The Order of the Golden Fleece was established in 1430 by Philip the Good,
Duke of Burgundy in celebration of the properous and wealthy domaines united
in his person that ran from Flanders to Switzerland. Just as with the Danish
Order of the Elephant, it is not known why Phillip chose the golden fleece
as the sign and symbol of his order. Some point out the great wealth he obtained
from the wool trade in Flanders, others to the spread of humanism and classical
literature, and yet others point to the symbol of Jason for the archangel
Gideon. In his youth Philip always longed to go on crusade to the golden East,
and so the choice of Jason journying east to gain the golden reward may be
a rememberance of his desires. We must also remember that Jason chose a select
crew of the greatest of the Greek warriors, and Philip's "Compaignons" of
the Fleece are his crew of dedicated, Christian demi-saints.
The sovereignty of the order, in hereditary possession of the House of Burgundy, was, in default of a male heir, destined for the husband of the heiress of the Duchy until the majority of her son. In 1477, the Grand Mastership passed, therefore, to the House of Habsburg following the marriage of Mary, daughter of Charles the Bold, last Duke of Burgundy, to Archduke (later Emperor) Maximilian of Austria. Following the marriage of Joan (Juana) the Mad of Castille and Aragon with Archduke Phillip of Austria (son of Maximilian and Mary), control of the order passed in 1516 to the Spanish branch ot the House of Habsburg. At that time the Order was enlarged by 10 places for Spanish members, clearly indicating the Habsburgs long-term plans for Spain in their patrimony. The first Spanish investisure came in 1519, the year of Charles' accession. Charles V (I), son of Phillip, willed the Grand Mastership of the order along with the throne of Spain to his son, Phillip II, after having, in 1521, ceded his Austrian possessions to his brother Ferdinand I. This last act was very important years later when both Austria and Spain claimed the order.
In 1700, the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, Charles II, designated as his heir his grand-nephew, Phillip of France, Duke of Anjou, grandson of Louis XV, who became Phillip V (a designation that led to the War of the Spanish Succession). The legitimate Sovereign Heads of the order, Phillip V and Ferdinand VI, united the Golden Fleece to the Crown of Spain, the Duchy of Burgundy existing only in theory, having been annexed by France in the reign of Louis XI.
However, in 1712, the Head of the House of Austria reclaimed the order, together with the Spanish crown, appropriated the treasury of the order, and proclaimed himself Soverign Head. The treasury was later brought to Vienna from Bruges when threatened by French revolutionaries (where it remains to this day). Since 1712, therefore, there have been two Orders of the Golden Fleece, the one being confered by the Austrian Monarch, the other by the Spanish Monarch, and each contesting the legitimacy of the other.
Official language. French (originally "Our noble Burgundian French"). Still used by the Archduke Otto, whereas Spanish is the official language used by King Juan Carlos.
Austrian Order. It has preserved the original statutes: ritual admission with dubbing by sword and solemn oath. Since the end of the monarchy (1918), Emperor Charles I (1887-1922), then his son, Otto von Habsburg, as Sovereign Heads, have continued to confer the order. It was recognized as a Habsburg family order by the Austrian Republic by decree of 8 September, 1953.
Spanish Order. Originally recognized only by France, it became a civil royal order by decrees of 1847 and 1851, and has even been accorded to non-Catholics: Soverigns and Princes of: Russia, Great-Britain (also to the Duke of Wellington), Germany, Japan, Turkey, as well as to non-nobles, such as the President of the French Republic, Gaston Doumergue (a Protestant). After the fall of the Spanish monarchy (1931), and until his death, Alphonso XIII (1886-1941) did not make a single nomination. Since 1951, his son, the Count of Barcelona, head of the Royal House of Spain, confered it on six individuals of royal blood. After the Count renounced his rights, King Juan Carlos named several Spaniards and several foreign soverigns.