Order of Saint Stephen

Order of Saint Stephen
Holy Military Order of St. Stephen Pope and Martyr
Galei of galjas van de Orde van Sint-Stephanus.JPG
Galley of the Order of Saint Stephen (1611 celebrating drawing).
Awarded by Grand Duke of Tuscany
Type Dynastic order
Eligibility Noblemen over 18, not descended from heretics
Status Currently constituted
Grand Master Sigismund von Habsburg-Lothringen, (Pretender Grand Duke of Tuscany )
Established 1561

The Order of Saint Stephen (Official: Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire, "Holy Military Order of St. Stephen Pope and Martyr") is a Tuscan dynastic-military order founded in 1561. The order was created by Cosimo I de' Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany. The last member of the Medici dynasty to be a leader of the order was Gian Gastone de Medici in 1737. The order was permanently abolished in 1859 by the annexation of Tuscany to the Kingdom of Sardinia. The former Kingdom of Italy and the current Italian Republic also did not recognize the order.[1]



The order was founded by Cosimo I de' Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany, with the approbation of Pope Pius IV in 1561. The rule chosen was that of the Benedictine Order. The first grand master was Cosimo himself and he was followed in that role by his successors as grand duke. The dedication to St. Stephen derives from the date of Cosimo's victorious Battle of Montemurlo (August 1, 1537).

The objective of the order was to fight the Ottoman Turks and the pirates that sailed Mediterranean Sea in the 16th century. The Turks and the pirates were making dangerous inroads on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea where Cosimo had recently inaugurated the new port of Livorno. Cosimo also needed a symbolic fight to unite the nobility of the different cities that combined to form his new grand duchy (including Florence and Siena, and to demonstrate his support of the Roman Catholic Church. Finally, the creation of a Tuscan military order would also strengthen the prestige, both internal and international, of Cosimo's new state.

To join the Order a postulant had to be at least eighteen years of age, able to meet the financial obligations of membership, make the necessary noble proofs and not be descended from heretics. The initial seat of the order was on Elba before moving to Pisa. The Knights' Square in Pisa, on which their palace faces, is named after the Order. The Coat of Arms include a red cross with eight points, flanked by golden lilies.

In its early years, the Order took part successfully in the Spanish wars against the Ottomans, being present at the siege of Malta (1565), the Battle of Lepanto (1571) and the capture in 1607 of Annaba in Algeria by the then admiral Jacopo Inghirami. After its aggressive capabilities had been recognized, the Order concentrated on the defence of the Mediterranean coasts against Turkish and African pirates. In particular, the Knights made some incursions into the Aegean Islands controlled by the Turks, and took part in the campaigns in Dalmatia, Negroponte and Corfu.

After 1640, military involvement was reduced. The Order concentrated on the coastal defence and on ordnance duties, but did not avoid the chance to send help to the Republic of Venice, then engaged in a desperate war against the Ottoman Empire. The order's last military action dates from 1719. Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Tuscany promoted a reorganization of the order, turning it into an institute for education of the Tuscan nobility.

On 7 March 1791, six months after becoming Emperor, Leopold abdicated the Grand Duchy to his younger son, Ferdinand III, the founder of the present Grand Ducal House. Although Ferdinand was the first European sovereign to recognize the French Republic, he was forced to submit to the French authorities who occupied the Grand Duchy in 1799. He abdicated both the Grand Duchy and the Grand Magistery of Saint Stephen. The order survived during the short-lived Kingdom of Etruria.

Following the restoration of Ferdinand III in 1814, the revival of the Order was proposed. By a decree dated 1815 the Ripristinazione dell'Ordine dei Cavalieri di S. Stefano was proclaimed. The Order was again dissolved in 1859, when Tuscany was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia.


The former Tuscan ruling family maintained that the Order of Saint Stephen was a religious and dynastic institution not subject to dissolution by the Italian authorities. Today, the pretender to the former grand ducal throne awards an Order of Saint Stephen which he claims to be a continuation of the order founded by Grand Duke Cosimo I. Approximately 80 individuals are currently associated with this order. All members must be Roman Catholic, although exceptions are made for Heads of State and members of royal families who are members of the other Christian denominations.


  • Cuomo, Franco (1992). Gli Ordini cavallereschi nel mito e nella storia. Rome. 
  • Maximilian Gritzner, "Handbuch der Haus-und Verdienstorden" Leipzig 1893.
  • Gustav Adolph Ackermann, "Ordensbuch" Annaheim 1855.
  • Stefano Sodi e Stefano Renzoni, La chiesa di S. Stefano e la piazza dei Cavalieri, collana Mirabilia Pisana, edizioni Ets, Pisa 2003.
  • Rodolfo Bernardini, Il Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire, Ordine Dinastico- Familiare della Casa Asburgo Lorena, Pisa, 1990.
  • Licurgo Cappelletti, Storia degli Ordini Cavallereschi, ristampa anastatica, Sala Bolognese, 1981.
  • Luigi Cibrario, Descrizione storica degli ordini cavallereschi antichi e moderni, Napels 1894.
  • Franco Cuomo, Gli Ordini cavallereschi nel mito e nella storia, Rome 1992.
  • Raffaele Cuomo, Ordini Cavallereschi Antichi e Moderni, Vol. II, Napels, 1894.
  • Fabrizio Ferri, Ordini Cavallereschi e Decorazioni in Italia, Modena, 1995.
  • Insigne Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire, Ruolo e Statuto, Pisa, 2002.
  • Pier Felice degli Uberti, Ordini Cavallereschi e Onorificenze, De Vecchi Editore, Milaan, 1993.
  1. ^ All titles of nobility and remaining monarchic orders of knighthood were abolished in 1946 by the Italian constitution.

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