17 March 2014

The Order of St. Patrick

The badge of the Order of St. Patrick [1]
Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone! To mark the feast day, please go outside and cast all the snakes out of your backyard, and then come back here, where we'll take a look at the order of chivalry dedicated to the Irish saint -- an order that was once used by the British to reward political loyalty and is today all but non-existent. (I'll wait here.)

Are you back yet? Okay, let's get to it!

King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover
wearing the mantle, collar, badge,
and star of the Order of St. Patrick.
He was made a member of the order
in 1821 [2]
In 1783, King George III founded the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick. It was the highest order of chivalry in Ireland, and one of the triumvirate of national chivalric orders in the UK -- the English equivalent is the Order of the Garter, and the Scottish the Order of the Thistle. (And, as usual, none for poor Wales.)  In precedence, it ranked below the Garter and the Thistle. The order was instituted as a means of encouraging loyalty to the crown in Ireland.

Members of the order had to be men, and more specifically, men who were "knights and gentleman." (Women were never made members of the order. Only two women -- Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II -- were ever included, and that's because they were both sovereigns.) Those who received it were recognized for their contributions to the Irish parliament. The only members ever appointed to the order already held noble or royal titles, generally Anglo-Irish peers and members of the royal family. Originally, the order was limited to the sovereign (the British monarch) and fifteen knights; George IV upped the number to twenty-one knights, and William IV formally capped the order at twenty-two. The order was conferred "at the monarch's pleasure" -- there were no "automatic" members. And unlike the Order of the Garter, royal princes counted toward the total number of members.

The first member of the order was, however, a royal prince. The fifteen original knights of St. Patrick were the Duke of Kent (father of Queen Victoria), the Duke of Leinster, the Earl of Clanricarde, the Earl of Westmeath, the Earl of Inchiquin, the Earl of Drogheda, the Earl of Tyrone, the Earl of Shannon, the Earl of Clanbrassil, the Earl of Mornington, the Earl of Arran, the Earl of Courtown, the Earl of Charlemont, the Earl of Bective, and the Earl of Ely [3]. All knights of the order were entitled to append the letters "KP" after their names and titles. They were also entitled to be called "Sir," but as every member had a higher title, no one ever used that honorific.

Members of the order wore mantles of sky-blue satin. The insignia of the order consisted of an eight-pointed star [4], a broad riband (also in sky-blue), and a badge depicting a shamrock bearing crowns on each of its three leaves, encircled by the order's motto, "Quis separabit?" [5] (Latin for "Who shall separate us?") and "1783" in Roman numerals. The badge was usually worn suspended from the riband, but on certain occasions [6], it was worn suspended from a bejeweled collar. The collar consisted of Irish harps and Tudor roses interspersed with knots.

An image of a star of the Order of St. Patrick [7]
For royal jewel lovers like us, one specific version of the insignia of the Order of St. Patrick is of special interest. In 1830, William IV had a new set of insignia made for the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who was also the Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick. The star was made of 394 diamonds taken from the jewelry that had belonged to the king's late mother, Queen Charlotte, and from one of the badges of the Order of the Bath that had belonged to his late father, King George III. The insignia pieces also included rubies and emeralds, and they were significant enough that they were sometimes called the "Irish crown jewels."

To give you an idea of how significant diamonds from Charlotte's collection really are, allmost no jewelry exists in the British collection today that dates back to Queen Charlotte. This is, in part, because of a suit filed by the Hanoverian royal family in the 1830s; in 1857, they were granted a number of pieces of Charlotte's jewelry, including her small nuptial crown. (One of the only pieces of jewelry in the current Windsor collection that includes diamonds that once belonged to Queen Charlotte is Queen Adelaide's fringe necklace/tiara, sometimes called the "Hanoverian Fringe." Hugh Roberts speculates that the Hanoverians simply overlooked it.) Unfortunately, the St. Patrick insignia that included some of her diamonds has been MIA for more than a century. The insignia was stolen from Dublin Castle in 1907, just before Edward VII was to make a visit to Ireland, and it has never been recovered. What happened to the jewels remains a mystery to this day.

As you might have expected, the Order of St. Patrick has been dormant since roughly 1922, at the time when Ireland was partitioned and the Free State was granted independence. But there actually were knights of the order created after that date. Three British princes, all sons of George V, were made members in the ensuing years: the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) in 1927, the Duke of Gloucester in 1934, and the Duke of York (later George VI) in 1936. Bertie, the last knight to be created, was invested on St. Patrick's Day in 1936. He was the only person added to the order by his elder brother during his brief reign, and the last person ever added to the roster by any monarch, period.

The last living member of the order was Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who died in 1974. (Well, that's the last person invested as a member -- as the order has never actually been abolished, it still has one member today: its sovereign, Elizabeth II). Every now and then, the idea of reviving the order is bandied about by members of the Irish government, although the obstacles to restarting a British order of chivalry in Ireland today is fraught with some obvious concerns. With the weight of a tragic and complicated colonial past hanging over it, I think it's likely that this is one of so many chivalric orders that is a permanent part of history.

1. Cropped version of an image available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
2. Cropped version of an image available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
3. For much more on the original creation of the order, see this book on the order's statutes, ca. 1852.
4. Here's an example of a St. Patrick star that was sold recently at Christie's; it was originally owned by the 1st Marquess of Clanricarde and ended up in the collection of the 6th Earl Harewood, husband of Princess Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood. It sold for more than $14,000.
5. "Quis separabit?" is also the motto of numerous military regiments, including the Irish Guards (who are being visited today by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). And, trivia fact for the Americans among you, it's also the motto on the seal of the state of South Carolina (which seems sort of ironic, no?).
6. These occasions were the order's "collar days." Some of them were regular (Anglican) religious festivals: four days in the Easter Season, Pentecost, New Year's Day, Epiphany, Candlemas, the Feast of the Annunciation, All Saints' Day, and Christmas Day. And then there were a number of saints' feast days: St. Patrick, of course, plus St. Matthias, St. David, St. George, St. Mark, Sts. Philip and James, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. James, St. Bartholomew, St. Matthew, St. Michael the Archangel, St. Luke, Sts. Simon and Jude, St. Andrew, and St. Thomas. And, finally, there were days related to UK and royal holidays: the birthdays of the King and Queen, the monarch's accession day, the day of the monarchy's restoration in 1660, and -- intriguingly -- Guy Fawkes Day.
7. Cropped version of an image available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.