Order of Saint Stephen

For the Habsburg order, see Order of Saint Stephen of Hungary.
Holy Military Order of St. Stephen Pope and Martyr
Badge of the order
S.A.I.R.Sigismondo d'Asburgo Lorena
Awarded by Grand Duke of Tuscany
Type Military and Religious order[1]
Day 2 August, Feast of Saint Stephen, Pope and Martyr
Eligibility Noblemen over 18, not descended from heretics
Grand Master Sigismund von Habsburg-Lothringen, (Pretender Grand Duke of Tuscany )
Established 15 March 1561[2]

The Order of Saint Stephen (Official: Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire, "Holy Military Order of St. Stephen Pope and Martyr") is a Roman Catholic Tuscan dynastic military order founded in 1561. The order was created by Cosimo I de' Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany. The last member of the Medici dynasty to be a leader of the order was Gian Gastone de Medici in 1737. The order was permanently abolished in 1859 by the annexation of Tuscany to the Kingdom of Sardinia.[3] The former Kingdom of Italy and the current Italian Republic also did not recognize the order as a legal entity but tolerates it as a private body.[4]


Galley of the Order of Saint Stephen (1611 celebrating drawing).

The order was founded by Cosimo I de' Medici,[5] first Grand Duke of Tuscany, with the approbation of Pope Pius IV on 1 October 1561.[2] The rule chosen was that of the Benedictine Order.[6][2] The first grand master was Cosimo himself and he was followed in that role by his successors as grand duke.[7] The dedication to the martyred Pope Stephen I, whose feast day is 2 August, derives from the date of Cosimo's victories at the Battle of Montemurlo on 1 August 1537 and the Battle of Marciano(Scannagallo) on 2 August 1554.[2]

The objective of the order was to fight the Ottoman Turks and the pirates that sailed Mediterranean Sea in the 16th century.[8] The Turks and the pirates were making dangerous inroads on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea where Cosimo had recently inaugurated the new port of Livorno. Cosimo also needed a symbolic fight to unite the nobility of the different cities that combined to form his new grand duchy (including Florence and Siena), and to demonstrate his support of the Roman Catholic Church. Finally, the creation of a Tuscan military order would also strengthen the prestige, both internal and international, of Cosimo's new state.

In its early years, the Order took part successfully in the Spanish wars against the Ottomans, being present at the siege of Malta (1565), the Battle of Lepanto (1571) and the capture in 1607 of Annaba in Algeria by the then admiral Jacopo Inghirami.[8][9] They burned the city, killed 470 people and took 1,500 captives.[10] After its aggressive capabilities had been recognized, the Order concentrated on the defence of the Mediterranean coasts against Turkish and African pirates. In particular, the Knights made some incursions into the Aegean Islands controlled by the Turks, and took part in the campaigns in Dalmatia, Negroponte and Corfu.

After 1640, military involvement was reduced. The Order concentrated on the coastal defence and on ordnance duties, but did not avoid the chance to send help to the Republic of Venice, then engaged in a desperate war against the Ottoman Empire. The order's last military action dates from 1719. Grand Duke Peter Leopold of Tuscany promoted a reorganization of the order, turning it into an institute for education of the Tuscan nobility.

On 7 March 1791, six months after becoming Emperor, Leopold abdicated the Grand Duchy to his younger son, Ferdinand III, the founder of the present Grand Ducal House. Although Ferdinand was the first European sovereign to recognize the French Republic, he was forced to submit to the French authorities who occupied the Grand Duchy in 1799. He abdicated both the Grand Duchy and the Grand Magistery of Saint Stephen. The order survived during the short-lived Kingdom of Etruria. Following the restoration of Ferdinand III in 1814, the revival of the Order was proposed. By a decree dated 1815 the Ripristinazione dell'Ordine dei Cavalieri di S. Stefano was proclaimed.[11] The Order was again dissolved in 1859, when Tuscany was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia.[1]


The descendants of the former Tuscan ruling family maintain that the Order of Saint Stephen was a religious and dynastic institution not subject to dissolution by the Italian authorities.[4] Today, Archduke Sigismund, Grand Duke of Tuscany awards an Order of Saint Stephen which he claims to be a continuation of the order founded by Grand Duke Cosimo I.[12] Approximately 80 individuals are currently associated with this order. All members must be Roman Catholic, although exceptions are made for Heads of State and members of royal families who are members of the other Christian denominations.[13]


To join the Order a postulant had to be at least eighteen years of age, able to meet the financial obligations of membership, make the necessary noble proofs and not be descended from heretics. The initial seat of the order was on Elba before moving to Pisa. The Knights' Square in Pisa, on which their palace faces, is named after the Order.[14] The Coat of Arms include a red cross with eight points, flanked by golden lilies.


Gregor Gatscher-Riedl, Mario Strigl, Die roten Ritter. Zwischen Medici, Habsburgern und Osmanen. Die Orden und Auszeichnungen des Großherzogtums Toskana. Vienna 2014. ISBN 978-3-9503061-5-6.

  1. 1 2 Klimczuk, Stephen; Craigenmaddie, Gerald Warner of (2009). Secret places, hidden sanctuaries : uncovering mysterious sites, symbols, and societies. New York: Sterling Ethos. pp. 88–93. ISBN 978-1-4027-6207-9. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Davies, Jonathan (2009). Culture and power : Tuscany and its universities 1537–1609 ([Online-Ausg.]. ed.). Leiden: Brill. p. 33. ISBN 978-90-04-17255-5.
  3. Carmichael, Montgomery (1901). In Tuscany: Tuscan Towns, Tuscan Types and the Tuscan Tongue. New York: E P Dutton. p. 173. The Order was swept away by the French Revolution but was revived again in a modified form in 1817. The Italian Revolution once more swept it away beyond hope of revival on 16 November 1859 and its Church and property became the property of the State. Alas that modern Italy should not be a little more tender of the memories of her past glories.
  4. 1 2 "Sacred Military Order of Saint Stephen Pope and Martyr". Granducato Toscano. Retrieved 7 December 2011. The Lorraine Dynasty having been declared fallen in 1859, the Interim Government of Tuscany led by Bettino Ricasoli on 16 November that year ordered that the Order of Saint Stephen be suppressed and its substantial property be expropriated, regardless of it having no jurisdiction on a religious institution of knighthood that had been sanctioned as dynastic by the Papal Bulls. However, no resolutions of the Interim Government was acknowledged by the Grand Duke, Ferdinand IV, who raised a formal protest against this decision from Dresden on 24 March 1860. Since the Holy See, the repository and supreme guardian of the Military Religions, has never declared the Order of Saint Stephen extinct, such suppression has no value under the canon law. Because of this, the descendants of the last ruling Grand Duke have retained the title and the privileges of their ancestor, so they have kept putting together, although to a very small extent, more Knights of the Order of Saint Stephen.
  5. Pasquale Villari, '"The Medici" (1911). Hugh Chisolm, ed. The Encyclopaedia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information, Volume 18 (11 ed.). New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica. p. 36.
  6. Woodhouse, Frederick Charles (1879). The military religious orders of the Middle Ages: the Hospitallers, the Templars, the Teutonic knights, and others. With an appendix of other orders of knighthood: legendary, honorary, and modern. New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. p. 338. The members followed the rule of St Benedict and the Popes granted them the same privileges as those enjoyed by the Knights Hospitallers
  7. de Montor, Artaud (1910). The Lives and Times of the Popes, Volume 7. New York: The Catholic publication society of America. p. 72. Retrieved 7 December 2011. The bull of the pope named Cosmo and his successors grand masters of the order
  8. 1 2 Mason, Roger. "The Medici-Lazara Map of Alanya." Anatolian Studies 39 (1989): 86.
  9. "Person Detail – Inghirami, Iacopo". Medici Archive Project. Archived from the original on 30 September 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  10. The Mediterranean in History, Oliver Rackham,Marlene Suano, page 241, 2011
  11. Guarnieri, Giuseppe Gino (1965). L'Ordine di Santo Stefano nei suoi aspetti organizzativi interni e navali sotto il Gran Magistero Lorenese (in Italian). Florence: Giardini. p. 119.
  12. Cardinale, Hyginus Eugene (1983). Orders of knighthood awards and the Holy See. Gerrards Cross: Van Duren. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-905715-13-1.
  13. Bernardini, Rodolfo (1990). Il Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire (in Italian). Pisa: Familiare della Casa Asburgo Lorena.
  14. Hutton, Edward (1907). Florence and the cities of northern Tuscany: with Genoa. New York: Macmillan. pp. 125–26.
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