Golden Fleece ,.See Argonauts.
Golden Fleece , Order of the (Span, el toi-son de oro; Fr. ordre de la toison d'or), one of the oldest and most important of the orders of chivalry, founded at Bruges by Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, on occasion of his marriage with the princess Isabella of Portugal, Jan. 10, 1430, and consecrated to the Virgin Mary and the apostle Andrew. The statutes of the order declare that it takes its name from the golden fleece which the Argonauts went in search of. It is possible that it was founded in memory of Philip's father, John the Fearless, who was held a prisoner in Colchis, and that it was consecrated to St. Andrew because that apostle carried the gospel to the land of the golden fleece. Some suppose that it received the badge in consequence of the important woollen manufactures of the country. The decoration of the grand master is a chain composed of alternate flints and rays of steel, with the golden fleece fastened in the middle. The knights wear a golden fleece on a red ribbon. Its design was to maintain the honor of knighthood and protect the church, and it was sanctioned by Pope Eugenius IV. in 1433 and by Leo X. in 1510. An article of the statutes (published at Lille, Nov. 30, 1431, in the French language) ordained that if the house of Burgundy should become extinct in the male line, the husband of the daughter and heiress of the last sovereign should be grand master of the order.
After the death of Charles the Bold (1477) the husband of his daughter and heiress Mary, Maximilian I. of Austria, therefore inherited the grand mastership. During the war of the Spanish succession Charles III. (afterward the emperor Charles VI.) and Philip V., the contestants for the throne of Spain, both claimed this dignity. When the former left Spain he carried the archives of the order with him, and in 1713 celebrated its revival in Vienna. Spain protested against this at the congress of Cambrai in 1724, and it was decided by the treaty of Vienna in 1725 that the regents of both states should be permitted to confer the order with similar insignia, but that the members should be distinguished as knights of the Spanish or Austrian golden fleece. After the death of Charles VI., Maria Theresa in 1741 bestowed the office of grand master upon her husband Francis I., against which Philip V. of Spain protested in the electoral assembly at Vienna and at Frankfort. At the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, France, England, and Holland demanded that the schism should be composed; but as Ferdinand VI. of Spain declared that the order was inseparable from the Spanish crown, the dispute has remained unreconciled, and the order continues in two branches, neither of which recognizes the other.
The original device of the order was Autre nauray ("I shall have no other"); but Charles the Bold changed it into Je l'ay empri ("I have accepted it"). The statutes ordain that the knights shall recounize no other jurisdiction but an assembly of their order under the presidency of the grand master or of a knight authorized by him, and that they shall have precedency of all persons except those of royal blood. The number of knights, originally 24, was soon increased to 31, and in 1516 to 52. In 1851 the order consisted in Austria of 6 grand crosses, 20 commanders, and 161 knights.