The Byzantine Tradition

There is no documentary record of the Order before the sixteenth century although an elaborate history and genealogy of the Grand Masters has been provided by the 17th and 18th century historians of the Order. It is possible that Constantine established a guard for the Labarum and that the Emperor Isaac founded a body in imitation of the Orders whose members passed through his dominions on their way to the Holy Land, but the written accounts of such foundations date from centuries later. The first Angeli Flavii "Grand Masters" known to be historical figures were Andrea II, later styled titular Prince of Macedonia, Duke of Durazzo and Drivasto, etc (who died in 1479) and his brother Piero I (who died in 1511), while a cousin, Paolo, became Archbishop of Durazzo. A recent historian of the Order has discovered that the Angeli were nobles from Drivasto who had served as the leaders of a band of men-at-arms serving with the Albanian leader, Scanderbeg, and later as Stradiots, or light infantry, in the service of the Venetian Republic. [Note 2.1]

The Angeli Flavii Grand Masters seem to have had consistently powerful support in Rome. The Holy See saw them as possible leaders of a successful Crusade against the Turks, which might return Byzantium to the Roman obedience. By the mid sixteenth century, the Popes were willing to acknowledge the Imperial pretensions of the Angeli Flavii Princes and, by the Bull Quod alias of July 17, 1551, Pope Julius III made the first papal reference to the Order in granting certain privileges to Princes Andrea and Hieronimus Angelus. The Angeli princes themselves were put under the spiritual protection of the Patriarch of Alexandria by an Admonition of November 7, 1575, in which the head of the family was described as "Grand Master of the Constantinian knights" and, by a Brief of October 10th of the following year the Holy See acknowledged the right of the "Constantinian or Golden Knights" to enjoy ecclesiastical benefices as the members of a "Religion".

Recent researches have discovered that a notable Spanish naval officer, Miguel de Boera, was accorded membership in the Order in the the early 16th century. Boera, whose exact date of death is unknown, was last recorded in 1543. His funeral monument has recently been restored in the Parish Church of Santa Ana, Barcelona, formerly the Colegiata de la Santo Sepulcro de Barcelona.

The first surviving Statutes of the Order were published in Venice (where the Grand Masters resided) in 1573, and later in Piacenza (1575), Padua (1577), Rome and Ravenna (1581), Milan and Bologna (1583), Madrid (1588), and Trento (1624). These not only claimed a Byzantine foundation but also that the statutes had been originally granted by the Byzantine Emperor Isaac Angelus in 1191. [Note 2.2.] They identified the earliest recorded members and included Noble Pietro-Antonio de Advocatis as an officer of the Order. [Note 2.3] By the Bull Cum a sicut accepimus of July 10, 1585, Pope Sixtus IV confirmed the privilege of the professed knights to hold ecclesiastical benefices and, in a further decree of 1596, removed the requirement to have Papal permission to do so. The Order attracted some prominent members - two successive Doges of Venice [Note 2.4] and, in 1595, Philip II of Spain became the first major European Sovereign to recognize it and the Imperial pretensions of its Grand Masters. This was followed by the recognition of the Emperor in a patent published at the diet of Regensburg of November 7, 1630 and again on June 25, 1671, formal protection accorded by the Venetian Republic on March 6, 1671 and the protection of the King of Poland on May 11, 1684.

The Angeli Flavii were constantly plagued by financial worries and, in 1623, were forced to cede the Grand Magistery to Marino Caracciolo, Prince of Avellino, for his lifetime. [Note 2.5]The Caracciolo family had already provided a notable Grand Prior in the person of Vincenzo Leosante Caracciolo, appointed in 1583 and, following the transfer of the Grand Magistery to Naples in the late eighteenth century, there has never been a period when there was not at least one Caracciolo knight.

NOTES

2.1. Desmond Seward, Italy's Knights of Saint George, Gerrard's Cross, 1986.

2.2. Seward, op.cit., p.12. These Statutes began "Noi Hieronimo Angelo, Principe di Tessaglia, Duca e Conte di Drivasto, ecc, Sovrano e Gran Signore dell'Illustre Militia Aureata Angelica di Costantino, ordiniamo che si come e stata sempre per la passati nella nostra felcissima e Imperial Casa Angela cossi anco sia per l'avvenire, cioe, che tutti i nostri legittimi e naturali discendenti, siano in perpetuo Sovrani Patroni e Gran Signore de' Cavalieri Aureati, Angelici, di Costantino Magno nostro progenitore sotto il titolo e sotto la protezione del beato Martire San Giorgio", see Sainty, op.cit., p.22.

2.3. See Seward, op.cit., p.29.

2.4. Alvise Mocenigo and Sebastiano Venier, in 1576.

2.5. He died in 1631 when they recovered the title of Grand Master.

 

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