“On this day in 1408, the Order of the Dragon was founded by Sigismund, King of Hungary and later Holy Roman Emperor, and his wife Queen Barbara of Celje. It was similar to other medieval chivalric orders, in particular the Order of St George, and was granted to those defending Christianity against its enemies, particularly the Ottoman Turks. One of the recipients was a duke named Vlad, whose son’s name was derived from the word “”dragon.”” That son is known today as Dracula.
Military orders have their origin in the Christian societies of knights founded during the crusades. They combined military and religious features and formed standing armies. The Order of the Dragon was founded during a time of Ottoman expansion, particularly in the Balkan regions south of Hungary. This was an era not far removed from the crusades, and the order was created by Sigismund following a battle between Christian and Muslim armies for possession of Bosnia, in which many noble families were massacred.
In 1408, 21 noble men, mostly allies of Sigismund, were gathered to receive initiation into the order. The order expanded in 1418 and again in the 1430s. Amongst the recipients was Vlad II, who, like his son after him, spent decades fighting the Ottomans in Wallachia, southeast of Hungary. Having received the order, Vlad and these men were soon labelled the Draconists. Locally, Vlad took the name Vlad Dracul, meaning Vlad the Dragon, and his son’s name Dracula is the resulting patronymic.
The order was symbolised by a circular shaped dragon whose tail coiled around its neck. The dragon’s back was divided from head to tail with blood framing a pure white cross. This cross was to bear a resemblance to the inverted red on white symbol of St George, the dragon slayer. Indeed, the edict of 1408 states that the cross is untouched by blood, “”in the same way that those who fight under the banner of the glorious martyr St George are accustomed to bear a red cross on a white field.”” The order’s iconography evolved as the order expanded, and similar symbols show the dragon and the cross in a variety of manners. The symbol of a secondary class of the order only includes a dragon.
Although the influence of the order diminished following Sigismund’s death in 1437, its symbol survived in the coats-of-arms of numerous noble families.”
Credit: © INTERFOTO / Alamy
Caption: Oswald von Wolkenstein, a first rank member, wearing the Order of the Dragon chain.