© The Reverend Dr Michael Foster SSC. MIWO.



Commanderies in the Order of St John of Jerusalem, were sub divisions of Priories, or Grand Priories. They were in some measure akin to ecclesiastical benefices. The Commandery would consist of property such as estates and farms, which would produce income for the commandery. Like ecclesiastical benefices, they varied in value. Even the Commanderies for Russian and other Nobles in the Russian Grand Priory varied in value. Such Commanderies enabled the cost of a Knight and his retinue to be met.
A Knight could be promoted from one Commandery to another. As the historic Order moved further away from its monastic beginnings such moves would been seen as career steps. Although the money or the property for the creation of the Commanderies was gifted to the Order, it was for the general benefit.
Families could also gift Commanderies to the Order, to be held by a member of the family who had an hereditary right to join the Order, and to enjoy the Commandery, providing the normal conditions for entry were met. These were known as family Commanderies. Paul I encouraged noble families to gift such Commanderies as a means of extending the Order. 23 Families did so in the case of the Russian Grand Priory. When these were abolished in 1811, a redemption payment returned the estates back to the families and the Family Commanderies had become an honorific right for the male head of the family to join the Russian Grand Priory as a Commander, and the term "Hereditary Commander" was thereafter employed.

Hereditary Commanders

There is no mystique about Hereditary Commanders. The Hereditary Commanderies were more accurately "Ancestral" or "Family" Commanderies.

According to the rules concerning Hereditary Commanders (Ukase 19.044 21st July 1799, Article V), the right of inheritance does not provide automatic membership, but provides a right to be admitted into the Order. Those who are not Hereditary Commanders, or Knights have no automatic right to join the Order, but must be invited into membership.

Thus the Hereditary Commander was only one category of membership. However the Hereditary Commanders provided for the Grand Priory of Russia, a group of individuals who were conscious of the privilege they inherited, and became a force which maintained the Russian tradition of St John of Jerusalem.

There is evidence within the Russian tradition, that both prior to the Revolution of 1917/18, and within the exilic community that in addition to the Family Commanders, other members were admitted into the Order as knights, such as Count Alexander Vladimirovitch who received permission from Emperor Nicholas II permission to wear the insignia of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (dated 17th November 1912). Also, in 1928 three members were received by the Hereditary Commanders group. They were Prince Vladimir Galatzine, Count Alexander Mordvinoff and Count André Lanskoj.

The documents listing the Hereditary Commanders are;
Annales Historiques De l'Ordre Souverain de St. Jean de Jérusalem à Saint - Petersbourg 1799 de l'Imprimerie Impériale.
Annales Historiques De l'Ordre Souverain de St. Jean de Jérusalem à Saint - Petersbourg 1800 de l'Imprimerie Impériale.

Some of the genealogy of the Family Commanders can be traced via the Court Almanacs of St. Petersburg and the Gotha Almanac.

Gotha was the seat of the geographical-cartographical publishing house of Justus Perthes (now the nationally owned Hermann Haack publishers), which first published in 1763, the Gothaische Hofkalender ("Gotha Almanac"), a widely used annual reference book.

The Gotha Almanac shows Hereditary Commanders in 1867, 1885, 1889, 1908, 1914, 1925, 1928, 1934 and 1940. These references indicate that the hereditary titles had been more or less faithfully transmitted from generation to generation

The "hereditary family commanderies" under Paul I belonged to the following families (listed as per their nomination in 1799 and 1800 and the orthograph of their names in the Court Calendar of 1813) : The complete list is as follows;

Russian Grand Priory
(Orthodox / Œcumenical)
Hereditary Family Commanders
 in the reign of Paul I.

Mr. Léon Naryshkine
Prince Nicolas de Youssoupoff
Prince Boris de Youssoupoff
Count Nicholas Chérémeteff,
Baron Alexandre de Stroganoff
Count Grégoire Samoiloff
Prince Alexandre de Beloselsky
Prince Basile de Dolgorouky
Mr Leon de Davidoff,
Prince Ivan de Borätinsky
Mr Nicolas de Demidoff
Prince Basile de Troubetskoy
Count Ivan de Worontzoff
Marquis Constantin de Maruzzi
Mr Pieere de Békétoff
Prince Pierre de Toufiakin
Mr Mathieu d'Olsoufiew,
Mr Alexandre de Gerbetzoff
Count Paul Stroganoff
Mr Porphyre de Boutourlin

Mr de Potemkin,
Mr de Tchitikow.

Total in 1800:
21 families with 22 commanders.

Russian Grand Priory
(Orthodox / Œcumenical)

Hereditary Family Commanders
in the reign of Alexander I.

Prince Khilkoff
Prince Odoévsky

Russian Grand Priory
(Orthodox / Œcumenical)

Hereditary Knights with the
rank of honorary Commander.

The Count de Golovkin first General in the service of Holland.
The Count de Golovkin, Senator.
The Count de Golovkin Master of  Ceremonies of Court.
The Count de Golovkin Current Chamberlain .
The Count de Golovkin Captain in the second Regiment of Semenovski.

Catholic Grand Priory of Russia

Prince Radziwill,
Prince Lubomirsky,
Prince Sapiéha,
Count Platter,
Count Lopott,
Count Ilinsky,
Count Borch,
Count de Choiseul-Gouffier.

Hereditary Commanders in Paris 1928

Following the Revolution of 1917/18 contact was made between the surviving 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. They were;

Leo Narichkine,
Count Dmitri Chérémeteff,
Prince Serge Bielosselsky-Bielozersky,
Prince Serge Dolgorouki,
Denis Davydoff,
Paul Demidoff,

Prince Nikita Troubetzkoy,
Count Hilarion Worontzoff-Dachkoff,
Count Dmitri Olsoufieff,
Dmitri Jerebzoff,
Dmitri Boutourline,
Nicholas Tchirikoff.

The thirteenth Hereditary Commander, who was considered to be Prince Vladimir Vladimirovitch Bariatinsky was not able to attend the meeting in June 1928. He was invited to join the Council of the Russian Grand Priory circa 1929. At the time the Council were seeking recognition from the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and Prince Vladimir was a second cousin to Prince Don Ludovico Chigi Rovere Albani,  a senior Bailiff in, then Grandmaster of, SMOM in 1931.

Present at the gathering in 1928 was Count Vladimir Borch, a Hereditary Commander of the Catholic Grand Priory of Russia. Also present were Aspirants for Knighthood, Prince Vladimir Galitzine, Count Alexander Mordvinoff, and Count Andre Lanskoi.

The meeting of 1928 in Paris was held under the auspices of the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovitch a cousin to Grand Duke Kirill, claimant to the throne, who confirmed those who had already been so admitted (such as Count Dmitri Chérémeteff, who was listed in the Russian Court Almanac of 1913/14), and also admitted those Hereditary Commanders who had yet to fulfil their obligations toward the Order. Grand Duke Alexander had been accepted as the Protector of the Order.

In judging who was a Hereditary Commander, the Paris Group used the 1812 Almanac (as is evidenced from the Diplomas issued to members), and genealogies that were sometimes imprecise. As a result of which, in some cases the wrong person was credited as being the Hereditary Commander.
For example in 1928, Prince Nikita Troubetzkoy is credited as being the Commander, using the principle of primogeniture, when in fact it was discovered later, that Prince Cyril Troubetzkoy was the most senior male of the line. There are other examples of an incorrect judgments being made with a number of the 1928 group not qualifying even when assessed by the principle of primogeniture in absence of any known Deed. Another example
For example , it is now known that the Vladimir Vladimirovitch Bariatinsky, who joined the Paris Group of Commanders in 1929, was not the most senior male heir to the first Commander and therefore not entitled to be the Hereditary Commander.  The senior male heir was in fact his nephew; Andrei Alexandroitch Bariatinsky. It is instructive that for those within the tradition, errors were made. The fact that these Commanderies were governed by foundation Deeds does not appear to have been known by Professor Baron Michael de Taube, legal adviser to the Paris Group. The succession of the Commanderies is giverned by the foundation Deed in the absence of any modification by the Imperium.

By 1928 many of the families had become extinct. By 1950 Prince Dolgourouki and Count Olsoufieff had died without heirs adding two more names. However families previously thought to be extinct are coming to light.

Amended 5th June 2007

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