Happy Birthday to King Felipe VI of Spain, who turns 51 today! The Head of State of a Kingdom with a long and distinguished history, the King is the Sovereign and Grand Master of a plethora of illustrious Honours, some of which we are featuring today!
But first an explanation of Orders in general- Almost every country, monarchy or not, has some form of an honours system that awards chivalry or merit, and is often used in diplomatic exchange of gifts. Each individual order has it’s own history, and in countries with multiple orders, has it’s own rank. The Head of State is usually the sovereign of the order, and has varied authority on deciding their recipients. National Orders are those which must be awarded with consultation from the government, and are official gifts, while the recipients of Dynastic Orders are at the discretion of the Sovereign, and many non-reigning families still award their Dynastic Orders, with no government authority.
Orders of their own countries are awarded to royals at birth, upon reaching the age of majority, upon marriage into the royal family, or after years of dedicated service to the country. Orders of foreign countries are usually awarded during State Visits, and are given according to rank, with the sovereigns receiving the higher order, the heirs the lower order, and the other members of the royal family participating in the visit receiving yet a lower one. However, these rules vary from country to country, and also depend on individual Sovereigns.
Orders are accompanied by a varied amount of insignia, which can include a Sash with a badge worn at the hip, a Star, ornate Collars, Badges to be worn on the shoulders, and smaller Pins, and the awarding of specific items differentiate the different grades in each individual order, and/or depend on the orders themselves. The wearing of the insignia depends on the occasion. The ornate collars of an Order are only worn very rarely at White Tie events or on Uniforms. The Sash and Star are more common and seen at White Tie State Banquets. The smaller badges may be worn when you are wearing the insignia of other orders, or at a Black Tie occasion where Orders are worn. The small pins are worn at formal occasions in the daytime, when you want to honour the occasion without making it too formal. Now that we have an explanation, lets learn about the Spanish Royal Orders.
The Order of the Golden Fleece was founded in 1430 by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy as a way to acknowledge his wedding to Infanta Isabella of Portugal. As a result of the Spanish War of Succession, there are currently two sections of the order: the Spanish branch and the Austrian branch (which we discussed earlier this month). The current Grand Master of the Spanish branch is King Felipe VI. The badge is usually worn with a necklet, but it can also be worn with the order’s Collar. The only Spanish royals to receive the Golden Fleece are the monarch and the heir to the throne, though King Juan Carlos I retained it after his abdication. Foreign monarchs usually receive the order during State Visits, and it has been awarded for former monarchs.
The Order’s full name is the Royal and Distinguished Spanish Order of Charles III and it was founded by King Charles III of Spain via a royal decree in September 1771 and its motto is Virtue and Merit. The Order, which is a national order as opposed to the Golden Fleece that is a dynastic order, is the highest ranking civilian order in Spain and is divided into five grades: Grand Cross with Collar, Grand Cross, Commander by Number, Commander and Cross. The sash for Grand Crosses with Collar is blue with white stripes near the edges while the sash for Grand Crosses is white with blue stripes near each edge. The star may vary according to the holder’s rank but it usually has eight points and image of the Immaculate Conception in the center and the badge is similar to the star. Members of the Spanish are usually made Grand Crosses of the Order, while the monarch and the heir are Grand Crosses with Collar and Queen Sofía became the first woman to receive the collar of the order. Foreign monarchs and their consorts usually receive this order during State Visits.
The Royal Order of Noble Ladies of Queen Maria Luisa was created by King Charles IV of Spain in April 1792 following a request from his consort, Queen Maria Luisa, so she could herself reward noblewomen, and as such, the order was reserved only for women and Queen Maria Luisa was its Grand Mistress. Nevertheless, today the order is considered dormant as it has not been awarded to anyone since 1962 when Queen Sofía received it on the occasion of her marriage to Juan Carlos of Spain. There are two other living members of the order: Infantas Pilar and Margarita of Spain. Queen Letizia is de facto Grand Mistress of the Order but has never worn it.
The Order of Isabella the Catholic was created by King Ferdinand VII of Spain as a way to honor his ancestor, Queen Isabela I. This order has had many different regulations through the years and the number of grades has also changed sometimes. Today the two highest ranking grades are Grand Cross with Collar and Grand Cross. The sash is yellow with white stripes near the edges for recipients of the Collar and white with yellow stripes for Grand Crosses. The eight-pointed golden-enamelled star has “To Proven Loyalty” and “For Isabella the Catholic” written in its center and badge is similar to the star. King Juan Carlos’ two daughters are recipients of the Grand Cross of the Order. Today this order is under the responsibility of the Spanish Foreign Ministry and, as such, is awarded during State Visits to royals who don’t qualify to the more prestigious Order of Charles III. Royal recipients include Princess Benedikte of Denmark, Princess Astrid of Norway, Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and Professor Pieter van Vollenhoven and many others.
The Royal and Military Order of Saint Hermenegild is a military distinction founded by King Ferdinand VII of Spain at the end of the Spanish War of Independence in 1814 to serve as the highest military distinction the King would be able to reward to those soldiers who excelled and showed tremendous bravery. King Felipe, and sometimes King Juan Carlos, can often be seen wearing this order at military occasions such as the Pascua Millitar ceremony, held each year in January.
The Order of Military Merit and the Order of Naval Merit were founded by Queen Isabella II of Spain, the former in 1864 and the latter in 1866. The Order of Aeronautical Merit was created by fascist dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1945. All three orders have since lost the status of orders of merit but are still in use. King Felipe, and previously King Juan Carlos, wears the order when attending events related to a specific branch of the military.