According to its official tradition, the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George is the oldest international Roman Catholic order of chivalry; in reality the early history is legendary and it actually emerged in the middle of the 16th century. It has an hereditary Grand Mastership which passed to the Infante D. Carlos of Bourbon & Farnese, later King Charles III of Spain, in 1731.
On 16 October 1759 Charles III abdicated the Grand Magistry to his second surviving son, Infante D. Ferdinand, to whom he had abdicated as King of the Two Sicilies ten days earlier.
However, when his younger brother Philip of Bourbon, infante of Spain ascended his earlier sovereignty of the Duchy of Parma, his branch 'later' regarded themselves as rightful successors to the headship of this Order. Philip's heir today is Charles Hugh, Duke of Parma, who claims the headship see the historical note authored by Paolo Conforte, a senior officer of the Parma dynastic Order and confers knighthoods.
The Sicilian royal branch, descending from king Ferdinando, son of king Charles III, has also been divided by the competing claims of two of their descendants:
The position as XIth (and current) Grand Master is disputed between the senior primogeniture male descendant of Ferdinand IV and III of Naples and Sicily, whom King Charles III of Spain had designated as "primogenito legittimo farnesiano" Infante Carlos, Duke of Calabria. and his cousin, Prince Carlo, Duke of Castro who descends from a younger brother of Infante don Carlos' grandfather. There are approximately 1,800 members of the Hispano-Neapolitan branch and 2,800 of the Franco-Neapolitan branch.
The motto of the Order is In Hoc Signo Vinces and is dedicated to support of the Catholic Faith and Defence of its teachings. In addition to supporting a variety of charitable and humanitarian endeavours, the Hispano-Neapolitan branch celebrates regular Masses at its Churches in Rome, Palermo and Milan, and occasional Masses in Florence, Padua, Viterbo, Ragusa, London, Lisbon, and Paris. The Franco-Neapolitan celebrates an annual Mass in Rome in the Church of San Giorgio al Velabro, as well as occasional Masses in Naples, and other Italian cities, in Westminster Cathedral in London and in Washington, USA.
The legendary origins of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George takes trace its origins to an apocryphal order founded by Constantine the Great.[3 ] The Angeli Comneni Grand Masters who actually founded the Order in the 2nd quarter of the 16th century received confirmations in a series of Papal Briefs, a Bull of Pope Clement VIII, and decrees of King Philip III of Spain, Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor on 7 November 1630, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor on 25 June 1671, King John III Sobieski of Poland of 11 May 1681 and Ferdinand Maria, Elector of Bavaria on 8 July 1667 and 26 July 1669, in which the Order was allowed to establish commanderies in Bavaria and the Palatinate. Its incorporation as a Religious Order of the Roman Catholic Church hereditary in the House of Farnese and its heirs the Bourbons dates from the transfer to Francesco Farnese on 11 January 1698, an act confirmed in an Imperial diploma "Agnoscimus et notum facimus" of the Emperor Leopold I dated 5 August 1699 and the Apostolic Brief "Sincerae Fidei" issued by Pope Innocent XII on 24 October 1699. These confirmed the succession of the Grand Magistery to the Farnese family and its heirs as an ecclesiastical office and, crucially, did not tie it to tenure of sovereignty of the Duchy of Parma. Among the first major acts of the Farnese Grand Magistery was a revised, amended and expanded Statutes, issued on 25 May 1705 and confirmed in a Papal Brief dated 12 July 1706; both these confirmed the requirement that the Grand Magistery pass by male primogeniture. Following the Order's contribution to Prince Eugene of Savoy's campaign to drive the Turks from the Balkans between 1716 and 1718, Pope Clement XI, a former Cardinal Protector of the Order, confirmed the Order as a Religious Order of the Roman Catholic Church in the Bull "Militantis Ecclesiae" of 27 May 1718. With the death of the last male of the House of Farnese on 30 January 1731 the Grand Magistery was inherited by the Infante D. Carlos de Borbon y Farnese (from 1759-88, Charles III of Spain), eldest son of Philip V of Spain and Elisabeth of Parma, who also inherited the duchies of Parma and Piacenza from the Farnese. After becoming King of Naples and Sicily in 1734 he was forced to surrender Parma in 1736 to Austria while retaining the Constantinian Grand Magistery, whose administration was transferred from Parma to Naples in 1768. This dignity was never united with the Two Sicilies Crown but remained, in the words of Charles III 's son and successor, King Ferdinand IV and III of Naples and Sicily (from 1815 Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies), in a decree of 8 March 1796 "In his (the King's) royal person there exists together two very distinct qualities, the one of Monarch of the Two Sicilies, and the other of Grand Master of the illustrious, royal and military Constantinian order, which though united gloriously in the same person form nonetheless at the same time two separate independent Lordships". It was this independence that enabled the Order, whose Grand Magistery was held conjointly with the headship of the House of the Two Sicilies, to survive the abolition of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860.
In 1910 Pope Pius X appointed the first of three successive Cardinal Protectors and, in 1913, approved a series of privileges for the chaplains of the Order. In 1915 Pope Benedict XV dedicated the Constantinian Chapel in the Basilica of Santa Croce al Flaminio, which had been built with donations from the knights, who included Monsignor Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII. In 1916 the Pope restored the Church of Saint Anthony Abbot to the Order - this church had originally been given to the Constantinian Order along with the properties of the religious Order of that name in 1777 but had been put under the direction of the Archdiocese of Naples in 1861. In 1919 new statutes received Papal approval and Cardinal Ranuzzi de' Bianchi was appointed Cardinal Protector, the last to hold this post. Following the intervention of the Grand Magistery of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus in 1924, whose Grand Master the King of Italy objected to the award of the Order to leading Italian noblemen, the Holy See felt the close relationship with Prince Alfonso, Count of Caserta may prove an obstacle to settling the Roman question, it was therefore decided not to reappoint a successor to Cardinal Ranuzzi de' Bianchi who died in 1927.
The succession to the grand magistery of this Order has been disputed between as many as three branches of Bourbons since 1960.
The Sicilian dispute -starting from 1960- is rooted in different interpretations of the so-called Act of Cannes of 14 December 1900 in which the Count of Caserta's second son, Prince Carlo (grandfather of Infante Carlos, Duke of Calabria), promised that he would renounce his succession to the Crown of the Two Sicilies in execution of the Pragmatic Decree of 1759. This decree required that if the King of Spain or his immediate heir inherited the Two Sicilies Crown he would renounce the latter to the next in line; it did not explicitly allow for a renunciation in any other circumstances. Since the Constantinian Order's Grand Magistery was an entirely independent dignity and was neither mentioned nor implied in the "Act of Cannes", this act cannot have had any consequences for the succession to the Grand Magistery.
Spaniards and Italians who have been granted the Constantinian Order by Infante Carlos, Duke of Calabria may apply for and will receive authorisation to wear the decorations of the Order. The Italian Government has authorised members of the Neapolitan branch, bestowed by Prince Carlo, Duke of Castro, to wear the insignia in Italy.
Each branch appoints a Roman Catholic cardinal as Grand Prior.
The three claimant Grand-Masters -each a Bourbon cousin of the others; and coincidentally each having charles as first name- are: