The Farnese Grand Magistery

By the end of the seventeenth century the Angelii family had dwindled to one surviving male and it became necessary to find a solution to the succession to the Grand Magistery. In the 1680's there was a proposal to give the Order control of the city of Ferrara, to provide a buttress against foreign incursion into the Papal States but this suggestion did not find widespread support. The Farnese Dukes of Parma were already pressing the Holy See to assist them in acquiring the Grand Magistery and formal discussions had certainly begun by 1695. The final negotiations between the last Angeli Flavii Grand Master, Gian Andrea IX, and Francesco Farnese, Duke of Parma, led to cession of the Grand Magistery in 1696 and Gian Andrea (who died without heirs in 1701 [Note 3.1]), was given a pension and residence in Piacenza. The cession to the Farnese family was recognized by an Imperial patent of August 5, 1699 (Agnoscimus et notum facimus) and the Papal Bull Sincerae Fidei [Note 3.2] of October 24th following, which both made it clear that this cession was to the Head of the Farnese Family and not to the Sovereign of Parma. [Note 3.3]

Francesco Farnese,
Grand Master in 1697

For the Farnese, who had acquired their Duchy in 1545 following the election of Pope Paul III, the father of the first Duke, the acquisition of the Constantinian Grand Magistery added considerably to the luster of their dynasty. Its claims to antiquity and to be the doyen of all Orders of Chivalry, while not accepted either universally or uncritically, gave the Order considerable prestige. Like the Duke of Savoy to the north, Grand Masters of the Religious Military Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus as well as the ancient Order of the Collar of the Annunciation, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany to the South, Grand Master of the Religious Military Order of Saint Stephen, the Constantinian Grand Magistery enabled the Duke of Parma to offer a prestigious reward for the nobility of his duchies while imposing upon them a strict, quasi-monastic discipline. In 1714 the Farnese further augmented their prestige and power by the marriage of the Duke's niece Elisabeth (daughter of his deceased elder brother Odoardo), to Philip V of Spain.

Papal support for the Order was maintained throughout the seventeenth century, with a Procurator-General in Rome and Cardinal de' Massimi being appointed Protector, in the Brief Cum sicut of August 27, 1672. By a Brief of June 14, 1687 Gaspero Cardinal Cavelerio was nominated Protector and, in 1690, Giovan-Francesco Cardinal Albani was chosen to succeed him by Pope Alexander VIII. In 1701 Cardinal Albani was himself elected Pope as Clement XI and, by the Brief Cum Religio, seu Militia Angelica, Aureata Constantiniana sub titulo Sancti Georgii of April 1st, permanently established the post of Cardinal Protector. By a further Brief of April 20, 1701, he confirmed the succession explicitly to the Farnese family, in the face of a challenge by Gustav Samuel Leopold of Bavaria, Duke of Zweibrücken [Note 3.4] and consistently supported the Order and its Grand Master in granting further privileges throughout his Pontificate. This Brief "assigned" the title of Grand Master to Francesco Farnese, Duke of Parma, and his family, appointing him "perpetual Administrator" (on behalf of the Holy See).

By a proclamation of its new Grand Master dated May 25, 1705, the Order was given new Statutes, in which it was described as the Sacred Imperial Chivalric Order and Illustrious Angelic, Constantinian Religion, and the succession of the Grand Magistery to the primogeniture heirs of the Farnese Family was confirmed. [Note 3.5] These laid down that there would be fifty Senators Grand Cross (in tribute to the traditional corps of guardsmen of the Labarum of Constantine), who wore the Golden Collar and had to prove eight noble quarterings; [Note 3.6] an unlimited number of knights of Justice who had to prove the same, and knights of Grace who had to be of gentle birth; donats, priest-brothers and serving-brothers. All the knights were required to spend at least one year, preferably two, resident in the College of the Order training for military service. On attaining their majority, they were invited to make formal profession in an elaborate ceremony requiring promises of Obedience, Charity and Chastity (limited to promising not to take a mistress and remain faithful in marriage). Provision was made for knights to endow family, or jus patronatus Commanderies, which male descendants of the founder would be entitled to enjoy for their lifetime after being received into the Order. [Note 3.7] In the event of there being no male heir to a Commandery it would revert to the Order and could be conferred as a Commandery of Justice or Grace.

 

The Steccatta Church, Parma

The knights were also required to undertake that they should render to "the Grand Master, as their Supreme Director and Governor ... cordial and total obedience, especially in that which is required by the Statutes of the Order". [Note 3.7] The Statutes were confirmed by Pope Clement in an Apostolic Brief dated July 12, 1706 and all the later statutes were based upon them. From the time of the transfer to the Farnese in 1699 the Order can be regarded as an autonomous, private, family Order hereditary in the Farnese family and its heirs, independent from any other temporal institution. The Order's headquarters were established in Parma and the Church of the Steccata established as the Conventual Seat (this magnificent Church is extensively decorated with the Constantinian insignia).

The new Grand Master, inspired by the chivalric traditions which the Order represented, decided to join the Holy League in its campaign to drive the armies of the Ottoman Sultan Achmed III out of the Balkans. His first contribution, a regiment of about two hundred men, left Parma on August 22, 1715. Eighteen months later this was followed by a regiment of the Order, the "Imperial Chivalric Constantinian of Saint George Regiment", with some two thousand officers and men, which left to join Prince Eugcne's forces on May 28, 1717, under the command of Bailiff Colonel Count Federico Dal Verme. [Note 3.8]The principal officers, ten in number, each received the Constantinian Cross from the hands of Count Ignazio Rocca, on behalf of the Duke and Grand Master.

The Steccatta Church, Parma

Although the knights and soldiers of the regiment distinguished themselves by their bravery, the campaign did not achieve its objective. Nonetheless, a grateful Pope granted the Order new privileges in the Bull Militantis Ecclesiae (of May 27, 1718). [Note 3.9]This established it as a Religious Military Order of the Church of Jesus Christ and confirmed the 1705 Statutes and the succession of the Grand Magistery in the person of Francesco Farnese, his family and his male heirs in perpetuity. As an Order of the Church it has remained under the ultimate jurisdiction of the Holy See, the Grand Masters being "perpetual Administrators" [Note 3.10] on its behalf and has avoided the fate of the other Dynastic Religious Military Orders suppressed illegally at the time of Italian unification. The Conventual Church of the Steccata was exempted from the jurisdiction of any Bishop or local Ordinary (an exemption later extended to the Order's Church of San Antonio Abate in Naples in 1777), and the ecclesiastical privileges of the Grand Prior and Chaplains were further augmented by two Apostolic Briefs of 1723 and 1725.

NOTES

3.1. He was given the titular post of Prefect of Piacenza by Duke Francesco and his death certificate, recorded in the Mortuorum of the Parish of Saint Mark, was published by Count Emilio Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano in Ricordi dell'Ordine Costantiniano in Piacenza, ecc.., Rivista Araldica, 1949, pp.21-22.

3.2. The complete text of this Bull is published by Fra Antonio Radente in Bolla di Clemente XI, Militantis Ecclesiae, e suo commento, Naples 1858.

3.3. The Papal Bull states that the Grand Magistery was transferred to Francesco Farnese " ac tuis ... natis ... aliisque Familiae tuae Farnesiae ... successoribus Parmae .... Ducibus pro tempore existentibus".

3.4. Nullitatis & reprobatio omnium gestorum, & attentatorum per D. principem Gustavum Leopoldum de Dupont, intrusum in administrationem Militiae Aureatae Constantiniae S. Georgii: cum confirmatione concessionis, & assignationis Muneris Magni Magistri ejusdem Militiae factae a fel. rec. Innocentio Papa XII, ad favorem Serenissimi Francisco Farnesi Ducis Parmae &c, ejusque Familiae ... act etiam motu proprio ex cetta scientia & matura deliberatione suis deque Apostolicae Potestatis plenitudine resignationem Officii, seu Muneris Magni Magistri, seu perpetuo Administratoris dictae Militiae dicto Francisco Duci, ac ejus post ipsum Natis, Nepotibus, & Descendentibus, aliisque Familiae Farnesiae Successoribus....". This was the first of several disputes over the succession to the Grand Magistery. Gustav Leopold of Zweibrücken (1670-1731) was the second surviving son of Adolf-Johann of Bavaria, Count Palatine of Kleeburg (1629-1689), a younger brother of Charles X (of Bavaria), King of Sweden (1622-1660). His cousin Charles XI, King of Sweden (1655-1697) had inherited Zweibrücken in 1681 and on his death this passed to the latter's son, Charles XII (1682-1718) who died childless when it passed to Gustav Leopold (who had inherited Kleeburg from his elder brother in 1701). Gustave Leopold had contracted with Gian Andrea IX to succeed him as Grand Master and had proclaimed himself Grand Master on Gian Andrea's death in 1701. Gustave Leopold converted to Catholicism in 1696 and in 1707 married a cousin, but this union was childless and the marriage was annulled. In 1723 he married morganatically and died in 1731 leaving no issue. Zweibrücken passed to Christian III of Bavaria, Count Palatine of Birkenfeld-Bischwiller-Rappolstein (1674-1735), the ancestor of the present Bavarian Royal House.

3.5. Chapter II, clause II, "The office of Grand Master of the Constantinian Order from henceforth shall be exercised by the First Born male descendants of our Farnese family ..... Should any of the Grand Masters die without leaving male issue, in that case the supreme dignity shall devolve on the person whom of our most serene Farnese family is nearest to the last deceased".

3.6. Each of these Senators were assigned the titles of Grand Prior (of which there were 10), Prior (of which there were 21 or Bailiff (of which there were 19), in imitation of the Order of Saint Stephen of Tuscany, as nominal benefices attributed to various cities and provinces in Europe and Asia Minor. A complete list of these is given in Sainty, op.cit., p.29, note 29.

3.7. The founder and his son were both exempted from passage money but successors in the commandery were required to prove the nobility of their maternal line (in four quarters for Justice) and request investiture from the Grand Master, within six months of the death of the last holder of the commandery, unless the heir to the commandery was younger than fifteen. Profession could not be made until the knight had attained the age of eighteen when he could be invested with the commandery.

3.8. 1705 Statutes, Chapter II, Claude VIII.

3.9. Dal Verme (1681-1769) was a Bailiff of the Tuscan Order of Saint Stephen and had had some considerable experience fighting the Turks.

3.10. A fuller history of this campaign is given in Il Reggimento Costantiniano in Dalmatia, by Count Emilio Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano, in Il Sacro Militare Ordine Costantiniano di San Giorgio, Naples MCMLXVI.

 

Contacts Royal Deputation

  |  

Sitemap

  |  

Links

  |  

Guestbbook

  |  

Webmaster

  |  

Contacts Royal Deputation

  |  

Sitemap

  |  

Links

  |  

Guestbbook

  |  

Webmaster

  |  

You are here:  >> History