In 1855, Duke Adolph of Nassau had the idea to create a new order which would show the unity between the two branches of the House of Nassau. At the time, the Duke, himself the head of the Walram line of the House of Nassau, reigned the Duchy of Nassau, a part of the German Confederation. Meanwhile, the head of the younger Ottonian line, Willem III, reigned as King of the Netherlands and Grand Duke of Luxembourg.
Besides the official reasoning - to show the unity between the two branches of the same family - Duke Adolph, who many years later would become Grand Duke of Luxembourg himself, also had in mind to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Duchy of Nassau a year later. In addition, he also wished to create an order for the Duchy itself as neither a house order nor an order of merit existed at that time; this was especially problematic when he visited fellow heads of states and wanted to bestow them with the honour.
|Duke Adolph of Nassau|
He firstly approached Dutch and Luxembourgish dignitaries with the idea in early summer of 1857. In September of the same year, Duke Adolph put an unofficial plan forward, which he directly sent to King-Grand Duke Willem III as Duke Adolph thought that it only affected him as the head of the Ottonian branch of the family and not as the Dutch ruler. He proposed to create an exclusive, shared house order with one grade.
The original proposed name for the order was Nassauischer Hausorden Heinrichs des Reichen / Ordre de la Maison de Nassau de Henri le Riche for Count Henry II of Nassau, father of the founders of the two main branches of the House of Nassau. Dutch dignitaries, however, were against the name as it strongly reminded them of Prince Henry of the Netherlands, Willem III’s brother and governor of Luxembourg. Thus the Walram line suggested a new name - Nassauischer Hausorden vom Goldenen Löwen / Ordre du Lion d’Or de la Maison de Nassau - incorporating the old common symbol of the House, a golden lion.
Duke Adolph recommended that the order should be given to sovereigns as well as princes of sovereign houses, and only in special cases also to members of the military with at least the rank of lieutenant-general, state ministers (“wirkliche Staatsminister”), highest court dignitaries (“Hofchargen”) or highest advising officials (“wirkliche Geheimräte”).
The heads of both branches should be allowed to give out the order separately and independently. An advanced agreement would only be needed in special cases, for example when the order was to be given to subjects or attendants. Joint presentations could also take place. Duke Adolph also suggested the motto of the order – Je maintiendrai (“I will maintain”) – as well as the colours of the sash – orange and blue, the traditional colours of the House of Nassau.
Dutch courtiers supported the idea of a new order especially in relation to Luxembourg. At the time, Luxembourg only had one order, the Order of the Oak Crown, which was considered to be second rate. On 22 September 1857, King-Grand Duke Willem III agreed to the proposal but expressed the wish that the order should not be given to the wirkliche Geheimräte as they did not exist in the Netherlands and the rank was rather easy to obtain in Nassau. He also favoured the name which included the gold lion.
|King-Grand Duke Willem III|
Shortly afterwards, the King-Grand Duke asked his brother Prince Henry, who was the governor of Luxembourg, to get the opinion of Luxembourgish government as he intended to introduce the order in his capacity as Grand Duke of Luxembourg and not as King of the Netherlands. This also meant that the Grand Duchy had to pay for the costs. Despite some initial concerns about whether the order was actually necessary, the government agreed in the end.
The details of the order and its bylaws were worked out by E.A. von Dungern on behalf of Duke Adolph and F.H.W. von Scherff for King-Grand Duke Willem III. On 9 January 1858, the final proposal was sent to The Hague.
It was agreed that the princes of the House of both branches (sons and brothers of both heads) would be born knights of the order and that it should be awarded to sovereigns and princes of sovereign houses. On request of the King-Grand Duke the wirkliche Geheimräte were left out but instead archbishops and ambassadors added as possible recipients. Not very surprisingly, both heads of the branches can give out the order; either jointly or independently. The insignia has to be given back upon death.
On 29 January 1858, King-Grand Duke Willem III signed the charter, on 16 March Duke Adolph signed, too, after coming back from a visit to France as he did not want to do such an important thing while abroad. It was co-signed by the Luxembourgish minister of state, Mathias Simons, four days later and then sent to The Hague. The charter was published on 5 May in Luxembourg and six days later in Nassau.
The first person to receive the Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau was Emperor Napoleon III of France, followed by the Tsar of Russia, the Emperor of Austria, the King of Prussia and Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, who acted as the regent of Prussia.
After having learned how the Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau or Nassauischer Hausorden vom Goldenen Löwen or Ordre du Lion d’Or de la Maison de Nassau or Huisorde van de Gouden Leeuw van Nassau came into place, let's turn our eyes to what it actually looks like.
|The Grand Duke, the Grand Duchess and the Hereditary Grand Duke sporting|
the Order for an official portrait (Photo: Lola Velasco / Cour grand ducale)
as well as a close up of the badge, the plague and the sash
The insignia consists of a badge, a plague and a sash. They were created by C.M. Weishaupt und Söhne of Hanau in the Duchy of Nassau.
The badge consists of a golden white enamelled gold-bordered eight spiked Maltese cross with golden N’s between the arms of the cross. It includes a blue enamelled central disk that features a golden uncrowned lion surrounded by seven golden shingles. The backside, which is also in blue, has the golden inscription “JE / MAINTIEN / DRAI” spread over three rows. It is 72 millimetres big, its weight, however, depends.
The plague is an eight-pointed star with straight silver rays and the same central disk as the badge surrounded by a white enamelled, gold bordered ring with the inscription “JE MAINTIENDRAI” and two golden oak branches with three leaves and one acorn each held together by a golden ribbon. It is 75 to 77 millimetres big and its weight depends.
The sash, which is 103 to 105 millimetres, features the colours of the House of Nassau and thus is of orange-yellow colour with a 2 to 2.5 millimetre big blue stripe at the edge and an orange-yellow selvedge. The very first twelve sashes were made in Paris.
There is also a miniature version of the Order that can be worn as a lapel pin as demonstrated by Grand Duke Jean below.
|Grand Duke Jean (Photo: Christian Aschman / Cour grand-ducale)|
Only about ten years later, in 1866, the Duchy of Nassau was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia. In the following years, until 1891 - a year after he had become Grand Duke of Luxembourg - Duke Adolph did not give out the Order.
In 1873, King-Grand Duke Willem III unilaterally changed the bylaws of the Order introducing four new ranks: the Grand Cross, the Grand Officer, the Officer and the Knight. Nine years later he introduced the Commander, located between the ranks of a Grand Officer and an Officer. These changes were never confirmed by Duke Adolph who also refused to award them even after he came to power again. Thus, at this point in time, the shared order only existed on paper anymore.
With the death of King-Grand Duke Willem III in 1890, the Ottonian line of the House of Nassau died out in male line and for the Dutch Royal House the Order ipso facto ceased to exist. On the basis of the Nassau Family Pact the Walram line inherited the throne of Luxembourg while the late King’s daughter Wilhelmina succeeded to the Dutch throne.
Due to juridical confusions whether the order actually still existed, whether it was taken over by the Walram line or rather by the Ottonian line in the first place, Grand Duke Adolph and his Luxembourgish minister of state Paul Eyschen agreed to adopt new bylaws. In February 1892, the bylaws were basically changed back to the original ones from 1858 and thus abolishing the new ranks introduced by King-Grand Duke Willem III.
In 1891 Grand Duke Adolph named three new knights of the first (and only) class, among them King Leopold II of the Belgians.
|Princes Guillaume, Louis, Felix, Sebastien and Jean showing off|
their orders during the gala dinner of the wedding of Hereditary Grand
Duke Guillaume in September 2012 (Photos: Dutch Photo Press)
In 1904, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands decided that she wanted to reinvent the Order in the Netherlands. Despite bad feelings between both branches of the family – the Queen did not like the fact that Grand Duke Adolph had allowed his son to marry a Catholic bride – she, nevertheless, wished for his consent.
The elderly Grand Duke Adolph asked said son, Hereditary Grand Duke Wilhelm, to enter into negotiations with the Dutch. As to why the old Grand Duke did that, one should keep in mind that his own son had six daughters but no son.
After some time an agreement was reached that the new-ish Order would be based upon the bylaws of 1858, which meant that there wouldn't be any classes et cetera. The Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau subsequently became the highest dynastic order of the Dutch Royal House. The Dutch Queen became the new head of one branch of the Order but even though a woman was one of the Grand Masters of the Order, princesses were still not born members of the Order.
As the Huisorde van de Gouden Leeuw van Nassau is one of several house orders of the Dutch Royal House, it was awarded very rarely.
Queen Wilhelmina only did it on very few occassions, her daughter Queen Juliana never did and Queen Beatrix only gave it out three times, one of them being a shared awarding with Grand Duke Jean. In 1999, she named Max van der Stoel, Dutch politician, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and first High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, as a knight. In 2006, she awarded the Order to Pieter Hendrik Kooijmans, State Secretary, Minister of Foreign Affairs and judge at the International Court of Justice.
In 1999, former South African president Nelson Mandela received the great honour of being awarded the Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau by both its Grand Masters at the time, Grand Duke Jean and Queen Beatrix.
In general the Ordre du Lion d'Or de la Maison de Nassau is the highest order of merit in the Grand Duchy and thus very exclusive. Today the following criteria is given out by the Luxembourgish government:
“The Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau can be conferred on sovereigns and on princes of sovereign houses and, nowadays, also on heads of state, for meritorious service to the Grand Duke and country.”
Grand Duke Wilhelm IV gave out the Order only three times; his oldest daughter Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide did so nine times. After the First World War there were major but not very surprising changes, as the number of princes being awarded with the Order decreased while the number of republican heads of states increased. During her reign Grand Duchess Charlotte named 31 new knights, while between 1964 and 1988 Grand Duke Jean gave out the order 25 times.
This means that between 1858 and 1988 the Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau was only given out 252 times. (Not included in the count are the Grand Masters and born knights of the Order.)
Born knights of the Order receive the insignia upon reaching majority. In 1984, Queen Beatrix and Grand Duke Jean agreed that born princesses of the House would receive the Order upon majority though they still are not born members of the Order like their male counterparts. It seems that Princess Alexandra was the first who benefitted from this change in the Order's bylaws.