Order of Saint Michael
The Order of Saint Michael (Ordre de Saint Michel) was created by King Louis XI in 1469. The original French chivalric order, the Order of the Star, had fallen into disuse within only a few decades of establishment, the French kings favoring the distribution of livery badges and garments to their supporters instead. By the latter part of the fifteenth century, however, the kings of France, having succeeded in receiving fealty from the powerful dukes of the kingdom and driving the English largely off the continent, looked for a new means of rewarding loyal subjects and creating a fraternal bond between the monarchy and the grands.
The order, like many of the monarchial orders of the time, borrowed heavily from the statutes of the Golden Fleece in Burgundy. The number of knights of the order was orignally set at thirty-one, but soon became thirty-six, including the monarch as grand master. The seat of the order was the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, and the device of the order is an image of the archangel standing on a rock, battling a serpent. A college of priests was to be created for the order, but this was never instituted by the crown and was eventually abandoned. Though regular assemblies were called for, meetings of the knights were infrequent.
During the reign of Henri II, the fourth grand master of the order, the number of knights began to exceed the statute limitations, with the king appointing nearly a hundred new knights to the order. The order was conferred on a number of foreign princes. The distance to Mont-Saint-Michel from Paris became a concern and the seat of the order was moved to the royal chapel at Vincennes. By the latter half of the sixteenth century, the order, its statutes increased to permit up to fifty knights, instead boasted hundreds of companions. With the value of the order diminished, King Henri III established a new order, the Order of the Holy Ghost, which assumed precendence ahead of the Order of Saint Michael, and introduced reforms to the older order.
The Order of Saint Michael remains an honorific order of distinction. The order is no longer awarded to the grands of the kingdom, instead serving as an honor for the lesser nobles and bourgeoisie for distinguished contributions to the kingdom. The current statute limits the number of knights at one hundred, plus the one hundred knights of the Holy Ghost who would be made members of the Order of Saint Michael as well.
The device of the order is worn on a gold collar consisting of alternating cockle shells, the sign of pilgrims, and a doubled knot.