History

The Order of St. George is a dynastic house order and combines knightly tradition with the idea of a united Europe in the sense of the political ideas of Otto von Habsburg. The roots of the Order go back a long way, not in the sense of an uninterrupted continuity, but in the continuation of an ideal of Christian chivalry. The history of the Order of St. George in Central Europe begins in the Kingdom of Hungary in the 14th century, experienced its heyday as a Habsburg house order at the beginning of modern times with a place of the Order in Millstatt in Carinthia, was reinterpreted after the end of the First World War and continued as a dynastic house order of the 21st century on behalf of HIRH Archduke Otto and his son HIRH Karl von Habsburg. In 2008 a first Order Chapter was elected in Munich.

Ritter vom Orden des St. Georg in Kärnten - im Kirchenkleid und in Rüstung
„Knight of the Order of St. George in Carinthia“ in church dress and in armour
Engravings from P. Hippolyt Helyot’s detailed history of all religious and secular monastic and knightly orders …, Volume 4, Arkstee und Merkus, Leipizig 1756, Private collection Vienna

Saint George

George the Martyr is one of the most popular saints in Christianity, his feast day is April 23. Georg is the patron saint of England, Georgia, Ethiopia, Greece, Serbia, Aragon and Catalonia and – together with Saint Joseph – the patron saint of Tyrol. He is one of the 14 emergency helpers and is considered a protector in the event of danger of war, plague and fever. He is the patron saint of soldiers, farmers, horsemen, miners, blacksmiths and prisoners.

Little is known about the historical Georg. He died as a martyr in Nicomedia, today’s Izmir – according to other legends in Lydda, today’s Lod in Israel – at the beginning of the persecution of Christians under Diocletian. Its veneration began as early as the 4th century, so there is probably no reason to doubt its existence. According to legends, he was born into a wealthy family in Cappadocia. His mother, Polychronia, was a Christian and had him baptized. Georg was a soldier in the Roman army and was honored for his courage.

The figure of the saint is associated with numerous legends, the most famous of which is his fight with the dragon. In the “Legenda Aurea” from the 13th century it is reported that the knight George came to the city of Silena in Libya. There lived a dragon that polluted the city with its poisonous breath, the inhabitants had to sacrifice lambs for it every day, when there were no more lambs, the sons and daughters were accused of the monster. One day the lot fell on the king’s daughter, but when she was thrown to the dragon, George appeared. He made the sign of the cross with his lance and pierced the dragon, but did not kill it. He asked the king’s daughter to tie the dragon with her belt and lead it into the city. The residents panicked, but Georg promised to kill the dragon if everyone was baptized. The king and 20,000 people were converted to Christ and George slew the beast.

Malerei des heiligen Georgs auf einem Schild
Painting of St. George on a shield (Setztartsche), probable Austrian, around 1480–1490, Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 126102, CC BY 4.0,
Photo: Birgit and Peter Kainz, Wien Museum

Patron saint of knights

The veneration of the saint spread throughout Christianity early on. In Byzantium he was venerated as a soldier and noble saint from 525, from the year 1000 the dragon legend prevailed in the Eastern churches, in the west at the time of the Crusades.

In 1099 George, riding a white horse, is said to have helped the Crusaders to victory over the Saracens at Antiocha. Richard the Lionheart made him his personal patron saint, at the Synod of Oxford in 1222 the saint’s name day became a national holiday. Georg was considered the patron saint of knights from the Holy Roman Empire, and the Teutonic Order, founded in 1191 before Akko, also promoted his veneration. Around 1250 Reinbot von Durne wrote the “Georgsroman” on behalf of the Bavarian Duke Otto II the Illustrious from the House of Wittelsbach, a poem about the saint, which was one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages and praised St. George as the model of the Christian knight.

Knight orders and knight societies in the Kingdom of Hungary

The Order of St. George of the House of Anjou

On April 23, 1326, St. George’s Day, the statutes of a society founded by the Hungarian King Charles I (1301-1342) from the House of Anjou were announced before the cathedral chapter of Gran, the Hungarian Esztergom, which “both his body, as well as to protect his life and thus the country”. The founding statute is now in the Hungarian National Archives together with the seal depicting St. George slaying the dragon.

It was the first secular order of knights and became the model for the dynastic orders. The Hungarian Order of St. George still flourished under King Ludwig the Great (1342–1382), but it did not survive the controversy over the throne that flared up in Hungary after the death of Louis.

The Dragon Order

On December 12, 1408, Sigismund (1382-1437) from the House of Luxembourg founded the Dragon Order as King of Hungary. The statute aims to fight against “the followers of the original dragon, that is, against both the pagan troops and the schismatics” and against all nations who turn against the Christian faith. In 1409 the Austrian dukes Ernst, Wilhelm and Albrecht from the House of Habsburg and a further 24 Austrian nobles were accepted into the order. The Dragon Order was interdenominational, and Orthodox Christians were also accepted. It was also the only knight society that accepted women, including Barbara von Cilli, the wife of Emperor Sigismund.

In 1431 the king gave the voivode of Wallachia Vlad II membership in the order. He got his nickname “Dracul” (dragon) after he had entered the society – the name that later his son Vlad III. Tepes received in literature and in popular culture. Dracula can ultimately be traced back to the Dragon Order.

The Dragon Order outlived its founder Sigismund. His successor, King Albrecht from the House of Habsburg, awarded the order to potential allies in the empire. After Albrecht’s early death (1397-1439), his later son Ladislaus Postumus (1440-1457) became not only King of Hungary, but also Grand Master of the Dragon Order. His cousin Friedrich of Austria (1415-1493) – as Emperor Friedrich III. known – exercised the reign for Ladislaus and awarded the Dragon Order at least twice. Under King Matthias Corvinus (1443-1490) the Order of the Dragon is said to have been awarded one last time.

The Order of St. George as a house order of the Habsburgs

In 1337 Duke Otto the Merry (1301-1339) founded a society of knights, the Societas Templois. The meeting place was the Chapel of George of the Vienna Augustinian Church, until 1378 liturgical assemblies of the order are mentioned there. Otto the Merry, founder of the first knightly order associated with St. George, died in the monastery Neuberg an der Mürz that he founded and was buried there.

1462 was Emperor Friedrich III. besieged by rebellious citizens in the Vienna Hofburg. With a happy outcome, he vowed the founding of an order of knights consecrated to St. George to ward off the Turks. In 1468 the emperor traveled to Rome, where Pope Paul II confirmed the establishment of the order. On January 1st, 1469 the foundation bull of the order was issued, the first Grand Master was Johann Siebenhirter, a close confidante of the emperor. His grand master’s sword has been preserved in the Carinthian State Museum to this day.

Oberteil der Siebenhirter Tafel
Upper part of the Siebenhirter Tafel, around 1490, Carinthian State Museum, Copyright BDA, photo: Petra Laubenstein
The upper part of the Siebenhirter table shows the installation of the first Grand Master of the Order of St. George, Johann Siebenhirter, on January 1st, 1469 in the Lateran Basilica in Rome by Pope Paul II and the founder of the order, Emperor Friedrich III. In a synchronized representation, one sees Emperor Friedrich standing, the Pope seated and Johann Siebenbürger kneeling in front of him taking the oath of allegiance, accolade and investiture with the medal.
The large-format panel was originally located in the Siebenhirter Chapel in the former Millstatt Benedictine Abbey and is now one of the treasures of Gothic painting in the Carinthian State Museum. In 2020 the board was extensively restored.

The seat of the order became the Millstatt Monastery, which was expanded to become the grand master’s residence. In the church you can find the epitaphs of Grand Master Johann Siebenhirter (+1508) and his successor, Johann Geumann (+1533).

Emperor Maximilian (1459-1519) was a great patron of the Order of St. George founded by his father. In 1493 he founded the St. George Brotherhood in Innsbruck, a secular association that was supposed to be affiliated with the order. When Maximilian died, he ordered to be buried in the regalia of a Knight of St. George. His picture of the dead, today in the Joanneum in Graz, shows his body wrapped in black atlas with the George cross on it.

Under Maximilian’s successor, Emperor Charles V, the Golden Fleece became the house order of the Habsburgs, and at the same time interest in the Order of St. George waned. After the death of the third Grand Master Wolfgang Prandtner in 1541, no successor was appointed. In 1573 the proceeds from the monastic estates were used for the newly founded Jesuit College in Graz, and in 1598 the entire monastic property was handed over to it.

What remained, however, was the veneration of St. George. Emperor Maximilian had declared him to the patron saint of the House of Habsburg.

The Order of the Four Roman Emperors, also the Old Order of St. George

In 1768, Imperial Count Philipp Ferdinand of Limburg-Styrum founded the “Order of the Old Nobility of the Four Roman Emperors”, referring to the establishment of an order in 1308 by Henry VII, the first emperor from the House of Luxembourg. Limburg-Styrum was one of the smallest territories of the Holy Roman Empire, but gained imperial immediacy at the beginning of the 13th century.

Imperial Count Philipp Ferdinand died in 1794, his successor Ernst Maria lost power in the same year due to the occupation by the troops of revolutionary France, and in 1806 the Imperial Counties were finally mediated. The “Order of the Old Nobility of the Four Roman Emperors” had probably already lost its importance as the house order of the imperial counts of Limburg-Styrum with the death of Philipp Ferdinand.

In 1838 Joseph Vicomte de Kerckhove-Varent reorganized the order and emphasized the continuity with the Luxembourg foundation in the Middle Ages. In the “History and Constitution of all spiritual and secular, extinct and prosperous orders of knights” written by Ferdinand von Biedenfeld in 1841, however, this continuity was questioned and rejected due to the lack of source material. The insignia of the order was a white enameled, eight-pointed cross with the letters H. C. W. S., the first letters of the four members of the House of Luxembourg on the imperial throne. In the middle there is a medallion with a guardian angel on an azure blue background, the guardian angel was the patron of the order. The blue central part was surrounded by a wide red border. Such crosses from the 19th century have been preserved to this day.

In 1923, officers of the Central Powers, the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, which were allied during World War I, founded an association. Their orientation was monarchistic and followed the tradition of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1926, in a reorganization convention in Hanover, the tradition of the former Limburg house order was integrated, especially the reference to the four Luxembourg emperors and their initials in the insignia. In 1927, the statutes were revised to deepen it and the order was given the name “Old Knight Order of St. George called Order of the Four Roman Emperors”, with the balles of Wendland, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Westphalia, southern Germany and Austria-Hungary. Expression of this renewal of the order in spirit was the adoption of St. George in the order. The position of a grand master was left vacant, the administration of the order was held by an order governor. In 1935 the seat of the order was relocated to Salzburg, Austria-Hungary, from where it stood up against National Socialism. In 1937, Prince Johannes von und zu Liechtenstein was appointed governor of the order. After the Anschluss in 1938, the order’s assets were confiscated and the order was banned.

After the war, Prince Johannes built the structure of the order as an association with the name “Club of St. George” based in Vienna. In 1960 the name was changed to “The Old Order of St. George”. At the end of the 1960s, Otto von Habsburg took over the protection of honor. The founders of the “Order of St. George – A European Order of the House of Habsburg-Lothringen” come from the circle of the “Old Order of St. George”.

A European Order of the House of Habsburg-Lothringen

On January 18, 2008, on behalf of HIRH Archduke Otto and his son HIRH Archduke Karl, the foundation of the European Order of St. George was proclaimed. HIRH Archduke Karl assumed the title of Grand Master, a first Order Chapter with Baron Dr. Norbert van Handel as its head was elected and the first knights were admitted solemnly.

On April 24, 2010 the Order was given a new constitution. The legal sponsor was the “Society of Knights of the Order of St. George”, formed according to Austrian association law, with the aim of fighting for a Christian-Occidental Europe that is increasingly in danger of losing its Christian and historical roots and to strengthen the historical connections of the countries of Central Europe under the auspices of the House of Habsburg-Lothringen.

On April 30, 2011 in the Minster of Neuberg an der Mürz – the resting place of Duke Otto the Merry, the founder of the first Habsburg Order of St. George – Archduke Karl solemnly renewed the “Order of St. George – A European Order of the House of Habsburg-Lothringen” as an Order of the Archhouse. The Grand Master Archduke Karl appointed Baron Dr. Norbert van Handel as Procurator of the Order. The latter made great contributions in this important development phase. On April 22, 2017, at the Kufstein Order Convention, Grand Master HIRH Archduke Karl appointed Baron Vinzenz von Stimpfl-Abele as Procurator of the Order of St. George, under whose leadership our community is gradually developing into a socially recognized, non-partisan value-political authority.