The Equestrian, Secular and Chapterial Order of Saint Joachim was established on the 20th of June, 1755 in Leitmeritz, Bohemia by fourteen nobles and distinguished military leaders of the Holy Roman Empire. Having seen the terrible consequences of ongoing religious wars in Europe, our founders dedicated themselves to “worship the Supreme Being, show tolerance towards all religions, loyalty towards their princes, support the needs of their military, the poor, widows and orphans.” The Order was uniquely composed of both Protestant and Catholic nobles and leaders at a time when religion violently divided Europe and the German states within the Holy Roman Empire, and other knightly orders allied themselves exclusively as defenders of one faith or the other.
The Order was headed by His Serene Highness Prince Christian Franz von Sachsen-Coburg Saalfeld, son of reigning Duke Franz Josias. Prince Christian Franz was installed as our first Grand Master on June 20th, 1756, a position he held until 1773. In addition to Prince Christian Franz, the other founding members of the Order in 1755 were:
- Duke Karl Friedrich of Württemberg-Oels
- Prince Piccolomini
- Count Josef von Clary und Aldringen
- Baron Friedrich Karl von Eib
- Ritter Michel Fachner von Trauenstein
- Keck von Schwarzbach
- Count Procop von Kollowrat-Krakowsky
- Baron Johann Philip Schutzbar von Milchling
- Baron Moser von Filseck
- Count Johann Wilhelm von Nostitz
- Baron Anselm Josef Reichlin von Meldegg
- Johann Josef Wiedersperger von Wiedersperg
- Baron Friedrich von Zobel von Giebelstadt
In 1755 Prince Christian Franz von Sachsen-Coburg Saalfeld was stationed in Leitmeritz as colonel of his infantry regiment, “Le Vieux Wolfenbuttel”. Along with other friends, military officers and commanders stationed there, he created a Lodge or secret society and named it “The Knights of the Order of Jonathan, Defenders of the Honour of Divine Providence.” It adopted insignia with symbols that borrowed from other lodges and societies, including the “all-seeing eye of God” and the motto “Junxit Amicus Amor” (love hath united friends) from the Bible story of Samuel and Jonathan and their friendship. It also adopted the letters FSCV (Fide sed cui vide – “Trust, but be careful in whom you trust”) which appeared on its insignia.
In 1767 the Grand Master and a majority of the Grand Chapter decided to remove the reference to Jonathan from the name to become “The Defenders of the Divine Providence”. In 1785 a final change was made, and the Order’s constitution was revised by the Chapter General to rename it The Equestrian, Secular and Chapterial Order of Saint Joachim, which it has remained to this day. The original Statutes and Rules of the Order published in 1756 and 1764 still exist. The Order regularly created a report to the members of the state of the Order, called an Etat Present.
Our first Grand Master resigned in 1773 and was followed by Franz Xaver, Graf von Montfort and a noble of the Holy Roman Empire, who remained Grand Master until his death in 1780. The Grand Master’s position next fell to successive generations of the Counts of Leiningen – Westerburg – Neuleiningen, beginning with Count Georg Karl I August Ludwig zu Leiningen-Westerburg in 1784. It is interesting to note that the Order continued to function without a Grand Master for the intervening four years, admitting new Knights and Dames and carrying out its charitable mission. Being chapterial (i.e.: governed by a Grand Chapter and a constitution), and not reliant on a fons for its legitimacy, the Order could continue to operate without a sitting Grand Master. Graf Georg Karl I August Ludwig was succeeded by Graf Karl II Gustav Reinhard Waldemar as the Order’s 4th Grand Master, who was in turn succeeded by Ferdinand Karl III as 5th Grand Master. The Leiningens were related to both the Sachsen-Coburg Saalfelds and the British Royal Family.
In 1783 the Order even made overtures directly to U.S. President George Washington, writing him to offer him and other worthy members of the new American Republic membership in The Order. Washington referred the offer to Congress for advice and a committee was struck, causing some consternation at the thought that it was an attempt to introduce the trappings of rank and nobility to the new Republic. Washington regretfully wrote back to the Order that Congress had directed him to decline, but “I pray you will do me the goodness to make known to the illustrious Knights of the order of Divine providence, that we receive with the deepest gratitude and most perfect respect, this most flattering mark of their attention and approbation.”
The Order of Saint Joachim was formally recognized by many contemporary sovereigns and states. His Apostolic Majesty Leopold II, King of Hungary and Bohemia formally acknowledged and sanctioned the wearing of the insignia of the Order on May 23, 1790 with a document of Royal Concession. A few months later he was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, succeeding his brother Joseph II. One of his first acts was to appoint Comte Christian von Leiningen, a knight of The Order of Saint Joachim and relative of the Grand Master, to be his Chamberlain of the Imperial Palace.
On the 27th of April, 1791 King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia issued a similar Royal Grant recognizing the legitimacy of our Order and permitting the wearing of the insignia of The Order of Saint Joachim on Prussian officers’ military uniforms. In 1814 French King Louis XVIII granted a warrant to General Claude Antoine Hippolyte de Préval to wear the insignia of the Order of Saint Joachim.
The Order of Saint Joachim was also closely examined at the request of the British Crown before Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was allowed to accept the award of the Cross of a Knight Grand Commander. The Order of Saint Joachim passed the strict scrutiny and requirements for a knightly order set down by the English College of Arms, which was confirmed by the King’s Warrant in 1802, and granted Nelson permission to accept and wear the honour. Some of Nelson’s correspondence displays his affection and high sense of honour he felt at being admitted to The Order of Saint Joachim. Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was wearing the breast cross of a Knight Grand Commander of The Order of Saint Joachim when he fell mortally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The “Trafalgar Coat” bearing Nelson’s Order of Saint Joachim cross is on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK.
The Royal Warrant of King George III was also issued for at least three 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 Trafalgar (son of William, Earl Nelson), 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 organiser 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, and the right to be recognized as “Sir” in England by virtue of the award.
The Order of Saint Joachim and the continued use of the post-nominal “KJ” by its knights is evidenced in several contemporary English references, including Debrett’s and various guides to the British Parliament. In 1813 legislation was passed in England to limit the recognition of any new awards of foreign knighthoods generally, although those who had acquired one prior to that date continued to be able to be recognized as such. Nonetheless, The Order of Saint Joachim was recognized as a genuine order of knighthood again by the English College of Arms’ Windsor Herald, Francis Townsend, Esq., FSA, in 1828 in his”Calendar of Knights”, listing all knighthoods and orders of knighthood recorded in the English College of Arms’ records.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, Napoleon’s wars in Germany resulted in the creation of the Confederacy of the Rhine as a French puppet state. As ruler of Leiningen our sitting Grand Master was imprisoned and Napoleon’s own brother-in-law, Joachim Murat, was made the Grand Duke of the newly created “Duchy of Berg and Cleves” on March 15, 1806. Murat held this title till August 1, 1808, when he left to become King of Naples. During this time he declared himself the Grand Master of The Order of Saint Joachim. He revised the Order’s statutes to extend membership in the Order to any member of the French Legion of Honour. He also made changes to the Order’s insignia, including adding a rosette to the ribbon and a variation of the breast star.
Murat’s leadership of The Order of Saint Joachim was rejected by the existing members, and the legitimate Grand Master’s line remained with the son of the previous Grand Master, the next Count of Leiningen, who served as his Coadjutor. In fact, when Philippe D’Auvergne, Prince de Boullion, found that Murat had declared himself Grand Master of the Order, he resigned his membership, but changed his mind when he was assured that the legitimate leadership of the Order rested in the Count of Leiningen, who opposed Napoleon. Murat left to become King of Naples in 1808 and was eventually executed in 1815. There are a few contemporary accounts that erroneously referred to our Order as “The Order of Saint Joachim of Naples” however the Order’s insignia continued to be worn in France (with the permission of King Louis XVIII) as late as the 1850s by French generals who had received it during Murat’s brief reign.
The Order of Saint Joachim continued after the Treaty of Vienna under Duke Ernst I of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha, who awarded it as the Order’s Grand Master. After his death in 1844, his son Ernst II (21 June 1818 – 22 August 1893) was also associated with The Order of Saint Joachim.
Something unique that distinguishes The Order of Saint Joachim from other orders of chivalry is that even though it was frequently led by by a sovereign Duke or Count as Grand Master, it derived its authority from its ancient charter, much the same way many of the original knightly orders did during the Crusades. Being chapterial, the Order’s Grand Master was elected by the Grand Chapter of its knights, and was not a hereditary position. Writing in 1843, G.L. De Rochement and J. Bischoff (Ridderorden: Amsterdam, p. 27) observed that The Order of Saint Joachim “does not owe its origins to any crowned head, even so it is recognized both on the European mainland and in Great Britain as an Order of knighthood.” Nonetheless, various books, references and encyclopedia continued to erroneously describe The Order of Saint Joachim as being a “House Order” of the Ducal House of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha well in the 19th Century. (See: Goffredo di Crollalanza’s “Enciclopedia Araldico-Cavalleresca“, 1878). It was also depicted in the late 1800s as “the highest Order of the Kingdom of Bulgaria” under Tsar Ferdinand I of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which is probably not entirely accurate, but nonetheless shows the enduring connection to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Early references to the Order can also be found in The History of European Knightly Orders by Levett Hanson (1803), and A Historical Collection of Still Existing Knight Orders of Different Nations by A.M. Perrot (1821).
Many of the Order’s documents, including copies of its earliest records, went missing at the end of World War II. They were likely taken from the public offices or private archives of Carl Eduard, Duke of Albany and Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1884-1954), who served during the war as President of the German Red Cross. They were looted and removed from Germany by the Soviet Red Army and placed in the archives of the NKVD (later KGB), where they only reappeared in the last decade. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the archives were “privatized” as a for-profit business venture and placed in the hands of the Russian Institute of Economic Security, a company with close ties to the Russian security establishment which provides corporations and individuals with “economic and business intelligence”. Attempts so far to retrieve or even copy The Order’s documents have proven unsuccessful, however, with the digitization of more and more library and archival resources, more and more original documents and records are continually coming to light.
An interesting document turned up in the library of the United Grand Lodge of England in London, England. Among a number of documents in its collection is a handwritten volume from 1892, which is a translation of a French Grand Orient Masonic rite called “Rite of Adoption Ritual of the 35th Degree – Chevaliers of St Joachim“. The ceremony recorded is almost identical to the one recorded in 1802 by Hanson with a few Masonic additions. It appears that a French Masonic “Knights of Saint Joachim” degree grew out of Joachim Murat’s brief usurping of the Grandmastership and his active participation as a leader of French masonry. Aside from this interesting discovery, The Order of Saint Joachim today has no Masonic connection.
The Order of Saint Joachim was reorganized in 1929. The ducal house of Sachsen-Coburg had fallen on hard times following the First World War, with Duke Carl Eduard stripped of his lands, title and fortune by the Treaty of Versailles. Disillusioned, he dabbled and then became committed to right wing politics. The Order of Saint Joachim was reorganized in 1929 as “politically neutral” and specifically rejecting any connection to Freemasonry or the earlier requirement and division of the Order into noble and non-noble classes. According to the official history of the Order published in 1948, The Order of Saint Joachim was forced to “go quiet” during the Nazi period in Germany, but its members maintained informal connections to one another. Following the war, the Order reorganized again in 1948, reconnecting with its members in Germany, Italy, France and North and South America. The core membership in Italy likely included prominent members of the anti-Fascist resistance. The Order continued to attract and admit new members in the second half of the 20th Century, first under the authority of the “Reorganized Council” and later under Grand Master Helmut Braundel-Falkensee.
On the death of Grand Master H.E. The Chevalier Helmut Braundel-Falkensee, HE The Chevalier Stephen Lautens GCJ was elected Grand Master in 2007 and formally installed in 2009.