Emperor Paul I of Russia,
and his Russian Grand Priory
of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem.

© The Reverend Michael Foster 2001.


"Emperor Paul I of Russia, and his Russian Grand Priory of the Order of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem". This title is not unique as it forms the title of Baron Michael de Taube’s book published in French, at Paris in 1955.

The general story of the Order of St John/Malta until 1798 has been well told time and time again, and there are numerous books, which can provide those details more effectively than can be dealt with in this essay, which seeks to examine the strange story of how an Orthodox Monarch of Russia, became Grand Master to a Catholic Order of Chivalry, and of the subsequent creation of a Russian tradition of that Order.

One main activity of mankind is that of story telling. It has survived from the story or saga told around the fire, to books, newspapers, television. The full story of Emperor Paul I of Russia, and his Russian Grand Priory of the Order of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem has not been told.
What has got in the way, is, a; those who wish to discount the survival (using some form of suppressionist theory) and, b; the many mimic "Russian Orders" originating in the USA from a group led by a Charles Pichel 1953 onwards, who supplied a pre-history to his group, dating the beginnings to 1908 and crediting the beginnings to Russian Hereditary Commanders.
It cannot be emphased enough, the confusion and damage such groups have contributed to the question of the survival of the Russian tradition.
There is more than enough material on the Internet to discount Pichel's theory. The story will be related more fully in a book. In that book those issues which get in the way are examined. It will also touch upon the main organisation, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and its allies, plus the mimic "Orders" ending with a plea, for a re-assessment of the historical place of the Russian Order. This essay seeks modestly to provide some insights to the picture thus far assessed.

The story begins in 1796, when in that period the French revolution was being exported, and the Order was in its dying days in Malta, and almost begging to be put out of its misery. There was moral laxity and with the depletion of the French Commanderies a severe loss of income. Moreover with the accommodation by Christian nations of Turkey - the Order had lost its purpose. If the Order had been undisturbed by Napoleon, it would have probably come to an end sooner than later - overturned by the Maltese and thence replaced by a administration perhaps under a World power - which is what happened, except in our historical reality the "Russian interlude" of the Order extended its life as it was able to keep the tradition alive over a short but critical period 1798-1803. Even after this Russian money continued to support the Order until the fiscal separation of the Russian Priories with the Roman Catholic Headquarters by Imperial Ukase 1810 and 1811.

The interest of Empress Catherine the Great in the Knights of Malta, at a guess was limited to their possible pragmatic contribution in defeating Turkey. The Knights however had only offered assistance with naval training, and when Catherine took her share in Poland she was not in a hurry to allow the revenues from the Polish Priory to be restored to the Order.

Having only just got a flow of money from Poland, after decades of legal action, this cash life-line had dried up. The delegation from the Knights to Russia was getting nowhere, but fortunately for the Knights, Catherine obligingly died in 1796 bringing to the throne an admirer of the Order who was fascinated with a romantic notion of chivalry. Paul I took immediate action, and over and above the lost revenues of the Polish Priory of six Commanderies, he created ten Commanderies with generous income for the Order. The Knights could not believe their good fortune, in an otherwise sea of troubles. A Convention in 1797, was agreed establishing the Order in Russia. To thank the Emperor for this generosity he was made a Protector of the Order, lifting his relationship to the level enjoyed by the Austrian-Germanic Emperor Francis II.

The common popularist and un-researched view of Emperor Paul I, is that he was mad, that he had a mistress, that his fascination with, and subsequent adoption of the Order of St John and his induction into the office of Grand Master, are seen in this context as indulging further his delusions, and that these eccentricities and his unpredictability led to his assassination.
This view of Emperor Paul I was originally generated by his assassins in justification of their actions. Many fall headlong into the trap in accepting this propaganda uncritically, ignoring new research which has been available for the last three decades.
A recent reappraisal of Paul I has demonstrated his character as someone of high morals, who followed his conscience. Dismissed as unlikely is Paul's infidelity in having a mistress, and the involvement with the Order of St John is understood against a background of his idealising their history as a lesson in high chivalric ideals, he wished the Russian Nobility would adopt. Paul saw in the Russian Nobles an element of degeneracy, and introducing the high ideals of the Knights of Malta, was Paul's method of reform. Paul suffered a lonely and strict upbringing (Ragsdale). He may have been eccentric, he may have been neurotic, but he was not mentally unbalanced. What also we have to appreciate is that in 1796 Paul had to manage the whole of the Russian Empire.

Paul was fascinated by a romantic view of the Order of St John. He idealised them as a model for chivalric behaviour - a model for his nobility to follow. Eagerly Paul negotiated a second Treaty with the Order. 10 Commanderies were but a modest example, and restricted to Catholics. The Russian Emperor sought an Orthodox branch of what was a Catholic Order. Under a Treaty negotiated between the Emperor and the Order, the institution for Orthodox Nobles was to consist of 84 Commanderies dwarfing the Catholic Grand Priory.

The language employed by the Treaty was ingenious. The Treaty drawn up and signed on the 1st June 1798 used the term "a new Foundation" of the Order of Malta....for the Nobility of the Greek Religion". A Report of the Order concluded that the Treaty was entirely in keeping with the Order's Constitution. The central portion sums up the legerdemain;

"The Plan will clearly reveal to this Sacred Council, that our Constitution remains completely unaltered, even more so its Fundamental Maxims, and its perfect neutrality towards all Christian Sovereigns and States, our ancient system and Regime remains unchanged, and it can actually be truthfully said that this new foundation is in substance an aggregation of Crosses of Devotion, of which there are examples for the whole period that these have been awarded to Persons of Cults other than Ours, and in fact the Venerable Ambassador having communicated his Plan to Monsignor Archbishop of Thebes, His Holiness' Ambassador to His Imperial Majesty, who confirmed on receipt that it was compatible with our principles." (Report to the Sacred Council, Order of St John of Jerusalem in Malta, concerning the Treaty to establish Orthodox Commanderies. Source: National Library, Malta. Arch 2196. Pages 77-85, third paragraph.)

To the Order, the Orthodox Commanderies were "an aggregate of Crosses of Devotion". To Paul, his "new foundation" would be a Russian St John Order, or a Grand Priory.
As the "new foundation" was to be attached to the Catholic Grand Priory of Russia, the Protestant, Lutheran Bailiwick of Brandenburg may well have provided the model. From 1319 the Bailiwick, part of the Grand Priory of Germany, operated autonomously and elected their own Master, initially unilaterally and from 1382 with the agreement of the Grand Prior. From 1538, until 1577 the Bailiwick in stages became Protestant. Bound by the Treaty of Heimbach, the Bailiwick was tolerated by the Order and remained loosely connected with the Grand Priory of Germany.

The Treaty Paul sought was agreed between the Emperor of Russia and Order on 1st June 1798 but awaited ratification. Before the Treaty could be ratified, on the 11th June 1798, Malta had surrendered to Napoleon Bonaparte.

Paul was eager to show his assistance, and offered shelter to the Knights. Already the Jesuit Society also sheltering in Russia had begun the provision of a cultural "expat" society for Europeans/Latin Christians. The Hospitallers enlarged this group. It became home from home - French Theatre, Italian Opera, and good company – records the Knight O'Hara (O'Hara).

In the eyes of the Knights in Russia, Paul was the only person to provide a credible future for the Order – even the Pope had become a captive of Napoleon. On the 7th November (27th October OS) the Knights in Russia, voted to depose Hompesch and elected Paul as their Grand Master.

Paul I officially accepted this on the 24th November (13th OS). On the 10th December (29th November OS) - the anniversary of the Convention which began the Order, Paul I was installed as the Grand Master. With Hompesch still as Grand Master, having been given shelter in Trieste by Emperor Francis II, the Order was in schism.
Immediately after Emperor Paul I's formal Investiture, at that time oblivious to any hint of Papal displeasure, and encouraged by the Papal Nuncio Lorenzo de Litta (brother of Count de Litta), the Emperor, now Grand Master of the Order, resurrected a modified plan of creating Commanderies based on the agreement already reached on the 1st June between the Order and Paul I.
The Proclamation of the Emperor inaugurating the Commanderies continued the same ambiguous language of a "new foundation" to describe the Commanderies collectively. The new foundation was instituted by "imperial authority" and Article XXVI of the proclamation stated;

"Lastly, we confirm in the most solemn manner, in our name and in that of our successors for ever, all and each of the articles of the present foundation; the said articles to have their full effect, and to be inviolably executed. Concluded at St Petersburg, the 29th of November, in the year of our Lord 1798, and in the third of our reign."

What had been created was a Russian Order, by Russian imperial authority. It still remains a fact, that this Imperial Proclamation was never abrogated by any successive Emperor.
The new foundation was now of 98 Commanderies dwarfing everything else in the Order. It was open to all nobles, not just Orthodox, or Russian. Paul's fascination of a romantic view of the Order of St John, idealised as a model for chivalric behaviour, was a model for his nobility to follow, but more than this, the new institution was to become (if history had allowed) an enlarged pan European society to uphold the old regime. A society to defend religion and monarchy. de Taube puts the matter more poetically;

"Emperor Paul did not there aspire to anything else than to muster under the glorious flag of the Order of Malta all the lively forces, material and moral, military and religious, of the old Europe, to defend everywhere the social order and the Christian civilisation against the spirit of decomposition born of the French revolution" (translated from the French page 9).

Within the "new institution" Paul also allowed the creation of Family Commanderies, or more accurately known in Russia as Ancestral Commanderies, enlarging further the bounds of membership. Within this vision of a glorious Order and making it wider still, Paul declared on January 19th (January 8th OS) that all those without any noble titles could also join the Order of St. John of Jerusalem as Knights. As such members were not supported from Commandery income, there was no limit to the membership.

At the same time as the new institution was being created, Paul had restored the Catholic Church in Russia. It is suspected that this latter fact was the cause of silence ensuing from the Papal Office, on the issue of the irregularities which had been embarked upon – a non-Catholic, married man, head of a Catholic monastic Order.

It was four months later that the silence was broken, and on the 16th March 1799 the Papal Secretary of State, Monsignor Odescalchi, dispatched a Pro-Memoria to the Papal Nuncio Lorenzo de Litta (brother of Count de Litta – confidant of Emperor Paul I, and Lieutenant Grand-Master). This document raised the whole question of the deposition of Hompesch, and the election of Paul I. On three points Paul could not be accepted as Grand Master; (a) that Hompesch was still alive and was the Grand Master; (b) that the whole Order needed to be consulted, not just those in Russia; and (c) that the Emperor was not a Roman Catholic.

Monsignor de Litta's task was to use careful diplomacy to bring these facts to the attention of Paul. Russian intelligence however brought the full contents of the dispatch to Paul's attention before Monsignor de Litta could employ any diplomacy. The message that reached the Emperor was clear; that the Pope did not approve of his election as Grand Master. On the 27th March the Pope was carried off across the Alps incommunicado into France at Valence where he died on the 29th August. The forced pace in moving the Pope eluded the Russian Troops who sought to rescue the pope under Marshall Suvorov and Grand Duke Constantine Pavovitch. Paul was furious at the news of his rejection as Grand Master by the Papal Authorities, and dismissed Count de Litta as Lieutenant Grand Master, replacing him with General Count Nicholas Soltikoff. de Litta was banished to his wife's estate in the country. Later on the 9th May, his brother, Monsignor de Litta was expelled from Russia.

Paul then took steps to deal with the criticisms of the Pro-Memoria. The Priories in Spain and Bravaria had not accepted Paul as Grand Master. Bohemia in Austria was sceptical with the additional fact that Jospeph II had allowed Hompesch to set up a temporary exilic Convent in Austria.

Paul exerted pressure on Francis II an ally of Russia, and Hompesch abdicated on the 6th July 1799 leaving Paul I the undisputed Grand Master, and healing the schism. Following this, the relics held by Hompesch (including the Hand of St John the Baptist) were transferred to the Chapel of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.
The new Elector of Bavaria Maximilian-Joseph, just after his accession had secularised the Bavarian Commanderies to get hold of the income. Paul threatened to lay Bavaria to waste, with 50,000 men under General Korsakov, and brought about a reversal of policy, and the restored Bavarian Priory sent a representative to pay homage to the new Grand Master. Spain was under the influence of the French, and remained unsupportive.
A circular issued 31st December (20th OS) noted that the priories, commanderies and Langues who were free to decide, had approved of Paul's election as Grand Master. As far as matter now rested, the Seat and Capital of the Order was St Petersburg.

The issue of being married, was not an impediment. Dispensations had been gained for many Knights, and a precedent had been set in the example of the illegitimate son of the Charles Theodore Elector of Bavaria, who had been made Grand Prior of Bavaria, and after marriage continued to occupy the post.
Paul considered himself to be enough of a "Catholic at heart" to remove the final remaining obstacle.

Paul now set about strengthening his "Russian Grand Priory"  - which was now the name of the "new institiuion" and was part of a new Russian Langue, which with the three other remaining Langues (French, German and Italian) formed the Order. The Russian Grand Priory was further enlarged with 20 additional Commanderies. The Russian Nobles had created a total of 21 Ancestral Commanderies, bringing about 139 Commanderies all producing incomes for both the incumbents and the Order. In addition on the 21st July (OS) 1799, Paul issued a Ukase governing the Ancestral Commanderies, not only providing hereditary rights to the Commanderies but to the heirs of those Commanderies! i.e. they were not governed by instruments of the Roman Catholic Order, but were subject to a Russian understanding, which made it clear, the Commanders possessed hereditary rights.

Yet despite this show of confidence by Paul and his protestations of being a "Catholic at heart" he knew that not being a Roman catholic was the remaining obstacle for his full acceptance.
The position was clearly stated by de Taube, Emperor Paul, was under international law, Sovereign of the Order of Malta, elected as such, but Emperor "Paul as a non-Catholic, could not be recognised as the legitimate Grand-Master, from the point of view of the canon law of the Roman Church." (de Taube pages 29-).

On the international front, the nature of things had changed. By the 10th November 1799, Napoleon had taken over the rule of France as First Consul, consolidating his position by the 12th December as First Consul Premier. The French Revolution had given birth to an autocrat! Fr Gabriel Gruber, the renowned Jesuit, a supporter of Napoleon who was destined to become the General of the restored Society in 1802, had become a close confidant of Paul, and discussions about the possibility of the Russian Orthodox Church becoming part of the Roman Church was discussed in earnest. Dialogue with Napoleon had been established and an offer of restoring Malta to the Order, under Emperor-Grand Master Paul I, was made by Napoleon. What vexed Paul, was before the offer could be acted upon, the British had successfully gained Malta on 5th September 1800 (Hardman page 398). By mid 1800, having forsaken the alliance against France late 1799, Paul had revived the "Armed Neutrality League of the Northern Powers" which had lain dormant since 1780, and which resisted the right of search claimed by England.

So dominant was the passion for the Order with Paul, a twin goal became the uppermost influence in his foreign policy; to regain Malta, and without impediment to be recognised fully as Grand Master. On the 28th February 1801, showing his anger against England, Paul I signed a secret treaty with France. Plans were also embarked upon to invade British India.
However the second goal seem far away, as on the 9th March, the Papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Consalvi, informed clearly the Papal chargé d'affaires at St-Petersburg Benvenutti that, for the Roman-Curia, the Emperor, as a non-Catholic was not a legitimate Grand Master of Malta. de Taube argues that to short cut the constant obstacle to the recognition of his Grand-Mastership by the Holy See, Paul secretly became a Roman Catholic.

His conversion according to de Taube "consisted according to all likelihood in a simple profession of faith, correspondingly in front the Priest-Rector of the Catholic parish of St-Petersburg with communion during a mass of the Roman-Catholic rite, (evidently) in the chapel of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem" (de Taube page 30). However, within a few days, Paul I was murdered 13 March (OS) 24 March (NS) 1801. Whilst definite proof eludes us, de Taube’s thesis  of Paul's conversion to Roman Catholicisms is within keeping with all that Paul was involved in during that time, especially the conversations with Fr Gruber.

As to why Paul was murdered, of which the main reason given is the anger of the anglophiles, there are some dozens of contributing reasons.
Two additional issues flagged up in my research is that the Orthodox Church Hierarchy had much to fear with Paul’s negotiations, and were very annoyed at the influence allowed to the Jesuits, and that Paul had favoured the Order of St John against the domestic Orders of Chivalry. For example he let the two Orders his mother had founded (St George and St Vladimir) lie dormant with no new admissions and lumped together the rest of the Orders (St Andrew, St Catherine, St Alexander Nevsky, the Holstein Order of St Anne) as a single Russian Order, where each Order was a mere appellation or class of the Order.
What we can conclude is that such devotion to an idealised view of the Order of St John/Malta dominated Paul’s thinking to the extent it blinded him from a more cautious approach in his political management and thus his undoing.

Alexander I, undertook Protectorship of the Order, and from 1801 to 1810, left the Order alone, with the Russian Grand Priory very much remaining as a Domestic Order of Chivalry. He arranged for an election of a Grand Master, but the eventual choice was left to Pope Pius VII.
The Russian's acknowledged the Papal choice of Tommasi appointed early 1803, but who died on the 13th June 1805. His successors election, was rejected by the Pope, but Caracciolo found support from Russia, brining about a further schism.

In 1809, following on from the Treaty of Tilsit with France, the Russian Grand Priory acknowledged the Roman Catholic Grand Magistracy, at that time led by a Lieutenant Grand Master, a stance which has continued and which separates it from the many mimic "Russian Orders".

The Order in Russia 1810 onwards.
Technically, the Russian Grand Priory was founded by Emperor Paul I, when he was de facto Grand Master of the Order of St John. It was founded by Imperial Proclamation, and subject to Imperial Ukases in its government. It thus could never be a Canonical part of a Roman Catholic Order. It had a fiscal relationship with the Order, and came under the authority of the Order's de-facto Grand Master.
In 1810 Alexander I removed the property and income from the ordinary Commanderies, and disallowed any monies to be paid to the Orders Roman Catholic breaking the fiscal relationship. However the Ukase makes its clear that the Order in Russia Continued! Article 5 allows the expenses of the Order to be met from State income.
In 1811 by Ukase, the property of the Family Commanderies, which had been under question for 18 months was made the property of the Commanders themselves - via a one-off payment, or as under the rules of 1799 by instalments. The State income from this process was to be used to pay the expenses of the domestic Order!
What the Ukase of 1810 did, in addition to procuring much needed cash for the war chest, was to break the fiscal relationship with the Roman Catholic Headquarters. Article 2 of the Ukase, forbade any further Responses to the Headquarters.

In 1817 there was a ministerial decision issued not to allow a Russian Army Officer and his brothers to wear the Decoration awarded by the Roman Catholic Order - the decision states that the awarding Priory "was not in existence any longer in Russia". This Ukase has been subject to classic misinformation begun in a book by Panov and Zamyslovsky called "A Brief Account of the Russian Orders and their Statutes" published in St Petersburg in 1891. The book provided a reworking of the original words of 1817 to read ;
"After the death of the Commanders of the Order of St John, their heirs will not have the right to be Commanders of the Order and will not be allowed to wear the badges and decorations of the Order any longer because the latter does not exist any more in the Russian Empire" (pages 28-33).

This is a gross misreading of the original texts, intruding words, which did not exist in the originals and ignores other evidence available to a thorough author. Sadly authors critical to the Russian tradition have fallen headlong into repeating the errors of the book - easily corrected by reading the original Ukases!
The awards in question were being issued by the Roman Catholic Order, using the rules of its Russian Priory. The discouragement for the awards would have prevented further sums of money going to the Roman Catholic Headquarters.

In contrats to that Decision of 1817 are the existence of records of permissions by the Emperors to allow Orthodox Christians who were not members of the Roman Catholic Order to wear the Decoration, dating 1867, 1889, 1912. At a guess, there will be other Examples. Also anyone examining collections of Russian Portraits painted in the period post 1817 (i.e. after the alleged statement that no-one could wear the decoration - and not just Roman Catholic members!) will be surprised at the large number of nobles wearing the Order's decoration.

What must be remembered, is that under Alexander I, the Russian Johannine Order, has suffered a loss of official esteem. In the Court Almanacs, the Order was listed after the Domestic Orders. Once the Commanders of the non Hereditary Commanderies had died out, those involved in the tradition were very few, but existing. It is also known that in addition to the Hereditary Commanders there were Hereditary Knights. There is evidence of ordinary membership. Permission to wear the Order, was granted as late as 1912, to a Knight, who was not a Commander.

Evidence of the tradition in Russia, in the late 1800s/early 1900s was wider than its membership. For example no less than 42 Military Units adopted some form of Maltese Cross on their badges in the period 1897-1916.

However, such a surviving tradition is bound to leave evidence;

• The listing of Russian members in the Court Almanacs right up until 1914! With a listing in 1914 specifically using the term "Hereditary Commander".
• In 1907, Grand Duke Nicolas Mikhailovitch published a book on Russian Portraits in which he includes a biography of Prince Tufiakine - created from the State Documents. It is reported that "Prince Tufiakine emigrated abroad, where he passed the rest of his life. In 1841, he was stripped of his functions of Actual Chamberlain, and of his dignities of Master of the Court and of Commander of the Order of Malta. He spent his last years in Paris, where he died on 19 February 1845."
One: In terms of the Order of Malta if it is a Roman Catholic Order member then the Russian State cannot strip him of that dignity.
Two: if the Order in Russian was suppressed in 1810/1811/1817 - then the Russian State cannot strip him of that dignity - it has already been done! We are forced to conclude that a legal responsibility was continued by the State for the Russian Order in 1841.
• Grand Duke Nicolas Mikhailovitch also provides biographies on a number of the other original Family Commanders in his books. In his work we can note that the phrase "Hereditary Commander" is used.
• The Orthodox Church was involved in the Order. The Metropolitan Bishops for St. Petersburg were members of the Russian Grand Priory. Ambroise, died 1818, and Michael 1818 - 1823. Other clergy were members. Feasts of the Order were celebrated within Orthodoxy, and were found in the official Service books up to the Revolution in 1917.

The Russian Grand Priory in exile.
In exile following the Revolution of 1917 Russian nobles continued to give witness to the tradition. In 1928 12 Russian exiles, Hereditary Commanders (every one who could at that time be traced, except a thirteenth who joined in 1929) met in Paris to proclaim the continuation of the Russian Grand Priory, including the member listed in the Court Almanac of 1914!
Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovitch took sufficient interest to lend his name to the enterprise, as Protector and Grand Prior, but this interest cannot have been that too deep, as it did not feature in his autobiography.

In 1929 Russian born Baron Michael de Taube became the legal advisor to the Paris group of Hereditary Commanders. He had been Professor of Law at St. Petersburg University before the Revolution, a member of the Council of the Empire, a Russian Senator and first advisor to the Foreign Office under Emperor Nicholas II.
Initially de Taube had accepted the view of the 1891 book, that the Order had been brought to an end, but he held that legally this did not abrogate the rights of the Hereditary Commanders. He undertook negotiations with Rome to have the Russian Grand Priory recognised, but these ended in 1932 in failure, (a) because of the alleged suppression and (b) the members were not Roman Catholics. de Taube was at a distinct disadvantage, as to some measure he shared the suppression theory.

Six years passed with little activity amongst the Paris Group, but in 1938 a Danish group contacted Grand Duke Cyril, with the aim of joining the Russian Grand Priory. Emperor Cyril passed on their request to Grand Duke Andrew who had taken over the responsibility for the Russian Grand Priory from Grand Duke Alexander after his death in 1933. From this a Danish Priory was created in 1939. This spurred on the Paris Group, only to be interrupted by the War in a matter of months. de Taube managed to get access to the actual Ukases of 1810, 1811, and 1817. He also had gained access to the Court Almanacs in that period. He noted that books on Orders of Chivalry for the mid 1800s gave testimony to the survival of the Russian Priories. Based on the actual Ukases, he was able to pronounce as a legal expert – that the Russian tradition had never legally been suppressed. His first draft of notes to this effect was duplicated for the Danes in 1950, and a copy is to be found in the public Record Office in Copenhagen (Public Record Office Copenhagen, Denmark. Priorate Dacia af St. Johannes af Jerusalems Orden Arkiv nr: 10266. Jvf. RA. Priv. ark. j. litra P nr. 1006-1.)

In the early 1950s, de Taube began to loose his sight, but continued to support the Russian Hereditary Commanders. In 1953 a Constitution was drawn up for the group, allowing any member of the Imperial family to be Protector to the Russian Grand Priory. By 1955 the group had gained an Incorporation in France for the Group under the title of "Russian Grand Priory, Order of St John of Jerusalem". de Taube’s final contribution was the publication of his work in 1955, but we read these words in his introduction;
"Victim of his blindness, that came to overwhelm him before the final revision of the present work, the author is anxious to state that he not only had to give up correcting the proofs, but also the use of a part of his correspondence and of his manuscript files, relative to the Order of Malta — they had become unreadable for him."

Grand Duke Andrew died in 1956, and Baron Michael de Taube who had become blind in 1955 was unable to be active. This left the Russian Grand Priory virtually leaderless. General Georges de Rticheff secretary to the Russian Nobility Association in Paris had become the General Secretary to the Paris Group, who gained Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovitch as the Protector (circa 1962). In 1961 Grand Duke Vladimir had been made a Grand Cross of Sovereign Military Order of Malta. He viewed the Russian group as only being a "private association" hence the emphasis in the 1960s on the "Union of Hereditary Commanders". However the full title was "Union of Descendants of Hereditary Commanders and Knights of Russian Grand Priory of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem". This enabled Grand Duke Vladimir to hold his two loyalties in tension (SMOM and the Russian Priory/Union).

The Paris Group of 1928, from the outset claimed to be a continuation of the Russian Grand Priory, which included an Association of Hereditary Commanders, - later (in the 1960s) to be known as the "Union of Descendants of Hereditary Commanders and Knights of the Russian Grand Priory". It was not a private Association whose claims de Taube had inflated to be a Grand Priory - rather there was by some members in the 1960s a deflation of claims, influenced by the stance of Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovitch 1962 onwards. Despite this shift the legal title in France was the "Russian Grand Priory of St John of Jerusalem".

On the 9th December 1953, the Hereditary Commanders held a reunion in Paris and drew up a Constitution for the Russian Grand Priory in exile. In February 1955, the exilic Grand Priory based in Paris was registered as a Foreign Association under French Law as "The Russian Grand Priory of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem".

The Priory of Dacia had been declared to be;

"under the name of The Grand Priory of the North, in all respects be the legal successor of the Grand Priory of Russia." Letter to the Dacia Priory from Baron Michael de Taube 8th June 1939.

This legal recognition of Dacia, was also echoed in the Constitution of 1953;

"The admission to the fold of Russian Grand Priory or taking under its protection of similar foreign associations as well as the recognition of their legal existence as autonomous branches of Russian Grand Priory, subjecting them to follow the same regulations as those that manage the election new members of the Priory, and under such or other special conditions that can be put on them."

After the Grand Prior, Grand Duke Andrei died in 1956, the leadership of the Grand Priory was taken over by Hereditary Commander Nicholas Tchirikoff, the Senior Member of the Council of Hereditary Commanders, who was more in the style of de Taube, until his death in 1974. The Secretary of the Paris Group, General Georges Serguéevitch Rticheff died in 1975, leaving the group leaderless. Never-the less the membership continued, but without any effective direction, leaving the Priory of Dacia as the most effective part.

Self-styled "Russian" Orders.

The Shickshinny Convent: In the mid 1950s, a man by the name of Charles Louis Thourot-Pichel obtained the minutes and records of a masonic type "Order" previously part of the Black Association of the Orange Lodges of the United Kingdom (spread to Canada - then to the USA), which had existed in the late 1880s/early 1900s. In 1956 he registered "The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta", but provided a better pedigree by copying the Russian tradition, and dated its beginnings to the USA - New York in 1908, alleging that the American group had been founded by Russian Hereditary Commanders. One fact which tells against Pichel's claims, is that nothing was heard of the American group until the late 1950s, and then only really gaining publicity in the early 1960s.
From this "Order" numerous other "Orders" have emerged, all mythically claiming the Russian tradition. These "Orders" have divided and sub divided into a complex web, often creating and breaking alliances. Some of these groups manage to gain the patronage of nobles or Royalty, such as Colonel Paul de Granier de Cassagnac who gained the exiled King Peter II of Yugoslavia, who after a short period broke with Cassagnac to form his own "Order of St John". However this Royal patronage cannot make good the lack of historical pedigree. There was one genuine Russian Hereditary Commander who joined the King's group believing it to be via Pichel's myths a genuine part of the Russian Grand Priory. Another who had joined claimed to be an Hereditary Commander, when in fact such a claim belonged to a distant Cousin. However their membership was short lived, and likewise the brief membership of the genuine commander cannot make good a lack of a genuine pedigree to the historic Order of St John.

The King Peter Order - The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller - OSJ: The "King Peter Order" today is more correctly described as a group of at least seven "Orders", all claiming the mantle of the King Peter Order. The apologists of these "Orders" make much of the connection between the Russian and Serbian/Yugoslavian Royal Houses, and that the relics of the historic Order were housed in Belgrade.
The King Peter Order, was led by King Peter II, from 1965 until his death in 1970. During this period it was a group of Knights , who could claim to be genuine Knights due to the King's own fons honorum as a monarch, but with the loss of the King this no longer obtained. The orphaned "Order" fragmented following the King's death in 1970, and the King's son and successor distanced himself, with the Serbian/Yugoslavian Crown refusing the fragmented "Order" any recognition - this remains a fact today - despite a few junior Royals of the Karageorgevitch House supporting one faction or another!

The Bobrinskoy Order - The Sovereign Order of Orthodox Knights Hospitaller Saint John of Jerusalem:
The Sovereign Order of Orthodox Knights Hospitaller Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the "Bobrinskoy Order" was founded in 1977, and appears to be an offshoot of the ex-King Peter Order as led by Prince Sergei Troubetzkoy. The initial group of founding members were nearly all members of an 'Order' which had emerged out of the the King Peter Order, following the King's death in 1970. The demise of the leadership of the historic Russian Hereditary Commanders' Union in 1975, allowed many groups to exploit the gap, among them this offshoot of the King Peter Order. Because the "Bobrinskoy Order" had, and has in membership genuine Russian Nobles, a few of whom belonged to the Russian Hereditary Commanders families (but who were not incontrovertibly entitled to the claim of being the Commander, with the exception of one member, Prince Serge Belosselsky-Belozersky), this allowed the group to be accepted as the succeeding group to the Paris Group, especially given the inflated claims as to being the legitimate continuation of the Paris Group.

Prince Belosselsky-Belozersky's father had been a founding member of the Russian Hereditary Commanders' Union in 1928, and died in 1951. His son had never been a member of the Paris Group, but had joined the King Peter Order in USA in the late 1960s to become for a short period its Lieutenant Grand Master in 1968. The main leader of the New York based Group, Count Nicholas Bobrinskoy, had an older brother who was an Hereditary Commander, and who was a member of the Paris Group, but his brother had died in 1971. Count Nicholas only became involved in the world of the St John Orders in 1972, when he joined the Brancovan Order (an offshoot of the King Peter Order). He then became involved with one of the continuations of the King Peter Order as led by Prince Sergei Troubetzkoy, who claimed to be an Hereditary Commander, but who was only a distant cousin of the Prince Troubetzkoy who was entitled to be the Commander. Count Nicholas also claimed to have inherited the title of Hereditary Commander from his deceased brother. As his brother had three sons, it appears that this claim was incorrect.

One positive outcome of these "Orders" is that they provide a witness to the fact that there is a Russian tradition.

All to often, as is recorded of Knight Anthony O’Hara, that the devotion to the Hospital has been;

"more inspired by the social distinction it conferred on its very select membership, by the favours and privileges it offered, than by such considerations as had guided the pious merchants of Amalfi" O’Hara, page 40.

Being a Knight in, or being a member of any Order of St John of Jerusalem, should indicate that a person has joined a Christian charitable society, and wished to identify with a chivalric Order with a long history, and that they have made a pledge to serve the aims of the Order in defending the Christian Faith and helping the less fortunate in life.

Whatever the arguments are concerning the exact status of the tradition – for example the genuine Russian tradition is still not accepted by the Roman Catholic Order, we can note that the present day Order in all it's various guises and imitations is a world away from the historic Order, which occupied Malta. Even though such words as "military" and "sovereign" are employed for some organisations claiming an identity with the historic Order, the meanings or reality of those words are a world away from what they meant, say at the close of the sixteenth century!

It has also more recently been recognised, that not only should the exilic Russian Grand Priory be better organised and better equipped to serve those in need, but to present a proper record of its history, a better apologetic is needed, of which this essay forms a part.

Select Bibliography.

Cavaliero, Roderick. The Last of the Crusaders: The Knights of St. John and Malta in the Eighteenth Century. Hollis & Carter, London 1960.
Goodall. John A. Reflections upon the "History of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem (by Colonel Thourot Pichel), The Heraldry Society, Banbury, 1961.
Hardman, William, of Valetta, A history of Malta during the period of the French and British occupations, 1798-1815, by the late William Hardman. Ed. with an introduction and notes by J. Holland Rose. Longmans, Green, and Co., London, New York, 1909.
Mikhailovitch, Grand Duke Nicolas, Portraits Russes, St. Petersburg; Tome I, Fascicle 1, Fascicle 2, Fascicle 3, Fascicle 4, 1905, Tome II, Fascicle 1, Fascicle 2, Fascicle 3, Fascicle 4, 1906, Tome III, Fascicle 1, Fascicle 2, Fascicle 3, Fascicle 4, 1907, Tome IV Fascicle 1, Fascicle 2, Fascicle 3, Fascicle 4, 1908, Tome V Fascicle 1, Fascicle 2, Fascicle 3, Fascicle 4, 1909.
O'Hara, Valentine. Anthony O'Hara, Knight of Malta, Memoir of a Russian Diehard, Richards, London 1938. Peyrefitte, Roger. Knights of Malta. Translated from the French by Edward Hyams. Secker & Warburg, London, 1960.
Ragsdale, Hugh, ed. Paul I: a reassessment of his life and reign. University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 1979.
Ryan, Frederick W. "The House of the Temple", A Study of Malta and its Knights in the French Revolution. Burns, Oates and Washbourne Limited, London, 1930.
Taube, Professor Baron Michel de. L'Empereur Paul I de Russie, Grand Maître de l'Ordre de Malte, et son Grand Prieuré Russe, Paris 1955.
Vella OP, Professor Andrew P, Malta and the Czars 1697-1802, Royal University Press, Malta, 1972.

Also a vast wealth of material can be found through http://www.knights-of-st-john.co.uk


Notes on the Author:

The Reverend Dr Michael Foster.
Fr Michael Foster is the Rector of the Chase Benefice, a group of 10 Rural parishes in the South of England.
He read theology at Oxford 1975 – 1979
In 1978 he gained a Philip Usher Scholarship awarded by a Committee chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury to study the effects of Secularism on the Greek Orthodox Church in England.
He has completed PhD, which was submitted via the accreditation programme of the International Institute of Integrative Medicine, Texas.
He has been described by one Church paper as "a specialist on apologetics" (Church of England Newspaper 4th April 1996 – Front page).
He is a Registered Welfare Officer having run a hostel for the homeless in the East End of London 1987-1989.
He is the founder of a Gloucestershire Charity successfully working with older people and their carers, which won both County and National awards – The Lydbrook Welfare Project.
Fr Michael began his research on the Order in 1997.


Corrected 14th June 2005

Go back to the referring Web Site
Order of St John Research Page
Russian Grand Priory Home Page
 
History Menu