In Sicily you sometimes have
to scratch a few dense layers of patina to reveal the vestiges of the dozen civilizations that
have shaped the island's heritage, some earlier than others. But certain intangible legacies are so
elusive that they are thought by many to be extinct, and some are literally secrets known to but a few.
In nature, the rediscovered "Lazarus species" are rare treasures like the takahe and the saola,
and we rejoice that they survive despite their unusual names.
Among our own species the cultural coelacanths (artifacts, sorry) exist but - according to some commentators - probably
shouldn't, and they show themselves in public only rarely. When they do, it's the kind of news that makes its way into a newspaper or news feed as a thirty-word item, or perhaps a
pictorial in the pages of one of those glossy, overpriced "society" magazines that few of us actually read,
so it's easily overlooked. Elite clubs and confraternities are an example of this, and so are certain knightly orders.
In the Middle Ages, knights were either warriors
of the feudal class in the service of the king or mounted soldiers of the
military-religious orders in the service of God (the Hospitallers, the Teutonic
Knights, the Templars). By the nineteenth century,
with feudalism on the wane, those fortunate
enough to be knighted by their sovereign were either aristocrats
or military officers - and in many cases both. It was at this point in history
that Europe's kings began to bestow honors for merit, either real or perceived. This evolution in thinking grew
out of the Industrial Revolution and other developments which created more social mobility than there
had been in earlier centuries. The Kings of the Two Sicilies were no different, and one such
order survives to this day.
The Royal Order of Francis I was founded in 1829 to reward civil merit - as opposed to military accomplishments.
While certain other orders of the Kingdom of the Two
Sicilies were Roman Catholic in nature, characterized by religious rites
of investiture redolent of the Age of Chivalry, this one exemplified the
relatively novel "civil" form of knighthood devoid of such trappings,
being similar in that respect to the kingdom's Royal Order of Merit of Saint
Ferdinand, founded in 1800. Like the Order of Saint Januarius (San Gennaro)
and the Constantinian Order of Saint George, it
remains a dynastic institution of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies, bestowed
regardless of nationality or creed.
The Italian government recognizes a few of the orders of the dynasties that ruled the Italian states before 1860 as a question of
national heritage and history. However, the dynastic heads who award these orders have no special privilege; if they are addressed as Your Highness
it is merely by courtesy. The hereditary, vestigial trappings of these monarchies - titles of nobility and
coats of arms - are not recognized (or protected) though their private use is permitted as a form of freedom of expression.
King Francesco (Francis)
I of the Two Sicilies ruled briefly from 1825 until his death in 1830. As Duke of Calabria (the title of the Heir Apparent) for many years,
Francesco had been an exemplary military officer and often acted as the
official representative of his father, Ferdinando I, frequently visiting
remote regions of the Kingdom. He spent much time in Sicily, where his son, the future Ferdinando II, was born. Francesco's
reign was a pacific one during a particularly
prosperous period of Neapolitan history. Historians generally regard Francesco
I as a fairly competent "caretaker" monarch of what was the wealthiest
and most powerful of the pre-unitary Italian states. The growing prosperity
of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and its increasing industrialization,
was certainly one of the factors motivating the Crown to institute an order
of knighthood to reward those whose efforts had contributed to that same
Scholars sometimes debate the proprietary nature of an order of knighthood:
is it "dynastic" or "national?" In the Kingdom of the
Two Sicilies, no clear distinction was made between orders of knighthood
of the royal dynasty and orders of the state; in most nations this legal
distinction developed most fully after the fall of the Two Sicilies (1861).
The Italian wording of the decrees of foundation makes it clear that these
institutions appertained to the Crown, being administered directly through
ministers of the Royal Household. In that sense, this one might be compared
to Britain's Royal Victorian Order.
The orders of knighthood of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies were inseparable
from the Crown, the de jure rights to which are today vested in the
Head of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies. In this way, the Order of Francis
I continued to exist, and to be awarded, long after the deposition of Francesco's
grandson, Francesco II, in 1861, and is today bestowed
by the Head of the Royal House of Bourbon of the Two Sicilies, a descendant
of the founder. The Grand Masters of the Royal Order of Francis I have been
King Francesco I of the Two Sicilies (1829-1830); his son King Ferdinando
II of the Two Sicilies (1830-1859); his son King Francesco II of the Two
Sicilies (1859-1894); his brother Prince Alfonso, Count of Caserta, later
Duke of Castro (1894-1931); his son Prince Ferdinando Pio, Duke of Castro
(1931-1960); his brother Prince Ranieri, Duke of Castro (1960-1966); his son Prince Ferdinando,
Duke of Castro (1966-2008), and now Carlo, Duke of Castro (shown here).
The decree of foundation, constituting the charter and statute of the
Royal Order of Francis I, was issued as Royal Decree number 2594 on 28 September
1829, published on 3 October of that year. A simultaneous decree, number
2595, established that knights of the Order of Francis I were to enjoy the
same precedence as knights of the Royal Military Order of Saint George of
the Reunion (founded in 1819). Without changing the scope and nature of
the Order, a decree of 1858 added the senior grade of Grand Cordon and,
after knight grand cross, knight commander with star. The grade of knight
second class was established after that of knight. These additional ranks
are not presently conferred. Here, for the record (even though only specialist jurists and
dedicated aficionados will read it), is the decree of foundation.
FRANCESCO I, BY THE GRACE OF GOD KING OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TWO SICILIES,
OF JERUSALEM, etc., DUKE OF PARMA, PIACENZA, CASTRO, etc., HEREDITARY GRAND
PRINCE OF TUSCANY, etc.
It being one of our principal interests to promote by all the means at
our disposal the zeal of our subjects in the exercise of various civil offices
assigned to them by us, and ever desiring to foster advancements in the
sciences and the fine arts, as well as in the various aspects of industry,
agriculture and commerce upon which the continued prosperity of the kingdom
depends; Considering that awards of honour and merit are the most powerful
recognition of such virtuous and praiseworthy activities; Having heard our
Council of State in Ordinary; We have resolved to sanction, and by these
presents do approve the following law.
ARTICLE 1. We hereby establish in our Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
an order of knighthood, expressly intended to recognise civil merit, which
shall bear the name of the ROYAL ORDER OF FRANCIS I.
2. Insofar as this distinguished order of knighthood shall be
accorded the dignity of our illustrious and esteemed Crown, we declare ourself
and our Royal Person the Sovereign Head and Grand Master of the aforementioned
Order, and shall display its decoration and ribbon upon our Royal Person,
as well as suspended from the royal coat of arms; and we desire that the
Supreme Magistry of the said Order shall always be vested in our Royal Crown.
3. The said Order shall have five grades, namely Knight Grand
Cross, Knight Commander, Knight, Conferee of the Medal in Gold, and Conferee
of the Medal in Silver.
4. Exclusively those our subjects who have rendered to the Crown and to the
state the most outstanding and loyal service in the exercise of the highest
offices in the political, diplomatic, or judicial spheres, or in any branch
of administrative or ecclesiastical service, may be decorated with the Grand
5. Those who have rendered extraordinary service in the exercise
of important offices in the political, diplomatic, or judicial spheres,
or in any branch of administrative or ecclesiastical service, may be decorated
with the rank of Knight Commander.
6. Those who have rendered faithful service in the political,
diplomatic or judicial spheres, or in any branch of administrative or ecclesiastical
service, as well as those distinguished in scientific fields, writing and
publishing, fine arts, or as the authors of great works, may be decorated
with the rank of Knight.
7. The Gold Medal may be conferred upon those who have excelled
in the abovementioned fields, having rendered important service at an elementary
8. The Gold Medal may likewise be conferred upon those who have
displayed exceptional merit in the fine arts, and those who have introduced
new industrial methods, or have introduced extraordinary procedures in the
mechanical arts, or have notably improved the fields of agriculture or animal
livestock development, or have promoted industry and commerce.
9. At all events, we reserve to ourselves the right to bestow
the rank of Knight in the extraordinary instance of one of our subjects
having executed a distinguished public project, or reflecting discoveries
in one of the aforementioned fields of study.
10. The Silver Medal may be conferred upon those who, though not
meeting all the requirements expressed in the aforementioned articles 7
and 8, have rendered worthy projects in the fields described.
11. Those in the military who have rendered distinguished civil
service as described in the preceding articles 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 may
also be decorated in various grades of the Order.
12. The dispositions of the present law do not abrogate or diminish
the effect of other sovereign resolutions established to reward merits in
the fine arts or manufacturing; on the contrary, those so rewarded may be
considered for the Gold or Silver Medal of this Order.
13. The rank of Knight Commander or Knight, as well as the Medal
in Gold or Silver, may be bestowed upon worthy individuals according to
the level of their service, in recognition of rare and virtuous merits demonstrated
toward the Throne and the State.
14. Those Knights who continue to render distinguished service
of such importance as to merit further consideration may be rewarded by
us with bestowal of the rank of Knight Commander or Knight Grand Cross.
On the same basis, those who have been decorated with the Gold Medal may
be rewarded with the rank of Knight, and those decorated with the Silver
Medal may be rewarded with the Gold Medal.
15. Our Ministerial Secretaries of State, regardless of their
department, and our Lieutenant General in Sicily, shall advise us, through
our Ministerial Secretary of State for the Royal Household, of the names,
qualities and merits of those our subjects who have rendered services which
should be recognised by decoration with a grade of the Order, including
that of Knight Grand Cross; we shall reserve to ourself the ultimate decision
to recognise merits such as are described by the present law.
16. The Knights Grand Cross shall have the privilege of entry
into the Throne Room, and may attend Court dinners and royal receptions.
They may display the cross of the Order in their places of business and
in their coat of arms.
17. The Knights Commander shall have the privilege of attending
Court dinners and royal receptions.
18. The Knights may attend royal receptions.
19. We reserve to ourself, according to the circumstances, and
according to the nature and importance of services rendered by the individual
decorated with the Order, to assign a pension as we see fit. Such pensions
shall be paid from the Royal Purse until such time as we decide it opportune
to establish a fund for the Order.
20. The insignia of the Order shall be a cross enameled white
between four gold fleurs-de-lis, bearing a centre medallion upon which appears
our cipher F.I., surmounted by the royal crown, encircled by an oak wreath
enameled green, this encircled by a blue band bearing the legend De Rege
optime merito in gold letters, the medallion bearing on the reverse the
inscription Franciscus Ius instituit MDCCCXXIX, encircled by an oak wreath
21. The decoration of Knight Grand Cross is the cross described
herein, surmounted by a gold crown, suspended from the neck by a wide watered
(moire) ribbon of deep red bearing at each edge a narrow blue stripe. The
insignia of Knight Grand Cross also includes a badge to be worn attached
to the left breast of the jacket. The said badge shall consist of the same
cross as the neck decoration but of silver rather than white enamel, displaying
between its arms four fleurs-de-lis, bearing at its centre a medallion upon
which appears our cipher F.I., surmounted by the royal crown, encircled
by an oak wreath enameled green, this encircled by a blue band bearing the
legend De Rege optime merito in gold letters.
22. The decoration of Knight Commander is similar to that described
in Article 20, except that it is slightly smaller, surmounted by a gold
crown, suspended from the neck by a ribbon slightly narrower than that of
the neck decoration of Knight Grand Cross.
23. The decoration of a Knight is similar to that of Knight Commander
but slightly smaller, surmounted by a gold crown, suspended from the lapel
buttonhole of the jacket by a ribbon slightly narrower than that of the
neck decoration of Knight Commander.
24. The Gold and Silver Medals shall bear on the obverse our likeness
in profile encircled by an oak wreath, this encircled by the legend Franciscus
I. Reg. utr. Sic. Hier Rex; bearing on the reverse three fleurs-de-lis,
one in chief and two in base, encircled by an oak wreath encircled by the
legend De Rege optime merito MDCCCXXIX. The Medal is suspended from the
lapel buttonhole by a ribbon slightly narrower than that of the decoration
25. The precise measurements of the decorations and ribbons are
indicated in a design which accompanies the original document of this decree.
26. The conferral of the aforementioned honours and awards shall
be made by effect of royal rescript by our Ministerial Secretary of State
for the Royal Household.
27. Our being desirous that no form of endeavour that could benefit
the public good in some way be ignored, even if its merits have not been
made known to the public, and wishing that such worthy activities which
influence society, however indirectly, be recognised by this Order, we have
determined that the Medal of Civil Merit instituted 17 December 1827 shall
no longer be conferred for services rendered expressly to the benefit of
the King and the State, recognition of such services being addressed instead
by the present law.
28. To that end we authorise the competent administrators to make
known those deserving recognition with the awards mentioned in Article 27,
submitting the relevant proposals and documentation to the office of the
Ministerial Secretary of State for the Royal Household or, in Sicily, to
the office of the Lieutenant General, who will forward these to the former.
The names of those thus honoured, as well as the services for which Our
Royal Person has determined that they be recognised, shall be published
in the official gazette of this Kingdom.
29. The affairs of the Order shall be managed by a Deputation
composed of a President (who shall be a Knight Grand Cross), two Knights
Commander and two Knights, one of whom shall serve as secretary and archivist.
We shall nominate the members of the Deputation on the recommendations of
our Ministerial Secretary of State for the Royal Household. Specific regulations
shall establish the duties and internal functions of the Deputation.
30. As this Deputation shall depend upon the aforementioned Secretary
of the Royal Household, it shall answer directly and exclusively to him.
31. In bestowal of the Order, we shall rely upon the advice of
the Deputation, whose responsibility it shall be to examine and consider
the merits of the worthy services mentioned in Article 27.
32. The expenses of the Delegation, and of certain decorations
which it shall please us to present gratis, shall be drawn from the funds
existing for our royal orders of knighthood under the Royal Secretariat
and the Ministerial Secretary of State for the Royal Household. We desire
and command that this our law signed by Us and ratified by our Counselor
Minister of State and Ministerial Secretary of State of Grace and Justice,
given under our great seal, registered and deposited with the Ministry and
Royal Secretariat of State of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers,
be published in our royal dominions by the competent authorities, who shall
ensure accuracy of publication and timeliness in dissemination. Our Counselor
Minister of State and President of the Council of Ministers is particularly
charged with the duty of its publication.
Given at Naples this 28 day of September 1829.
About the Author: Luigi Mendola has written for various publications.