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The Royal Prussian Order of St.John (Königliche Preußische Johanniter Orden) was founded on May 23, 1812 by the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm III (03.08.1770 – 07.06.1840) just one year and a half after he had confiscated all estates of religious orders in Prussia due to financial difficulties in his kingdom and an urgent need to raise funds for the war against Napoleon. The Bailiwick of Brandenburg of the Chivalric Order of Saint John of the Hospital at Jerusalem (Die Balley Brandenburg des ritterlichen Ordens Sankt Johannis vom Spital zu Jerusalem) was one of those chivalric orders. Being a territorial institution of the Grand Prior of Germany that in its turn was a part of the Order of Saint John, it enjoyed autonomy since XIV century.
Former knights of the Bailiwick of Brandenburg were allowed to join the Royal Prussian Order of St.John with the Prussian king as a self appointed Sovereign Protector and Hohenzollern princes as hereditary heads of the Order carrying title of Grand Masters (Großmeister).
The Royal Prussian Order of St.John in fact ended as an elitist association restricted to Bailiwick of Brandenburg former members and never performed any significant activities worth mentioning here.
It was replaced in 1853 by a reestablished Bailiwick of Brandenburg modeled exactly on the original Bailiwick and dedicated to humanitarian services based on Christian values. Initiative belonged to the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV (15.10.1795 – 02.01.1861). Statute of the new chivalric order was adopted on March 14, 1853.
The king of Prussia remained Sovereign Protector but Hohenzollern princes still being heads of Order or Masters of the Knights were appointed “Herrenmeister” instead of previously used “Großmeister”. This change signified return to the roots as the former title came into being as early as XIV century.
Continuity with the historic Bailiwick of Brandenburg was provided by inviting eight surviving members of the pre-1811 noble Order disbanded more than forty years ago to join a new structure.
Before joining the reestablished Order of Saint John all candidates that had to be at least 30 years old and profess Lutheran or reformed Protestant faith had to prove their nobility, distinguished social status and impeccable reputation. Non-recurrent entrance contribution worth 1,000 Marks as well as 80 Marks approximately monthly membership donation for charity purposes were obligatory the former being paid directly to the Order treasurer and the latter to the territorial group that a new member was attached to. The final decision of admission was made by an Order Chapter that consisted of Commanders, Honorary Commanders, Chief Councilor and supreme members.
The Royal Prussian Order of St.John or the Bailiwick of Brandenburg as it was often referred to consisted of Knights of Justice and Knights of Honor. The former were initiated during traditional ceremonies and laid certain sermons. Four years membership as a Knight of Honor was obligatory before moving to the higher level, that of a Knight of Justice. Commanders who had particular responsibilities in their provinces were appointed by the Herrenmeister from the Knights of Justice.
Hence since the middle of XIX century the Bailiwick of Brandenburg secured its position as an elitist association of a German nobility, predominately military, focusing mainly on charitable activities. During peace time it aimed at establishment and operation of its own hospitals, nurseries, old-age homes, ambulance services and shelters for less fortunate while in time of war the Order assisted army by organizing infirmaries, field hospitals and medical transports at its own expenses.
The very first list of a restored Bailiwick of Brandenburg that was published in 1859 listed
Prince Carl of Prussia as Herrenmeister, ten Commanders, three Honorary Commanders, 156 Knight of Justice and 1,318 Knights of Honor. They were divided into twelve groups, namely the Bailiwick itself that included all non-German members of the Order, Brandenburg Province, Silesia, Prussia, Pomerania, Posen, Saxony, Westphalia, Rhine, Wurttemberg, Mecklenburg and Hessen.
Here’s a structure of the Order as of January 01, 1905.
- Sovereign Protector (Protektor) – Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany.
- Master of the Knights (Herrenmeister) – Prince Albert of Prussia.
- Chief Councilor (Ordenshauptmann) – the post reserved to the eldest Knight of the Order.
- Commandor (Kommendator) – 18 noblemen.
- Honorary Commandor (Ehrenkommendator) – 4 noblemen holding positions of Chancellor (Ordenskanzler), Treasurer (Ordensschatzmeitser), Secretary (Ordenssekretär) and Director of Operations (Ordenswerkmeister).
- Honorary Member (Ehrenmitglieder), i.e. aristocrats not meeting requirements of an Order but exclusively appointed as such by the Herrenmeister – 2 noblemen.
- Knight of Justice (Rechtsritter) – unfortunately no reliable info on their quantity is available.
- Knight of Honor (Ehrenritter) – 1,912 noblemen.
Complete info on an Order structure as of August 08, 1917 is provided below.
- Sovereign Protector (Protektor) – Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany.
- Master of the Knights (Herrenmeister) – Prince Eitel Friedrich of Prussia.
- Chief Councilor (Ordenshauptmann) – General der Kavallerie zur Disposition Hermann Graf von Wartensleben.
- Commandor (Kommendator) – 18 noblemen.
- Honorary Commandor (Ehrenkommendator) – 6 noblemen
- Honorary Member (Ehrenmitglieder) – eight representatives of the royal families, namely German Empress and Queen of Prussia Augusta Viktoria, Duke of Anhalt Friedrich II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha Carl Eduard, Queen of the Netherlands Wilhelmina, King of Sweden Gustav V, Queen of Sweden Viktoria, Prince of Lippe Leopold IV and Prince of Schaumburg-Lippe Adolf II.
- Knight of Justice (Rechtsritter) – 1,228 noblemen.
- Knight of Honor (Ehrenritter) – 2,975 noblemen.
The cross of St.John was regarded as an official award of the Kingdom of Prussia since the institution of the Royal Prussian Order of St.John in 1812 but no decorations were reported until 1853, when the Bailiwick of Brandenburg was restored by Friedrich Wilhelm IV.
All members of the Order regardless of their position wore equilateral eight pointed white Maltese cross on the lower left part of the tunic. Two types of that cross were manufactured – cloth one made of white silk and pin-back made of enameled metal.
Knights of Justice and Knights of Honor as well as other senior members wore neck badges suspended from a black neck ribbon, black being a color of a traditional cloak of Order.
Cross worn by Knights of Justice (Kreuz des Rechtsritters) had a shape of equilateral eight pointed white enameled Maltese cross. Golden Prussian eagles with spread wings were situated between its arms and the cross was topped by a Prussian crown. Dimension of a cross depended on position of its holder: that of Master of the Knights was 7x7 cm, Commandor – 5,5x5,5 cm, Knight of Justice – 5x5 cm.
Cross worn by Knights of Honor (Kreuz des Ehrenritters) had a shape of above described 6x6 cm cross but without crown on top. Black Prussian eagles with spread wings and golden crowns were situated between its arms.
Crosses and their elements were manufactured of various metals and alloys including gold, silver and bronze.
Its worth mentioning here that Pour le Mérite Order being the highest military award of Prussia was designed after the cross of St.John.
Unique decoration of a Sovereign Protector of the Royal Prussian Order of St.John (Protektordekoration) was issued only once on August 23, 1888 to the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
The Bailiwick of Brandenburg as well as its decorations survived the fall of the German Empire and existed in Weimar Republic which constitution in its Article No.109 forbade granting of any orders by the State to its citizens. In the meantime Republican authorities never opposed to issuance of already existing awards and badges that were instituted by various organizations or on behalf of former heads of numerous German states. Grave economic problems, political instability and uncertainty prevented them from liquidating or even reforming the de facto flourishing unofficial award system. Thus the Order of St.John existed as an independent and autonomous body with Wilhelm II remaining its Sovereign Protector in exile. Moreover two important reasons contributed to the loyal attitude of authorities towards the very existence of the Bailiwick of Brandenburg during Weimar era: numerous high ranking officers serving in Reichswehr were members of St.John Order and secondly, the Bailiwick enjoyed unquestioning protection of the German president Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg himself carrying a title of Honorary Commander.
The situation changed drastically when NSDAP legally came to power on January 30, 1933. Demise of the aged Paul von Hindenburg that followed on August 02, 1934 nearly marked the beginning of the end for the Order of St.John as well as other Christian organizations in the Third Reich.
While the first odious initiative propagated by Hermann Göring in May 1934 aimed at liquidation of the Bailiwick of Brandenburg was braked due to intrusion of the still alive influential Field Marshal, other regulations that followed soon left no chances to knights of St.John. Hence the investiture, i.e. traditional ceremony of initiation held in Sonnenburg castle since the beginning of XV century was banned; decree No.78/38 signed by Martin Bormann on July 02, 1938 forbade the members of NSDAP and their relatives to belong to the Order of St.John; decorations of the Bailiwick of Brandenburg were banned from wear on the German military uniform. Nevertheless certain knights reached an accord with the Herrenmeister that they would postpone their membership still making obligatory monthly donations.
The Royal Prussian Order of St.John escaped its abolishment during the Third Reich era only due to the outbreak of the World War II as many St.John knights held ranks of generals and important position of commanding officers. Moreover an inevitable conflict with noble families all across the Germany was not a desirable solution for Hitler as the course of the war turned against him in 1943.
Here’s an incomplete list of generals and admirals who were knights of St.John Order either still serving during the Third Reich era or having retired already by the time NSDAP came to power.
Alten, Hans-Henning von – Generalmajor
Apell, Wilhelm von – Generalleutnant
Ascheberg, Percy Baron von – Generalmajor
Basse, Hans von – Generalmajor
Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg, Oskar von – Generalleutnant z.V. (Rechtsritter)
Block, Lothar von – Generalmajor
Bock von Wülfingen, Ferdinand – Generalleutnant (Rechtsritter)
Bock von Wülfingen, Georg – Charakter als Generalmajor
Boetticher, Friedrich von – General der Artillerie
Boineburg-Lengsfeld, Hans Reichsfreiherr von – Generalleutnant
Bomhard, Adolf von – SS-Guppenführer und Generalleutnant der Polizei
Borne, Kurt von dem – Vizeadmiral
Both, Kuno-Hans von – General der Infanterie
Brauchitsch, Adolf von – Charakter als Generalmajor
Brauchitsch, Walther von – Generalfeldmarschall
Bredow, Ferdinand von – Generalmajor
Bredow, Hasso von – Konteradmiral
Briesen, Kurt von – General der Infanterie
Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt, Walter Graf von – General der Infanterie (Rechtsritter)
Buchholtz, Felix von – Charakter als Generalleutnant
Bülow, Hartwig von – Charakter als Generalmajor
Bünau, Rudolf von – General der Infanterie (Rechtsritter – 1950, Kommendator – 1952)
Bussche-Ippenburg, Erich Freiherr von dem – Charakter als General der Artillerie (Rechtsritter)
Chappuis, Friedrich-Wilhelm von – General der Infanterie
Chevallerie, Siegfried von la – Charakter als General der Artillerie
Cochenhausen, Conrad von – Generalleutnant
Cochenhausen, Friedrich von – General der Artillerie Dr.Phil.
Daniels, Alexander Edler von – Generalleutnant
Dewitz genannt von Krebs, Günther von – Generalmajor
Dewitz genannt von Krebs, Karl von – Generalmajor (Rechtsritter)
Diringshofen, Max von – Generalleutnant
Drabich-Waechter, Viktor von – Generalleutnant
Eberhardt, Gaspard von – Generalleutnant (Ehrenritter – 1894, Rechtsritter – 1908)
Eberhardt, Magnus von – General der Infanterie (Ehrenritter – 1895, Rechtsritter – 1921)
Eberhardt, Walter von – Generalleutnant (Ehrenritter – 1926, Rechtsritter – 1926)
Einem, Curt von – Charakter als Generalmajor z.V.
Esebeck, Friedrich Freiherr von – Charakter als General der Infanterie
Faber du Faur, Moritz von – Generalleutnant
Falkenhausen, Alexander von – General der Infanterie z.V. (Rechtsritter)
Falkenhorst, Nikolaus von – Generaloberst (Rechtsritter)
Finckenstein, Konrad Graf Finck von – General (Ehrenritter – 1901, Rechtsritter – 1911)
Flotow, Georg Richard von – Generalmajor (Ehrenritter – 1922, Rechtsritter – 1931)
Forstner, Ernst Freiherr von – Charakter als General der Infanterie (Rechtsritter)
Friedeburg, Hans-Georg von – Generaladmiral
Friedrich Franz IV, Grossherzog zu Mecklenburg – General der Kavallerie
Fritsch, Werner Freiherr von – Generaloberst (Rechtsritter)
Geyso, Eckhard von – Generalmajor
Gilsa, Werner-Albrecht Freiherr von und zu – General der Infanterie
Graberg, Richard von – Generalleutnant
Grote, Woldemar Freiherr – Generalleutnant (Rechtsritter)
Hammerstein-Equord, Kurt Freiherr von – Generaloberst z.V.
Hammerstein-Gesmold, Frithjof Freiherr von – Charakter als Generalleutnant
Hanneken, Hermann von – General der Infanterie
Heinrich XXX, Prinz zu Reuss – Generalleutnant
Holwede, Wolfgang von – Generalmajor
l’Homme de Courbière, René de – Generalleutnant
Hösslin, Hans von – Generalleutnant z.V.
Imhoff, Sigmund Freiherr von – Generalmajor
Jagow, Hans-Georg von – Charakter als Generalleutnant
Jagow, Walther von – Charakter als General der Kavallerie
Kameke, Karl Otto Ernst Hasso von – Militärverwaltungsvizechef (Rechtsritter)
Kayser, Hugo von – General der Kavallerie
Kempski, Hans von – Generalleutnant
Kleist, Adolf von – Generalleutnant
Kleist, Ewald von – Generalfeldmarschall (Rechtsritter)
Knobelsdorff, Otto von – General der Panzertruppe
Kortzfleisch, Joachim von – General der Infanterie
Kuhlwein von Rathenow, Horst – Charakter als Generalmajor
Küchler, Georg von – Generalfeldmarschall
Kutzleben, Georg von – Generalleutnant (Rechtsritter)
Ledebur, Leopold Freiherr von – Generalleutnant
Leyser, Ernst von – General der Infanterie
Lippe, Friedrich von der – Generalleutnant z.V.
Lippe, Georg von der – Charakter als Generalleutnant
Lochau, Axel von der – Generalmajor
Loeben, Eckhart von – Charakter als Generalmajor (Ehrenritter – 1904, Rechtsritter – 1913)
Loeffelholz von Colberg, Georg Freiherr – Generalmajor
Loewenich, Gottschalk von – Generalmajor
Loewenfeld, Wilhelm Friedrich von – Charakter als Vizeadmiral (Rechtsritter)
Loßberg, Friedrich-Karl von – General der Infanterie (Rechtsritter)
Mann Edler von Tiechler, Ferdinand Ritter von – Generalmajor
Marwitz, Georg von der – General der Kavallerie (Ehrenritter – 1891, Rechtsritter – 1907)
Natzmer, Wilhelm von – Generalmajor (Rechtsritter)
Niebecker, Georg von – Generalmajor z.V.
Nippold, Wilhelm von – Generalmajor (Rechtsritter)
Obernitz, Veit von – Generalmajor
Oelhafen, Otto von – SS-Gruppenführer and Generalleutnant der Polizei
Ohnesorge, Feodor von – Charakter als Generalmajor
Oskar von Preußen – Generalmajor z.V. (Herrenmeister, 1927-1958)
Pannwitz, Helmuth von – Generalleutnant
Planitz, Horst Edler von der – General der Infanterie
Platen, Axel von – Generalmajor (Rechtsritter)
Platen, Hartwig von – Generalmajor
Plehwe, Gustav Albrecht Johannes von – Generalmajor
Ploetz, Egon von – Generalmajor
Plotho, Wolfgang Edler Herr und Freiherr von – Generalleutnant z.V.
Poseck, Maximilian von – General der Kavallerie (Rechtsritter)
Pressentin, Richard von – Generalmajor z.V.
Priem, Georg von – Generalmajor
Prittwitz und Gaffron, Heinrich von – Generalleutnant (Rechtsritter)
Prittwitz und Gaffron, Max von – Generalmajor z.V.
Proeck, Otto von – SS-Oberführer
Puttkamer, Alfred von – Generalleutnant
Puttkamer, Jesko von – Generalleutnant z.V.
Rabenau, Friedrich von – General der Artillerie (Rechtsritter)
Reitzenstein, Wilhelm Christoph von – Generalleutnant
Richthofen, Manfred Freiherr von – General der Kavallerie
Roques, Karl von – Charakter als General der Flakartillerie
Rühle von Lilienstern, Kurt – Generalmajor
Ruville, Alexander von – Generalmajor
Schenckendorff, Heinrich von – Generalleutnant
Schenckendorff, Max von – General der Infanterie z.V. (Rechtsritter)
Schleicher, Kurt von – Generalleutnant (Rechtsritter)
Schleinitz, Joachim Freiherr von – Generalleutnant
Schleinitz, Siegmund Freiherr von – Generalleutnant
Schleinitz, Walter Freiherr von – Charakter als Generalleutnant
Schmettow, Eberhard Graf von – Generalmajor (Ehrenritter – 1896, Rechtsritter – 1913)
Schönberg, Walter von – Generalmajor (Ehrenritter – 1900, Rechtsritter – 1907)
Schrader, Otto von – Admiral
Schröder, Ludwig von – Charakter als Vizeadmiral / General der Flakartillerie
Schulenburg, Winfried von der – Generalleutnant z.V. (Rechtsritter)
Schwedler, Viktor von – General der Infanterie (Rechtsritter)
Schweinitz und Krain Freiherr von Kauder, Hans-Hermann Graf von – Konteradmiral
Seeckt, Hans von – Generaloberst (Rechtsritter)
Seherr-Thoß, Theobald Graf von – Generalmajor
Seidlitz und Gohlau, Hans-Heinrich Freiherr von – Generalmajor
Seutter von Lötzen, Wilhelm Freiherr – Generalleutnant (Ehrenritter – 1899, Rechtsritter – 1907)
Sommerfeld, Hugo von – Generalleutnant
Sponeck, Hans Graf von – Generalleutnant (Rechtsritter)
Stein, Johann von – Generalmajor
Stockhausen, Karl von – Generalmajor
Stosch, Hans Hubertus von – Vizeadmiral z.V.
Strubberg, Alfred von – Generalleutnant (Ehrenritter – 1909, Rechtsritter – 1914)
Studnitz, Bogislav von – Generalleutnant
Stülpnagel, Joachim von – Charakter als General der Infanterie (Rechtsritter)
Stülpnagel, Otto von – General der Infanterie
Stülpnagel, Siegfried von – Generalmajor
Taysen, Adalbert von – Charakter als Generalleutnant
Tiedemann, Karl von – Generalleutnant
Tippelskirch, Kurt von – General der Infanterie
Trotha, Wolf von – Vizeadmiral
Unger, Fritz von – Generalleutnant (Ehrenritter – 1896, Rechtsritter – 1905)
Unruh, Walther von – General der Infanterie
Usedom, Ewald von – Generalmajor
Viereck, Hans von – Generalleutnant
Wachter, Friedrich-Karl von – Generalleutnant
Waldenfels, Wolfgang Freiherr von – Generalmajor
Waldow, Ulrich von – Generalleutnant z.V.
Wedderkop, Magnus von – Generalleutnant
Weis, Otto von – Oberst z.V. / SS-Brigadeführer (Rechtsritter)
Werder, Wolfgang von – Generalmajor
Werthern, Georg-Thilo Freiherr von – Generalmajor
Westrem zum Gutacker, Reinhard von – Generalleutnant z.V.
Wilmowsky, Friedrich Freiherr von – Generalleutnant
Witzendorff, Bodo von – General der Flieger
Witzleben, Erwin von – Generalfeldmarschall (Rechtsritter)
Wrochem-Gellhorn, Carl von – Generalmajor (Ehrenritter – 1892, Rechtsritter – 1900)
Zangen, Gustav-Adolf von – General der Infanterie (Rechtsritter)
Zanthier, Hans-Georg von – Generalleutnant
Zepelin, Ferdinand von – Generalleutnant
Zülow, Alexander von – Generalleutnant
Nevertheless historical evidence shows that Führer intended to dismantle the Bailiwick of Brandenburg following highly expected but never realized German victory.
While the Royal Prussian Order of St.John as an elitist association was a collective body that faced humiliating restrictions, German nobility regardless of their membership in the Bailiwick was a class not trusted fully by authorities as well. On May 19, 1943 Adolf Hitler issued a decree stipulating that certain categories of citizens were not allowed to be promoted to positions of authority in the government, NSDAP and Wehrmacht. His vague wording was clarified by the Head of the Supreme Command of the German Armed Forces Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel who mentioned in his letter from October 23, 1943 that those persons were in fact members by birth or marriage of a reigning or formerly reigning family as well as nobility with international connections.
The Bailiwick of Brandenburg was restored in Germany after the World War II due to efforts of its Herrenmeister, Prussian Prince Oskar I. While the membership in the Order is still restricted to those professing Lutheran or reformed Protestant faith, since 1948 the proof of nobility is no longer obligatory to become a Knight of Honor. Promotion to the Knight of Justice is now available after at least four years of distinguished service. The wearing of Order decorations is permitted without any restrictions by the Law of July 12, 1957.
The Prussian Order of St.John had 2,950 members including foreigners as of January 01, 1990.