December 12th, 1408 – The Order of the Dragon

Today-In-History

On December 12th, 1408, following the Battle of Dobor against the Christian heretics called Bogomils in which Sigismund, who was King of Hungary (r. 1387–1437) at the time but later became Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1433–1437), slaughtered two hundred Bosnian noblemen, many of whom had fought the Turks, Sigismund and his queen, Barbara of Celje, founded the league known today as the Order of the Dragon.

ceremonial_sword_of_the_order_of_the_dragon_1433_by_keltix2006-d7wxbir

Ceremonial sword of the Order, c. 1433, displayed at the Neue Burg, Vienna.

The Order of the Dragon’s statutes, written in Latin, call it a society (societas) whose members carry the signum draconis, but assign no name to it. Contemporary records, however, refer to the order by a variety of similar if unofficial names, such as Gesellschaft mit dem Trakchen, Divisa seu Societas Draconica, Societas Draconica seu Draconistarum, and Fraternitas Draconum. 

Insignia_Hungary_Order_Ordo_Draconum_History.svgIt was to some extent modeled after the earlier Hungarian monarchical order, the Order of St. George (Societas militae Sancti Georgii), founded by King Carol Robert of Anjou in 1318. The order adopted St. George as its patron saint, whose legendary defeat of a dragon was used as a symbol for the military and religious ethos of the order.

The statute of the Order, which was expanded by Bishop Eberhard of Nagyvárad, chancellor of Sigismund’s court, survives only in a copy made in 1707. An edition was published in 1841. The prologue to these statutes of 1408 reports that the society was created:

in company with the prelates, barons, and magnates of our kingdom, whom we invite to participate with us in this party, by reason of the sign and effigy of our pure inclination and intention to crush the pernicious deeds of the same perfidious Enemy, and of the followers of the ancient Dragon, and (as one would expect) of the pagan knights, schismatics, and other nations of the Orthodox faith, and those envious of the Cross of Christ, and of our kingdoms, and of his holy and saving religion of faith, under the banner of the triumphant Cross of Christ…

Described in general terms, the “enemy” was any anti-Christian political power or group, including schismatic or actively heretical fellow countrymen or Europeans (such as the putatively “Christian” Bosnian Bogomil force alluded to above, immediately before the Order’s foundation); but the primary representatives of “the perfidious Enemy” remained the Ottoman Turks, who continued to be a problem for Sigismund’s successors. 

Dragon_order_insigniaThe Order’s outward focus on foreign threats was also aimed at achieving a level of domestic cohesion. The statutes go on to describe the order’s symbols of the ouroboros and the red cross, which were worn by its members and gave the order its corporate identity (see below). They also list the mutual obligations of the king and his nobles. The members were to swear loyalty to the king, queen, and their future sons and to protect the royal interests. Boulton argues that “the Society of the Dragon was clearly intended to serve […] as the institutional embodiment of the royal faction its founder had created”. In return for their services, the nobles could expect to enjoy royal protection, honors, and offices.

DragonOrder_badgeThe creation of the order was an instance within a larger fashion of founding chivalric orders during the 14th and early 15th centuries, not infrequently dedicated to organizing “crusades“, especially after the disaster of the battle of Nicopolis (1396). Sigismund’s order was particularly inspired from the Order of Saint George of 1326. Another influential model may have been the Sicilian Order of the Ship, founded in 1381. .

The Order flourished during the first half of the 15th century, primarily in Germany and Italy. After Sigismund’s death in 1437, its importance declined in Western Europe, but after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, it continued to play a role in Hungary and Croatia, which bore the brunt of the Ottoman incursions.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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