Royal Order of Francis I
The Order’s founding monarch
King Francesco (Francis) I of the Two Sicilies (left) ruled the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies briefly from 1825 until his death in 1830. As Duke of Calabria (the title of the Heir Apparent), King Francesco was an exemplary military officer and regularly acted as the official representative of his father, King Ferdinando I, visiting remote regions of the Kingdom. His reign was a peaceful one and particularly prosperous period of Neapolitan history. Historians generally regard King Francesco I as a devoted husband and father, though they rarely ascribe any special merit to his actions as sovereign in his short time on the Throne of what was then the wealthiest and most powerful of the various Italian monarchical states.
The growing prosperity of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was certainly one of the factors motivating the Sovereign to institute an Order of Knighthood to reward those whose efforts had contributed to that same prosperity.
Founded in 1829 as a reward for civil and military merit, the Royal Order of Francis I is still bestowed today. Whereas certain other orders were strictly Roman Catholic in nature, characterised by religious rites of investiture redolent of the Age of Chivalry, the Royal Order of Francis I exemplified the “civil” form of knighthood devoid of such trappings.
The Grand Masters of the Royal Order of Francis I have included King Francesco I of the Two Sicilies (1829-1830); his son King Ferdinando II of the Two Sicilies (1830-1859); his son King Francesco II of the Two Sicilies (1859-1894); his brother Prince Alfonso, Count of Caserta, later Duke of Castro (1894-1931); his son Prince Ferdinando Pio, Duke of Castro (1931-1960); his brother Prince Ranieri, Duke of Castro (1960-1966); and his son, Prince Ferdinando, Duke of Castro (from 1966), whose Heir Apparent to Headship of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies is HRH Prince Carlo, Duke of Calabria (born 1963).
Today’s international recognition of the Order
Much like the Order of Saint Januarius and the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, the Royal Order of Francis I remains an ancient, dynastic and internationally recognised institution. The Order, which is neither a state decoration of the Italian Republic or the Holy See, has continued to be conferred long after the overthrow of King Francesco II, in 1861. Today the Order is bestowed by HRH The Duke of Castro, as Head of the Royal House of Bourbon of the Two Sicilies, and a great-great-great grandson of the Order’s founder.
Numerous states and dynasties across the world recognises the Order activities and the significant contribution its makes to charitable and humanitarian initiatives. In addition recognition has been extended by numerous state or dynastic bodies in relation to the important work it undertakes in promoting inter-church and inter-faith dialogue across Europe and around the world.
Today, the knights and dames of the Royal Order of Francis I, together with the members of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order, support and actively participate in the Order’s national and international inter-church, inter-faith, humanitarian, hospitaller and charity initiatives and projects.
The Royal Order of Francis I is bestowed upon worthy individuals regardless of nationality or creed who have contributed to public life, science, the arts, agriculture, and commerce. The Order also plays a significant role in recognising those that have made outstanding contributions to inter-faith and inter-church dialogue and understanding. All principal faiths and denominations are represented at both delegation and international level.
Among the Order’s prominent knights and dames are His Grace The Rt Rev and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and his predecessor, The Rt Rev and Rt Hon Lord Carey of Clifton, HE President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, HRH Princess Benedikte of Denmark (right above), HE President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, HRH Prince Khalid Al-Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud Governor of Makkah Region, (right below), former British Prime Minister The Rt Hon Baroness Thatcher (left below), The Duke of Westminster (left above) inter-faith leaders Sir Sigmund and Lady Sternberg, Lord Denman, Mr Mahmoud Khayami, the former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly Lord Alderdice, former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Gavyn Arthur, Sir Michael Craig-Cooper, Sir David Durie, former HM Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Gibraltar, HE Mr Mohammed Belmahi, former Ambassador of HM The King of Morocco, The Rt Hon Dame Angela Rumbold, The Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury and Professor Nasser David Khalili.
Religious leaders among those honoured
Among the leaders of other Christian denominations who have been invested with the Royal Order of Francis I in recognition of their ecumenical achievements are, His Grace The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Anglican Communion (above right), The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Lord Carey of Clifton, former Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and His Eminence Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain, Head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Great Britain (above left).
Interfaith dialogue seminars and charitable endeavour
The Royal Order of Francis I, together with its sister Order, the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St George, continues to lead the way among lay Catholic knightly associations and brotherhoods, in its commitment to inter-church and inter-faith dialogue. Among important initiatives there was significant engagement with other Christian churches and the leaders of Muslim and Jewish religious communities in dialogue projects. Among these are the adoption for charitable purposes and financial support of the Forthspring Community Centre in Belfast which works to bridge the Roman Catholic-Protestant divide in Northern Ireland.
During 2004, the Royal Order of Francis I, together with its sister dynastic order, the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, paid a high level interfaith dialogue delegation to Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
The delegation which was headed by the Order’s then Grand Prefect, HRH The Duke of Castro, undertook a series of important engagements in each country including interfaith dialogue seminars with Christian and Muslim leaders and spiritual visits to key Christian and Muslim places of worship.
Currently the Royal Order of Francis I, is launching a series of initiatives which will include the exchange of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders between Europe and the Arab world, and the hosting of meaningful interfaith seminars in key European capitals. Most recently this included activities in Serbia and Montenegro and a London based conference for British and Bulgarian faith and civil leaders.
Royal Order of Francis I’s Membership and Grades
Founded by King Francesco (Francis) I of the Two Sicilies in 1829 as a reward for civil and military merit, the Royal Order of Francis I is still bestowed today by the Head of the Royal House of Bourbon Two Sicilies. Whereas certain other orders were strictly Roman Catholic in nature and characterised by religious rites of investiture redolent of the Age of Chivalry, the Royal Order of Francis I exemplified the “civil” form of knighthood devoid of such trappings.
The Order has only three grades namely Knight First Class, Knight Commander and Knight Grand Cross. For women the grades are Dame, Dame Commander and Dame Grand Cross.