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Order of Saint-Michel

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Title: Order of Saint-Michel  
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Order of Saint-Michel

This article is about the French order of knighthood. For the Portuguese order of knighthood, see Order of Saint Michael of the Wing.
Order of Saint Michael
Ordre de Saint-Michel
Award of The Kingdom of France
Type Military Order[1]
Royal house Valois, Valois-Orléans, Valois-Orléans-Angoulême, Bourbon, Bourbon-Orléans[2]
Religious affiliation Roman Catholic
Status Obsolete[2]/Defunct[1]/Abolished[2][3]
Established 1 August 1469.[4] Abolished by decree of King Louis XVI on 20 June 1790.[5] Revived by King Louis XVIII on 16 November 1816[2] but abolished again in 1830.[3] The last knight died in 1850.[2]

The Order of Saint Michael (French: Ordre de Saint-Michel) was a French chivalric order, founded by Louis XI of France on 1 August 1469,[4][6] in competitive response to the Burgundian Order of the Golden Fleece founded by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, Louis' chief competitor for the allegiance of the great houses of France, the Dukes of Orléans, Berry, and Brittany.[1] As a chivalric order, its goal was to confirm the loyalty of its knights to the king. Originally, there were a limited number of knights, at first thirty-one, then increased to thirty-six including the king. An office of Provost was established in 1476. The Order of St Michael was the highest Order in France until it was superseded by the Order of the Holy Spirit.[2]

As would be expected, the first knights were among the most powerful nobles in France, close relatives of the king and a few from other royal houses in Europe. Originally, the number of members (called companions) was limited to thirty-five.[1] In 1565, during the Wars of Religion, when loyalties were strained and essential, Charles IX increased the membership to fifty but there may have been as many as seven hundred knights under Henry III in 1574.[2]

The Order of St. Michael dedicated to the Archangel Michael conveyed to every member a gold badge of the image of the saint standing on a rock (Mont Saint-Michel) in combat with the serpent.[2] The motto the order was "immensi tremor oceani" (meaning the tremor of the immense ocean) derived from the idea of Saint Michael looking out over the Atlantic from Mont Saint-Michel.[7] It was suspended from an elaborate gold collar made of scallop shells (the badge of pilgrim, especially those to Santiago de Compostela) linked with double knots. The statutes state that the badge could be hung on a simple chain, and later it was suspended from a black ribbon.

When the Order of St Michael was founded, the famous illuminator Jean Fouquet was commissioned to paint the title miniature of the Statutes, showing the king presiding over the knights (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fr. 19819).[8] The original plan was for the knights to meet yearly on 29 September at Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy.[9] Such an isolated location was impractical causing Charles VIII to transfer this meeting place to the chapel of Saint-Michel-du-Palais,[1] part of Paris' medieval royal residence the Palais de la Cité which the kings no longer used, to the control of the order in 1496.[2] By letters patent dated 15 August 1555, the seat of the Order was transferred to the royal Château de Vincennes outside Paris.[1]

The Order of St. Michael was abolished by Louis XVI on 20 June 1790.[5] It was revived by Louis XVIII on 16 November 1816[2] but the king took little interest in the order and no new knights were added after 1816. The Order was again abolished by the French authorities in 1830.[10] The Order's last member died in 1850.[2]

However, as is mentioned by French Government, it would be considered as the origin of the Order of the Arts and Letters of France: "Saint-Michel Order (1460-1830) can be considered as the precursor of the Order of the Arts and Lettres. Originally destined to the aristocracy, from 17th to 18th Centuries it became an order of civil merit, which distinguished many artists, architects, collectors, and people of lettres…".[11][12][13]

Notable Recipients

No formal list of members of the order exists.[1] The names of members can be gleaned from reference to their receipt of the order, from secondary sources, or from periodic lists compiled showing companions from particular families or regions.[1][14]


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