the themes at congresses after Bern), on the contrary genetics that saw its appearance at Stockholm in 1960 was forgotten and returned to be treated again in 1998 at Turin.
Unlike other disciplines put aside by the Congress, chivalric orders were in the early editions the object of a special commission, which was to become, as we shall see 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, at Stockholm, the 21st -28th August 1960. This Congress , held under the High Patronage of H.R.H. Prince Bertil of Sweden, was presided over by Baron Carl Hamilton of Hageby, President; Baron Giovanni di Giura, Vice President; Marquis de Desio, Vice President; Count Thierry de Limburg-Stirum, Vice President; Mr. Invar Andersson, Vice President and Mr. Gunnar Scheffer, Director of the Swedish State Heraldry Service, Secretary General.
In 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 by its Members: John Philip Brooke Brooke-Little; Lt. Col. Robert Gayre of Gayre and Nigg; Robert Matagne; Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, Bt., Baron of Easter Moncreiffe; Elisabeth Prins; Conrad M.J.F. Swan and Paul Warming - concerning point 4, “the decisions of the III Congress at Madrid (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.”
The VI International Congress was held at Edinburgh from the 8th to the 14th of September 1962 under the Honorary Presidency of H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh and was presided over by: H.G. The Duke of Hamilton, President; Baron Giovanni di Giura, Vice President; Count Thierry de Limburg-Stirum, Vice President; Baron Carl Hamilton of Hageby, Vice President; Lt. Col. Robert Gayre of Gayre and Nigg, Baron of Lochoreshyre, General Secretary. Members of the Honorary Committee included: H.M. King Umberto II, H.R.H. The Count of Paris, Head of the Royal House of France; H.R.H. The Count of Barcelona, Head of the Royal House of Spain; H.I.H. Grand Duke Vladimir Kirilovich, Head of the Imperial House of Russia; H.R.H. The Duke of Castro, Head of the Royal House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies; H.R.H. The Duke of Württemberg and H.S.H. Prince Ernest August of Lippe.
On the 13th of September, the Congress began work on the 3rd theme which concerned ‘Chivalric Orders’, “under the Presidency of H.S.H. 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 which he presided. Among 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. . . .”
On the 14th of 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) 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 developed in its report presented to the Congress.”
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).
The Commission has, since its inception, published updated Registers of Orders of Chivalry in 1964, 1970, 1978, 1996, the latest being issued July 1998. 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. So the 1964 Register has been corrected and modified.
Whenever a Register was published it was always subject to attacks or applause depending on whichever side the commentators were on. But the intense and constant interest given to the Commission - either for or against its announcements - is to be considered a clear sign of the importance and authority which the scientific world has attributed the Commission. It is worth recalling here the words of Prof. Aldo Pezzana : “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 On. Dr. Alberto Lembo at the Conference entitled The Dynastic Orders of the I. & R. Grand Ducal House of Tuscany and the Royal House of Bourbon-Parma, in his paper The Italian State and non-national Orders of Chivalry: “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 14th September 1962. These are, of course, indications of a private organisation but whose authority is more than sufficiently known.
Although it may be true that numerous attacks were made on the Commission due to the inclusion of Orders or stances in favour of one or other of the claimants in dynastic disputes, it should also be mentioned that the study of chivalric orders and awards systems is open to manifold interpretations, mainly because there is no supreme authority (except for the Holy See which is limited to Catholic orders of chivalry) which is able to resolve definitively and without controversy the various protests and disputes . Even among specialists personal opinions are numerous and, at times, also open to radical changes, even without these being motivated by new serious elements of judgement .
Nonetheless, it should be acknowledged that some serious mistakes were made, where organizations were included in the Register alongside historical chivalric orders despite not being such, and because of this it has been necessary to go back to the 1964 Register and use that as a starting point.
From 1984 to 1995 the Commission, believing that the subject had been completely catalogued, held meetings with the then elderly President, even though for some Members of the Executive Committee these meetings were weekly affairs .
With the death of the President in 1995, the Commission which had already seen the passing of many of its elderly Members, needed to be revitalised. This revitalisation was started in 1996 when a new Register , based on the 1978 edition, was published.
The year 1998 saw a greatly enlarged Register published which included, through some deft manoeuvring at the last minute, some Orders and Bodies, which did not receive a consensus or unanimity within the Executive Committee.
At the Senate of the Italian Republic (Hall of the former Hotel Bologna) on 3rd June 1999 at the close of the Conference “New Sources for Family History at the start of the III Millennium” new Statutes were presented, which in London on 5th November 1999 were modified to bring them up to date, and further were modified on 9th November 2000, when it was also decided that “all aspects of Chivalry (concerning independent, semi-independent, Dynastic Orders, Award systems, Noble Corporations, Other Noble Bodies, 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 chivalric nature and chivalric inspiration.”
Then on 27th September 2001, in order to remove any doubt that there may be Members of the Commission who 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 any body which might at some time be the object of study by the Commission and therefore listed in future in the International Register of Orders of Chivalry can, in no way whatsoever, be part of the Commission. It was further suggested to include a new subdivision: Organisations referring to Orders or Award systems previously bestowed by state bodies in the past.”
The Commission is a private body, the worth and seriousness of which wholly depends upon the worth and seriousness of its component Members. In the past, there have been errors in scientific evaluation and interpretation, or times when the Commission exceeded its institutional role. Therefore, the new Statutes require a specific academic grounding of those who seek to become Members and these persons must demonstrate their experience in the field of the study of chivalric orders, decorations and awards systems through publications and other specific work.
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 organizer of the Madrid International Congress in 1955, the proponent of the decisions which led to the birth of the Commission in 1960 and the organizer 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 since 1962. Certification of the Arms was granted 28th January 2000, and legalised by the “Ministerio de Justicia” of Kingdom of Spain 4th February 2000 .
Since January 2001 the Commission has had as its official organ the quarterly journal Il Mondo del Cavaliere, rivista internazionale sugli Ordini cavallereschi, which has already gained many favourable comments in the scientific world.
Moreover, the Commission, has already held a number of conferences on chivalric matters in Italy, the United States of America and Spain. The Commission has extended its patronage to the Associazione Insigniti Onorificenze Cavalleresche - AIOC - Amici della Commissione Internazionale per lo studio degli Ordini Cavallereschi which unites those members or those with an interest in orders of chivalry and award systems.
The Members of the Commission, up to a maximum of 75, 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 10 Fellows may be selected and who, while being part of the Executive Committee, have consultative votes.
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, Other Nobiliary Bodies, or hold Ecclesiastical Decorations etc. not listed in the ICOC Register.”
Patrons , are chosen for their rank 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 simply to prepare an International Register of Orders of Chivalry which was irreproachable, scientific and accepted by everyone, something which through time has proved arduous, difficult and unfortunately, often unattainable.
Today, the Commission considers the Register always open and does not exclude the possibility of modifying its positions or decisions, provided that there is solid documentary scientific evidence to do so. Moreover, the Commission favours open discussions on subjects between persons with differing points of view.
In the twenty-first century the Commission needs to expand its horizons, widening its principles in order to bring them into line with the objective reality of today’s society and the inevitable historical changes. The compilation of the Register, cannot be limited to the chivalric material of the past, thus the Commission has to offer, to those who are not scholars in the field of award systems, a valid publication from which one can learn and understand. Above all this publication must open the eyes of the uninitiated to diverse award systems which exist in today’s world.