Little Bits of History

August 1

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 1, 2017

1469: The Order of Saint Michael is founded. An order of chivalry (also called an order of knighthood or equestrian order) was a society of knights typically inspired by the original Catholic military orders as part of the Crusades and paired with the ideals of medieval concepts of chivalry. Philip II, Duke of Burgundy, founded the Order of the Golden Fleece in Bruges in 1430. He did so to celebrate his marriage to the Portuguese princess Infanta Isabella. The Order became one of the most prestigious in Europe. King Louis XI of France, in a competitive response to this, established his own Order dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

At the time of its founding, it was the highest Order in France and would remain so until 1578. The first members of the Order of St. Michael were the most powerful nobles in France as well as close relatives of the king and other royal houses of Europe. Originally, the members were called companions and limited to 35 in number. The knights were loyal to the throne and in 1565, during the Wars of Religion, Charles IX increased the membership to 50 and there may have been several hundred knights under Henry III in 1574 (before he created an even higher Order a few years later).

Each member of the Order was bestowed a gold badge with Michael standing on a rock (Mont Saint-Michel) and in combat with a serpent. Their motto translated to “the tremor of the immense ocean” symbolizing the idea of Michael looking out over the Atlantic from the mount. It was suspended from a gold collar made from scalloped shell patterns linked with double knots. It could, according to the rules of the Order, also be hung on a simple chain or from a black ribbon. Jean Foquet was commissioned to paint the title miniature of the Statutes and it showed the king presiding over the knights.

The original plan was for the knights to meet yearly on September 29 at Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. This is the iconic commune island off the coast which is accessible by land only during low tide. The highly fortified landmass becomes an island at high tide. This inaccessible location became a problem in later years and Charles VIII moved the meeting place to the chapel at the palace in Paris and then again to outside Paris after that. Although all Orders were abolished by King Louis XVI in 1790, it was revived in 1816 by Louis XVIII. The last member died in 1850. However, more knights have been conferred in the 20th century. These knights are now members of the Order of the Arts and Letters, following from the older Order of Saint Michael.

Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth. – Charles Kingsley

The age of chivalry is past. Bores have succeeded to dragons. – Charles Dickens

The institution of chivalry forms one of the most remarkable features in the history of the Middle Ages. – Horatio Alger

The motto of chivalry is also the motto of wisdom; to serve all, but love only one. – Honore de Balzac

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