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The Order of the Golden Fleece

The Order of the Golden Fleece refers to the order of knighthood or chivalry established in 1430 by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy at Bruges in Flanders, to commemorate his wedding to Isabella of Portugal.

The first chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece was held at Lille in 1431, and in 1432 its seat was fixed at Dijon, capital of the Duchy of Burgundy. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and to St. Andrew, it was first constituted to have a grand master (the sovereign duke) and 23 knights, but membership was subsequently increased to 31 and eventually to 51. The order was founded to defend the Roman Catholic religion and to uphold the usages of chivalry. It was also ideally supposed to settle all disputes between its knights, whose actions were to be appraised, commended, or censured at its chapters.

The badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece was suspended from a jewelled collar with the motto "Pretium Laborum Non Vile" ("Not a bad reward for labor") engraved on the front of the central link, with Philip's motto "Non Aliud" ("I will have no other") on the back

The sovereignty of the Order of the Golden Fleece was passed on by heredity, and in default of a male heir, it was destined for the husband of the heiress of the Duchy. Thus, through the marriage of Mary of Burgundy to the Austrian archduke Maximilian (1477), the grand mastership passed to the house of Habsburg. Following the marriage of Joan (Juana) the Mad of Castille and Aragon, with Archduke Phillip of Austria (son of Maximilian and Mary), control of the Order of the Golden Fleece passed in 1516 to the Spanish branch of the House of Habsburg.

In 1519 Charles V (Charles I of Spain) willed the Grand Mastership of the order along with the throne of Spain to his son, Phillip II. However, following the extinction of the Spanish Habsburgs (1700), the Order of the Golden Fleece was disputed between the Bourbon kings of Spain and the Austrian Habsburgs. In 1712, the Head of the House of Austria reclaimed the Order of the Golden Fleece, appropriated the treasury of the Order, and proclaimed himself Sovereign Head. The treasury was later brought to Vienna from Bruges when threatened by French revolutionaries (where it remains to this day). Since 1712, therefore, there have been two Orders of the Golden Fleece - one being conferred by the Austrian Monarch, the other by the Spanish Monarch, each contesting the legitimacy of the other. The Order of the Golden Fleece remains the principal order of knighthood, exclusively reserved to Roman Catholics of the highest nobility.

Origins of the Golden Fleece Symbol

Much musing has circulated over the choice of the symbol of the Golden Fleece for a Burgundian order. Some point to the great wealth Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy obtained from the wool trade in Flanders, others to the spread of humanism and classical literature and the great fascination with that which was distant, romantic and obscure. The latter brings to mind the symbol of Jason and the Golden Fleece. It is known that in his youth, Philip always longed to go on crusade to the golden East, and so the choice of Jason journeying East to gain the Golden reward may be reminiscent of his youthful desires.

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RSS | August 24, 2019

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