The History of the "Russian Grand Priory of Malta"

© The Reverend Dr Michael Foster SSC MIWO


Disclaimer: This history 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 history.  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 history.

THE CLAIMS.

On aWeb page which once existed; http://www.geocities.com/matthew_xrb/History.html the following claims were made at the bottom of a brief history on the Order of St John - reference sub-divisions have been added [A-G];
[A] In 1908 a group of descendants of the Russian Hereditary Commanders assembled in New York for the purpose of establishing the American Grand Priory in the United States to perpetuate the legal continuity of the Order. [B] In 1913, the Chapter General elected the Czar Nicholas II’s brother-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovitch as the seventy-first Grandmaster. [C] In 1928 a group of 15 Russian Hereditary Commanders living in France made a declaration whereby they reestablished the Russian Grand Priory in Europe electing Grandmaster Alexander Mikhailovitch as Grand Prior.
[D] Finally, in 1962, King Peter II of Yugoslavia assumed the High Protectorate of the Order. [E] In 1964, the Order returned to Malta in the form of the Russian Priory and King Peter gave a new constitution to the Order whilst acknowledging and confirming its unbroken descent from the Order founded in 1098. [F] The King was also elected seventy-third Grandmaster in 1964 and [G] by Royal Charter elevated the Malta Priory to the Russian Grand Priory of Malta in 1970. Both these instruments of recognition are conserved by the Russian Grand Priory in Malta, as custodians.

THE CLAIMS EXAMINED.
[A]. In 1908 a group of descendants of the Russian Hereditary Commanders assembled in New York for the purpose of establishing the American Grand Priory in the United States to perpetuate the legal continuity of the Order.

Russian Hereditary Commanders did not set up an American Priory in 1908 - there is no evidence to back up such a suggestion for the early 1900s in the USA. However in that period in the USA there were "Orders of St. John/Malta" with their historical pedigree in the Black Association of the Orange Lodges (set up to defend the ascendancy of the Protestants in Ireland). In particular there was an "Order of Malta" incorporated in the State of New Jersey in 1911. It was a break-away faction of "The Knights of St. John and Malta" founded in 1881, itself a breakaway faction of  "The Royal Black Association of the Ancient, Exalted, Illustrious Religious and Military Order of the Knights of Malta" founded in 1797 as part of the Orange Lodges in Ireland and Scotland.
Being a Knight in the Black Association, was another degree in the Orange Lodge movement, and mimicked the degrees found in Freemasonry. The Black Association had no proven historical connection with the Order which was founded by Brother Gerard in the Eleventh Century, of which the Russian tradition was a part from 1798 onwards. By 1912 the group which had incorporated in 1911 had become defunct. The archivist of the Order, had been a Dr. Bullock who was consulted by Charles Louis Thourot-Pichel in the 1950s. Dr. Bullock died, with the records held by Pichel. Armed with these records, Pichel developed a whole prehistory for a new group he founded or with which he was connected, mimicking the foundation of the Paris group, complete with its Hereditary Commanders. The names of the alleged founding fathers of Pichel's group had died long before the claims were made. Pichel had the additional benefit of being acquainted with the history of the Paris group of Hereditary Commander who met in 1928, written by Professor Baron Michael de Taube. The Charter referred to by the leaflet was not a Charter as such, but an anachronistically dated Constitution and is alleged to have been typed on a 1942 typewriter in Schickshinny circa mid-late 1950s.

Pichel unmasked!
The whole story of Pichel's inventiveness was recorded by Pichel's closest associate for many years, Crolian Edelen de Burgh. In a letter addressed to Harrison Smith, the Historian to the King Peter Order in Malta, Mr Edelen, wrote on January 22, 1980;
"My problem with the history is that all seems to be false from 1908 to 1932 as published by Pichel. I know his Minutes are false. Dr Bulloch was never Grand Chancellor of the Order. He was the Archivist of the old Scottish-American Order of St John and kept these records at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When he was old and blind, in the early 1950's, Pichel went to him with a story that he was writing a history of the Knights of Malta and needed some records from the Archives. Dr Bulloch let him borrow whatever he fancied and then obligingly died while Pichel had the most important records. We took the material, twisted it around, took names of noblemen from the Times Index and created an Order stemming from the Grand Priory of Russia, all a hoax.... The Scottish-American Order went out of business in New York about 1909 following a suicide of the Grand Chancellor, as well as a scandal involving payment (or non-payment) of life insurance policies on the lives of members. Some members in New Jersey tried to save the situation by securing a charter as the "Knights of Malta" in Trenton in 1911. Their effort failed and by 1912 was abandoned. Then Pichel came along in the 1950's and claimed to be the duly elected officer of that Corporation to give his Order some evidence of antiquity and to substantiate the false Minutes". - Archives OSJ World Headquarters, St Pauls Street Valetta.
The same confession was given by Edelen to a Sovereign Council meeting of one of the many King Peter Orders, "Combined Minutes Meetings of Sovereign and Little Councils April 10-14, 1981 New York Athletic Club." Present at the meeting was Anthony Zammit. Edelen's confession is given from page 18 onwards.
Edelen's confession was brought about by a well research account provided by Robert Formhalls, who had access to records of the Knights of St. John and Malta and the Royal Black Association of the Ancient, Exalted, Illustrious Religious and Military Order of the Knights of Malta, and who had published an account of Pichel's myths in 1979.

[B] In 1913, the Chapter General elected the Czar Nicholas II’s brother-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovitch as the seventy-first Grandmaster.

Apart from Minutes provided by Pichel, there is no other solid evidence. Pichel's minutes did not make any appearance until the late 1950s!.
Against this is the solid evidence that the Paris Group of Russian Hereditary Commanders under the leadership of Grand Duke Alexander acknowledged the Grand Magistry as being in Rome, when they made their approach for reconciliation in the period 1929-1932. This position accords with the historic position adopted by the Russian Grand Priory and Russian Crown. Sadly the reconciliation was refused on the ground that the members of the Russian Grand Priory were not Roman Catholics.
Thus Grand Duke Alexander was not a Grand Master of the Order of St. John in 1913. However he was Grand Prior of the Paris Group of Hereditary Commanders from 1928 until his death in 1933. Also to be noted is that in the 1960s the Paris Group repudiated Pichel's claims - this is on record in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta Archives in Rome.

[C] In 1928 a group of 15 Russian Hereditary Commanders living in France made a declaration whereby they reestablished the Russian Grand Priory in Europe electing Grandmaster Alexander Mikhailovitch as Grand Prior.

This information is partially correct, in-as-much as following the Revolution of 1917/18 contact was made between the surviving Russian Hereditary Commanders, and eventually, in 1928, twelve out of the thirteen surviving Hereditary Commanders of the Russian Grand Priory known at that date, met by arrangement in Paris. The thirteenth Hereditary Commander, who was not able to attend the meeting in June 1928 joined soon after. Present at the gathering in 1928 was an Hereditary Commander of the Catholic Grand Priory of Russia. Also present were three Aspirants for Knighthood. Thus 16 members were present. A certified copy of the original signed document (held in Paris) made in 1950, is now held in Copenhagen in the public Registry Office, - however one name (Nicholas Tchirikoff) was inadvertently missed in making the copy! Thus the author of the Web Page is relying upon an author who has only consulted the copy, which list only 15 as present, and does not clarify that only 12 were Hereditary Commanders of the Russian Grand Priory. In Copenhagen, bound with the copy are hsitoric notes, which clarify the situation, allowing anyone consulting the records to see that a name is missing - and that reference to the original - reproduced by baron Michel de Taube in his book published in 1955 will conform this! Indeed Grand Duke Alexander was elected as Grand Prior, but he was never-ever a Grand Master!

Perhaps unsure of their status, the so-called "Russian Grand Priory of Malta" negotiated with "The Orthodox Order of Knights Hospitaller St John of Jerusalem" (OOSJ for short) which claimed to have succeeded the Paris Group. A Concordance was signed in November 1994, whereby the Grand Priory of Malta became a dependent Priory of the OOSJ. The Concordance bound the Grand Priory of Malta to the Orthodox Knights "forever". In spite of this, the agreement was ditched shortly afterward in January 1995 by the Maltese Priory led by Victor M Xuereb, the Grand Prior! This action did not find universal support and a group remained loyal to the Concordance led by Dr. Joseph Vincenti, who had done much to seek the unity the agreement brought. Dr. Vincenti was then appointed Prior of Malta as part of the OOSJ. The history posted to the Web page under discussion omits this detail!

[D] Finally, in 1962, King Peter II of Yugoslavia assumed the High Protectorate of the Order.

What Order! Not the Order Xuereb now leads! For ease of understanding the various schisms or filiants of the Shickshinny/Pichel Order are identified by their main leaders.
The Order Pichel led, was the first of many "Orders" - The Pichel Order. Colonel Paul de Granier de Cassagnac, the Prior of France had become the Lieutenant Grand Master of the Pichel group, but had aspirations to become the Grand Master. At this time, the exiled King Peter II of Yugoslavia, was a member of the Pichel organisation (introduced by Cassagnac), and in September 1961 Cassagnac was elected as Grand Master. On the 30th January 1962, Cassagnac held a meeting of the European members at the Chateau de Granson and appointed King Peter as the High Protectorate of the Order. As a result of this action Pichel dismissed Cassagnac as Grand Master on February 22nd 1962. Those supporting Cassagnac, including King Peter, held the view that Cassagnac was still the legitimate Grand Master. Cassagnac was succeeded in the Shickshinny group by Lieutenant Grand Master Count Felix von Lucker (1962-1966). In September 1962, Cassagnac now led his own Order (The Cassagnac Order) backed by King Peter. On the 1st October 1963, King Peter provided Cassagnac's Order with a Charter.
The Charter was a first measure, and the leaders of the Order realised that it needed a new Constitution. The Constitution, devised for the Cassagnac Order was issued, and signed by King Peter on the 19th March 1964.

The advisers to the King, had in mind, his election as Grand Master. However Cassagnac refused to step down. On the 30th January 1965, King Peter was elected by a new organisation (The KPII Order) as the "73rd" Grand Master of the "Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, The Hospitallers, Knights of Malta".

Following King Peter's death in 1970, groups hitherto united by the King held together for a year, but then fragmented with conflicting claims to be the true continuation. The decisive break for the two main factions came on 17th March 1971, with a split between Formhals, (The Formhals Order) and Prince Sergei Sergeivitch Troubetzkoy (The Troubetzkoy Order). In 1977 the Grand Priory of Malta, split from the Troubetzkoy Order as they had obtained Prince Andrej, King Peter's brother as Grand Master, but reconciled in 1979 when Prince Andrej, became Grand Master to the united Troubetzkoy Order, but with the Headquarters based in Malta. In 1988 Prince Andrej located the HQ in Belgium in preparation for a Royal Belgic Charter. After the death of Prince Andrej on May 6th 1990, a Regency Council was set up in Brussels to cover the duties of the Grand Master. The Grand Priory in Malta, no longer being the power base, dissented from any curtailing of its perceived powers. At the Sovereign Council Meeting in Brussels, August 1990, the Grand Priory of Malta seceded under its Grand Prior, Bailiff V Captur who had succeeded Tonna-Barthet as Grand Prior, became the centre of an Independent network of Priories in Europe and elsewhere. Eventually Victor Xuereb became head of the Grand Priory of Malta which by then had re-invented itself as the King Peter Order (The Xuereb Order), and in 1999, Victor Xuereb took the title of Lieutenant Grand Master of this Order. Thus King Peter was not Protector of the Xuereb Order, nor the preceeding Troubletzkoy Order!

As an addendum it can be noted that in 1987, an Anthony Zammit and his followers broke from the Trubletzkoy Order forming the Zammit Order. In 1999, yet a further group broke from the Troubletzkoy Order, forming the Brodie Order!

[E] In 1964, the Order returned to Malta in the form of the Russian Priory and King Peter gave a new constitution to the Order whilst acknowledging and confirming its unbroken descent from the Order founded in 1098.

First it is not the Order Xuereb now leads as illustrated immediately above. The King did indeed sign a Constitution in 1964, but it is reported by Robert Formhals in his history of the Order published in 1979, that following a schism within the King Peter Order in 1968, after a good deal of negotiation, reconciliation was brought about on the 22nd September 1968. King Peter accepted a new Constitution which gave him the new status of Royal Head (instead of Grand Master) and removed him form the government of the Order. Also the Sovereign Council was replaced by a "Grand Magistracy". The acceptance by King Peter was issued by Royal Proclamation and signed by the King, and by Urosh Seffer, Robert Formhals, and James Jacobs. see; 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.
Indeed a Priory of Malta was created with King Peter's involvement in 1964, as part of his Order. It was not however a "Russian Priory".
There was a return to the 1964 Constitution in the Troubletzkoy Order. Up until 1977, the Troubetzkoy group had continued with a "Grand Magistracy" as the ruling body. Practically, the various Priories were operating semi-independently. In the period of 1978 to 1981, the Leaders of the Troubetzkoy Order, questioned their constitutional basis, and agreed that the 1964 Constitution was the legal Constitution of the Order. Over a decade had passed between its original issue, and the late 1970s revival of the Order. In 1981, an Australian Bailiff, Sir Hubert Opperman complained about the King's Charter of 1963 (and Constitution of 1964), "I have yet to meet anyone who has actually read it and recognises the Constitution of 1964". Patrick L. Conner, Barrister at Law, Brisbane Australia, raised the question as to who were the original beneficiaries of the Charter and Constitution . The answer (not given by Conner, who did not have the information to hand) was Cassagnac's Order. The evidence is provided by the dates of issue of both. see Combined Minutes. Meetings of Sovereign and Little Councils. 1981 New York Athletic Club, New York City, USA, on April 10-14, pages 2 and 88.

[F] The King was also elected seventy-third Grandmaster in 1964

Only if you accept the Order as led by Pichel was the genuine continuation and Duke Alexander as Grand Master from 1913 to 1933 had not been invented by Pichel! However Pichel's Order had a woven fabric of myth!

[G] by Royal Charter elevated the Malta Priory to the Russian Grand Priory of Malta in 1970.

Before the schsims between the Formhals Order and the Troubletzkoy Order in 1971, at a meeting of the Grand Magistracy in that year, according to Formhal's history, the Priory of Malta had been elevated to the status of a Grand Priory. Yet., the claim of the Priory at Malta, is that its elevation was by Royal Warrant of King Peter 22nd February 1970, in the form of a Diploma, which provided the status and title of "Russian Grand Priory of Malta". The location of the Priory, given its history as the home of the historic Order also paid its part in the prominence of the Priory.

There are some doubts about accepting the authenticity of the Diploma. The actual Diploma is one intended for a Knight and has been pressed into service for the elevation of the Priory. There was a real trust and friendship between Tonna-Barthet Prior of the Malta Priory and King Peter II, and the fact that the King allowed the signed copy of his constitution to reside with the Maltese Priory, is some measure of that Trust. This fact gave the Priory at Malta justification to claim to be a true continuation of the Order founded by King Peter. What might have happened, is that a pre-signed Diploma, intended for a Knight was pressed into service, either with the King's knowledge, or without. In 1970 the King was very ill in hospital and died in that year. It is believed that pre-signed, blank diplomas existed at the Priory, ready for any Investiture, minimising the delays, in presenting a diplomas to new Knights. The details about the relationship between King Peter and Tonna-Barthet were provided in a telephone conversation 30th June 1997 between the Author and John Cilia La Corte who had been a member of the Grand Council of the Maltese Priory.

CONCLUSIONS.
Historically there existed an Order of St John of Jerusalem, within the tradition of the Hospitallers, as led by King Peter II exiled King of Yugoslavia. Whilst King Peter had a personal connection with the Russian tradition, with the Yugoslavian Royal Family providing a home for the relics of the Order following the death of Empress Maria in 1928, there was no connection of his Order with the historic Order of St John of Jerusalem. Undoubtedly his Order could claim to have been a real part of the tradition of the Hospitallers by the good works it had undertaken, in a world that needs more such works and not less. However this did not make good any lack of historical pedigree, and the question of the pedigree is rightfully raised in response to the historic claims made by his Order, both during the King's life and by the fragmented groups following his death. The King's Order, via his certain fons honorum may have been a true Chivalric Order, and this is not questioned here, but the tradition of this Order did not survive his death being disowned by his lawful heir and successor, Crown Prince Alexander.
What should not be challenged is the right of such groups operating as vestiges of the King's Order to exist, especially if such groups operate within the true hospitaller tradition providing aid to those in desperate need. The right of Association for common lawful purposes is a fundamental human right. Using names, titles and badges not prohibited by law in the countries in which such groups operate, is an extension of that human right. What can be challenged, as is the function of this essay, are the claims to a historic pedigree, where such a pedigree does not exist - this also affects the claims of "knighthood" which cannot have the same meaning as Knighthood, in State recognised Orders.

Such groups also provide a testimony to the Russian tradition, which does exist. Pichel's myth, mimicked the very real continuation of that tradition within the Paris group representing the Russian Grand Priory in Exile. The Paris group was led by one of the senior dynasts, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovitch who was a Cousin of the successor to the Russian throne, Grand Duke Kiril. In 1939 the Paris Group allowed the creation of a Priory in Denmark (known as Dacia - not to be confused with a self-styled Order of the same name), which has continued the tradition beyond the demise of the Paris Group with the loss of all its leaders by 1975.


Sources:

1. A cached version of the Web page has been kept by the author.
2. 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.
3. Taube, Professor Baron Michel de. m.s. Notice Historique sur le Grand-Prieuré Russe de l'Ordre de Malte fondé en 1798, Paris 24 September 1950.
4. OSJ Sovereign Council Minutes 1977 to date.
5. Barthet, Gaston Tonna. 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.
6. Bobrinskoy, Count Nicholas, Informal and Confidential History of the Revival of the Order of the Orthodox Knights Saint John of Jerusalem, The Sovereign Order of the Orthodox Knights Hospitaller, Saint John of Jerusalem. New York, 1996.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Commission International Permanente D'Etudes Des Ordes De Chevalerie. Registre des Orders de Chevalerie, The Armorial, Edinburgh, 1978.
10. 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.
11. Gayre of Gayre and Nigg, Lieutenant Colonel. The Knightly Twilight, Lochore Enterprises, Malta 1973.
12. Gilmour, T. H. Knights of Malta. Ancient and Modern. Imperial Parent Black Encampment of the Universe and Grand Black Lodge of Scotland, Scotland 1903.
13. Hodges, Douglas. J. Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem Knights Hospitaller Historical Information, The Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem Knights Hospitaller, Grand Priory of Australia, 1989.
14. Land, Robert Ernest Augustus. Fifty years in the Malta order; being data dealing with the foundation of the ancient order, its history, constitution and ritual. Privately publishing by the estate of R. E. A. Land, Toronto, Can., 1928.
15. Muraise, Eric, (Colonel M. Suire) Histoire Sincere Des Ordres De L'Hopital, Fernand Lanore Paris 1978.
16. 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.
17. Partner, Peter, The Murdered Magicians, The Templars and their Myth, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1982.
18. Williamson, David Geoffrey. The Counts Bobrinskoy A Genealogy, James V Poat Edgeware Middlesex 1962.
19. Sainty, G.S. The Orders of Saint John, American Society of the Most venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem, New York 1991.
20. Smith, Harrison PhD. Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Progress Press, Malta 1964.
21. Smith, Harrison, & Storace, Joseph E. Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Second Edition, The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Russian Grand Priory of Malta, Akker Print, Delft, The Netherlands 1977.
22. Tonna-Barthet, Gaston. A short History of the Knights of Malta. Giov. Muscat & Co Ltd, Malta 1964.
23. de Quelen, Youenn, "OSJ synthesis for the necessary conditions for mutual recognition of Orders stemming from the Tradition of the Russian Grand Priories of the former Order of the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John of Jerusalem." Version 00. n.d. (circa early 1999) Paris.


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