PRINCIPLES INVOLVED IN ASSESSING THE VALIDITY OF ORDERS OF CHIVALRY
Every independent State has the right to create its own Orders or Decorations of Merit and lay down, at will, their particular rules. But it must be made clear that only the higher degrees of these modern State Orders can be deemed of knightly rank, provided they are conferred by the Crown or by the “pro tempore” ruler of some traditional State.
The Dynastic (or Family or House) Orders which belong jure sanguinis to a Sovereign House (that is to those ruling or ex-ruling Houses whose sovereign rank was internationally recognised at the time of the Congress of Vienna in 1814 or later) retain their full historical chivalric, nobiliary and social validity, notwithstanding all political changes. It is therefore considered ultra vires of any republican State to interfere, by legislation or administrative practice, with the Princely Dynastic Family or House Orders. That they may not be officially recognised by the new government does not affect their traditional validity or their accepted status in international heraldic, chivalric and nobiliary circles.
It is generally admitted by jurists that such ex-sovereigns who have not abdicated have positions different from those of pretenders and that in their lifetime they retain their full rights as “fons honorum” in respect even of those Orders of which they remain Grand Masters which would be classed, otherwise, as State and Merit Orders.
Although, at one time - many centuries ago - private people of high standing could and did create some independent Orders of Knighthood, some among which came, in due course, to gain considerable prestige and obtained formal validity from the Church and the Crown, such rights of creation of Orders have long since fallen into desuetude and, nowadays, Orders of Chivalry as we understand the term must always stem from or be - by longstanding uninterrupted tradition - under the protection of Chiefs or of Houses of recognised sovereign rank.
The recognition of Orders by States or supranational organisations which themselves do not have chivalric orders of their own, and in whose Constitutions no provisions are made for the recognition of knightly and nobiliary institutions, cannot be accepted as constituting validation by sovereignties, since these particular sovereignties have renounced the exercise of heraldic jurisdiction. The international “status” of an Order of Knighthood rests, in fact, on the rights of fons honorum, which, according to tradition, must belong to the Authority by which this particular Order is granted, protected or recognised.
The only recognised Order with the style of “Sovereign” existing nowadays is that of St John of Jerusalem, called of Rhodes, called of Malta, whose international headquarters were transferred to Rome in 1834, and whose international diplomatic “status” as an independent non-territorial power is recognised officially by the Holy See and by many other Governments.