Monday, December 12, 2022

The knightly Order of the Dragon in medieval history

On this date, in December 1408, a new chivalric order appeared in Hungary, partly modeled on the Order of Saint George. The Order of the Dragon, formed under the patronage of King Sigismund of the House of Luxembourg and his second wife, Queen Barbara of the House of Cillei. The dire circumstances that led to the creation of the Order, the roles of its most prominent members, and its relevance during the last century of the Middle Ages partly inspired my newest novel, Order of the Dragon – Book One, coming December 16, 2022. In it, Prince Vlad of Wallachia (modern-day Romania) seeks a knighthood within the Order of the Dragon, while hoping to rule his homeland, and save his family and people from the threats posed by the rapacious Ottoman Empire.

During the previous century, before the Order arose, most of Eastern Europe saw the Ottomans under their leader Osman Bey, who came from the Anatolian region of Turkey, conquering the lands formerly held by the Byzantine Empire. Although the European nations responded to the Turkish incursions, the invasion of the Balkans occurred. After Osman’s son Orhan captured the strategic port of Gallipoli in 1354 and made it one of the first Ottoman strongholds in Europe, the Turkic expansion seemed inevitable. Most devastating to the populations of the Balkans was the practice of devşirme; the claiming of Christian boys between the ages of seven/eight and twenty, stolen from their families and trained as future soldiers and bureaucrats of the Ottoman Empire.

Most of Serbia became a vassal state when Sultan Murad I, the son of Orhan, paid the ultimate price for his victory at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Within seven years, the Ottomans established almost full control over Bulgaria at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, after they eliminated a coalition that comprised warriors from Hungary, Wallachia, Bulgaria, France, and Germany. Fifteen thousand European fighters and their leaders died at Nicopolis, but King Sigismund numbered among the survivors. Only the Mongol capture of Murad's son, the Turkish Sultan Bayezid I in 1402 and the subsequent civil war of eleven years between his sons offered hope of a respite.

Details about the Order of the Dragon survive. With Saint George, the dragon-slayer as its patron, the knights of the Order pledged themselves to two duties; the defense of King Sigismund and his family, and the defeat of the Turks. Part of the statute of the Order that survives in a copy from 1707 shows that the king held the following expectation: “…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 …”

The Order was not only intended to fight the Turks, but also to preserve Sigismund’s hold on the throne. History shows that he faced constant danger. Born in Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic) he ascended the Hungarian throne through marriage in 1385. Years later, when his first wife Queen Mary died in a riding accident along with the child she carried, Sigismund feared he would lose power. He answered Pope Boniface IX’s call for a new crusade against the Ottomans, which ended in disaster at the Battle of Nicopolis. Revolts arose against Sigismund’s reign, but he allied himself with powerful noblemen to keep control of the kingdom. Many of those men would become the first knights of the Order of the Dragon.

Its members, who were called Draconists, included princes and nobility who had lost their lands to Turkish attacks. The Draconists often wore, suspended from a necklace, the image of a curled-up dragon with its tail coiled around its neck. On its back, from the neck to its tail, the red cross of Saint George stood out against the background. Latin inscriptions of “O quam misericors est Deus” (meaning, how merciful is God) and “Justus et paciens” (meaning, just and patient) accompanied the dragon emblem. The Order’s members also displayed a seal in the form of an Ouroboros, an ancient dragon motif. They wore red garments with a green mantle on ceremonial occasions and donned a black mantle on Fridays.

Some of the members numbering between twenty-one and twenty-five first inducted into the Order include the following persons who feature prominently in my new novel, Order of the Dragon – Book One:

· Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary.

· Barbara of Cillei, Sigismund’s wife and Queen of Hungary.

· Hermann II, Count of Cillei, father of Queen Barbara.

· Frederick of Cillei, son of Hermann II and brother of Queen Barbara.

· Stefan Lazarević, Serbian ruler who abandoned the Ottoman alliance after his father’s death at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 and later allied with King Sigismund.

· Fruzhin, Prince of Bulgaria, the maternal nephew of Stefan Lazarević, and a surviving son of the Bulgarian ruler murdered after the Battle of Kosovo, Ivan Shishman.

· Nicholas II Garai, married to Queen Barbara's sister, the Palatine or chief officer of Hungary under King Sigismund, who also rescued him when Hungarian revolts occurred after the losses at Nicopolis.

· Stibor of Stiboricz, the governor of Transylvania.

· Pipo of Ozora, count of Temes, a Hungarian magnate, Florentine by birth.

· Hrvoje Vukčić Hrvatinić, Grand Duke of Bosnia and an erstwhile enemy of King Sigismund.

· Wladyslaw II Jagiellon, King of Poland and Supreme Duke of Lithuania, who was also an erstwhile enemy of King Sigismund.

· Vytautas of Lithuania, Grand Duke of Lithuania.

· Ernest of the House of Hapsburg called the Iron Duke of Austria.

Others would join them over the years, including the rulers of England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Aragon in Spain. Learn more when Order of the Dragon – Book One makes its debut later this week.


Note: The images included in the post; 1. The ceremonial sword of the Order of the Dragon, 2. The dragon emblem, 3. Sigismund of Luxembourg,  4. Fruzhin, Prince of Bulgaria, and 5. Pipo of Ozora, are in the public domain and may be found at Wikipedia.

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It's been a tremendous twelve months. A new job and health issues have impacted my writing time, but I'm still at it, trying to wrap...