Royal Order of Saint George for the Defense of the Immaculate Conception

The Royal Military Order of Saint George for the Defense of the Faith and the Immaculate Conception was founded by Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria in 1726 to provide for a means of honouring the nobility and recognizing distinguished civil military service. Its status as a Catholic Order was confirmed in a Papal Bull of 15 March, 1728 specifically comparing the Order with the Teutonic Order, which had likewise been transformed from a Crusading Order to an exclusive chivalric religious institution for the Nobility.

Establishment

The decision to found it may have been in part the consequence of the failed attempt by the Wittelsbachs to acquire the Grand Magistery of the Constantinian Order of Saint George, which by decision of the Holy See in 1701 was recognized as pertaining to the Italian Farnese dynasty.

The tradition of loyalty to the patron saint of chivalry, Saint George, was long established in Germany, and various Bavarian Princes who in the fifteenth century had made pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulcher and were there invested as knights had each made a promise to Saint George. Maximilian's son, the Elector Karl-Albrecht, gave the new Order its title of Order of the Holy Knight and Martyr Saint George and the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin Mary and established its statutes on March 28, 1729 as a Military Order of Chivalry for Roman Catholic noblemen.

By a reform of 1741, a clerical class was introduced, also limited to noblemen, including a Bishop, Provosts, four Deans, and Chaplains. The statutes in forty articles dedicate the members to an ardent Christian devotion unparalleled among institutions founded in the eighteenth century, the age of the Enlightenment. They require that the knights "must honour God above all else; You must be strong in faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ, honor your Sovereign Lord, love and respect him and his royal prerogatives" and replicate promises made at the Tomb.

Order in 18th century

In the same year Karl-Albrecht acquired the Crown of Bohemia and, on January 24, 1742 he was elected Emperor as Charles VII, but his rule was short and when he died three years later he was succeeded as Emperor by Francis of Lorraine while the latter's wife, Maria Theresa of Austria, inherited the Bohemian and Hungarians Crowns. This branch of the Wittelsbach family became extinct in 1777 and the Bavarian Electorate passed to Karl-Theodor, the senior Prince of the House of Bavaria, he assumed the Grand Magistery of the Order in 1778.

With Karl-Theodor's death in 1799, both Electorates passed collaterally to the next senior Prince (because of the exclusion of morganatic lines), the Elector Maximilian IV Joseph (Duke of Zweibrücken) who in 1806 was elevated to the title of King, following substantial alterations in his territories. The new King now found himself ruling a very different state to that ruled by his ancestors. By the time Maximilian I of Bavaria died he was ruling a larger and richer state than any previous individual Wittelsbach Prince.

Order in 19th and 20th centuries

In reforming the various military and noble Orders, he confirmed the privileges already enjoyed by the knights of Saint George, giving them precedence after the knights of Saint Hubert. By a new Constitution of 25 February 1827, Maximilian's son and successor, Ludwig I declared that the King was always to be Grand Master, the Crown Prince the first Grand Prior and other Princes of the Bavarian Royal House second Grand Priors. These statutes, which have remained largely in force, established six Grand Commanders, twelve hereditary commanders, and knights.

The requirements have always been formidable as originally members had to prove thirty two quarterings with thirty-four noble German ancestors, but since the 1871 reforms the requirement has been revised to proof of four hundred years of nobility in each of the four quarters and proof that all thirty-two great-great-great grandparents were noble, still rigidly enforced. The statutes were again revised on 11 December 1999 (approved by the present Head of the House, Duke Franz, on 11 January 2000), suppressing the separate clerical class (priests may join the Order as regular members, provided they have the necessary nobiliary qualifications) and simplified the regulations. They have to be at least twenty-one years of age and before admission, are examined by a committee of knights. There was originally a special "zungen" (langue or tongue) of foreign knights, who could comprise up to one third of the total membership, and did not have to prove German ancestry, but this no longer exists. The last King of Bavaria continued to maintain the Order after abdicating his throne and was succeeded by his son, Rupprecht, Crown Prince of Bavaria.

The present Grand Master of the Order is His Royal Highness Franz, Duke of Bavaria who succeeded his father, Duke Albrecht in 1996. Unlike all the other noble Orders the rules requiring noble proofs are strictly enforced and there is no category of "honorary" or "grace" knights. The Order is dedicated to the practice of works of charity, and the establishment of hospitals and until recently maintained a hundred-bed hospital. There are about ninety members and the Order celebrates its feast days on Saint George's Day (24 April) and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (8 December). The coadjutor Grand Master and first Grand Prior is Prince Max, Duke in Bavaria, and Their Royal Highnesses Princes Rasso, Wolfgang, Eugen, and Joseph-Clemens are Grand Priors.

Insignia

The badge of the Order is a pale blue and white enamelled gold Maltese cross with small gold balls on the point and diagonal lozenges between the arms. The medallion in the centre has the image of the Virgin Mary on one side and Saint George slaying the Dragon on the other. It hangs from a lions head trophy suspended from a light and dark blue ribbon with white borders. The star is similar to the Cross but silver instead of white, with a blue and silver alternating lozenges between the arms; in the centre is the red cross of Saint George.


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