THE SUPREME ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY ANNUNCIATION
(Ordine Supremo della Santissima Annunziata) 
Pier Felice degli Uberti
Text adapted from Burke's Peerage and Gentry World Orders of Knighthood and Merit, published 2006
The Order of the Most Holy Annunciation is among the most ancient of the surviving royal collar Orders; although it cannot claim perfect continuity from its original foundation this early date would make it the second oldest of the surviving collar Orders. It is given by the Head of the Royal House of Savoy, as direct heir of the founder. Today the membership is limited almost entirely to members of reigning and formerly reigning royal houses.
The traditional foundation date was 1350 when Amadeus VI of Savoy, known as the Green Count, instituted the Order of the Companions of the Black Swan on the occasion of the marriage of his sister Bianca to Galeazzo II Visconti. The first members were called upon to “defend one another against all adversaries, to settle any differences they might have, not with force of arms but with the arbitration of the other companions, and not make war against anyone else without the authorisation of the other companions”. Membership of the Order included knights from five provinces or marches: Savoy, Genevois, Bresse, Burgundy and Vienne. The insignia of the Order worn by the companions was a circular silver medallion with a black swan, beaked gules.
A more certain date of foundation, however, is 1362, during the conflict the Green Count waged against Frederick II, Marquis of Saluzzo, with the noble aim of “leading the powerful to union and fraternity so that private wars might be avoided”. The first knights were described as Milites Collaris Sabaudie (“knights of the Collar of Savoy”), who, among themselves, were called brothers and companions. It was Amadeus VI, as head of the Order, who was the first to wear the collar “not as their Lord, but rather as a brother and companion of those who join the Order, as it is an Order of brothers”. The initial membership was limited, excluding the Grand Master, to fourteen members all “at the service of the Church, the Monarchy, and Honour” in homage to the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary. The original insignia consisted of three love-knots forming a circlet, hanging from a silver-gilt collar. Antonio Maillet, the Court cleric, in various accounts, noted the expenses for the Count of Savoy “item pro quindecim colarijs argenti deaurati factis ad divisam domini CCXIV florenos boni poderis”. Contemporary chronicles mention the solemn investiture ceremony of the knights held in Avignon, and the festivities in 1364 in the then Savoy capital of Chambéry.
In his will of 21 February 1383, Amadeus VI ordered the foundation of the Pierre-Châtel Charterhouse, which was to become the first church of the company and building work began just ten years later, under Countess Bona of Bourbon, then Regent of Savoy. The fifteen Carthusian brothers who administered the church together with fifteen chaplains (these numbers paralleling the fourteen companions and Grand Master) had to celebrate fifteen Holy Masses for the souls of the founder and members of the Order. After Bresse and Bugey were ceded to France by Charles Emanuel I of Savoy in 1601, in exchange for the Marquisate of Saluzzo, the Order was conceded the Camaldolese Hermitage on the hills near Turin (3 December 1607). With the destruction of the congregation following the French Revolution, King Charles Albert, by royal warrant of 15 March 1840 gave the Order the Collegno Charterhouse, in which some knights were later buried. Collegno remained the Order’s church until 1855, when it was transferred to the Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace in Turin.
With the death of the founder, however, the original Order became extinct until, shortly before leaving for Paris in 1409, Amadeus VIII (reigning from 1391-1434 as the first ruler of Savoy to bear the title of Duke conferred upon him by the Holy Roman Emperor), recreated the Order and confirmed its original aims. The original statutes given by the Green Count have long been lost, and we cannot be certain of the extent to which those given by Amadeus VIII, dated 30 May 1409, depended upon those of the earlier foundation. The number of members remained unchanged, but the collar decoration was modified to include roses between the word FERT, the oldest motto of the House of Savoy. Shortly before his death in 1434 Amadeus VIII made further modifications to the statutes, emphasising the religious character, but with his death the Order once more fell into disuse although its church and canons were maintained.
Almost a century passed before, in 1518, Duke Charles III, “the Good” (reigned 1504 -1553) wishing to return the Order to its “ancient prestige”, extended the statutes to fifty-three articles, declaring that any member found guilty of dishonourable acts would forfeit all rights to membership, that the knights should wear the insignia of the Order at all times and that they would not be permitted to join any other knightly body. These statutes also detailed the ceremonial procedures, which closely imitated those of the Order of the Golden Fleece, as did the provision granting the knights a pension of twelve hundred “low weight” gold florins. Charles III also increased the number of knights to twenty, the extra five in honour of Christ’s wounds. The collar was formed of fifteen knots with the motto FERT, and fifteen red and white enamelled roses with a border of thorns in honour of the joys of the Virgin Mary. The image of the Annunciation was placed in the middle of the three love-knots suspended from the collar, giving the Order of the Collar its new denomination, the Order of the Most Holy Annunciation. Under the new statutes, the Chapter of knights, chosen from the highest ranking and most trustworthy nobles of the duchy, took on the role of a Council of State with which the Duke would meet frequently.
These statutes named the officers of the Order as the Secretary, the Master of Ceremonies, the Treasurer and the Chancellor, who was to be a bishop or prelate, accorded the title of “Excellency” so that the Order would preserve its original religious character – in later times the Archbishop of Turin held this post with the title of Grand Chancellor. A Herald-of-Arms, with the title Bonnes Nouvelles, was also assigned to the Order. The officers wore the badge of the love-knots and the image of the Annunciation suspended from a blue neck ribbon and on the breast a smaller star than that worn by the knights. The Herald, considered of lower rank, was given a small gold roundel with the image of the Annunciation suspended from a blue ribbon as the insignia of his post. The first Herald, who shared the name Savoye with his royal master, carried an enamel painting on which were depicted the armorial bearings of all the knights of the Collar.
Duke Emanuel Philibert (reigned 1553-1580), recognising the value of this loyal body of adherents, shortly before his death in 1580 granted further important privileges, including exemption from all taxes and the burdensome duty of membership of the Senate, while requiring that candidates for admission prove five generations of nobility. He also changed the colour of the knights’ mantle from crimson velvet, to blue, the favourite colour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in honour of Amadeus VI, the illustrious founder who used to raise a pale blue war flag sewn with stars with the image of Our Lady. This light blue colour later became the national colour of the States of the House of Savoy. The colour of the mantle underwent a further change under Charles Emanuel II in 1639 and in 1675, it became amaranth velvet, with a flowery silver-blue cloth lining, all richly embroidered with roses and flames in gold and silver and a border of love-knots, the badge of the Order, and the motto FERT. The mantle was worn over an elaborate uniform of white satin with silk embroidery.
By the reign of Charles Emanuel III (King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy 1730-1773), the knights of the Annunciation had adopted the blood-red uniform of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, to which Order they almost always belonged and upon which they would wear their collar. Having become common usage the kings of the House of Savoy were buried in this uniform. At funerals of princes of the blood or of reigning sovereigns, the knights of the Annunciation were required to wear a mantle of black wool. At the Chapter of the Order held 24 March 1680, Duchess Marie-Jeanne Baptiste, Regent of Savoy, permitted the knights to wear a gold breast star with the image of the Annunciation in addition to the collar, but the badge was never suspended from a coloured riband, as in other collar Orders. Each knight could choose the collar he preferred from among those available and was obliged to arrange for his heirs to return the insignia to the king after his death. The collar was worn on the day of the Holy Annunciation, on all national feast days and at major court ceremonies. On other occasions the lesser collar owned by the knight himself would be worn.
With the extinction of the senior male line of Savoy in 1831, their sovereign possession passed to the liberal branch of Savoy-Carignano under Carlo Alberto who, in 1834, introduced a constitution. His son, Victor Amadeus II, King of Sardinia (1849) and later first king of united Italy (1859-1878), secularised the Order, declaring it the first of his kingdom. The tradition that knights had to be “of certain proven ancient nobility” was broken by Victor Emanuel II in 1860 when he bestowed the Order on Carlo Farini, a distinguished scientist and politician who had played a major role in Italian unification. With the formal proclamation of the new Kingdom of Italy on 3 June 1869 (a decade after all but Rome of the pre-unity states had been occupied), the King removed the requirement for nobility altogether, reserving it for those who had rendered outstanding services in the highest offices of the state, both military and civil, and that they were known for their name and distinction.
In 1878 King Umberto I conferred upon the President of the Council of Ministers the office of Secretary of the Order, uniting it more closely to the state, and on 7 April 1889 he ordered that the collars of deceased knights be held in the custody of the Treasurer of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, while the original diplomas and Register of Knights were deposited in the archives of the President of the Council of Ministers. King Victor Emanuel III established on 14 March 1924 that the number of twenty knights would not include princes of the Royal House in male line to the fourth degree, ecclesiastics and foreign knights. Knights automatically received the grand cordon of the Orders of Saints Maurice and Lazarus and of the Crown of Italy (thus on occasions when collars could not be worn, they were nonetheless entitled to wear a grand cross riband) and were required to be witnesses at the registrations of births, marriages and deaths of members of the Royal House of Savoy.
The knights were accorded the style “cousins of the king”, with whom they could use the second person singular, and they also took precedence before all other state office holders. The Order ennobled those knights who were not already noble; they also had the title of “Excellency”. King Umberto II left the statutes of the Order unchanged during his exile and only very rarely bestowed the Order. His son, Victor Emanuel, Prince di Naples and Duke of Savoy, on 11 June 1985 made some changes to the statutes where reference was made to the existence of the Kingdom of Italy.
Among those who received the high honour of the Order of the Annunciation were: among the military, Alfonso Ferrero della Marmora, Armando Diaz, Gaetano Giardino, Enrico Caviglia, Guglielmo Pecori Girardi, Pietro Badoglio, Paolo Thaon di Revel, Carlo Calvi di Bergolo; among politicians, Camillo Benso di Cavour, Giuseppe Lanza, Francesco Crispi, Domenico Farini, Costantino Nigra, Antonio Starabba di Rudinì, Giuseppe Pacifico Manfredi, Giovanni Giolitti, Antonio Salandra, Ivanoe Bonomi, Victor Emanuel Orlando, Charles Sforza, Benito Mussolini, Galeazzo Ciano, Dino Grandi; and among the men of the Church, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later to become HH Pope Pius Pio XII. Among the British knights of the Order were Field Marshal The Duke of Wellington, HRH Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (consort of HM Queen Victoria), HM King Edward VII, HM King George V, HM King Edward VIII.
A Law of the Italian Republic of 3 March 1951, n. 178, art. 9 reads: “The Order of the Most Holy Annunciation and the relative insignia are suppressed. The Order of the Crown of Italy is suppressed and the award of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus ceases. Awards which were already bestowed may, however, continue to be worn, but with all precedence in public ceremonies now excluded. There will be a separate law for other Orders and awards instituted before 2 June 1946”. This law of the Republic could not in fact suppress the Order, since its original creation and the papal bulls confirming it placed it outside Italian jurisdiction; the authority of the Italian Republic could not extend beyond prohibiting it from being worn in Italy by Italian citizens. In 1962, the Italian Court of Cassation dismissed a prosecution brought against King Umberto II (who was in any case living in a permanent exile, imposed by the Italian republican constitution), on the grounds that Italy could not legally prevent the King from conferring the Order.
The insignia – which had to be returned by the heirs of knights – consisted of the gold collar, formed of love-knots between the word FERT and roses on links and the image of the Annunciation on a pendant of three knots. The accompanying breast star also bore the scene of Our Lady of the Annunciation, surrounded by Savoy knots and the motto FERT. The ribbon was amaranth, and the uniform blood-red.
Knights of the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation may encircle their armorial bearings with the great collar of the Order.
Since 7 July 2006 the succession has been disputed between the only son of the late King Umberto II, Prince Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples, and his cousin, Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta. See Disputed Succession and www.casarealedisavoia.it
Roll of Knights [appointed by King Umberto II]
HIM the Emperor Akihito of Japan; HI.and RH Franz Joseph Otto of Habsburg-Lorraine, Archduke of Austria; HRH Landgrave Maurice (Moritz) of Hesse-Cassel; HRH Prince Ferdinand of Bourbon Two-Sicilies; HM King Simeon II, King of the Bulgarians; HM King Constantine II, King of the Hellenes; HRH Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia; HRH Jean of Nassau, Grand Duke of Luxembourg; HM King Michael I of Romania; HRH Prince Amadeus of Savoy Aosta, Duke of Aosta; HRH Prince Aimone of Savoy Aosta, Duke of Apulia; HRH Carl Duke of Würtemberg.
Knights appointed by HRH Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, Prince of Naples:
HMEH Fra Andrew W.N. Bertie, Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta; HM Don Juan Carlos I of Bourbon, King of Spain; HRH Prince Emanuel Philibert of Savoy, Prince di Venice; HE Cardinal Angelo Sodano; HRH Prince Serge of Yugoslavia; Prince Ugo Windischgraetz.
 Translation and editing by Andrew Martin Garvey; editorial assistance: Maria Loredana Pinotti.
 Heads and Sovereigns of the Order
1. Amadeus VI, the Green Count, Count of Savoy (1343-1383), founder of the Order of the Collar, in 1362; buried in the Abbey of Hautecombe.
2. Amadeus VII, the Red Count, Count of Savoy (1383-1391); buried in the Abbey of Hautecombe.
3. Amadeus VIII, the Pacific, Count of Savoy (1391-1416), later Duke of Savoy (1416-1440); buried in the Monastery of Ripaille, later transferred to Turin, and finally to the Chapel of the Holy Shroud.
4. Ludovico, Duke of Savoy (1440-1465); buried in Hautecombe.
5. Amadeus IX, the Blessed, Duke of Savoy (1465-1469); buried in Turin Cathedral.
6. Philibert I, the Hunter, Duke of Savoy (1472-1482); buried in the Abbey of Hautecombe.
7. Charles I, the Warrior, Duke of Savoy (1482-1490); buried in the Franciscans’ Church.
8. Charles II, (John Amadeus), Duke of Savoy (1490-1496); buried in Santa Maria della Scala Church.
9. Filippo II, Lackland, Duke of Savoy (1496-1497); buried in Hautecombe.
10. Philibert II, the Handsome, Duke of Savoy (1497-1504); buried in the Church of Brou near Bourg-en-Bresse.
11. Charles III, the Good, Duke of Savoy (1504-1553), buried in Turin Cathedral.
12. Emanuel Philibert, Iron Head, Duke of Savoy (b. 1553, in possession 1559-1580); buried in the Cathedral, now the Chapel of the Holy Shroud.
13. Charles Emanuel I, the Great, Duke of Savoy (1580-1630); buried in the Sanctuary of Our Lady at Vicoforte (near Mondovì), of which he was the founder.
14. Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy (1630-1637); buried in the Cathedral.
15. Francis Hyacinth, Duke of Savoy (1637-1638); buried in the Cathedral; now in the Sacra di San Michele in the Susa Valley.
16. Charles Emanuel II, the Hadrian of Piedmont, Duke of Savoy (1638-1675); buried in the Cathedral; now the Chapel of the Holy Shroud.
17. Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy (1675), later King of Sicily (1713-1720), successively King of Sardinia (1720-1730); buried in the Basilica of Superga.
18. Charles Emanuel III, King of Sardinia (1730-1773); buried in the Basilica of Superga.
19. Victor Amadeus III, King of Sardinia (1773-1796); buried in the Basilica of Superga.
20. Charles Emanuel IV, King of Sardinia (1796-1802); buried in the Church of St Andrew at the Quirinal.
21. Victor Emanuel I, King of Sardinia (1802-1821); buried in the Basilica di Superga, Turin.
22. Charles Felix, King of Sardinia (1821-1831); buried in the Abbey of Hautecombe, which he had rebuilt.
23. Charles Albert, the Magnanimous, King of Sardinia (1831-1849); buried in the Basilica of Superga, Turin.
24. Victor Emanuel II, King of Sardinia (1849-1861), later King of Italy (1861-1878); buried in Pantheon, Rome.
25. Umberto I, King of Italy (1878-1900); buried in Pantheon, Rome.
26. Victor Emanuel III, King of Italy (1900-1946); buried in St Catherine’s Cathedral, Alexandria, Egypt.
27. Umberto II, King of Italy (9 May 1946-2 June 1946), Titular King of Italy (1946-1983); buried in the Abbey of Hautecombe.
 Raffaele Cuomo, Ordini Cavallereschi Antichi e Moderni, Vol. I, Naples, 1894, p. 11.
 This was an important distinction for foreign members who, subject to national regulations on the use of collars, may not have been able to wear the Annunziata badge.
 The familiar “tu” form rather than the more formal second person plural “voi”, or third person singular, “lei” (translator’s note).
 Andrew Martin Garvey et al., “Some Italian Orders of Knighthood”, Parts 1 & 2, in Aspects of Heraldry, Nos. 12 & 13 of the Yorkshire Heraldry Society, Leeds, 1998 &1999.
 Statutes of the Supreme Order of the Most Holy Annunciation of the Royal House of Savoy, from those granted by King Victor Emmanuel II as Sovereign Head of the Order on 3 June 1869, confirmed 11 June 1985.
The number of knights of the Supreme Order of the most Holy Annunciation shall be, as in the past, twenty. In keeping with the traditional Statutes, the Sovereign Head, the Hereditary Prince, his kinsmen to the fourth grade of consanguinity inclusive as well as ecclesiastics and foreigners are not included in this number.
The right to appoint knights and officers of the Order appertains exclusively to the Sovereign Head. Nevertheless, when there are vacancies, the Sovereign Head meets with the Chapter of Knights to hear their advice on the proposal of candidates whom he alone may select. The Sovereign Head may delegate the Hereditary Prince, or another Royal Prince, or the dean of the knights to preside over the Chapter.
In addition to the Sovereign Head or his representative, present at a Chapter must be a quorum of at least six knights. Whoever presides shall announce the names of the candidates, any knight may make observations, and following deliberation a vote shall be taken by secret ballot by means of paper ballots, on each of which shall be written the name of the candidate accompanied by an “Aye” or a “Nay”. The presiding knight opens each ballot and reads the votes and then announces the result. Above all else, the Chapter’s balloting is intended to be plainly consultative and secret.
On the day designated by the Sovereign Head, the postulant to be invested shall be presented to him, accompanied by two or more knights, in the presence of the Secretary of the Order. He shall kneel before the Sovereign Head, and with a hand on the Holy Gospel swear an oath according to the constitutional form. The oath shall be sworn by the postulant and by the other knights present, following which the postulant shall bow to the Sovereign Head, who decorates him with the Collar and then embraces him.
On the Solemnity of the Most Holy Annunciation the knights assemble formally to attend the Divine Office and pray for the Heavenly Blessing of the Sovereign Head, the Royal House of Savoy and Italy. On this occasion one of our chaplains shall serve as the Master of Ceremonies.
In the event that, God forbid, a knight should be found guilty, either by a [criminal] sentence or by the judgement of competent [civil] authorities, of having gravely failed in his duty or his honour toward the Nation or to the Sovereign Head, the Chapter of the Order, having the legal written proof of the offence and having heard, and deliberated, the merits of the accused’s own defence, and sitting in a quorum of ten knights, may by a vote of two-thirds recommend that the Sovereign Head consider the removal of the accused knight’s name from the Roll. The decision resulting from this deliberation shall be announced as early as possible to the accused by the Secretary of the Order. The accused is thereby deprived of the right to wear the decorations of the Order.
Given at Florence this 3rd day of June 1869
[signed] VICTOR EMANUEL
Countersigned L.F. Menabrea, Knight and Secretary of the Supreme Order.
Approved at Geneva 11 June 1985
[signed] VICTOR EMANUEL, Grand Master