Author: vitéz noble Pier Felice degli Uberti
This year, the Order of Vitéz has 100 years and it is necessary to do some considerations on its survival in the reality of the 21th century. The traditional pride of Hungarians has kept them from publicly discussing appropriately in the international chivalric and nobiliary community the real meaning of this Order, one of the three knightly orders (the Orders of Golden Fleece, the Starry Cross and the Vitézi Rend) still granted by the Habsburg-Lorraine Dynasty and this is why it needs some explanations.
The Order of Vitéz, or better, in English, the “Order of the Valiant, or of the Heroes” was founded in 1920 to honour thousands of Hungarian war heroes and to try to reconstruct Hungary that was in desperate condition due to WW I and the subsequent peace treaty forced on Hungary.
Its founder was Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya, (Kenderes, 18 June 1868 – Estoril, 9 February 1957), an Austro-Hungarian admiral and politician, the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1920 to 1944. Hungary at the time was a monarchy, even if there was no king due to the international political situation. The Order of Vitéz found its fons honorum in the Holy Crown of Hungary (as all the other Hungarian orders up to 1944).
Unlikely other knightly orders born in the 20th century, the Vitézi Rend had characteristics so high, so it is justifiable to put it in front of all the other knightly orders created in the 20th century, given that it had its deep roots in the millennium old history of Hungary, and in the European Christian tradition.
Vitéz was and is a distinct honour, unique for its originality, and still alive in Hungary and abroad, among Hungarian ex-pats and foreign personalities that distinguish themselves in respecting and sustaining Hungarian culture.
The title vitéz, that the honoured person puts before his last name (it is important to remember that according to Hungarian habits the surname always precedes the first name, if used in English, Vitéz still comes before the full name) may be translated with several different, more or less synonymous words. As a matter of fact, the Order does not grant the title of knight, but the one of vitéz, translatable as: “the valiant”,” the warrior”, “the fighter”, “the champion”, “the hero”; or with the adjectives brave, courageous, heroic. The contemporary use is to translate the Order of Vitéz as Order of Hungarian Valiants. Its peculiarity is to return to the oldest concepts linked to the creation of knights that had an effect of ennoblement of the grantee and could have a hereditary character combined with the grant of land ownership.
The grant of the title of vitéz has had a hereditary characteristic, given that originally, it could go to the first son at the age of 17, having also a feudal concept given that the grantee had the concession of about 4 to 125 hectares of land (less for the vitéz troops and more for the vitéz officers). In the absence of a son, the title (and connected land ownership) was transferred to the family of the oldest daughter. Later, in the emigration, due to the essential decrease of active Vitez families, the inheritability was extended to all male and female descendants
Many historians and scholars interpret this link with the obtainment of land property, looking into it a sort of agrarian reform with the granting of lands to small and medium landowners. This is a vision reinforced by the substantial democratic nature of the Order, not only because although it had two classes, the officer and the troop Vitez, but it had only one single title, the predicate “vitéz” in front of the name; but also because it could be granted to any citizen that distinguished himself during WW I, independently from the original social status. And given that the land granted to the awardee was usually offered by a major aristocratic landowner, it is possible to identify a principle of redistribution of the national land.
Furthermore, because of the idea of keeping alive the Hungarian pride and the energy shared by a nation that lost the war but had been nevertheless not destroyed by it, there was a new social class established, definable as a élite of heroes, an hereditary élite, strongly linked to the Hungarian nation and its authorities.
The Order of Vitéz was naturally linked to the Habsburg-Lorraine Dynasty; indeed, the requisites to obtain the title were to have decorations or medals of bravery granted by the Habsburg Empire, related to events linked to WW I. These requisites were used for a long time, up to when the new grants became related to having obtained similar decorations during WW II.
For the peculiarities of this honorary distinction, Regent Horthy never held the title of a Grand Master, but the one of Captain General.
In 1944, Horthy was arrested by the Germans, and once freed in 1945, he went in exile to Portugal, but still went on working in order to keep alive the Order of Vitéz, up to his death in 1957.
Then, all the members of the Order living in the West gathered in a general council from 1958 to 1959, to guarantee that the Order of Vitéz could survive and they elected a second Captain General in the person of the Field Marshal Archduke József Ágost of Habsburg-Lorraine (the first invested Vitéz when the Order was born). To have an official recognition of the legitimate Order, in 1962 the then Captain General Archduke József Ágost contacted the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry, the most authentic scientific institution to register and recognize the validity of orders. This organ recognized in 1964 the legitimacy of the Order of Vitéz, putting it in its register of chivalric institutions with the proper requirements.
In 1962 at the death of the Archduke József Ágost (Joseph August), the Council of the Order elected Ferenc Farkas de Kisbarnak, as third Captain General, a heroic general of WW II. Being 85 years old, however, he resigned and in 1977 another member of the House Habsburg-Lorraine succeeded him, the Archduke József Árpád (grandson of Archduke József Ágost), who remained Captain General of the Order until his death in 2017.
As the surviving Vitéz elected the Archduke József Árpád to Captain General, they also decided to transmit the dignity of the leadership to the oldest son of the 3rd Captain General, the succession of the most important role in the Order, was codified and so today, the Captain General is Archduke Josef Karl of Habsburg-Lorraine.
Here are some concepts that made the Order of Vitéz one of the most important orders and distinction systems in the world:
1) Unlikely to genuine dynastic orders which have been suspended for a few years or even, up to a century; the Order of Vitéz has still survived as an hereditary order. Meanwhile, the Council of the Order extended the right to inherit the title to all children of a Vitéz if worthy for the title. When a son or a daughter of a member becomes 17, they may join the Vitéz, making the order thus immortal, as long as there will be descendants of the Vitéz created up to 1944;
2) With the granting of the land during the time in which the country was ruled by the Holy Crown of Hungary, the Order had the fundamental characteristic of being feudal, transmitting a new form of nobility;
3) Unlikely all the other knightly or merit orders, it did not grant the title of Knight, but the supreme one of Vitéz, meaning Valiant or Hero and recognizing the bravery of someone who, with his own initiative and free from any obligation, made an extraordinary and generous act of courage, with the self-sacrifice in protecting the others or the common good. This was the clear birth and the root of the transmission towards the eternity of a new nobility, expressly named Vitéz; and this is the reason that the grantee puts in front of his name the title Vitéz, exactly like the nobility does with the noble title that they hold;
4) The Order of Vitéz established the rule that the Captain General always has to be a descendant of the Captain General H.R.H. József Árpád, Royal Prince of Hungary, in the spirit of the Vitézi Rend being once again an Order of the Hungarian Nation;
5) The Order goes on toward infinity in the descendants of the Vitéz created up to 1944, and because in the middle age tradition, knights arm and invest new knights, today to keep the tradition of these heroes the Captain General (or his appointed representative senior Vitéz) invests the new Vitéz, choosing them from among Hungarians, from the descendants of Hungarians living abroad, and from the ranks of a selected group of foreigners who adhere to the Hungarian tradition, the modern heroes of our society, thus the people that he considers they deserve the highest honour grantable to a man.