Initiatives for cross-border contacts have, over time, found adherents in many countries of the world, but especially in Western Europe. For example, in recent decades, besides political and economic conferences at the highest level, friendly meetings were held: meetings between cultural associations, sports clubs, sister cities, gatherings of organizations and unions from all countries and regions of Europe.
Following such an encounter between Belgians and Germans in 1978 in Bruges, the Venice of the North, the director of the tourist office of the city of Ludwigshafen, Mr. Müller-Kattwinkel and his friend, Mr. Eugen Fritz Schaft, took the opportunity to forge plans to establish an international association.
A poster advertising the upcoming exhibition entitled “The Knighthood of the Golden Fleece” inspired them. Overall it was agreed that the Knights of the “Golden Fleece” were the first important order of chivalry, fraternizing the peoples in Europe.
Both men had kept an open ear for the medieval, and to date, customs of that period. Their partner was Mr. Edouard Trips, who, in the cultural circles of Bruges and its region, was considered an esteemed expert in history.
As a result, the International Brotherhood the “Golden Fleece” was founded.
Mr Fritz Schaft was given the task of ensuring a proper gem. The first handover, obviously in Bruges, was to the governor of West-Flanders, Mr Leo Van Acker and to the mayor of Ludwigshafen, Mr. Werner Ludwig. Unfortunately, the Governor Mr. Van Acker died shortly before the investiture, but Dr. Ludwig could be Honored.
However, to broach the actual cultural and humanitarian goals of the international brotherhood “the Golden Fleece”, we must go back to the creation of the original order of the “Golden Fleece”, which, until today, still counts as highest award today in Europe, even more so in the world.
According to ancient Greek mythology, a story is told that in the small kingdom Lolkos, King Pelias, no longer was satisfied with his many sheep. He would rather like to have the Golden Fleece in his possession. This pelt of a ram wrapped in gold threads was considered hugely valuable. He did not know at the time that this Golden Fleece resulted from the washing of gold.. So he ordered his cousin Jason, together with 50 azubiris (apprentice knights), the fleece to wrest King Phrixos of collective farm. The 51 ‘demigods’ and princes, amongst whom famous names such as Castor, Pollux, Hercules and Orpheus, boarded the ship “Argo”. Thus began the “Journey of the Argonauts”. It took them many years, and they experienced a thousand and one adventures, and finally found the Golden Fleece, with the help of the sorceress Medea, in the Caucasus.
We make a jump of a few millennia to the 15th century. In 1418 Philip the Good inherited the duchy of Burgundy. His empire stretched from the shores of the North Sea to the peaks of the Alps. Nevertheless, he was dissatisfied. He sat squeezed between the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations and the King of France. They all were poorer than Philip the Good, but they had titles that set them far above the rank of duke.
Philip had to find a solution. In his youth he had read the stories of Jason and his Argonauts, written by a certain Appollonius of Rhodes. Even then he had admired the courage of the 50 men and their faithful leader Jason. What a great way to raise his profile. So founded a knighthood based on this myth. And his upcoming marriage to Isabella of Portugal seemed the right time to surprise the crowned competition.
A few days after his wedding, in January 1430, the Duke rode, in front of 23 knights, alongside his new bride, through the streets of the city of Bruges. The armor of his companions, as well as the chains of the “Golden Fleece” on their festive robes, glittered in the light of the winter sun. The imperial and royal competition was stunned, but did her utmost to be awarded the new order as well.
Forty-seven years later, on January 15th 1477, the dim sunlight was again broken by the gold of the Fleece, on the occasion of the funeral of Charles, son of Philip, who lost his life at the Battle of Nancy. His daughter Mary, heiress of Burgundy, oon married Maximilian, a Habsburg, and later emperor, and thus saved herself and her duchy for the claims of the king of France.
Upon the death of Charles the Bold, and the marriage of Mary of Burgundy with Archduke Maximilian, the later Emperor, the “Golden Fleece” came into Habsburg hands.
This “Golden Fleece” brought power and wealth to the House of Habsburg. The King of France, Louis XI, who did not like this commitment, for obvious reasons, was now forced to face the empire at the doorstep. What a pity that the most wonderful marriage of Europe also had negative political aspects. The Austrian-French and later Franco-German teritorial disputes originated here. Fortunately, nowadays they seem permanently finished.
A key representative of the ‘order’ was the grandson of Maximilian, Charles V, Emperor of the German Empire and King of Spain (Carlos I). Totally brought up in the spirit of his noble Burgundian ancestors, he spoke out for the symbol he wore around his neck. He was the personification of the universal imperial image of the Middle Ages. At the end of his life, he retired to the Spanish monastery of San Jeranims de Guste. There, too, it is beleived that he would have worn his insignia every day.
What matters to the International Brotherhood, is that members endorse peace mind, that they appreciate their own traditions and customs, and pass it on.
To become a member one must show civil engagement, and prove of cultural or social merit, e.g. as a manager or in a leadership role.
Every Knight also supports / will, among other things:
- respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- observe the duty to respect others, without distinction as to race, sex, religion, social class, community or any other element in which they apparently may differ.
- the (moral) obligation, in word and deed, to strive for social peace and to be an example himself by personal development to a higher level and to work for the society.
- attach importance to dealing with people from other countries, be interested in their culture and language; multilingualism
- be interested in European (popular) culture: experience pleasure in enjoying the good life together.
At present there are chanceries in Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Italy and Spain. The chancelleries of Great Britain, the United States, France and Austria, which were temporarily stopped due to restructuring will restart in the near future and a new “Chancellery Portugal” presents itself. Every sovereign chancery holds own gatherings and an annual general meeting , or organizes a small Convent (or Chapter).
The Grand Chapter takes place every year in Bruges – town where the Order was founded – or any other city, home or abroad and where there is a link with the former Golden Fleece Knights.
it is only then that the inauguration of new Knights of the Brotherhood takes place, and the oath is taken. This takes place in the city hall or in another historic building.
The headquarters of the Brotherhood, the main chancery, chaired by the Grand Master is located principally in Bruges. The extended board consists also of the Grand Chancellors, who are directly elected in their country. The Knights of the Brotherhood commit themselves, just like the honorable members of the original order, to earn the’Order’ every day anew, faithful to the motto:
Pretium Laborum Non Vile (Each work deserves its wages)
Duke of Burgundy
Infant of Portugal
The Bruges Legend
Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy had lots of mistresses and more than 20 officially recognized illegitimate children. One of his favorite ladies was Mary Crombrugghe, a lady from Bruges with beautiful blonde hair.
When one morning the valets found hair of the same color, in the bed of the duke, the whole palace had to laugh heartily about it. The Duke was so angry that he exclaimed: ” I will make, from this golden hair, the most glorious knighthood of the world and it will be called “The Order of the Golden Fleece”.
Every year, the Head Chancellery organizes a Grand Chapter for all the knights of the Brotherhood in the period May-June. This is the most important activity of the association, culminating in the knighting of new members. The candidate knights are incorporated into the Brotherhood, and they receive the necklace with the gem: the golden fleece of a ram, symbol of the Golden Fleece and the association.
The national chanceries may organize a Little Chapter in their own country where the knights of the other chancelleries may be invited. (subject to the approval of the main chancery)
Central administration (International)
Address for correspondence:
Tel : +32 473 990 482
Grandmaster: Luc Vandierendonk
Vice Grandmaster: Alex De Pauw
General secretary: Thierry Altruy
General Treasurer: Jean Marie De Groote
Board members: Peter Germonprez, Karel De Sutter
King of Arms: Omer Minnebo