The History of the "Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem" according to the Commandery of the Palm Beaches examined against the facts.

© The Reverend Dr Michael Foster SSC MIWO



The examination of an alleged history of the Order here presented is compiled from such sources as were available to the author. He will willingly correct and errors, omissions and make such necessary additions as to correct the examination. He apologises beforehand for any errors, inadvertent or otherwise, and will make such corrections as are needed to produce an accurate account. A bibliography of sources is given at the end of this examination.


The Palm Beach Commandery is a Commandery of an 'Order' of St John as led by a "Lieutenant Grand Master" Robert G. Brodie from 1999.
The history on the Commandery Web Site presents a basic historical scheme that the Hospitaller Order went to Russia in 1798/9 then in suspended animation in Denmark 1917 to 1928 when it went into Yugoslavia, and then via the exiled King Peter into the West.
The facts are that apart from a honorary decoration awarded by the British Royal Order in 1943, King Peter had no involvement with an Order of St John until about 1962. Indeed the relics of the Order were held in the Royal Chapel in Belgrade, entrusted to the Royal Family. This does not, and cannot, prove the pedigree of the Order. The leaders and the members provide this! The Order pre-exists its relics!

King Peter joined an existing American "self-styled" Order using the name of "St John of Jerusalem" in about 1962. He became "Grand Master" to a schismatic part of that Order in 1965. The Order as led by King Peter was a genuine Order, only due to the fact that Peter was a King - a source or 'fount' of honour (fons honorum). However his Order was not an historic Order of St John! When the King died in 1970, his son and heir refused to acknowledge the then fragmented Order, or any surviving section claiming to be the King Peter Order. Thus its fount of honour had come to an end.

The author holds in all free societies there exists a right of association for lawful purposes. Provided such social organisations exist, carry out their activities, and hold their titles and designations according to the law of the land in which they exist, there should no let or hindrance to such organisations. This right is enshrined in the Bill of Human Rights, and is seen as a fundamental freedom. Such actions, in terms of seeking to restrict or curtail lawful groups will infringe civil liberties and human rights. Where such societies are charities exercising humanitarian works - however humble - to oppose them is a double sin. The excellent charitable works undertaken by the Commandery are to be commended, and should be an inspiration to us all. However historical claims to have any value need to be true, and this examination seeks to question the historical claims made.

The History of the Commandery is to be found on the Web Site:

The History of the Order
according to the
Commandery of the Palm Beaches.
The History of the Order according to the facts.
The Czar agreed to protect the Order and was elected its Grand Master in 1799. At that time, he established two priories: one for Roman Catholic and one for Orthodox knights. The word "Czar" although a popular title used by some historians is not accurate. The title used by the monarchs of Russia after Peter I was "Emperor" - all the historic documents of the time refer to Emperor Paul I.
Of the two Russian Priories, one was indeed for Roman Catholics, and the other for Russian Nobles, without any restriction of denomination. It had a majority of Orthodox members but was open to any Christian nobleman.
A small group of Roman Catholic knights, who objected to the Czar becoming the head of the Order, went to Catina in Sicily where, in 1803, the Pope was recognized as "supreme head" of this division and appointed a Grand Master for this faction. In 1801 following the death (murder) of Paul I, both Russian Priories along with the other remaining Priories agreed to the appointment of a Roman Catholic Grand Master. The Pope had always been recognised as the superior of the Order. Page after page in Vertot (a history of the Order written in the early 1700s by Monsignor l'Abbe de Vertot - thus not affected by the event following 1798; see infra) make this fact abundantly clear.
This group formed the core of the strictly Roman Catholic Order now known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. For a while (1801-1810) the Russian Priories remained as a full part of the Order but in 1810, there was a fiscal separation of the Russian Priories from the Order. Although the Catholic Grand Priory died out (loss of contact with the Roman HQ) the Ecumenical (but largely Orthodox) Russian Grand Priory continued, with a dwindling membership held together by the Commanders of Family.
The nineteenth century also saw the creation of new, autonomous Orders emanating from the same historical tradition. After the Holy See established its Papal Order, SMOM,

the Johanniterorden was created by the Prussian king

only to be followed by the establishment of the Most Venerable Order by the Queen Empress Victoria.

Whilst by degrees the Holy See regained control over the Order (you only have to read Vertot to understand the very high degree that the Holy See had over the Order) the seat of the Order was as it had been previously - and that was under Roman Catholic Control!

The JohanniterOrden was a German part of the historic Order which had become Protestant in the 1500s, and from 1810 was controlled by the Prussian Crown but once again became independent of the Crown in 1852.

The French Commission (the unofficial body overseeing the remains of the French Langues following the republic's dismemberment of the Order in France) created a British Branch (1827) only adopted by Queen Victoria as a Royal Order in 1888.

The Czaravitch Grand Duke Paul was invested in The Order during an early visit to Germany, but it was only in the closing days of the century that, as the new Czar, that he became very involved. He was formally appointed Protector of The Order and reconstituted the former Grand Priory of Poland as the Grand Priory of Russia--one that would admit non-Roman Catholic members. In 1798, the former Priory of Poland became a Russian Grand Priory for Roman Catholics - in 1799 a second ecumenical Priory for Russian Nobles was created.
The Order continued quietly in Imperial Russia right up to the Revolution in 1917. During these hundred years, many a Court Circular and Imperial Edict mentioned The Order, even up to the 1916 appointment of a Hereditary Commander by Czar Nicholas II. There is no independent evidence for the 1916 appointment. A claim is found in a book by Colonel Paul de Granier de Cassagnac dated 1963, where he produces a photocopy of a document allegedly issued by the Chancellery of Grand Duke Kirill 13th January 1934.
The document states that "In view of the Proclamation issued on the 6th of December, 1916, old style, by our well beloved cousin and predecessor the Emperor-Martyr Nicholas II, conferring upon Charles Alfred Robert Marie Meunier-Surcouf, Baron Meunier-Surcouf, Prince of Spinfort, the dignity of Hereditary Commander of the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem (Order of Malta), in the name of the Grand Priory of Russia, We have confirmed and we do confirm by these presents to Charles Alfred Robert Marie Meunier-Surcouf, Baron Meunier-Surcouf, Prince of Spinfort, the dignity of Hereditary Commander of the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem (Order of Malta) in the name of the Grand Priory of Russia.
The problem is that the source is non other than a Charles Pichel, who's documentary evidence also includes an issued statement of 1936 allegedly from Grand Duke Kirill making Pichel a Knight of the Order of St Andrew, and acknowledging Pichel as the Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem. Pichel's activities under the St John name did not begin until the 1950s!
There simply is no evidence available for the 1916 appointment outside of that produced by Pichel!!
The Karadjordjevic Connection--and knights in modern times

Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the deposition of its Romanov protectors, and the advent of Communist rule, activities of The Order

See below for comments on page 19.cfm
were virtually extinguished in Russia. However, the Order was nurtured abroad by members of the Romanov families and by other former members. Its authorities were transferred to Yugoslavia where it flourished under the protection of that country's royal family. The authorities of the Order remain under Roman Catholic Control - the Russian Grand Priory (the Ecumenical Priory) continued in exile (HQ in Paris) under the Commanders of Family (known in common parlance as 'Hereditary Commanders').
There is no evidence for the Order's activities or even "authorities" in Yugoslavia (the transfer of the relics is another matter see; !!!

This very claim raises the question "if Emperor Nicholas II passed on the 'authorities' from the Royal House of Romanoff to the Royal House of Karageorgevitch along with the relics, why did the American Grand Priory/Sovereign Order of St John wait to acknowledge the Karageorgevitch House until 1962/4, when King Peter was readily accessible after the Second World War?". In other words why did King Peter wait until 1962/4 before being involved in any leadership role? Previous American Grand Priory/Sovereign Order of St John histories have expressed King Peter's roles as being an "hereditary protector" as stated in the King Peter Constitution of 1964.

FACT: King Peter did not inherit an "Order of St John" from Yugoslavia - he joined a pre-existing Order, which claimed to have been founded in the USA in 1908. At first (in 1962) he was a Protector to a schismatic part of the USA Order which had been led by Colonel Paul Granier de Cassagnac - a provable historic fact! He became the Grand Master to a faction of this Order in January 1965.

Eric Muraise puts this more simply "It is surprising, if Peter II had possessed an hereditary right to the protectorship of the OSJ, that he accepted this dignity from the hand of Colonel de Cassagnac" (see book list below)

The fact, is that the justification in accepting the Karageorgevitch Royal line as the Order's "authority", is 'post factum' (i.e., the justification of the claim that some "authority" accompanied the hand of John the Baptist, was not one offered until King Peter's involvement with the Pichel Order and its offshoots. This reasoning comes from the critical need seen by the American Grand Priory/Sovereign Order of St John to create an identity consonant with the model of the Order created by Paul I of Russia by having the patronage of Royalty somehow connected to the Russian Royal House, in much the same way as the 1928 group continued with the patronage of the Romanoffs.

Initially histories within the American Grand Priory/Sovereign Order of St John credited the foundation of their Order continuing the Russian tradition in the USA in 1908 by Russian Hereditary Commanders. With the gradual realisation, that at best Pichel's history (from which these histories drew their facts) of the years 1908 to the 1950s, could not be verified, and at worst, that it was a fable, the groups operating under King Peter's Constitution placed a greater reliance upon King Alexander of Serbia's attendance at the Corps des Pages academy, and the subsequent passing on of the relics of the Order to his keeping. The relics were seen as symbolising the Order's "moral contents" or "moral authority". Their transfer to the Karageorgevitch Royal House was then seen as a by-passing of Grand Duke Kyrill Mikhailovitch, successor to the Russian throne, in favour of King Alexander. Thus the continuation of the Order can begin with King Peter II, not relying upon any arguments about the continuation or re-establishment of the Order in 1908.

After the murders of many members of the Russian Imperial Family, the relics of The Order (namely the hand of St. John the Baptist), which had been venerated through the ages, were transported for safekeeping to Denmark, the home-in-exile of the Dowager Czarina Maria Dagmar. On her death in 1928, the relics were then entrusted to King Alexander I of Yugoslavia, a close relative and one who had been involved with The Order through the Corps des Pages in St. Petersburg. To save the relics of the Order of St. John in Russia from desecration and destruction by the Communists, they were taken by Father Bogoyavlenski in 1919 to Reval in Estonia. Later they were delivered to Copenhagen, Denmark, to be given to the Mother of Emperor Nicholas II, Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna. They were kept at her villa in Hvioze. Shortly before her death in 1928, the old Empress bequeathed the relics to her niece Yelena Karageorgevitch daughter of Peter I of Yugoslavia.

The Times of Malta 28th May 1997 page 60, - cites that recent historical evidence provides the information that the relics were bequeathed to Princess Yelena.

In 1928 the Russian exiles supported by Grand Duke Alexander (with the encouragement of Grand Duke Kyrill) met in Paris to continue the activities of the Russian Grand Priory in exile. Thus the Russian Grand Priory was AND remained Russian. This group has continued, and is still supported by members of the Russian Imperial Family. As respected as they are, as Orthodox Monarchs, neither King Alexander, nor King Peter were members of the Russian Grand Priory.

It was to his son, King Peter II, that history entrusted the modern continuance of The Order, which continued uninterrupted until the German invasion of Yugoslavia caused the exile of the young monarch. There was no Order, or activities of any Order of St John in Yugoslavia between the world wars. King Peter only became involved in the Johannine tradition by his honorary membership of the British Royal Order when he was made Associate Grand Cross in 1943.  His real involvement started only in the early 1960s when he was involved in an 'Order of St John' as led by a Charles Louis Thourot-Pichel and  then a schismatic part led by a Colonel Paul de Granier de Cassagnac.
In 1962, this descendent of Czar Paul and England's Queen Victoria--and a cousin of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II--was confirmed as High Protector of the Order and, in 1965, he was elected its 73rd Grand Master. His Majesty demonstrated his concern for the preservation of The Order's work in modern times by revising and promulgating its present Constitution and Charter in March, 1964, which serves as the fons honorum upon which the Order bestows its honors of knighthood. In 1962 Cassagnac had split from Pichel and then appointed King Peter as "High Protector", of his Order now separated from the Pichel 'Order'. 

In 1963 King Peter issued a Charter for the Cassagnac 'Order'.

In 1964 issued a Constitution (Known as the 'King Peter Constitution') to the Cassagnac 'Order', which was then used by King Peter for his own 'Order', when he split from Cassagnac in January 1965 to become Grand Master of his own Order.

The Constitution in itself cannot bestow a "fons honorum" - or fount of honour. A fount of honour is a Head of State, or Head of a Royal House, no longer reigning due to political change. Even if the Constitution could bestow a fount of honour, there are some seven or more "King Peter Orders" all claiming to be THE King Peter Order! The actual Constitution as signed by the King is held in Malta and claimed by the King Peter Order as led by Victor Xuereb!


This Web page will give you a list of competing Grand Masters and Lieutenant Grand Masters. In 1966, of the three connected 'Sovereign Orders' there were three competing Grand Masters, King Peter, Cassagnac and Edelen! With further schisms the list now contains enough Grand Masters and Lieutenant Grand Masters still alive to form a Commandery of their own!

King Peter died in 1970 and was succeeded a few years later as Grand Master by his younger brother, Prince Andrej, who died in 1990. The King Peter Order split into several factions following his death in 1970. Each faction claimed to be the "King Peter" Order. The two main factions were led by Robert Formhals and Prince Sergei Troubetzkoy respectively. In 1972 Prince Andrej became High Protector to the Formhals Order.
In 1977 the 'Grand Priory of Malta' separated from the Troubetzkoy 'Order' and Prince Andrej who left the Formhals Order was then elected as its Grand Master.
In 1979 the Malta Priory reconciled with the Troubetzkoy 'Order' which following Malta's lead then also elected Prince Andrej as its Grand Master. Thus it was only in 1977/1979 Prince Andrej became a Grand Master to one part of the split "King Peter" Order.
The main source of information for much of the above is the Minutes of the Sovereign Council meetings as listed in Cave-Brown-Cave's official history of the same "Sovereign Order" to which the Commandery of the Palm Beaches belongs!!!

Sadly the "history" offered by the web site;  is far from satisfactory. Surely there must be a duty for anyone publishing a history to check the facts?
Even if the books below are not available to the author a search on the World Wide Web will produce some dozens of articles. One key article on the King Peter Order is:

Another key article dealing with the relics is:

General articles can be found on:
1803 A small group of Roman Catholic Knights went to Catania from Russia; and asked the Pope for protection; forming the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta; with the Pope as the Grand Master. In 1803 with the agreement of the whole Order, including Russia, Giovanni Battista Tommasi di Cortona was chosen as the Grand Master to succeed Emperor Paul I. As Grand Master he fixed the HQ or Seat of the Order in Catania. No Pope has ever been a Grand Master of the Order! It was in 1810, that the Russian Grand Priory by Imperial Decree separated from the HQ of the Order - not the other way around!
Source of Information :


Source of Information : (bold type recommended reading)

*1964 Constitution; Tonna-Barthet, Gaston. Constitution of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, given by His Majesty King Peter II of Yugoslavia 19th March 1964, Progress Press, Russian Grand Priory, Malta, 1974.
*1968 OSJ Bulletin; Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem The Hospitallers, Knights of Malta. Bulletin Special Issue in Honor of the newly elected Lieutenant Grand master H.S.H. Prince Serge Belosselsky-Belozersky, Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem 475 Fifth Avenue, New York, USA 1968.
*1990 OSJ Deliberations; :Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller. Deliberations of the Sovereign Council of the Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem August 8-11, 1990. English Translation August 1990.
*Boisgelin; Boisgelin, Louis de. Ancient and Modern Malta, and the History of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, 3 Volumes bound together. G & J Robinson, London 1804.
*Brett-Crowther M.Sc., Ph.D., D.I.C. S.Th. , Dr. Michael Richard. Orders of Chivalry under the Aegis of the Church. Lambeth Diploma of Student in Theology (S.Th.) Thesis, 1st December 1990.
*Cassagnac, Colonel Paul de. Histoire de l'Ordre Souverain de St-Jean de Jerusalem Chevaliers Hospitaliers O.S.J. Liver Rouge, Scorpion, Paris, 1963.
*Cavaliero, Roderick, The Last of the Crusaders; the Knights of St. John and Malta in the Eighteenth Century. Dufour Editions, Philadelphia, 1960.
*Cave-Brown-Cave, Bt., KCSJ, Sir Robert. The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem Knights Hospitaller, A Short History, 900 Years of Chivalry (1099 to date), The OSJ Historical Committee, The Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem Knights Hospitaller. Vancouver, B.C. Canada 1997.
*Formhals, Robert Willard Yates. Story of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller under Royal Charter of Peter II, King of Yugoslavia, in Ed. Hartwell, Sir Rodney. The Knights Hospitallers, Volume I, Number 1. Sir Rodney Hartwell, California USA April-May-June 1975.
*Formhals, Robert W. Y. White Cross : Story of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, with particular emphasis on the Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller since 1964 under Royal Charter of Peter II, King of Yugoslavia. Sanghals Publishers, Camarillo, California, USA, 1979.
*Gayre, R of Gayre and Nigg, Lieutenant Colonel. The Knightly Twilight, Lochore Enterprises (Malta) Ltd Valletta, Malta 1973.
*Hodges, Douglas and Podesta, Roland. Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusaelm, Knights Hospitaller, Historical Information. Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusaelm, Knights Hospitaller, Grand Priory in Australia 1989.
*Joly, Guy-Jean.  Millenary chronology of the hospitallers of St John - OSJ,, Paris 2001.
*Muraise, Eric, (Colonel M. Suire) Histoire Sincere Des Ordres De L'Hopital, Fernand Lanore Paris 1978.
*Peyrefitte, Roger. Knights of Malta. Translated from the French by Edward Hyams. Criterion Books, New York, 1959.
*Pichel, Thourot. History of the Hereditary Government of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Maltese Cross Publishers, Shickshinny, Pennsylvania 1970.
*Pierredon, Count Marie Henri Thierry Michel de, Histoire Politique de l'Ordre Souverain des Hospitaliers de Saint-Jean de Jerusalem dit de Malte, Paris 1926.
*Pierredon, Count Marie Henri Thierry Michel de, Histoire Politique de l'Ordre Souverain de Saint-Jean de Jerusalem, (Ordre de Malte) de 1789 à 1955, Volume 1, Paris 1956.
*Pierredon, Count Marie Henri Thierry Michel de, Histoire Politique de l'Ordre Souverain de Saint-Jean de Jerusalem, Ordre de Malte, Volume 2, Paris 1963 .
*Quelen Jacques-Youenn de. Precis History and Spirituality of the OSJ. Regular Order of St John Knights Hospitallers,, Paris 2000.
*Ragsdale, Hugh, ed. Paul I: a reassessment of his life and reign. University Center for International Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 1979.
*Sainty, G.S. The Orders of Saint John, New York 1991.
*Sire, H.J.A. The Knights of Malta, Yale University Press, New Haven, USA, 1994.
*Smith, Harrison, and Storace, Joseph E, Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Second Edition, Akker Print, Delft, The Netherlands 1977.
*Taube, Professor Baron Michel de. L'Empereur Paul I de Russie, Grand Maître de l'Ordre de Malte, et son Grand Prieuré Russe, Paris 1955.
*Torr, Cecil. The Hospitallers in England, Correspondence in The Athenæum - Journal of English and Foreign Literature, Science and the Fine Arts, Music and the Drama, John C. Francis, The Athenæum Press, 22 Took's Court, Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane London EC, Volume for 1890. Numbers 3245 Jan 4th, page 16, 3248. Jan 25th, pages 117 and 118. 3267 June 7th, pages 737-739. 3268 June 14th, page 770.
*Vella OP, Professor Andrew P, Malta and the Czars 1697-1802, Royal University Press, Malta, 1972.
*Vertot, Monsignor l'Abbe de. The History of the Knights of Malta. Printed for G. Strahan,  2 Volumes, London, 1728.

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