The Order in the 20th Century

(as seen by the Obedience of Malta)

 

 

During the regency of the 44th Grand Master, H.R.H. Francisco de Paula de Borbón y de la Torre, Duke of Seville and Grandee of Spain, the Order came to be run by the Spanish Marquis of Cardenas de Montehermoso. He, as appointed Grand Referendary until his death in 1965, effectively directed the Order's affairs. The Duke of Seville died on 6 December 1952 and was succeded by his son, H.R.H. Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y de Borbón, Grandee of Spain, elected 45th Grand Master. Because he was an active military officer in the Spanish army (Colonel) and resided in Spain, he was unable to dedicate himself to the Order as fully as he would have wished, so in 1956 he appointed the late H.E. Duke de Brissac, living in Paris, as Administrator General.

The geographical separation of the administration (Paris) and magisterial (Madrid) seats of the Order became the source of much friction and misunderstanding. This eventually resulted in one faction of the government of the Order withdrawing its support from Don Francisco de Borbón and summoning a "Chapter General" of the Order with the result that on 20 May 1967 H.R.H. Charles Philippe de Bourbon-Orléans, Duke of Alençon, Vendôme and Nemours, great-great-grandson of Louis Philippe, King of the French, was elected 46th Grand Master, and H.R.H. Prince Michel de Bourbon-Orléans, son of H.R.H. Henri Count of Paris, was nominated Coadjutor. Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y de Borbón, who had strongly contested the Chapter's decision, was named Grand Master emeritus.

The action of this so-called "Chapter General" was of questionable legitimacy because the Constitutional Decrees of the Order, which had been universally accepted before the split, state that once a Grand Master has been appointed he can only be removed from the position by his death or by his abdication. The Spanish knights remained under the Grand Magistracy of Don Francisco. Later on the 45th and the "illegal" 46th Grand Master came to an agreement, as Don Francisco accepted the election of his "cousin".

Although committing itself in theory to oecumenism, the official position of the Order on this issue remained rather hazy. The 46th Grand Master saw the wisdom of change and opened the ranks of the Order to all Christian denominations. As a result of the initiatives of the late Robert Gayre of Gayre and Nigg, an anglo-scottish Lieutenant-Colonel of the Education Corps, the English Tongue had been founded, comprising the new Jurisdictions of England, Scotland, Ireland and Canada, the Commandery of Lochore and within the Commonwealth, the majority of whose members belonged to Protestant denominations. Gayre's energy and ability placed him in a central role in the Order's government, he have been appointed Grand Commander of the Order.

All these reforms were badly received by the officers in Paris. They resisted the Grand Master's authority, which they viewed as an infringement of their own rights. On 15 April 1969 an again dubious "Chapter General" unilaterally elected the Administrator General, the Duke of Brissac, as "Supreme Head" of the Order. This unfortunate action created a schism in the Order. There were now two branches, but a great number of Jurisdictions continued to view the Duke of Nemours as the only legitimate Grand Master. In view of the new situation in France and in order to guarantee the Order international status and independence, the Duke of Nemours decided to transfer the Grand Chancellery of the Order to the island of Malta. He continued to work effectively for the Order until his death on 10 March 1970.

The vacancy in the Grand Magistracy continued for some time, as the Coadjutor, H.R.H. Prince Michel de Bourbon-Orléans, did not take up his rights to the succession. Proposed by the Grand Commander, LtCol. Robert Gayre of Gayre and Nigg, H.R.H. Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y de Borbón, meanwhile retired from his military duties, had been elected by a Chapter General in 1973 as the 47th Grand Master. He appointed his eldest son, H.H. Don Francisco de Paula de Borbón y Escasany, Duke of Seville, as Coadjutor.

While each branch followed its own course, many knights from both sides became even more concerned about the situation which was prejudicial to its prestige, diluted its good work and gave ammunition to its detractors. Partisans of reunification from both sides of the Order negotiated the conditions with prudence and determination. Recommendations made from both sides led to a an agreement, named "Declaration of Washington", which was signed 1979 by both Grand Masters and most of the Heads of Jurisdictions of both branches. In a spirit of knightly confraternity, it was decided that each side would give up its vain quarrels and would work to achieve reunification. Each side would retain its structure and identity; that governed by Don Francisco de Borbón would be known as the "Malta Obedience", and that of the Duke de Brissac would be known as the "Paris Obedience". The spiritual unity of the Order was to be assured by H.B. Maximos V. Hakim, Greek-catholic Patriarch of Antiochia, as Spiritual Protector. After the death of one Grand Master the other should resign and both Obediences should elect one new Grand Master.

In spite of considerable hard work by many people in both factions to bring about a reconciliation, the attempt failed: The Grand Magisterial Council 1986 of the Malta Obedience was due to be held in Oxford, England. Certain that the goal of reunification would be attained at last that proposed meeting was renamed by the organizers as "Joint International Reunion". But contrary to the expressed wishes of the Grand Master the culmination of the Oxford meeting was a "Chapter General" to elect a new Grand Master for the unified Order. This was also illegal, as such an election obviously contravenes the Constitutional Decrees as stated above. Don Francisco de Borbón forbade all members to attend the Oxford meeting and according to the Constitution the Spiritual Protector had no authority to call together such a meeting.

The result of this "Chapter General" was that H.E. François Marquis de Brissac was elected as head of the Paris Obedience, which called itself "United Order", whilst the true Grand Master, H.R.H. Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y de Borbón, remained head of the Malta Obedience. Once again the Order was split, but this time with different allegiances. Today there is still controversy about the legitimacy of the Oxford meeting, and thus the Grand Mastership.

H.R.H. Don Francisco Enrique de Borbón y de Borbón died on 18 November 1995. He was succeeded by the Coadjutor, H.R.H. Don Francisco de Paula de Borbón y Escasany, Duke of Seville and Grandee of Spain, who was declared according to the Order’s Constitution 48th Grand Master of the Malta Obedience in January 1996 by the Supreme Council.Because of internal problems regarding the international administration of the Order in April 2004 the Grand Chancellor called together a working meeting of Heads of Jurisdiction to settle these problems. The Vienna Conference took place begin of May, attended by representatives of 17 Jurisdictions. Some declarations have been unanimously approved and signed by all participants and sent to the Grand Master for his final decision, but no reply ever has been received. Therefore in June 2004 the signatories of the resolution expressed their motion of non-confidence to the Duke of Seville and declared themselves autonomous.

The year 2004 was a new beginning, a time full of hope and confidence: In summer negotiations have been initiated with the leaders of the new Obedience of Paris. Both a Declaration of Friendship and a Convention about the formation of an "Alliance of Branches of the Order of St. Lazarus" - according to the example of the "Convention of Nieder-Weisel" made in 1961 by the four branches of the Order of St. John - have meanwhile be signed. And since November 2004 the two main and legitimate branches of the Order are under the umbrella of H.R.H. Charles-Philippe Prince d'Orléans, Duke of Anjou, as their common and sole Grand Master, enjoying the traditional "fons honorum" by the Crown of France.

Last update 01 04 2006