The Order of the Golden Fleece is one of the premier Orders of chivalry in the world, with a distinct history and awarded only to highest nobility of Europe. Founded in 1430 by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, it was considered to be the Catholic counter to the Order of the Garter.
The Dutch “Father of the Fatherland”, William of Orange and other princes from the Houses of Châlon, Nassau and Breda were knights of the Golden Fleece.
After the Habsburgs absorbed the Burgundian lands, the Grand Mastership of the Order passed to that noble House. However, in 1700 a dispute arose between the Habsburgs and the Bourbons over the rights to the Spanish throne and the Grand Mastership of the Order. Ever since, there have been two distinct branches of the Order of the Golden Fleece: an Austrian one, under the Habsburgs and a Spanish one, under the Bourbons.
Though the Order was originally a strictly Catholic Order, the Spanish branch has become a State Order and has admitted non-Catholics and non-Christians such as King Constantine II formerly of the Hellenes and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the Habsburg branch has retained its Catholic character as a dynastic order of knighthood.
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