discourse about Chivalry and Knightly Orders today could seem out of date
and in contrast with current political, philosophical and social orientation
– fed and developed in a logic of demagogic egalitarianism –
which wants to deny History and Traditions.
The Equestrian institution however – to confirm that universal
law of distinction that is common to all men because a basic part of his
being – appeared and developed in all parts of the world right back
in ancient times: man, who Carducci defines “Matter and Spirit –
reason and sense”, continued to constantly develop through the millenniums
with the final aim that is found in Dante’s warning:
Consider your progeny:
You were not born to live as brutes,
but to follow virtue and knowledge.
(Inferno XXVI, 118-120)
The intrinsic and immanent force behind the knightly institution is that
it has always been tied, everywhere, to civil, political and religious
progress for society, and has always been able to affirm its role in each
era and institutional context.
The aim of preserving and protecting traditions that add to the meaning
of a peaceful and fruitful cohabitation, has allowed perpetuating the
historic and social function of this noble institution, and in the current
times of bewilderment and crisis, the fertile germs have survived in the
soul of those persons who are full of spiritual values, supporting the
restorative, innovative and reformative mission.
The inspiring principle, the new military life was free for everyone,
is that which the Capitularies declared: the Capitulare missorum,
in 786 AD, not only talks of knights who were not nobles but also of servants
who, as vassals of their Lord, could possess arms and horse; the Capitulare
de causis diversis, in 807, contains the order given by Carlo Magnum
to all the caballarii to come well-equipped to his placitum,
also ordering that the less well-off should arm one knight for every seven
of them; the Edictum Pistense, in 864, by Charles II that forbids
Counts and Ministers of the King using violence against the persons or
the property of the Franks with horses.
Serving on horseback gradually became a title of honour and motive of
force for the feudal classes: miles, in the 9th and 10th centuries
meant both a soldier on horseback and a feudatory.
However, where feudalism right from its origins was established as a
closed class, following a strict hierarchy, which reported to the Emperor,
chivalry soon had its own customs and laws, remaining, in principle, open
to all, with no other distinction than valour.
Furthermore, whereas in the feudal world a specific oath of loyalty tied
the vassal to a specific Lord, a Knight only had to swear loyalty to supreme
principles of justice, honour, reverence to God, protection of women and
defence of the weak, and these principles had to inspire their actions.
This essence of the Chivalry also explains the education features: Chivalry,
which was not identified with nobility, was however a social group, with
specific functions and ideals, knights were recruited among the noble
classes and the lords, and felt bound by moral and religious bonds which,
in part, were distinct from those of cast and nation, and could therefore
it became a sort of supreme organization.
The knight’s motto was “my soul for God, for life for the
King, my heart for the Dame, honour for me”, and he had to learn
to defend the faith, to serve the weak and oppressed and raise his spirit
in the cult of the woman, consecrating worthy thoughts and deeds: sentiments
of honour, ability with arms, courage and spirit of adventure mixed with
the platonic and romantic cult of Woman, all idealised by the awareness
of being soldiers of Christ and his Church.
Another feature of knightly education was the importance given to courtesy,
which was etiquette for the knight: respect for others, benevolence towards
the lower classes, loyalty to the given word and service the knight was
consecrated to, contempt for all cowardice, love for military glory, readiness
to give and little interest in riches.
The knight’s duties were summarised in the following Decalogue:
1. You will believe in the teachings of the Church and observe its commandments;
2. You will protect the Church;
3. You will respect and defend the weak;
4. You will love your nation;
5. You will not back off when faced with the enemy;
6. You will war without respite and pardon against the unbelievers;
7. You will faithfully perform your feudal duties if they do not go against
the law of God;
8. You will not lie and will maintain your given word;
9. You will be generous and liberal with all;
10. Everywhere and at all times you will be a champion of right and good
against injustice and ill.
Given the fact that chivalry and feudalism could not mix together neither
overlap, the equestrian institution grew based on the principle of parity
between knights, which was the basis for the progressive distinction from
the feudal society, due to the recognition of the same needs, hopes and,
therefore, united by a common spiritual bond and unity of sentiments which
sewed the seeds for their universal order.
Back in the 11th century in fact, at the time of the first crusade, we
can see the new knightly moral: the foundation of hospitals where the
pilgrims were looked after – like St. John in Jerusalem –
supported by the Caliphs who, against yearly tributes, allowed freedom
of cult, help and protection.
When, in 1076, the horde of Turks invaded the Arabian empire, taking
over Constantinople and threatening to subjugate all of Europe, a sad
period of Christian persecution began against those who went to Palestine
and for the people working in the hospitals that were built during the
period of the pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
The subsequent Christian persecution induced Pope Urban II to banish
the first Crusade from Clermont in France in 1095, which knights from
the Christian States were taking part in, headed by Godfrey from Buglione
and Raymond from Toulouse, who raised Christ’s Cross as emblem of
the grand enterprise.
This was the time when Chivalry reached the height of its prestige and
power because, to the original aim of the hospital monks, the Knights
added those of supervising and defending with arms the Holy Sepulchre,
to protect Christians and pilgrims who went to the Holy Land, to cure
the injured and sick in the various military expeditions, to free Christians
held in captivity and slavery (consider the heroic vow of the paid soldiers,
to given themselves in slavery to free their prisoner brothers).
Thus religious and military Orders were spontaneously formed and organized.
Thus the Chivalry was formed, and subsequent events in the 12th and 13th
centuries brought about eminently personal dignitaries, and proof is given
by various precepts, like forbidding inheriting the title, as each knight
had to earn for himself, and the right of each knight to create new ones,
meaning that each one of them held the spirit that lived within the Knight:
heroes of courage and pity, creators of power, virtue and beauty, able
to transmit this spirit to the new brothers for the defence and triumph
After the middle of the 13th century and, more so, during the 14th, Chivalry
progressively declined, in step with the spreading of the mercenary troops,
and the practice of arms became a job in fact. By the 15th century, decline
was complete, because by now Chivalry had begun to lose part of its importance
as a military order, as the invention of gunpowder reduced its superiority.
Only the Knightly Orders remained, to pass down the name and many of
the immortal ideals – of blood, spirit, virtue and merit –
which had always been an intimate part of them.
The Orders lost the nature they held at the time of the first Crusades
and became apanage of the Sovereigns, who shaped them into institutions
tied to personal or state wealth, whose purpose was defined in compensation
for acts of devotion to the Nation or Dynasty, or recognition of individual
and social merits in the various fields of creative expression and human
charity and civil and Christian virtues.
Behaviour rules for members of the Orders, originally bound by religious
vows, became – in imitation of the high and glorious Knightly heritage:
values, wealth and model of moral support for humanity, in all times:
for example, faith in God, honesty, human solidarity, protection of the
weak and defenceless, cult of honour, respect for the given word, repudiation
of lies and violence, loyalty towards one’s enemies, respect for
women, protection for widows and orphans, loyalty to the Sovereign –
a pregnant moment of moral and spiritual identification in belonging to
the abstractly intended Knightly Order.
Historic events which caused the closure of certain Orders could not
attack the deep-rootedness of the peoples and families whose members had
been decorated and been titled by them, and the custom of granting honours
for merit to those who had demonstrated their worth became apanage of
each modern state.
We should also observe that these institutions, when they belonged to
the dynastic wealth of previously reigning families, were able to reaffirm
their position not only historically but also legally.
In fact, international law recognises the institution of pretender to
the throne, which arises if the debellatio is missing, i.e. the
loss of sovereignty by waiving right to one’s functions and relative
prerogatives involved with exercising power, because the sovereign, no
matter how he is dethroned, maintains the right to certain manifestations
of reigning power: thus sovereign titles are due to the sovereign as such
and his descendents, and remain thus even when he has lost his sovereignty
over land, because sovereignty belongs to the family wealth (even if it
is deprived of the jus gladii, i.e. the right to obedience by
the subjects; the jus majestatis, i.e. the right to respect and
honours due his rank; and the jus imperii, i.e. the power of
This means that a sovereign could be dethroned and banished from the
country, but he could never lose his native qualities: thus the pretender
to the throne arises, who maintains intact all the sovereignty rights
as long as their application does not obstacle the changed juridical-institutional
position, while the others are suspended. Among the conserved rights is
the jus honorum, i.e. the right to grant noble titles and ranks
of knightly orders possessed or inherited that are part of the personal
and dynastic wealth of the lineage.
When a knightly order conforms to international law, it has the legitimate
right to grant honours on a par with any national State.
I would like to add a few more considerations about the so-called independent
Knightly Orders, because the intimate history of equestrian institutions
can only be considered by recalling the imprimatur of the Holy
See, even if this aegis, being an independent Order, and therefore autonomous
from States and Nations, has no value except psychological.
Supreme Master of truth, rich of the vast experience of universal human
understanding, the Catholic Church has always given the right value to
the ambition to be distinguished – natural among men – correcting
the faults and avoiding proud degeneration of the single and, generally,
This is why we consider the Vatican State made a mistake in the fifties
last century in discriminating those Orders which, for actions or virtue,
were no less than those that were recognised by law n. 178 of 3rd March
1951 which, in substance, changed the course of history and knightly traditions
in Italy, to the exclusive advantage of a doubtful monopolization (in
any case, the Vatican lists, those of the Home Office and the SMOM do
not have any historic, legal or sentence value).
I felt it right to point out this fact for the so-called “independent”
orders, some of which are often indicated as unfounded, false, fraudulent,
Independent Orders, taken overall i.e. in their uniform and amorphous
plurality, have the intrinsic “wrong” in Italy of being independent
from an independence that is not a synonym of sovereignty.
Plurality in this way damages and is a disadvantage for the single Orders
that are involved, because they are accused of wrongs and errors that
are, probably, the fault of only a few.
This happens with independent Orders that are not, so to speak, national,
because they are not recognised if the Order does not belong to a foreign
State; therefore each person who is decorated by an Order that is not
recognized or authorized by the above law 178/1951, could be subject to
administrative sanctions; a fact we have come across in our professional
However, Knightly distinctions express, from any point of view and today
more than ever, an indelible trace and glorious manifestation of Institutions
that are founded in History, representing memorable events and a heritage
of cultural and religious traditions, which have managed to remain alive
even after many centuries.
In our time, Chivalry means radiant traditions and testimony of how many
noble acts have been performed by the single members within the group,
and remind us of their glorious example and stimulate us to think back
over their gestures, magnanimous enterprises and generous actions.