Prince Franz Christian of Sachsen-Coburg-Saalfeld

His Serene Highness, Prince Christian Franz von Sachsen-Coburg Saalfeld, the first Grand Master of The Order of Saint Joachim (then still named the Knights of the Order of Jonathan), was the son of Duke Franz Josias. Duke Franz Josias ruled the Duchy of Sachsen-Coburg Saalfeld jointly with his brother Duke Christian Ernst from 1735 until his brother’s death in 1745, and then alone until his own death in 1764. Duke Franz Josias was born on September 25, 1697 and died on September 16, 1764. He married Anna Sofie Prinzessen von Schwartzburg-Rudlostadt on January 2, 1723.

Prince Christian Franz (1730-1797) was the older brother of the famous Field Marshal Prince Friedrich Josias (1737-1815), also referred to in Levett Hanson’s book about knightly orders. Prince Christian Franz never married, and relinquished the Grand Mastership of the Order in 1773 in favour of Franz Xaver, Graf von Montfort. Regardless, The Order of Saint Joachim continued to be associated with the House of Sachsen-Coburg – sometimes being mistaken for a house order – until at least the end of the 19th century.

Following the death of the previous Grand Master, the Count of Leiningen, Duke Ernst I von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha (2 January 1784 – 29 January 1844) continued to award the Order of Saint Joachim. A letter from 1821 exists from Dr. Joseph Romain Louis de Kirckhoff (also de Kerckhov) thanking Duke Ernst I for awarding him the Order of Saint Joachim. In his letter dated May 17, 1821 from Antwerp he expressed his “deep satisfaction” at being appointed “chevalier de l’ordre de St. Joachim de Saxe-Coubourg” by the Duke. Following the death of Duke Ernst I, his son, Duke Ernst II (21 June 1818 – 22 August 1893) listed the Order’s post-nominals “KJ” among his honours. Bulgarian King Ferdinand I (1861-1948), another member of the house of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha, was also associated with The Order of Saint Joachim. While the Grandmastership of the Order was not hereditary but elected under the Charter, it clearly continued to have a close connection to the Saxe-Coburgs.

The Sachsen-Coburg Saalfeld dynasty (later known as Sachsen – Coburg und Gotha, or in Britain simply as the Saxe-Coburgs) are the direct ancestors of most of the royal families of Europe. Just prior to the First World War, their descendants included nine sovereign rulers at the same time: the Grand Duke of Saxe – Weimar – Eisenach, the Duke of Saxe – Meiningen, the Duke of Saxe – Altenburg, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha, and five kings: those of Saxony, Great Britain, Belgium, Bulgaria and Portugal.

Thanks to the matchmaking skills of an enterprising uncle, the founding Grand Master of The Order of Saint Joachim is the grand-uncle of both Queen Victoria and also that of her husband, Franz August Karl Albert Emanuel of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha, who is better remembered to history as Prince Albert, the Prince Consort. In addition to Great Britain, their descendants also sat on the thrones of Portugal, Belgium and numerous other smaller states.

The Saxe – Coburg – Saalfelds were also closely related by inter-marriage to the ruling house of Leiningen, which was also very involved in The Order of Saint Joachim. Three successive 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)
  • Ferdinand Karl III (1767-1813)

Count Ferdinand Karl III was the third hereditary ruler of the Grafschaft of Leiningen – Westerburg – Neuleiningen to serve as Grand Master of the Order of Saint Joachim. Count Ferdinand Karl III, ruler of Leiningen – Westerburg – Neuleiningen, was the Grand Master of the Order when the Cross of the Grand Commander of The Order of Saint Joachim was awarded to Admiral Lord Nelson for his victory over the French forces of Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile. Count Ferdinand Karl III was born in 1767 and died in 1813. He succeeded his father as ruler of Leiningen – Westerburg – Neuleiningen in 1798 and ruled until his own death in 1813.

Georg Karl I August Ludwig ruled Leiningen – Westerburg – Neuleiningen from 1726 until his death in 1787. He was The Order of Saint Joachim’s third Grand Master (1784 to 1787) following the death of Graf von Monfort. He was followed by his son Karl II Gustav Reinhard Waldemar, who ruled from 1787 to 1798. He was taken prisoner and robbed of his estates by the invading French armies in 1793. His portrait (above) shows him wearing the breast star of The Order of Saint Joachim  and likely the dark green cordon or sash ribbon of a Grand Cross under his coat. On his death in French captivity in St. Germain in 1798, his son Count Ferdinand Karl III became the hereditary ruler of Leiningen – Westerburg – Neuleiningen and the fifth Grand Master of the Order of Saint Joachim.

His Majesty Leopold II, King of Hungary and Bohemia formally acknowledged and sanctioned the wearing of the insignia of the Order of Saint Joachim 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 Graf 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.

In 1818 Edward, Duke of Kent (1767-1820) the fourth son of George III, married Princess Victoria Mary Louisa (1786-1861), daughter of the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and widow of the Prince of Leiningen. For the sake of economy they lived at Leiningen, and went to England (1819) for the birth of their child, the Princess Victoria. Edward’s three elder brothers, George IV, the Duke of York, and William IV, died leaving no children and Princess Victoria succeeded to the throne as Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom in 1837.

Numerous member of the Leiningen were members of the Order of Saint Joachim, as shown in contemporary Order records, including Amalie Leopoldine, Countess zu Leiningen, who became a member in 1787 and became a Dame Grand Cross in 1794.

The Order of Saint Joachim was also depicted in the late 1800s as “the highest Order of the Kingdom of Bulgaria” under Tsar Ferdinand I who was a Saxe-Coburg. The Order was not Bulgaria’s highest award, but nonetheless shows the enduring  connection to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in the popular mind.

A collectible card from 1888 with the Order of Saint Joachim in the top right corner.