The Russian Empire Period.
The Order's Ecumenicalism
The analysis of the Russian period of the Order of Saint John is the key to understanding the historical and legal situation of the Order after the year 1797. The OSJ has, as its base, a unitary and territorial statute, and then it's divided in several branches, who are disputing their right of legitimacy until today. Therefore, it's important to study the subject deeply.
The treaty signed on January 15th of 1797 by the Order of Saint John and the Russian Empire constitutes an international treaty between two countries; that document, sealed by the Grand Master Rohan and Emperor Paul I, established the Order in perpetuity under the sovereignty and protection of the Russian Tsars. The article 1 of the treaty established the following:
"His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, in the right of its functions of Autocrat, and in sign of benevolence to the distinguished Order of the Knights of Malta, accredits of public utility, ratifies and confirm on his own name, as well as on behalf of his heirs, the establishment of said Order in perpetuity in the extension of his Empire, expressed this on the most solemn way"
The first consequence of this historic treaty, which validity was accepted by the Russian monarchy until 1917, is the inherited feature of protection performed over the Order, emphasized by the phrase "as well on behalf of his heirs", it belongs since 1797 to the Romanov dynasty in direct descendants of Tsar Paul I. This feature is of great significance from the legal point of view, because the legitimate Order risen from the Malta Island's desertion in 1798 has to be compulsory headed by a member of the Imperial Russian Family, descendant from the last ruling Tsar in 1917, the protector of the Order.
Obeying a wish of Ecumenicalism, Paul I immediately created two Great Priorates: one specifically Catholic, and the second one Greek - Orthodox. On the other hand, the Tsar instituted hereditary Commanderies or family Commanderies amongst a dozen of important Russian noble families. Throughout the years, and until 1916 (year of the last creation of a Hereditary Commanderies by emperor Nicholas II), there where over 60 family Commanderies. We'll talk again about this.
In his excellent work entitled "Emperor Paul I of Russia, Grand Master of the Order Of Malta", edited by Slatkine, Paris - Geneva, 1982, Baron Michel de Taube, renowned international jurist and specialist of the Order of Malta, wrote:
"The whole subject of the Order of Malta in Russia is sustained by the lay international law precept that, in the beginning, there wasn't any intervention by the Holy Church; therefore, it was a pact signed between two sovereign countries of the time: the Emperor of Russia and the Grand Master of the mentioned Order, in that time resident in the Isle of Malta. To thank the Tsar his generosity towards the Order, greatly shown in this treaty, the Grand Master took the initiative of proclaiming Paul I the Protector of the Order of Saint John in 1797 and, using his sovereign power, the Tsar became the Protector of the Order, (...) this situation modified incredibly in the following year, when a great number of Knights of the Order belonging to different priorates and languages, outraged by the surrender of Malta to Napoleon Bonaparte accused the Grand Master Ferdinand de Hompesch of treason, went to Saint Petersburg and, in following the suggestion of the Papal Nuncio Jules Litta , these Knights stripped the Grand Master of this honours, and elected in his place Emperor Paul I" .
It's important to point out the almost unanimous international recognition of the new Grand Master, initiated by the most important Eurpean nobles: the Emperor of the Holy Roman - Germanic Empire and Apostolic King of Hungary;they dedicated themselves to the recognition of the new ruler of the Order of Malta, and they even ordered confiscation from Hompesch of the Holy Historic Relics of the Order, kept by the degraded Grand Master who was by then a refugee in Austria. They were sent to Saint Petersburg, where they were received devoutly as an historical and exterior symbol of the almost universal legitimacy of the new Grand Master Paul I of Russia.
On October 7th of 1798, all the Knights of the Order, gathered in an Extraordinary Council, elected and proclaimed as 70th Grand Master of the Order of Saint John the Highest Protector, Emperor Paul I of Russia. In this act, confirmed by the Baron of Taube as a personal union, centralized in the figure of the Tsar:
- The leadership of an International Order.
- The ruling of the Russian Empire.
- The Greek - Orthodox Pontificate.
In this act was fulfilled the ancient Augustinian dream of the Templars. The yearning of Christian unity on the service of the same ideals was reached in July 21st 1799, through an Ukaz or Imperial Edict which established in the Order two branches or great different priorates: The Roman - Catholic, and the Greek - Orthodox. This last one, destined for the non - catholic members, was at the time formed by 98 regular Commanderies and 20 family or hereditary Commanderies. The new statutes of the Order, written by the Senescence of Litta (brother of the Papal Nuncio), imitated the statutes of the German branch separated of the Order, and limited the vows to Obedience and Charity. At the end of 1799, after the promulgation of the reforms by Paul I, the two great Priorates added 648 members, of which 70% were Russians, 25% French, and 5% German, Italians and Irish; it would be important to considerate separately the Hereditary Commanders, who represented 54 families in 1916 in the great Russian Priorate. Paul I based its reform in three important institutions, which lasted until 1917:
- The Ecumenical joint of the Orthodox and Catholic branches;
- The Corps of Pages, Military and Aristocratic Seminar;
- The Regiment of the Knights - Guards of the Ruler.
The fact that these institutions had been of Russian inspiration doesn't make them more undignified, or lower its value. Since 1812, and until 1917, these institutions graduated 4,000 pages with the title of General Staff Official, or with a diplomatic destination; experts of the nine moral and chivalrous rules, considered as norms on the Knights of Saint John, these gentleman wore a very sober uniform, with the white cross of Malta on the right hand side. In this seminar, as well in the institution analyzed in the following paragraphs, studied two great grandfathers, two grandfathers and the father of the last Grand Master, Prince Alexis.
The Regiment of the Knights - Guards had assigned the task of protecting the Grand Master. All of them were noble, including the low rank soldiers.
Since its foundation until 1917, the Order had at its disposal a Seal, where the Imperial coat of arms of Russia digured, with the Maltese cross and a trophy, which contained two standards of Malta, and all of it surrounded by the Inscription Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem".
The Catania Matter and the Secession of the Order
On March 23rd 1801, a palace conspiracy ended the life of Emperor Paul I, Sovereign and Head of the Order. His successor was his eldest son, Tsar Alexander I, who had the hereditary position of Highest Protector, in concordance with the treaty of 1797. According to the new rules of the Order, the Tsar named in the position of Lieutenant of Grand Master Count Saltikov, and the Tsar commanded him the task of preparing the election of the new head of the Order.
Meanwhile, the Pope Pius VI had died under captivity by the French, and his successor, Pope Pius VII, had very different ideas regarding the Order of Malta: the new Pope, who didn't have a good relationship with Alexander I, decided to dispense the Pontifical Bull of Pius VI on June 10th 1799 "Pastoralium Nobis", in which it was officially recognized that the Order of Saint John was not part of the Holy Church's jurisdiction. The Pope demanded that the Order's headquarters moved from Saint Petersburg to Rome, in order to be the Pope himself the one electing the Grand Master; the General Assembly of the Order refused to take this suggestion due to the conflict between this proposition and the rules of the Order. Then, Pope Pius VII created, by his own initiative, on September 16th 1801, a new branch of the Order, and the Grand Master of this Order was selected by the Pope, something that was against every historical precept of the Order of Saint John. The embryo of this new Order, completely submitted to the Holy Church and the Pope's power till today, was formed by the Sicilian Knights of a Priorate located in Catania. This branch, purely Roman and Pontifical, is known as "Sovereign Military Order of Malta SMOM.". Alexander I broke all ties with this new Order, reinforced in its decision by the Count Saltikov, bearing the position of Lieutenant of Grand Master. The breaking - off was done.
In 1802 it also separated from the Order of the Spanish Knights; the German Knights separated themselves officially on May 23rd 1812, and formed the Senescalate of Brandenburg or Order of the Knights of Saint John.
The Pope's intromission in the Order's matters was never considerate by the European Governments because the famous Amiens treaty, about the future restoration of the Order, recognized as the only and legitimate the Order with its headquarters in Saint Petersburg, under the protection of the Tsar. Even today there are some protestant independent branches in Holland, Sweden and Denmark; the most famous of the protestant branches is the one located in England, known as "The Venerable Order of Saint John in the British Realm"
One of the proofs of the Order's legitimate survival in Russia it's given by the "BURKE'S PEERAGE" (English Nobility yearbook), in which, in its edition on 1858, says:
"THE ORDER OF SAINT JOHN IS ESTABLISH IN RUSSIA, AND ITS TWO PRIORATES (THE CATHOLIC AND THE ORTHODOX) HAVE KEPT THE OLD CONSTITUTION AND RULES UNDER THE PROTECTION OF THE EMPEROR, ITS LEADER".
The Creation of the Great Priorate in the United States.
After the Revolution of 1905, which staggered the structure of the Russian Empire and, in order to prevent future and tragic situations, the Emperor Nicholas II, highest hereditary Protector of the Order, decided to move the headquarters of the Order outside of Russia, and entrusted this task to his cousin and brother in law, Grand Duke Alexander, Great Prior of Russia, who had to gather a General Assembly of the Order. This meeting took place in New York, on January 10th 1908, under the chairmanship of Grand Duke Alexander. To this international meeting, representing the whole Order, eighty knights were in attendance:Grand Duke Alexander and the Prior of America, William Lamb, American citizen descendant of the General Ivan Lamb; Twenty-five direct heirs or family of Hereditary Commanderies, of which 2 were French; 25 Hereditary Commanders; twenty-three family members who had some relative in the original priorates, of which six were French. Including the simple Knights and hereditary Commanders, in this meeting 63 were Russians, 11 French, 4 German, 1 British, 1 American, and several other coming from Central Europe.
In the meeting it was decided to establish the official headquarters of the Order of Saint John in the United States and reform the statutes. In 1913, with the Tsar's approval, his brother in law, the Great Duke Alexander, was chosen Grand Master of the Order, and until his death in 1933. It's important to remember that all the Russian Emperors (Paul I, Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III, and Nicholas II), were considered the heads of the Order of Malta, naming Knights and Commanders, until 1916. Each year, on Saint John's day, the relics of the Order were taken ceremoniously from Gatchina Castle, where they were kept, to the Order's chapel in the Pages' Corps Palace attended by all the diplomatic corps.
The Order of Saint John outside Russia
The Revolution of 1917, and the terrible political and social commotion that destroyed the pillars of the ancient and traditional monarchical Europe in 1918, was a great blow for the Order, as well as the French Revolution in 1789. However, the Knights of the Ecumenical Order, scattered all over the world, set out again to rebuild its old institution.
The murder of Emperor Nicholas II in 1918, and the mysterious disappearance of the Empress and the Great Duchesses, of which nothing was known, had the consequence that the Order didn't have a legitimate leader, and without any idea of who could succeed the Tsar. In 1928, the Knights decided to ask Grand Duke Alexander of Russia, Dean of the Imperial Family, and in that time refugee in Paris, to continue ruling the Order of Malta. In the same year, King Alphonse XIII, to whom the Tsar had delegated the management of the institutions and Russian assets outside of Russia at the beginning of the war of 1914, wrote to Grand Duke Alexander to entrust him the management of the Ecumenical Order. On the other hand, the Doweger Empress Maria Feodorovna, widow of Alexander III and mother of Nicholas II, who was a refugee in Denmark, had taken from Russia the famous relics of the Order, and sent them to King Alexander of Yugoslavia, to be kept in custody in the chapel of the Royal Palace of Belgrade. The relics were kept there until 1940, when they vanished.
The Order rearranged itself under two pillars: the first one was the Great Priorate of the United States; and the second one was the Hereditary Commanders´ Association, with its headquarter in Paris. Until 1933, the two branches were kept under the regency of Grand Duke Alexander; and after his death, and facing the impossibility of recognizing any legal successor of the last Tsar, the Order had several Great Priors or Lieutenants, which were the following:
- The Grand Duke Andrew of Russia; 1933 - 1956.
- The Count Von Zeppelin; 1956 - 1960.
- The Colonel de Cassagnac; 1960 - 1962.
The Great Priorate of the United States developed quite quickly, and its philanthropic activities found its reward when, on February 3rd 1961, an observer of the Ecumenical Order of Saint John was invited to join the American Association of the United Nations.
Despite his qualities, the Colonel de Cassagnac faced the rejection of the majority of the Knights, which didn't recognize his authority. Indeed, the International Commission of the Knighthood Orders and the Constitution of the Ecumenical Order, stipulates that no Order will be valid or legitimate without the protection of a Head of a Royal Family or member of the same. The own statutes of the Order, revised in 1952, stipulates that the protector of the Order has to me a member of the Imperial Family of Russia.
Due to the insistence of the Knights, and facing the legal regulations reinforced by a sentence of the Italian Republic in 1955, the Colonel de Cassagnac had to resign. The 1955 sentence says that "the head of a Royal House, even if it had lost its territory, keeps the fons honorum, which means the sovereign faculty of granting titles and honours".
Because of the absence of legitimate and direct heir of the Emperor Nicholas II, the Knights of the Order asked to the King Peter II of Yugoslavia to accept for life the protection of the Order, being a descendant of Paul I through his grandmother, Queen Maria of Rumania, granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II. King Peter II of Yugoslavia granted to the Order a Letter and a new Constitution in June 21st 1965. The Royal Letter is nowadays the legal base of the legitimacy of the Ecumenical Order of Malta.
Gathering in his person the honours of Highest Protector and Grand Master, King Peter II developed quite intensively the Order, and conferred to the Order amplitude never known before. Until his death in 1970, new Priorates and autonomous Commanderies were created throughout the world, and keeping excellent relations with the greater protestant branches of the Order: The Order of Saint John in England, the Order of Saint John in the Netherlands, as well as the Order of Saint John in Denmark.
Again, and during years, the problem of the legitimacy of the Order was questioned and, under the initiative of the Poland Priorate, an Investigatory Commission in the United States and England was created, to determine who was the indisputable successor of the last Grand Master in 1917.
Prince Alexis d'Anjou-Dolgoruky
After an interregnum of more than 10 years, and under the unanimous petition of the Great Latin Priorates of Saint John, the United States, England, Malta, and Poland in the exile (which always had a great importance in the history of the Order), the Grand International Council, gathered in an extraordinary assembly, officially proclaimed in 1981, as Sovereign Hereditary Protector and Grand Master of the Order H.R.H the Prince Alexis de Anjou-Dolgoruky, Duke of Durazzo.
The Prince was born in the Villa Ukraine in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, on May 4th 1948. Was the only child of the late Prince Basilio de Anjou, head of the Royal House of Naples, who was recognized by a Royal Decree of His Majesty King Alphonse XIII of Spain on August 31st 1911. The Royal House of Anjou is related to every Royal House in Europe, having a great importance in the history of the Order of Saint John, and its Kings were protectors of the Sicilian and Neapolitan Priorates of the Order, as well as one Hereditary Commanderies in Poland and Russia.
Prince Alexis was the grandson of Prince Nicholas Dolgoruky of Ukraine, who was briefly Volodar of the Subcarpatic Ukraine during the month of March in 1939, throne that he had to leave due to the annexation of this country by the Hungarians, allies of Germany. Prince Nicholas was married to the Grand Duchess Marie Nicolaievna Romanov.
Throughout his life, Prince Alexis promoted the Order its charitable work ;he was the author of several books on his family's history and the Order of Saint John, and gave numerous conferences throughout the world. After his mother's death, the Prince decided on August 14th 1994 to name his right - hand man, D. Emilio Lobéra Martínez, Baron of Lobéra, as the Regent of his Royal Houses and Orders. Prince Alexis died in Madrid on January 27th 1995.