I am going to make an exception to my general principle to keep the blogging in Swedish and thus directed to the Nordic countries, because the question at hand is interesting for most dynastic orders. The examples below are Swedish because I know them by heart, but there are other examples and the phenomena are general. Also: this article is trying to say something on a meta-level or community level, and not to focus on individuals. Where are the dynastic orders as an entity? Where do they want to go? What concerns might be raised?
When it comes to the state orders of merit, there is a link between the classes of the orders and the degree of responsibility/authority/seniority/impact on society. Today, it is perhaps not that evident, but it is there when you look at how orders are granted (for instance, here, here and here). And it should be there, because that is the whole idea with multiple classes of orders, different-looking insignia and crosses of merit and medals of merit on the lower end of the scale. By seeing och hearing what kind of order or medal a person has received, you understand what kind of impact he or she has had in society.
To more easily understand these concepts, it is helpful to link the classes of state orders of merit to military rank, because it is fairly clear how large responsibility/authority/seniority/impact on society those have in terms of budget, staff, etc.
- Sash (collar) and star – roughly given to well-merited Generals and their civilian counterparts of equal impact.
- Neck order and star – roughly given to well-merited Colonels and their civilian counterparts of equal impact.
- Neck order – roughly given to well-merited Lieutenant-Colonels and their civilian counterparts of equal impact.
- Chest order higher – roughly given to well-merited Majors and their civilian counterparts of equal impact.
- Chest order lower – roughly given to well-merited Captains and their civilian counterparts of equal impact.
This is not fixed, it varies between countries and times, but an approximation to give you an idea. This is more or less how the state order works on an international level.
An indication of this is the system of rank in Sweden. The rank system was abolished in 1909 but some of the mechanisms still lingers informally. While it existed, receiving an order higher than the rank of your professional office meant that you from that time might hold the rank of your class of the order.
- Commanders Grand Cross of the Swedish Orders of the Polar Star and Vasa was appended to the 7th class, ”Rank of Major-General”,
- Commanders (1st Class) (neck order and star) of the Swedish Royal Orders + Knights of the Order of Charles XIII was was by custom appended to the 18th class,”Rank Between Colonel and Lieutenant-Colonel”,
- Commanders (2nd Class) (neck order) of the Swedish Royal Orders was by custom appended to the 21st class, ”Rank of Lieutenant-Colonel”.
To this one might add that the Order of the Sword did not advance military in rank (leading to the conclusion that bestowals never exceeded the rank already held through the officer’s commission), and that Knights and Member of the Order of Seraphim was so high held that they were ”above rank”.
In 1987 (2nd ed. 1998), Fredrik Löwenhielm states in his book ”Svenska ordnar och medaljer” that according to the Swedish Royal Court’s recommendation on placing at formal events,
- Knights and Members of the Order of the Seraphim is placed after the members of the Swedish Government, which is before Generals and civilian counterparts.
- Commanders Grand Cross of the Order of Vasa are placed with Lieutenant-Generals and civilian counterparts (reflecting the particular status of that Grand Cross),
- Commanders Grand Cross of the Sword and of the Polar Star are placed with Major-Generals and civilian counterparts,
- Commanders (1st Class) (neck order and star) of the Swedish Royal Orders + Knights of the Order of Charles XIII are placed after Brigadiers together with f.i. Ambassadors and Members of Parliament, and
- Commanders (2nd Class) (neck order) of the Swedish Royal Orders are placed after Colonels and civilian counterparts.
And what the civilian counterparts are – again, check the now obsolete order of ranks in Sweden.
If you look at the Sovereign Military and Hospital Order of Malta and the Papal Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Order of Malta starts at 3rd class, neck order level: in order to become a member, you have to be prominent in society – the Order of Malta follows to some extent the example set by the state orders of merit. It is then interesting to note that the Order of the Holy Sepulchre has a starting point of a 4th class chest order (35 mm) but worn at 3rd class as a neck order. From this we can deduce that the merit needed to enter the Order of the Holy Sepulchre is slightly different than the Order of Malta, meaning that more people can partake in chivalry through the Order of the Holy Sepulchre which might not yet be admitted into the Order of Malta. This might also be seen in the membership numbers: there are fewer Knights of Malta than Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. I do not say that either strategy is good or bad: it is just interesting to note the difference and the consequence.
Going from an independent and a semi-independant order, there are several dynastic orders that similarly start with a 3rd class neck decoration. This is somewhat of a challenge, because it is imperative to then have candidates that have a responsibility/authority/seniority/impact on society that corresponds with the granted class of the order and does not deviate too much from it. Because the granted class of the order is the value that the order and, ultimately, the Royal or Imperial House ultimately attributed to these persons. If there is a too big discrepancy between the responsibility/authority/seniority/impact on society and the granted class of the order, it will fall on the reputation of that order and of that house. An acquaintance of mine recounted that he as an Army Major socialized with members of an esteemed order and was not asked to join, but not long following his promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel he was invited to join at base level which for this order was 2nd class, neck order and star. So these things matter.
Some dynastic orders allow for receiving a higher class of the order directly. This, likewise, calls for very close scrutiny on behalf of the order. It is evident that some Royal Houses offer these ”shortcuts” with not enough care on whether or not candidates ”fill the suit” of wearing the highest classes. For this reason, it is evident that there are dynastic orders whose 1st class are – in social terms – worth less than the 5th class of others.
My hat goes off for (among others) the Royal House of Italy which has five-class orders but has as a main principle of starting at the base (last sentence): with this mechanism it is hard to accidentally promote someone in the orders classes above their responsibility/authority/seniority/impact on society outside the order. This means that the stock of members are generally of higher responsibility/authority/seniority/impact on society that their actual class in the orders reveals. For the status of the order(s) and the status of the Royal House, this is excellent.
In state orders, there is often a ratio between the classes, not seldom somewhere in the range of 1:4:16:64 or 1:2:4:8 between the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th classes. This means that for every Grand Cross there might about about 3 Grand Officers, 9 Commanders, 27 Officers and 81 Knights, although the 5th and lowest class may be more allowing in numbers. Serious dynastic orders are wise enough to emulate the relations between classes. Or put in another way, if a dynastic order of a four classes wishes to grant a Grand Cross, then first it should grant about 27 Knights, 9 Commanders and 3 Grand Officers, because this is the value of one (1) Grand Cross measured in internal organizational structure.
What is the image or feeling set with the state order classes? As higher rank is not to be expected any time soon, the greatest honour is to receive a state order at all. This stands in contrast to some of the dynastic orders, where promotion to the next step or reaching the highest class is the goal for the individual because it is made possible in how the order is managed – rather than being happy with your current class and work to fill that class with a solid content. Should a dynastic order come closer to 1:1:1:1:1, things have gotten out of hand.
In relation to this, a few words on the classes with stars, and in particular the 1st class, Grand Cross. I fear that there are too many, if you look at the dynastic orders community as a whole. From what I have picked up, there has been a movement among the state order chanceries in recent years to award Grand Crosses more sparingly. The dynastic orders are apparently moving in the opposite direction, and this risks undermining the legitimacy of the dynastic orders as a whole.
There are reasons for this development. One factor is expansion. When the dynastic orders admit knights of a new country, sooner or later there will be need for a local organisation: this means more hard work and dedication for some of the knights who hold offices and consequently, the more the dynastic orders spread to new countries, the more persons will also be promoted in class. But perhaps a slower rate should be used, and careful use of direct bestowal of the classes using a star.
Another might be that in an operative monarchy, the persons closest to the monarch as head of state are the most esteemed and excellent persons in the country – both in the Royal Court, and in the Government, who have received the highest classes of the highest orders of the monarchy and perhaps a few foreign orders as well. It comes with the territory. In a republic, the President enjoys the same position as a monarch in a monarchy: he is surrounded by persons of the highest classes of the highest orders, domestic and foreign. But it is not always so for former reigning Royal Houses. This poses a dilemma.
Of course the closest associates of a former ruling Royal House should hold high classes of high orders (as it was when regnant), but if there are too many with high dynastic orders that also do not hold high official domestic or foreign state orders, or do not have a position in society with sufficient responsibility/authority/seniority/impact on society, or in other respects are very highly merited, then there is a risk that the Royal House and perhaps the monarchial movement is enclosed in its own bubble, an alternate world, trapped in its own splendour. On a meta-level there has to be some correspondence with state and dynastic orders bestowed on people, or with responsibility/authority/seniority/impact on society and dynastic orders – and perhaps more so than the case is today. Otherwise, this undermines the legacy and the legitimacy of the monarchial houses and their orders. So, here as well might be room for consideration.
There is a risk that some genuine former ruling Royal Houses and their orders place themselves en parwith illegitimate orders of make-believe Royal Houses. With some exceptions, the latter excel at granting far too high classes to persons who have made too modest input to society. In some such orders, the only input you have to make is to see how wide you can open your wallet regardless of actual merit to society. If a dynastic order would behave in the same way, then they would de facto operating in the same manner as self-styled orders of chivalry, they would bring inflation into what an order of chivalry stands for in content and what a neck order and higher stands for as a symbol.
What is reasonable? It is very hard to tell, and it also varies between countries and their system of rewards, but an outline of thought: if a person has received an official decoration of some sort, he can without problems receive a dynastic order of equal or lower class. In a sense, the official decorations vouches that the level of the dynastic order is not out of place. There are several cases for an idea that the dynastic order can be one or two classes higher: for instance, the Swedish Order of St John (until the order reform of 1975) had a prerequisite for candidates of having been bestowed a Swedish order before admittance. They were granted to swedes mostely at 4th class, and the Order of St John in Sweden has the insignia of 2nd class, which is two classes up. So a person that has a 3rd class official neck decoration but preferably higher, or is at least a well-merited Lieutenant-Colonel (or of equal civil merit) but preferably higher, a Grand Cross of a dynastic order might fit – then the dynastic orders are not a bubble of their own outside general society.
There are readers who will feel uneasy, because they may realise that they have been bestowed an order in a class that feels too high, given their merits to society etc. The responsibility for bestowals lies ultimately not with those individuals but with the former ruling Royal Houses and the persons surrounding the former ruling Royal House. It is here that the decision is made of what class should be bestowed on an individual, and it is here that the scrutiny must lay.
Some thoughts, and this may seem harsh and of too high demands to some: it might well be. But I am worried: if there are too great discrepancies between how the state orders function and how the dynastic orders function, there is an inevitable erosion on how well the dynastic orders are perceived and ultimately how the former ruling Royal Houses are perceived. And I do not think that any supporter of a former ruling Royal House want that.
EDIT: A final note. The use of mantles, robes et.c. may seem a bit flamboyant, but there is a very important and interesting mechanism in their use to negate some of the effects of using a pyramidal structure of classes in an order. The uniform appearance is a way underline the basic mutuality on equal level that is shared within an order of chivalry: even though the membership may vary in classes, all are knights and brothers or dames and sisters at heart.