The Tallinn Museum of Orders of Knighthood has many interesting exhibits in its depository. Among them are several sets of insignia with the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece superimposed on the stars and badges. We would like to present the research into these badges and the orders they represent done by Dr Alexander S. Voynov, M.D., scholar of history, researcher and consultant.

The material was first published in Russian on the site SAMMLUNG COLLECTION. Translation: CL

The Insignia and the History of the Royal Illustrious and Discreet Noble Chapter of Knights of Mercy (Real Ilustre y Primitivo Capítulo Noble de Caballeros de la Merced (Orden Real de la Merced))

The badge consists of two oval-shaped heraldic shields, separated by a gold spear, under a royal heraldic crown, set against a red and gold charter.  

Pic:   Insignia of the Royal Illustrious and Discreet Noble Chapter of Knights of Mercy. Tallinn Museum of Order of Knighthood

To the left, in the senior position from the point of view of heraldry, are the united symbols of the Spanish kingdoms Castile, Leon and Granada. The oval shield of the Dukes of Anjou – symbol of the Spanish Royal Family – is placed in the centre. The combination of these elements represents the coat of arms of the Spanish Kings of the beginning of the XVI century. To the right is the oval coat of arms of the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives (La Orden Real y Militar de Nuestra Señora de la Merced y la Redención de los Cautivos) – also known as the Mercedarians.

A silver cross on a blood-red field in the upper part of the shield of the monastic Order of Mercedarians is a sign of innocence and purity. Here the combination of red and white colours symbolizes the work of liberating Christian captives, which the founder of the Order Pedro Nolasco began in 1218. 

Pic: Insignia of the Order of Mercedarians. Tallinn Museum of Orders of Knighthood

The shape of the cross is the same as of the one in the Barcelona Cathedral. Bishop Berenguer de Palou gave it to the Order on its founding. The lower part of the coat of arms shows vertical alternating red and gold stripes (bars), symbolizing the atoning blood of the merciful and the nobility of the good. These vertical stripes are the heraldic symbol of Aragon.

According to legend, in the 9th century, Charles the Bold granted the four blood-red stripes to the brave Wilfred the Hairy (Wilfredo El Velloso), Earl of Barcelona, who was seriously injured in a battle against the Normans. After the battle ended, Charles visited his bleeding vassal in his tent and upon seeing the injured knight, dipped four fingers of his right hand into the blood gushing from Wilfred’s wound and ran them across the count’s golden shield, leaving four red stripes that passed into his family as a heraldic symbol – witness to the courage and devotion of their ancestor.

The collar of the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece surrounds the badge on three sides. Together with the crown, the collar of the most important royal order indicates that the organization represented by this badge is under the direct protection of the monarch.

The Royal Illustrious and Discreet Noble Chapter of Knights of Mercy, or simply Royal Order of Mercy, is by its origin connected with the monastic Order of Mercedarians, but is not part of it. Despite its name, it is not included in the list of either Royal or state awards of Spain. The Royal Order of Mercy is a public corporation formally established on 26 June 1974 in Madrid. In essence this was the recreation of the Catholic Brotherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Merciful, founded on 3 September 1724 in the Madrid Monastery, as part of the religious institutions of the monastic Order of the Mercedarians. In 1827, Ferdinand VII of Spain declared himself the Hermano Major (Big Brother) and protector of the Order of Mercy (as well as the Order of Mercedarians). Therefore, Royal appeared in their names. The current King, His Majesty Don Felipe VI of Spain, also holds the honourable duty of being the Hermano Major and Commander-in-Chief of the Corporation of the Order of Mercy. The actual head of this corporation respectfully has only the status of Deputy Commander-in-Chief.

Archangel Michael is considered the Order of Mercy’s patron saint. Today the order consists of more than two hundred Knights and Dames. During ceremonial gatherings, members of the Order wear white cloaks with an embroidered badge on the left, and a white hexagonal-shaped cloth cap.

Pic: The death of Wilfred the Hairy. Claudi Lorenzale (1816–89). Royal Catalan Academy of Fine Arts of Saint George

Pic: Our Lady of Mercy. Her iconography has been defined since the 16th century: the royal crown, a white tunic, Mercedarian shield on her chest, cloak, enveloping the suffering, chains and shackles – symbols of captivity.

The Insignia and Short History of the Royal Cavalry Armory of Seville (Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla)

The badge is the same as in the first case, where two oval shields are depicted under the golden royal heraldic crown against the background of the red and gold charter, surrounded from three sides by the collar of the Spanish Order of the Golden Fleece.

Pic: The Insignia of the Royal Cavalry Armory of Seville. Tallinn Museum of Order of Knighthood

The left shield represents the coat of arms of the Spanish Kings of the early 16th century. The right has an image of a knight in armour holding a spear on a galloping silver-raven horse. The knight’s helmet is decorated with a plume of red and green feathers. It should be noted, that in some versions of the badge, a modern version of the Royal Coat of Arms is used with the addition of the symbols of Aragon and Navarra.

Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla (from maestro – teacher) is an association under the patronage of the King, comprising representatives of the local ancient Catholic hereditary nobility, whose lineage goes back 13 centuries to the Reconquista, when monarchs relied on the support of their vassals for the defence of territories, granting them privileges and titles in return. The knights of the Maestranza dealt with the military, religious and cultural issues in the entire region.

The history of nobility in Seville dates back to the conquest of the city by Ferdinand III of Castile, the Saint, in 1248. The knights who fought with him on this campaign founded a knighthood fraternity dedicated to Saint Hermenegild. They performed their ceremonial rites under the auspices of the Catholic Church. The organization paid considerable attention to the constant training of young noblemen in the art of wielding weapons, tactics and battle strategies, horse riding, and was engaged in breeding bulls and horses. Over time, the military component of the activities of the chivalric fraternity of St Hermenegild lost its relevance, and the members of this association began to engage mainly in church practices. In this form, the organization continued to exist for many years.

However, in the 17th century, the need for extensive military training of the Spanish nobles arose again, and now included the training of the navy. Therefore, in 1670, a new Maestranza de Caballería of Seville was established, which exists till this day. They chose Our Lady of the Holy Rosary as their patron saint, and it is to her graces that the commander of Holy League armada John of Austria attributed his glorious victory over the then deemed invincible Turkish fleet in Lepanto Bay in 1571. It was in this battle that the Castilian nobleman Miguel de Cervantes received several gunshot wounds that mutilated his left arm. Sometime later, Cervantes served in Seville, fell in love with this land and considered it his second homeland, taking active part in the life of the local nobility.

Pic: Alfonso XIII of Spain in the robes of the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla. Gonzalo Bilbao Martínez, Museum of Fine Arts of Seville

All the Spanish monarchs encouraged the activities of the noble Seville association and extended them patronage. Thus, by special decree of Philip V from 2 June 1730, the Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla became Real (Royal), and one of the most senior members of the Royal Family has always been appointed its honorary Hermano Mayor and Commander-in-Chief. As a special distinction, the nobles of the Seville Maestranza were granted the privilege of wearing their uniforms without restrictions, which equated them to the honour of army officers. In 1823, Ferdinand VII decided to further honour the noble knights of Seville by accepting the title of their Hermano Major himself. The current King, Philip VI, also heads the Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla.

Pic: Philip VI of Spain in the uniform of the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla 

Reconciling modernity with tradition, the noble descendants of the knights always paid great attention to the preservation of cultural life in Seville and to charity. The Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla still takes an active part in organizing the most important public events, arranges holidays in honour of Royal visits, anniversaries and church events. Noble Seville knights were pioneers in the promotion of equestrian sports in the region and, of course, became the main guardians of traditional bullfighting and the entire infrastructure of bullfighting, presenting winners with trophies. The organisation encourages university research, creates and offers grants for best academic successes and discoveries. His Majesty the King of Spain often participates at the annual awarding ceremonies held by the Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla for distinguished students.

Addressing the members of the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla on 25 March 2010, Juan Carlos I said:


“Noblesse oblige, and, more precisely, it obliges us to be generous towards those who most need it, to bend over backwards to help others, to demonstrate a vocation for service, and loyalty without limits or second thoughts. The kind of nobility which, today, is a far cry from its erstwhile privileges, and which seeks no rewards other than those provided by its altruistic devotion to duty and its firm interest in serving the Crown and the Homeland.”.


  1. Oficial site of de la Orden de la Merced.
  2. Fernando de Herrera y Hume. REAL MAESTRANZA DE CABALLERIA DE SEVILLA //La Revista “Hidalgos”, 2012. № 529: 7-13
  3. Oficial site of Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla.