Awards to Presidents of Syria and Yemen Cited in Clash Between Orders of Saint George

Here’s one I missed from last month, as reported by Damian Thompson: the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has received a letter written on behalf of “HRH the Infante D. Carlos, Duke of Calabria, Grand Master of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, Head of the Royal House of Bourbon of the Two Sicilies and Doyen of the Knights of the Golden Fleece”. The Archbishop is chaplain to a rival Constantinian Order of Saint George, which is headed by Carlos’ cousin Prince Carlo Duke of Castro and which is scheduled to hold an service in the cathedral, and the letter attacks this rival faction.

Among the points raised is “the scandalous awards of the Constantinian Gold Medal to the Presidents of the Republics of Syria and the Yemen”. This is not the only controversial religious award that the President of Yemen has received – just recently the Moscow Times asked

why did Russia’s St. Andrew’s Foundation — headed by Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin, the Kremlin’s model “Orthodox businessman” — award Yemeni dictator Saleh its International Prize of the Holy Apostle Andrew?

Saleh was honored for his contributions to the notion of “dialogue among civilizations” (intended to be an alternative to the “clash of civilizations”) in 2004, the year marking the 10-year anniversary of the civil war in Yemen that Saleh had started — one that took the lives of more than 10,000 people.

More recently, Yakunin doled out an award to the President of Kazakhstan.

Returning to the “Carlos or Carlo” question, it should be noted that Prince Carlo also regards himself to be “Head of the Royal House of Bourbon of the Two Sicilies”, and this dispute is why there are two rival Constantinian Orders of Saint George. According to this site, by a certain L. Mendola and taking a pro-Carlo position, the issue goes back to 1900, when a previous Carlo (b. 1870) renounced his claim to the Two Sicilies position, then held by his elder brother Fernandino Pio, in order to marry a Spanish princess. Fernandino Pio died in 1960, and because his surviving offspring were all daughters the claim passed to Ranieri, another younger brother, rather than to Alfonso, the son of the by-then deceased Carlo. Ranieri’s grandson is Carlo Duke of Castro (b. 1963), while Alfonso’s son is the Infante Carlos (b. 1938). Apparently, Alfonso had reasserted the claim which his father had rejected in the vain hope of monarchical restoration in Italy; he had been encouraged in this this by Juan, Duke of Barcelona, who wished to strengthen the chances of his son Juan Carlos becoming King of Spain following the death of Franco by having Alfonso’s family out of the running.

Mendola adds that

…As much as one may marvel at the activities (in several countries) of the order bestowed by Infante Carlos of Spain, it is here in southern Italy, in the former Two Sicilies, that the truly bizarre situations are to be seen. One of my favorite examples occurs annually in Palermo on 23 April for the feast of Saint George, the order’s patron, when two organisations with the same name observe the same event with masses held at about the same hour in two churches located not half a mile from each other.

Thompson claims that the Carlos faction has “better credentials” than the Carlo faction, although it’s not clear on what this is based besides Thompson’s animus to the Carlo faction’s delegate in London, Anthony Bailey. Thompson notes that Bailey is a “PR man and Labour Party donor”, and that:

Amusingly, Mr Bailey calls himself “His Excellency” when playing this role; he is also described as the Order’s “worldwide Grand Magistral Delegate for Inter-Religious Relations”.

Thompson also draws attention  a 2007 Guardian profile of Bailey here (“the Vatican and the House of Saud take his calls… Bailey, whose circle of close acquaintances includes Prince Khalid al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia and Prince Charles, is to chair Labour’s Faith Task Force when it launches in July.”). The Carlo faction also has a sister order, the Royal Order of Francis I, which is an inter-faith organisation. Baroness Thatcher is a member, as are Rowan Williams and George Carey.

I’ve previously blogged on the strange world of chivalric orders here. There are also various other organisations called the “Order of Saint George”, which do not claim any association with the “Constantinian Order” or any particular link to Roman Catholicism. One of these is the “Knightly Order”, which was founded in Hungary – its UK “Grand Priory” enjoys as its “spiritual protector” none other than Andrew White, the famous “Vicar of Baghdad”; White’s predecessor in this role was Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Anglican Bishop of Rochester. Interestingly, several individuals involved with this group made their names in the 1980s as radical-right libertarian Conservative political activists.