Order of the Dragon: Wikis


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Oswald von Wolkenstein - Portrait from the Innsbrucker Handschrift, 1432 - wearing the Order of the Dragon chain

The Order of the Dragon (lat. Societas Draconistrarum, ger. der Drachenorden, hun. Sárkány Lovagrend, cro. Zmajev red, rom. Ordinul Dragonului, ser. Ред Змаја / Red Zmaja) was a monarchical chivalric order for selected nobility, created in Hungary in the late Middle Ages.[1] Founded in 1408 by Sigismund, King of Hungary (r. 1397-1437) and later Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1433-1437), the Order primarily flourished in Germany and Italy. According to a surviving copy of its statute, the Order required its initiates to defend the Cross and fight the enemies of Christianity, in particular the Ottoman Turks.


Historical background

The historical and social background for the foundation of the Order is a story of international and domestic developments. The primary reason the Order was established is the fear of expansion of the Ottoman empire. In 1389, the Ottoman Sultan Murad I defeated Lazar, Prince of Serbia at the Battle of Kosovo Polje, in which both leaders died. Two years later, the Turks took the fortress of Nicopolis. Afterward the Crusade of Nicopolis was organised to recapture the fortress and put a halt to the Ottoman expansion. Sigismund was nominally in charge of the crusade. However, in the 1396 battle the French leader, John of Nevers, commanded the French half of the forces and ignored Sigismund's entreaties by charging the Turks. About 15,000 crusaders died with only a few leaders, including Sigismund, escaping. John of Nevers was later ransomed. The battle proved the inability of a medieval knightly state and army to counter the Ottoman Turks. The Hungarians were briefly spared by Ottoman problems in the East, but understood that they had to reorganise their state and military to survive.

Additionally, the origin of the order may be understood by exploring Sigismund's fierce struggles for power leading up to the foundation of the order in 1408. In 1387, the Bohemian royal son Sigismund of Luxemburg was elected King of Hungary,[2][3][4] a title which he owed chiefly to his marriage to Queen Mary of Hungary in 1385, without her consent. During the next decade, he constantly sought support or employed ruthless methods to strengthen his unsteady hold on the throne. His claim to rule was weakened in 1395 when Mary, who was pregnant, died in an accident. However, his later alliances suggest that he was not thought to be responsible for their deaths. In 1396, when Hungary appeared to be facing the threat of an attack by the Ottoman Turks (who were already in control of most of the Balkans), Pope Boniface IX proclaimed a crusade against the Ottomans. Sigismund led a coalition of forces, but was defeated in the Battle of Nicopolis. Although he managed to escape, his position in Hungary was tarnished. He returned to Hungary in 1401 and, facing a number of revolts, gradually resumed control and re-asserted himself as the King of Hungary. This he achieved by allying himself with the political party of Nicholas II Garay and Hermann (II), count of Celje, in return for their military support, which enabled him to fight off domestic rivals. He campaigned against the Croats and Bosnians, which culminated in 1408 with the Battle of Dobor — fought for the possession of Bosnia — and a massacre of noble families. His pact with Hermann II was secured in 1408, when Sigismund married his daughter Barbara of Celje (also Cilli).

Foundation and purpose

On December 12, 1408, following the Battle of Dobor, Sigismund and his queen, Barbara of Celje, founded the league known today as the Order of the Dragon.[5][6] Its statutes, written in Latin, call it a society (societas) whose members carry the signum draconis (see below), but assign no name to it. Contemporary records, however, refer to it by a variety of similar if unofficial names, such as Gesellschaft mit dem Trakchen, Divisa seu Societate Draconica, Societate Draconica seu Draconistarum and Fraternitas Draconum.[7] It was to some extent modelled after the earlier Hungarian monarchical order, the Order of St. George (Societas militae Sancti Georgii), founded by King Carol Robert of Anjou in 1318.[6] It likewise adopted St. George as its patron saint, whose legendary defeat of a dragon was used as a symbol for the military and religious ethos of the order.

The statute of the Order, which was expanded by Bishop Eberhard of Nagyvárad, chancellor of Sigismund's court, survives only in a copy made in 1707.[6] An edition was published in 1841.[8] The prologue to these statutes of 1408 reports that the society was created:

"in company with the prelates, barons, and magnates of our kingdom, whom we invite to participate with us in this party, by reason of the sign and effigy of our pure inclination and intention to crush the pernicious deeds of the same perfidious Enemy, and of the followers of the ancient Dragon, and (as one would expect) of the pagan knights, schismatics, and other nations of the Orthodox faith, and those envious of the Cross of Christ, and of our kingdoms, and of his holy and saving religion of faith, under the banner of the triumphant Cross of Christ ..."[9]

Though described in general terms, the primary representatives of "the perfidious Enemy" remained the Ottoman Turks, who continued to be problem for Sigismund's successors. The Order's outward focus on foreign threats was also aimed at achieving a level of domestic cohesion. The statutes go on to describe the order's symbols of the ouroboros and the red cross, which were worn by its members and gave the order its corporate identity (see below). They also list the mutual obligations of the king and his nobles. The members were to swear loyalty to the king, queen and their future sons and to protect the royal interests. Boulton argues that "the Society of the Dragon was clearly intended to serve [...] as the institutional embodiment of the royal faction its founder had created."[5] In return for their services, the nobles could expect to enjoy royal protection, honours and offices.

The creation of the order was not without precedent. At that time various Orders were being created to counter the Ottoman Turk threat. Additionally, many late medieval kings founded their own orders of knights to support their thrones. Sigismund's order was particularly inspired from the Order of Saint George (see above), whose statutes from 1326 required protection of the King from any plot against him, principles also upheld in Sigismund's Order.[6] Another influential model may have been the Sicilian Order of the Ship, founded in 1381.

Between 1408 and 1437, the Order of the Dragon was the most important noble political association in Hungary. The Order of the Dragon was quickly recognized internationally, and as early as 1409, it inspired the Spanish Order of Calatrava which also battled Turks.[6]


Members of the order, known as "Draconists",[1] are referred to in the statutes as barons (barones, occasionally socii). They were mostly Sigismund's political allies and supporters, who were at first largely confined to the political factions of Stefan Lazarević, Nicholas II Garay and Hermann (II), count of Celje, including such local magnates as Stibor of Stiboricz and Pipo of Ozora.[6] The initial group of inductees for Sigismund's Order numbered 21 men,[5] which extended to about 24[6] in 1418.

After some time, Sigismund chose to expand the ranks of the Order. A second group of inductees was initiated between 1431-1437.[6] As membership grew, the Order of the Dragon came to have two degrees. There was a superior class, which between 1408 and 1418 wore both the dragon and the cross as the Order's emblem and a more elaborate version afterwards.[6] The second degree had a large amount of members, and its symbol was only the dragon.

Following Sigismund's death in 1437, the Order lost prominence. However, the prestigious emblem of the Order was retained on the coat of arms of several Hungarian noble families, including Báthory, Bocskai, Bethlen, Szathmáry and Rákóczi.[1]


Selected list of inductees from 1408

Selected list of inductees from after February, 1431

Symbol of the Order and other artifacts

Reconstruction of the order patch (I) based on existing Austrian museum artifacts.
Reconstruction of the emblem (II) based on the sketches in Austrian Museum custody; the original badge is missing.

The edict of 1408 describes two insignia to be worn by members of the Order:

" ... we and the faithful barons and magnates of our kingdom shall bear and have, and do choose and agree to wear and bear, in the manner of society, the sign or effigy of the Dragon incurved into the form of a circle, its tail winding around its neck, divided through the middle of its back along its length from the top of its head right to the tip of its tail, with blood [forming] a red cross flowing out into the interior of the cleft by a white crack, untouched by blood, just as and in the same way that those who fight under the banner of the glorious martyr St George are accustomed to bear a red cross on a white field ..." [9]

The dragon described here, with its tail coiled around its neck, bears comparison to the ouroboros. On the back of the dragon, from the base of the neck to the tail, is the Red Cross of Saint George, with the entire image on an argent field. The Order's dragon emblem has not survived in any original form, but it has been referenced on coins, art, and in writing.

A University of Bucharest annotation to the original edict reads "O Quam Misericors est Deus, Pius et Justus" (O how merciful is God, faithful and just), which may have been officially part of the emblem. The various classes of the order had a slight variation of the dragon symbol. Common changes included the addition of inscriptions like O Quam Misericors est Deus ("Oh, how merciful God is") and "Justus et Paciens" ("Just and patient"). One of the highest classes may have worn a necklace with a seal, while a period painting of Otto von Wolkenstein depicts another type of class variation.[12]

Few historical artifacts of the Order now remain. A copy, dating to 1707, of the statutes of 1408 is the oldest known literary artifact of the society. Today, known materials are archived within the University of Budapest.

Modern references

The Order was also one of Bram Stoker's inspirations for his 1897 novel Dracula. Interest in this mysterious knighthood and its members continue on today through scholarly research, entertainment, and popular culture and subcultures.


  1. ^ a b c Florescu and McNally, Dracula, Prince of Many Faces. pp. 40-2.
  2. ^ a b http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/543594/Sigismund
  3. ^ a b http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Sigismund.aspx
  4. ^ a b http://historicaltextarchive.com/books.php?op=viewbook&bookid=1&cid=8
  5. ^ a b c Boulton, The Knights of the Crown, p. 349.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Rezachevici, "From the Order of the Dragon to Dracula."
  7. ^ Boulton, The Knights of the Crown, p. 349 n. 70.
  8. ^ György Fejér (ed.), Codex diplomaticus Hungariae X.4. No. CCCXVII. Buda, 1841. 682-94.
  9. ^ a b Translated by Boulton, The Knights of the Crown, p. 350.
  10. ^ John V.A. Fine, The Late Medieval Balkans. p. 509.
  11. ^ John V.A. Fine, The Late Medieval Balkans. p. 465 and 483.
  12. ^ a b http://aeiou.iicm.tugraz.at/aeiou.encyclop.data.image.o/o874125a.jpg
  13. ^ Florescu and McNally, Dracula, Prince of Many Faces.

Secondary sources

  • Boulton, D'A.J.D. The Knights of the Crown: The Monarchical Orders of Knighthood in Later Medieval Europe, 1325-1520. Boydell Press, 2000. 348 ff.
  • Fine, John V.A. The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1987.
  • Florescu, Radu and Raymond McNally, Dracula: Prince of Many Faces. His Life and His Times. Boston: Little Brown, 1989. ISBN 0316286567
  • Rezachevici, Constantin. "From the Order of the Dragon to Dracula." Journal of Dracula Studies 1 (1999): pp 3–7. Transcriptions available online: [1] (RTF-document), [2] (Barcelona-Esoterismo-Esoterisme-Magia).

Further reading

Primary sources

  • Statutes of the society, promulgated on 13 December 1408, ed. György Fejér, Codex diplomaticus Hungariae X.4. No. CCCXVII. Buda, 1841. 682-94; earlier edition by J.F Miller, "Monumenta diplomatica nunc primum ex autographis edita". In Acta Literaria Musei Nationalis Hungarici 1. Buda, 1818. 167-90.
  • Sigismund's charters, ed. J.F. Böhmer, Regesta Imperii XI: Die Urkunden Kaiser Sigismunds 1410/11-1437. 2 vols. Innsbruck, 1896–1900.
  • Documenta Romaniae Historica. Bucharest, 1977.
  • Calatori straini despre tarile romane. Bucharest, 1970.
  • Cronici turcesti privind tarile romana. Bucharest 1966.

Secondary sources

  • Bogyay, Thomas von. "Drachenorden." In: Lexikon des Mittelalters 3. Munich, 1986. p. 1346.
  • Devries, Dickie, Dougherty, Jestice, Jorgensen, and Pavkovic. Battles of the Crusades 1097 - 1444. Barnes & Noble, 2007. pp 188–195
  • Hupchick, D.P. and Cox, H.E. The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of Eastern Europe. Palgrave Press, 2001, Map 22.
  • Kuzdrzal-Kicki, Wladyslaw. Der Drachenorden: Genese, Gründung und Entartung. Dokumentation und Schlußfolgerungen. Vol. 1. Munich, 1978.
  • Lendvai, P. The Hungarians Princeton University Press, 2003. pp 70–72.
  • McNally, Raymond T. "In Search of the Lesbian Vampire: Barbara von Cilli, Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” and the Dragon Order." Journal of Dracula Studies 3 (2001). [3]
  • Sugar, P.F. and Hanak, P. and Frank, T. A History of Hungary. Indiana University Press, 1994. pp 54–62.
  • Timon, Akos. Ungarische Verfassung- und Rechtsgeschichte. Berlin, 1904.
  • Baslack, Andreas. Abbildung und Beschreibung aller Ritterorden in Europa. Reprintauflage der Ausgabe von 1792. Holzminden, 1980 and 1999. ISBN 3-8262-1807-8. From the original: G. Eichler, Abbildungen und Beschreibung aller hoher Geistlichen, Weltlichen und Frauenzimmer Ritter-Orden in Europa. Augsburg: Bürgien, 1792.
  • Wheatcroft, A. The Enemy at the Gate Basic Books, 2008. pp 4–6.

External links


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