The Foundation Deeds of Family Commanderies of the Order of Malta in Russia.

Akin to ecclesiastical benefices, with the right of patronage for the landowner who gave estates to support a Priest, similar arrangements could be found in the Order of Malta 1. Whilst the right of patronage 'jus patronatus' could be inherited, the Commanderies could not. The Noble who gave the lands had a right to choose the Incumbent, who needed to be suitably qualified.

Such 'jus patronatus' Commanderies were contained within the Priory of Poland. This Priory existing within the Russian partition of Poland was absorbed in 1797, into a newly created Catholic Grand Priory of Russia.

Paul I, encouraged further gifts to create new 'jus patronatus' Commanderies, but by then under the Russian system these could be occupied by married men. The new Commanderies, although employing the term 'jus patronat' were better described as "Family Commanderies" - which were created by a noble  "for himself and his male descendants in perpetuity2. The role of Patron and Incumbent had become one and the same. In other words - via this process, the Commanderies were Hereditary. Whilst Prince Cyril Toumanoff denies that the Commanderies were Hereditary 3 his access to the documents was either limited or selective.  Both the Foundation Deeds, and a subsequent Ukase governing the Family Commanderies (which employs the term "hereditary" in terms of the rights of the Incumbent) 4 makes the matter very clear.

The noble who founded the first of the new Family Commanderies, Count Auguste Ilinsky was given certain financial incentives to encourage others to do likewise;

"In view of the fact that Count Auguste Ilinsky is the first who, since the institution of the Grand-Priory of Russia, forms this undertaking with the illustrious Order of Malta, and considering that he could invite other individuals to form similar foundations, it is granted to Count Auguste Ilinsky, founder and first Titleholder of the said Commandery, to pay only two thousand Polish Florins for the transfer tax, fixed here as his right of passage, and six hundred Polish Florins per annum, for the responsions. The same exception will be granted to Count Henry his eldest son when he succeeds to the Commandery. All the other successive Commanders, will be obliged to pay in entirety the sums stipulated in Articles 8 and 9 of this foundation Deed." 5

After the foundation of the Illinsky Commandery in 1797, a further nine Family Commanderies were created up to 1808. These joined a previous four created between 1610 and 1775, (which were simply 'jus patronatus' Commanderies, and not subject to a foundation Deed modifying their status). The foundations of Illinsky and the nine following were subject to Foundation Deeds.

Following the creation of the Russian Grand Priory (in addition to the Catholic Grand-Priory of Russia), between 1799 and 1805, of this Priory, twenty-four Family Commanderies were created via Foundation Deeds. In addition to the Deeds, a Ukase was promulgated, regulating the Commanderies 21st July 1799 6. The Ukase added further stipulations, such as a candidate for a Commandery must have been in membership of the Order for at least five years, and had two years military service.

Hereditary Commanders post 1811.

Following the murder of Paul I, although at first, the Order in Russia continued as before (for example there were new admissions to the Russian Grand Priory up to the 20th February 1810, with the admission of 13 Knights of Justice for the Russian Grand Priory, and 18 Knights of Justice for the Catholic Grand Priory 7, on the 26th February 1810 Alexander I, secularised the property of the Order in Russia 8. In 1811, a further Ukase instructed that the Estates be returned to the families as their ordinary property via a single redemption payment or by instalments 9.

Essentially the Commanderies no longer existed, and therefore no "Right of Patronage" continued to exist. However, it can be noted that up to at least 1813, the Commanders were still styled "Commanders of Family" 10. By the 1820s they were simply styled "Commanders". As evidenced in the Court Almanacs and other publications, it appears that from the late 1800s, the term "Hereditary Commander" came into use.

There is a temptation to suggest that this owes itself to a "Sovereign Authorisation" of 19th October 1867 under Alexander II, whereby in relation to an authorisation given to Prince Alexander Vasileyevitch Troubetzkoy, the eldest son of the "Hereditary Commander" was allowed to wear the Decoration of the Order 11. This stipulation itself may reflect a proviso in the Foundation Deed as discussed below. Both Professor Baron Michael de Taube and Count Michael de Pierredon (who relied upon Taube for the 1867 detail 12) seem to suggest that the "Sovereign Authorisation" was universal. Nevertheless there is no evidence to support this view, despite an exhaustive search 13, therefore the "Authorisation" was probably 'ad personam' - a permission specifically given to Prince Alexander Vasileyevitch Troubetzkoy.

Pierredon went on to argue that;

"Mais il s'agit de concessions personnelles emanant du souverain et nullement de la survivance du Grand-Prieure comme corporation."
"However it is all about personal concessions emanating from the sovereign and nothing about the survival of the Grand Priory as a corporation." 14.

This concession or courteous allowance certainly was not about the survival of the Grand Priory as a Corporation, it did not have to be - the functions of the corporation had been absorbed into the State, by way of the 1810 Ukase 15.

The fact that the State after 1810, governed the Order can be seen in practice, as in 1841, it was declared that Prince Pierre Ivan Tufiakine, a Hereditary Commander of the Order, was no longer a Commander; 

"Le prince Tufiakine partit pour l'étranger, où il passa le reste de sa vie. En 1841, il fut dépouillé de ses fonctions de chambellan actuel, et de ses dignités de maître de la Cour et de commandeur de l'Ordre de Malte."
"Prince Tufiakine emigrated abroad, where he passed the rest of his life. In 1841, he was stripped of his functions of Current Chamberlain, and of his dignities of Master of the Court and Commander of the Order of Malta. " 16

Grand Duke Nicolas Mikhailovitch states that the information has been "generated from State Documents" - "Manufacture des Papiers de l'etat". This demonstrates a continuing role of the State in the Order.

This is exactly as stated by Sir Bernard Burke in his book of 1844, 17. Whilst Burke has plagiarised Loumyer on the specific details on the Order of St John in Russia, with out of date information 18, he does have up to date information at least up to 1831, and in the same section where it is noted that a single chancellery dealt with all the Orders in Russia 19.

Thus in the late 1800s, and early 1900s, there is mention of Hereditary Commanders, and that those holding to such title had the agreement of the Imperium is not in doubt. The 1914 Almanac lists Paul Alexandrovitch Demidoff (1869-1935) as; "ancien officer du rég. des chevaliers gardes; commandant héréditaire de l'Ordre de Malte" 20.

Following the Revolution, in the exilic community in France, Russian Nobles, many of whom claimed to be Hereditary Commanders, set up a Paris based Association in 1928, with the blessing of the senior Grand Dukes, including Kirill. In the absence of the Imperial State, this group functioned as a corporation until 1975, when the last of the officials died (save for Grand Duke Vladimir who died in 1992).

In judging who was a Hereditary Commander, the Paris Group used the 1812 Almanac 21, and genealogies that were sometimes imprecise. As a result of which, in some cases the wrong person was credited as being the direct descendant of the first Family Commander. For example in 1928, Prince Nikita Troubetzkoy is credited as being the Commander, using  primogeniture 22 when in fact it was discovered later, that Prince Cyril Troubetzkoy was the most senior male of the line 23. 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. 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.

Hereditary Commander hunting by the Self-styled Orders.
Once the Paris Group as representing the Russian Grand Priory had met its demise by 1975, a vacuum was created, which was quickly filled by the many self-styled Orders, which were and are essentially filiants of the Shickshinny Corporation (founded in the 1950s but claiming a pre-history as being founded by Russian Hereditary Commanders in the USA in 1908). Such groups armed with lists of Russian Knights and Commanders and copies of genealogies, entered the open season for Hereditary Commander hunting.

Orders led by various Grand Masters or Grand Priors all boasted the membership of an Hereditary Commander or two, or even more. Some even gained the blessing of an Orthodox Bishop, or Patriarch. All of this to claim they were continuing the Russian Grand Priory. Most of these "Orders" invent their own rules as to who qualifies as a Hereditary Commander, ignoring or being ignorant of, the rules that govern the succession, settling for the nearest family member they can interest, or even someone sharing the right surname, without considering, that even if they bagged a genuine person into membership, and who met the various caveats in determining whether they qualified or not, it would simply be a case of an Hereditary Commander joining a self-styled Order.

The Foundation Deed.
Even where the genealogy has been meticulous traced and recorded, what is often ignored is a reading of the Ukase which governs the Family Commanderies, and ignoring the Deed which governs succession.

It is clear from Ukase 190.44 21st July 1799 that each Family Commandery has a foundation Deed 24, which governs who succeeds to the Commandery and how.

Out of fourteen or so Articles in each Deed, there are one or two, which are unique to the individual Deed of the founding family. These specify how and by whom the Commandery can be inherited. For example the Lubomirsky Deed (of the Catholic Russian Grand Priory) is interesting, because the founder nominates his third son to succeed him in preference to his eldest, which demonstrates that this may have been a way of creating Commanderies as livings for the youngest sons. Thereafter it was to go to the eldest of that cadet line. 

"His Excellency Prince Michel Lubomirsky founds for himself and his male descendants in perpetuity a Family Commandery or Jus-Patronat in the Grand Priory of Russia of the Order of Malta in the Russian Empire, such that he will be the first Commander and Titleholder, and after him his third son Prince Marcellin Lubomirsky will be the possessor of the Title, and successively one of the male descendants of the said Prince Marcellin, such as he may have, the eldest son always by preference to the others." 25.

Furthermore, if the original line (be it the Senior Line or a Cadet Line) comes to an end, the Deed then passes the Commandery to other branches of the family, in an order specified by the founder, and the Foundation Deed can nominate up to, two unrelated families. For example the Ilinsky Deed specifies:

"Should the direct male descent of the founder Count Auguste Ilinsky, mentioned in the first Article of this Convention, become extinct, the male branch of Count Jean Nepomucene Ilinsky, paternal Uncle of the founder, Count Auguste Ilinsky, will succeed to the Commandery.
If Count Jean Nepomucene does not have male descendants, or with their extinction, the male branch of M. Heliodor Inlinsky, First cousin of the founder, will succeed, and with its extinction, the male branch of M. Antoine Ilinsky, brother of M. Casimir Ilinsky, father of Mr Heliodor will succeed.

Thus it is clear that the initial succession is entirely governed by the whim of the founder, and only reverts to the rule of primogeniture (which itself might be modified by the Deed), after the second named Commander. Again when a direct line ends, the succession to another branch, or to an unrelated family depends entirely on the whim of the founder, before it reverts once more to the rule of primogeniture (again subject to the specifications of the Deed).

It other words, no assumptions can be made, as to which line succeeds the founder of the Commandery. This can be ascertained only by consulting the Foundation Deed.

Essentially all the work of the various members of self-styled Orders in seeking to trace a qualifying Hereditary Commander may actually have been futile. They assume they need to trace the first born of the first Commander downwards -when it may turn out to be the line of the last born of the founder, the middle born or even a different branch altogether, as the case may be. What is essential is the Deed.

Copies of the Deed.
The Deeds were printed, and a Representative of the Order, plus the Founder signed the copies. Essentially, if the transmission of a claim to the title has been a continuous process, and the correct family member holds the Deed, then the potential claim is straightforward. There of course are caveats to the claim, which are discussed below.

In absence of the Deed, the most that can be claimed with any accuracy, is that the descendants of the Hereditary Commanders are precisely that, descendants and not the Commander!

Although Alexander II issued an Authorisation to in 1867, to Prince Alexander Vasileyevitch Troubetzkoy, which allowed him as the eldest son of the Family Commander permission to wear the decoration, by then, the first successor to the original founder for all the Family Commanderies, will have been in place, and the Commander at that point may well have been the youngest son of the first and founding Commander. Once the successor line was established, and only then, the eldest (as stipulated in the Lubomirsky Deed) would thereafter succeed.

It has to be noted (supra) that it is almost certain that the Authorisation of 1867, applied exclusively to the Prince Alexander Vasileyevitch Troubetzkoy 27. Such permissions were usually in response to petitions, and are in line with the proviso in the Deeds;

"Each successor will be held under pain of nullity to prove to the Eminent Grand Master and the Supreme Council of the Order, or the Venerable Chapter of the Grand-Priory of Russia, his right of succession to the Commandery and his noble and legitimate descent, so that everything can be approved and confirmed: after which, and not before, and provided that the transfer tax and all responsions which may be in arrears have been paid, he will be put in possession of the Commandery, and decorated with the Cross and title of Commander by the Decree which will be dispatched to him from Malta." 28.

The Deeds examined thus far, all correspond to the same style, including those of the Non Catholic Grand Priory. Post 1810, the Russian Grand Priory came under the general Grand Mastership of the Emperor, and under the Chancellor of all the Orders, as noted above. Thus the permissions were needed from the Emperor.

The obvious danger is that the self-styled Orders, may indeed identify someone who is a descendant of a Commander, and then allow that descendant to believe that he is the qualifying Commander, when this certainly will be far from the case.

As to the survival of the Deeds in the Archive of the Order, only 14 out of the original 34 are extant. With regard to the missing 20 Deeds, no accurate claim can be made as to who is the Commander unless or until they are found.

Even when armed with copies of the Deeds, there are still various caveats:- for example, the title of Hereditary Commander may only be valid, as Pierredon argues, by way of a "personal concessions emanating from the sovereign". In other words, (a) it depends upon individual Imperial permission, and (b) it does not signify the ability to resuscitate, or continue an Order per se; and that for example, according to the 1799 Ukase governing the Commanderies, five years membership of the Order may be needed in order to qualify - and that is not five years in a self-styled Order! Another requirement is two years military Service. It is instructive to note that when Prince Alexander Troubetzkoy was given permission to wear the Decoration, he was already serving in the Army.

So powerful is the prestige of being a knight in the Order of St John of Jerusalem, that SMOM has no shortage of imitators. The thought of being a hereditary member, and identifying with this august body, that the caveats that would render this claim to be doubtful at best, can so easily be ignored, or explained away. The irony is that the very documents and history that gave rise to the claims are the self same ones that pepper it with caveats.

Those who think they are entitled to be qualified as a Hereditary Commander of one of the Russian Grand Priories need to consult a suitably qualified expert in the subject, and one who has studied all the documents (including such Deeds as have survived in the Archive) in an honest and unbiased way. The expert can then advise such descendants so that they avoid being misled by the Self-Styled Orders.

The warning is that the matter is not straightforward and simple (as is implied by the Self-Styled Orders, who often advertise the presence of such Commanders in their organisations). Even then, if qualified by descent, there are other issues as noted above, such as five years service in the Order, and Military Service, and then the need for confirmation by the Imperium.

It is instructive to note that after 1975, the one surviving member of the Paris Union was Grand Duke Vladimir, who essentially gave his "power of attorney" over the Russian issue to SMOM following the death of the leaders of the Paris Group 29.

Any person who has been recruited into an "Order" and told that they are a Hereditary Commander needs to ask how full and honest is the information given to them when they were recruited. For example; the information on the Russian Laws governing the Russian Grand Priory and the Order in Russia; the fact that each Commandery was regulated in succession by a Foundation Deed; the actual history of the Paris Group to its demise circa 1975 etc.

It can be argued that to remove doubt as to his status, in the 1930s, after seeking advice from SMOM, Count Wladimir Borch who was a founding member of the 1928 Paris Group, and who was a descendant of the Borch Family Commandery (of the Catholic Grand Priory), resigned from the 1928 group and joined the Polish Association of SMOM 30.

© Dr M J Foster.
1. Sire, Henry.J.A. The Knights of Malta, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994, page 106.
2. Foundation Deed of the Family Commandery of Count Auguste Ilinsky, Article I.
3. Toumanoff, Fra Cyrille. L'Order de Malte et L'Empire de Russie, Nouvelle Edition, Palazzo, Malta, 68 Via Condotti, Rome 1979, pages 31-38.
4. Ukase 190.44 21st July 1799. Toumanoff states that the word "hereditary" is not employed in the documents, which deal with the Family Commanderies -  Toumanoff, ibid page 38, footnote 104. In this, Toumanoff is wrong and in error.
5. Foundation Deed of the Family Commandery of Count Auguste Ilinsky, Article XI.
6. As per footnote 4.
7. As noted in the Almanac de la Cour for 1811, St Petersburg, Publishers of the Academy of Imperial Sciences.
8. Ukase 24.134 - February 26th, 1810. The Knights of Justice appointed on the 20th February did not hold any property, and were not affected by this Ukase  which did not abolish the Order, and even allowed the State to fund the expenses of the Order in Russia.
9. Ukase 24.882 - November 20th, 1811.
10. Evidenced by the 1813, Court Almanac; Almanach de la Cour, l'Annie 1813, À St Petersbourg de l'Imprimerie de l'Acadamie Imp: des Sciences, pages 531-532, and 547.
11. See 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 2, Paris 1963, page 197, footnote 2, and Taube, Professor Baron Michel Alexsandrovitch, de. L'Empereur Paul I de Russie, Grand Maître de l'Ordre de Malte, et son Grand Prieuré Russe, Paris 1955, page 43.
12.  Taube, Professor Baron Michel Alexsandrovitch, de. L'Empereur Paul I de Russie, Grand Maître de l'Ordre de Malte, et son Grand Prieuré Russe, Paris 1955, page 43.
13. For the "Sovereign Authorisation" of 19 October 1867, the following was checked;
I. Polnyi Svod Zakonov [Complete Code of Law] for the year 1867.
II. Newspapers.
II.1. Newspaper "Severnaia Pochta" [North Post] (The Highest authorisations, prescripts and Ukases are published there).
II.2. Newspaper "Golos" [Voice] (Includes section: "Activity of Government" which includes information about the Ukases and authorisations with references to the Collection of Statutes and Orders of Government).
Issues of these newspapers were examined for October-November, 1867 but found nothing convenient to the subject.
III. Collection of Statutes and Orders of Government Published at the Governmental Senate. St. Petersburg, 1867 (The chronology index for the second half of the year 1867 is published as addition to the publication for the year 1868; for the first part of the year 1868 - as addition to the publication for the year 1869). Nothing convenient was found.
Just one statute from May 10, 1867, published on July 21, 1867 (page 1175) concerning rules of communication with Roman Governmental Department for religious affairs of the Roman-Catholic Confession. There is no mention on the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
In addition, there is the Ukase of the Governmental Senate on the 1st Department about satisfaction the debts of the Roman-Catholic clergy: Ukase of November 1, 1867 published on December 19, 1867. Page 1754. Concerns the private manors in the provinces of Vilno, Vitebsk, Volynia, Grodno, Kiev, Minsk, Mogilev and Podolia which belonged to the Rome-Catholic clergy and to the abolished monasteries of this religion. There is no mention on the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
14. Pierredon ibid, page 197 footnote 3.
15. Ukase 24.134  26 February 1810: Section 1. The members of the Order who used to be paid according to the list, should be paid from the profits of the State Treasury... Section 3. The officials who are now receiving a salary from the Order, should be paid from the State Treasury and should be found a place to serve at the first opportunity.
16. This information is given in; Romanoff, Grand Duke Nicolas Mikhailovitch, Portraits Russes, St. Petersburg; Tome III, Fascicle 1, St Petersburg 1907.
17. Burke, Sir Bernard (ed). The Book of Orders of Knighthood and Decorations of Honour of all Nations. Hurst and Blackett, London 1858, see pages 114-125.
18. Loumyer, Jean Francis Nicholas, Histoire, Costumes et Décorations de tous les Ordres de Chevalerie et Marques d'Honneur, Brussels Auguste Wahlen 1844. Loumyer is not entirely to be relied upon, as he states in his book that the non Latin Priory had; “20 fondations privées” - “20 private foundations” (page 114). That number (counting the two Youssoupoff commanderies as one foundation) was true of 1799, and not thereafter. Also the 98 Commanderies mentioned by Loumyer had become 118 Commanderies by the end of 1799. By 1844, the Commanderies had been abolished; both the State funded ones, and the Private Foundations. Thus by 1844, Loumyer was hopelessly out of date.
19. Burke, ibid, page 224.
20. St Petersburg, Published by the Academy of Imperial Sciences. It can be noted that the Alamanacs were an "Imperial" publication - they were "de l'imprimerie impériale" - of Imperial Printing, thus official documents.
21. As given on the Diplomas issued by the Paris Group.
22. Declaration of 12 Hereditary Commanders of Russian the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Taube, Ibid, page 53.
23. Taube, Ibid, page 43.
24. Some of the Deeds were drawn up, when the Convent was still in Malta. All the Commanderies were in being when the Order moved to Messina. The Deeds were Deeds to the Commanderies of the Order, and held as part of the Archives.
25. Lubomirsky Deed, 23/01/1798 (OS) from the Archive. Article I. Translated from the French.
26. Ilinsky Deed, 31/12/1797 (OS) from the Archive. Article VI. Translated from the French.
27. de Taube (ibdiem page 43), illustrates the permission in relation to Prince Alexandre Vasileyevitch Troubetzkoy.
28. Ilinsky Deed, 31/12/1797 (OS) from the Archive. Article XII. Translated from the French.
29. Attestation issued 6th January 1977, copy in; Toumanoff, Fra Cyrille. L'Order de Malte et L'Empire de Russie, Nouvelle Edition, Palazzo, Malta, 68 Via Condotti, Rome 1979. Appendix I. Also in; Vive, François-Xavier de (Rédacteur), Historia Spécial 403 bis, Librarire Jules Tallandier, Paris, 1980 , page 103.
30. Rigsarchivet Copenhagen, Denmark. PriorateDacia af St. Johannesaf Jerusalems Orden Arkiv nr: 10266. Jvf. RA. Priv. ark. h. litra P nr. 1006-1, Document H, page 7. It can be counter argued that Borch was the only member who claimed succession via the Catholic Grand Priory, and after the bid by the 1928 group to be recognised by SMOM had failed, Borch wished to identify with his co-religionists, and thus joined a Catholic Association.