The Order of Saint Joachim had been a bitter foe of Napoleon. Count Ferdinand Karl III, ruler of Leiningen – Westerburg – Neuleiningen, was the Grand Master of the Order when the Cross of a Knight Grand Commander of The Order of Saint Joachim was awarded to Admiral Lord Nelson the 14th of September, 1801, for his victory over the French forces of Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile.
Three ruling Counts of Leiningen – Westerburg – Neuleiningen served as Grand Masters of The Order of Saint Joachim: George Karl I August Ludwig (1717-1787); Karl II Gustav Reinhard Waldemar (1747-1798); and Ferdinand Karl III (1767-1813). Count Ferdinand Karl III’s father, Karl II Gustav Reinhard Waldemar, was taken prisoner and robbed of his estates by the invading French armies in 1793. He died in Paris, a prisoner of France. His son went into exile.
His lands were eventually incorporated into the ‘Grand Duchy of Berg and Cleves’ and given to Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Marshal Joachim Murat. Murat not only took over the Count’s lands in 1806 but proclaimed himself the new Grand Master of the Order of Saint Joachim.
As Grand Duke of Berg and Cleves, Murat revised the statutes of the Order of Saint Joachim to allow him to confer the Order on any holder of the French Legion of Honour. He proceeded to award the Order of Saint Joachim to a large number of French generals and officers, particularly his former friends and comrades in the cavalry. It may also have been that the Grand Prior of the Order, Julius Graf von Soden, who had republican sympathies, decided to independently award the Order to friends of his new French masters in order to curry favour with them, while our Vice Grand Chancellor, Sir Levitt Hanson, fled and administered the Order from his new home in Sweden. Reichsgraf Friedrich Julius Heinrich von Soden auf Sassanfahrt was at various times a minister of the King of Prussia, a Privy Councillor and Chamberlain to the Margrave of Brandenburg, and an officer of several Orders, including our own. He also found the time to be a writer, actor, theatre director, publicist and politician, according to his biography. Although Grand Prior of the Order of Saint Joachim, he was not a cleric. Significantly, he continued to act as the Order’s Grand Prior not only during the Murat years, but also after the deaths of both Levett Hanson and Grand Master Count Ferdinand Karl III zu Leiningen who died in 1813. Julius Graf von Soden lived until 1831.
Murat made subtle changes to the Order’s insignia, including a rosette on the ribbon and a variation of the breast star which used an eight-pointed “Maltese cross” instead of the flatter cross-pattee of the Order, and added gold and silver rays between the arms of the cross. The French example of The Order’s breast cross for Knights Commander uses The Order’s older motto – DEO, PRINCIPI, LEGI.
In 1809 Murat left the Grand Duchy of Berg and Cleves to be installed by Napoleon as the King of Naples. It appears when he left for Naples he also left behind his Grandmastership of the Order of Saint Joachim, however there are several contemporary accounts that continued to refer to the Order of Saint Joachim as “The Order of Saint Joachim of Naples” indicating he was still considered associated with the Order in some way, if perhaps only in popular imagination. Murat was executed in 1815 after a popular uprising. French generals continued to wear the Order of Saint Joachim along with their other awards long after the defeat of Napoleon as shown in the many portraits of them.
Even while Murat was claiming to be Grand Master of the Order and awarding his Order of Saint Joachim to his French friends and colleagues, the original (and legitimate) Order of Saint Joachim now in exile from the Grand Master’s lands continued to make awards, particularly to the enemies of Napoleon. English Rear-admiral Philip D’Auvergne, who was made a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Joachim in 1803, threatened to return his insignia thinking it was associated with Murat, the enemy he was fighting. Assured that Murat was a usurper and the Order of Saint Joachim was still the enemy of France, D’Auvergne continued to wear the Order’s cross on his British admiral’s uniform.
Some French generals and Napoleonic nobles who became members of the Order of Saint Joachim include:
- General Claude-Antoine-Hippolyte de Préval (Knight Grand Commander – 1808)
- General Jean-Louis Richter (Knight Commander – 1808)
- General de Division Armand Lebrun de La Houssaye (Knight Grand Commander – 1814)
- Maréchal de Camp Pierre Joseph Armand de Beuverand, Comte de la Loyère (Knight Commander)
- Guillaume Mathieu, comte Dumas
- Jean Louis Joseph Cesar de Fernig
- Étienne-Marie-Antoine Champion, comte de Nansouty
- Charles Philippe Joseph Marchand de Banans
These French generals and nobles, along with others, were awarded the Order of Saint Joachim mostly between 1806 and 1809 during Joachim Murat’s reign as Grand Duke of Berg. Curiously, cavalry general Armand Lebrun de La Houssaye was made a Knight Grand Commander in 1814, long after Murat had departed for Naples. The timing of the award is also particularly interesting because La Houssaye was a Russian captive until 1814. He fought at Borodino where he was badly wounded, and was left behind with other wounded French soldiers as the army retreated in December 1812. The Russians took La Houssaye prisoner at Wilna and held him until after Napoleon’s abdication in 1814. Once back in France, La Houssaye was recognized as a Knight of Saint Louis by the restored Bourbons, before rallying again to Napoleon during the ‘ Hundred Days.’
Interestingly, after Napoleon’s defeat and with the restoration of the French monarchy, French officers were given permission by King Louis XVIII to continue to wear The Order of Saint Joachim.