Thursday, 12 December 2013

"Our pure inclination and intention to crush the pernicious deeds of the same perfidious Enemy."

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. Its statutes, written in Latin, call it a society (societas) whose members carry the signum draconis, but assign no name to it. Contemporary records, however, refer to the order by a variety of similar if unofficial names, such as Gesellschaft mit dem Trakchen, Divisa seu Societas Draconica, Societas Draconica seu Draconistarum and Fraternitas Draconum. 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. The order 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. An edition was published in 1841. 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 ..."

Described in general terms, the "enemy" was any anti-Christian political power or group, including schismatic or actively heretical fellow countrymen or Europeans (such as the putatively "Christian" Bosnian Bogomil force alluded to above, immediately before the Order's foundation); but the primary representatives of "the perfidious Enemy" remained the Ottoman Turks. 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. 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.  In return for their services, the nobles could expect to enjoy royal protection, honors and offices.

The creation of the order was an instance within a larger fashion of founding chivalric orders during the 14th and early 15th centuries. Not infrequently dedicated to organizing "crusades", especially after the disaster of the battle of Nicopolis (1396). 

The Order flourished during the first half of the 15th century, primarily in Germany and Italy. After Sigismund's death in 1437, its importance declined in Western Europe, but after the Fall of Constantinople of 1453, it continued to play a role in Hungary including Croatia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania, which bore the brunt of the Ottoman incursions.

Vlad Țepeș, the figure who inspired Dracula, was a member of the Order, as well as his father, Vlad II Dracul.

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