The Equestrian, Secular and Chapterial Order of Saint Joachim is a fully ecumenical order of chivalry founded in 1755. Uniquely, the founding members of The Order of Saint Joachim chose not to create an order of knighthood that derived its legitimacy from the fiat or sponsorship of a sovereign fons, but rather from the nobility of the ideals it sought to promote, and deriving authority from its own Charter. It was a radical idea at the time, the more so since it declared the Grandmastership should be an elected position, and not one that is inherited by a sovereign or noble sponsor. At the time of its founding in 1755, the idea of a democratic order of chivalry – one that governed itself through an elected Grand Chapter as “Chapterial” – was indeed radical.
Being Chapterial also meant that a lack of a Grand Master did not end the Order, as it was governed by a Grand Chapter, of which the Grand Master was the elected head. There were a number of periods in the history of the Order of Saint Joachim where it continued without a Grand Master. The earliest example was our second Grand Master, Franz Xaver, Graf von Montfort, who was elected in 1773. When he died in 1780 a new Grand Master wasn’t elected until 1784, leaving a gap of four years. The Order’s records are clear that new Knights were admitted during these four years, showing that the Order continued to function through its Grand Chapter in the absence of a Grand Master, led by the Grand Chancellor or Grand Prior.
The lack of royal sponsorship has caused some over the past two centuries to question The Order of Saint Joachim for not having been founded by a hereditary monarch or maintained by a sovereign fons. The lack of a fons, however, did not prevent the English College of Arms and other European states from repeatedly recognizing the Order of Saint Joachim as a true order of knighthood. Writing from the English College of Arms where he served as Windsor Herald, Francis Townsend, Esq., FSA, published in 1828 the “Calendar of Knights; Containing Lists of Knights Bachelors, British Knights of Foreign Orders, Also Knights of the Garter, Thistle, Bath, St. Patrick and the Guelphic and Ionian Orders“, listing all knighthoods and orders of knighthood recorded in the English College of Arms’ records. Townsend addressed the question of The Order of Saint Joachim and its lack of a fons very succinctly in 1828:
Townsend was not the first person to consider and confirm The Order of Saint Joachim’s legitimacy as an Order of Knighthood. The Order of Saint Joachim underwent meticulous scrutiny previously by the English College of Arms in 1802 on the occasion of Admiral Horatio Nelson being awarded the Cross of a Knight Grand Commander of The Order of Saint Joachim. The English College of Arms concluded in its report to the King that The Order of Saint Joachim was indeed a valid and properly constituted Order of Knighthood, and as such Nelson was permitted to accept and wear the honour by the Warrant of King George III.
The Royal Warrant of King George III was also issued for a number of other English contemporaries of Admiral Nelson to accept and wear the insignia of a Knight Grand Commander of The Order of Saint Joachim. These included Viscount Merton, General Sir Charles Imhoff, and Philippe D’Auvergne, Prince de Boullion, Rear Admiral of the Blue. Philippe d’Auvergne cut a dashing figure in the time of the French Revolution as a spymaster and organizer of Royalist resistance in France from his base in the Island of Jersey, where he was Governor. General Sir Charles Imhoff was granted the Royal Warrant to accept and wear the Grand Cross of The Order of Saint Joachim on May 18, 1807 on the recommendation of the English College of Arms, as well as the right to be recognized as “Sir” in England by virtue of the award.
The Order’s other radical idea was to admit members of all faiths. Most orders of knighthood were devoted to a single faith – generally Catholic or Protestant. From the beginning, The Order of Saint Joachim was founded by and admitted both Catholics and Protestants, and later members of any and all faiths. It may have been that The Order of Saint Joachim was considered too ecumenical for the Vatican’s tastes, as it resisted the unorthodoxy of many Enlightenment thinkers.
Trying to make the Order appear more orthodox and acceptable to the Catholic Church may have been behind the change of the Order’s name from its 1755 original “The Order of the Very Glorious Memory of the Divine Providence” to the “Order of Saint Joachim” in 1785. Saint Joachim was the apocryphal father of the Virgin Mary and the patron saint of fathers, grandfathers, grandparents, married couples, cabinet makers and linen traders, and known for his charity.
The Order’s final radical idea was the admission of women as full members. Women were admitted as Dames of the Order beginning in the late 1700s. In fact, the Order of Saint Joachim’s rules from 1800 specifically contemplated women as Commanders of Commanderies.
The Order today continues its mission of tolerance, inclusion and charity as a small but engaged international community with about 300 members around the world. With active Commanderies in the UK, Canada, the USA and Austria-Germany, and a Sub-Commandery in the Nordic countries, the Order continues to grow carefully, ensuring that it attracts persons of commitment and dedication.