Knight Commander or Commander is a title of honor, which is prevalent in fraternal orders and chivalry order.

Commander, as a title, took place in the medieval military orders including the Knights Hospitaller, for a member senior to a knight. Differences include Knight Commander, most notably in English and occasionally used to recognize an even higher rank than Commander. In a few orders of chivalry, Commander ranks above Officier  (such as Officer), but below one or more ranks with a prefix meaning “Great” or Grand – in French, Grosskomtur  in German, Comandante Mayor in Spanish, and Groot- in Dutch (Grootcommandeur; “Grand Commander”), and Grand Cross.

Etymology

Commander (Italian: Commendatore; French: Commandeur; German: Komtur; Spanish: Comandante; Portugues: Comendador).

France

History

The rank of commandeur in the French orders came from the Medieval Period military orders, in which low-level administrative houses were known as commanderies and were ruled by commandeur. In the Modern Age, the French Kings created chivalry orders which mimicked the military order’s ranks.

  • The Order of the Holy Spirit, which was created in 1578 A.D. by King Henry III, had 2 categories of commanders.
    • Ecclesiastical commanders, which were members of the clergy with the rank of prelate. There was 8; however, the grand almoner of the king was counted as a supplementary ecclesiastical commander ex officio.
    • Administrative officers, which were the “officers-commanders”, were the 4 most important executive officers of the order. They had a similar rank as lay knights; however, they did not need to prove their nobility. These officers were used by the kings to honor recent nobles, such as Jean-Baptiste Colbert. The officers-commanders were occasionally known as grand officers in order to differentiate them from the lowest rank of officers.
  • The Order of St. Louis, which was created in 1694 A.D. by King Louis XIV, had 1 rank of commanders, which was the second highest rank of the order, destined to honor military officers. There was only 24 commanders at the same time, which was eventually promoted to the rank of Grand Cross.

Both orders were squashed in 1830 A.D. by the new King Louis-Philippe I.

Commander Insignia
Commander insignia in the Legion of Honor.

Modern Merit Orders

  • The Legion of Honor, which was created in 1802 A.D. by Napoléon Bonaparte, had originally a rank of Commandant. This rank was renamed Commander by King Louis XVIII in 1816 A.D. in order to bring the Napoleonic order on monarchical principals, which is still the 3rd highest rank of the order.
  • The National Order of Merit, which was created in 1963 A.D. by President Charles de Gaulle, has a similar rank structure as the Legion of Honor. The Commanders form the 3rd highest rank of the order.
  • The Ordre des Palmes Académiques, which was created in 1808 A.D. for teachers and professors, has Commander as its highest rank since reorganized in 1955 by President René Coty.
  • The Order of Agricultural Merit, which was created in 1883 A.D. for contributions to agriculture, has Commander as its highest rank since reorganized in 1900.
  • The Ordre du Mérite Maritime has Commander as its highest rank since it was created in 1930.
  • The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres has Commander as its highest rank since it was created in 1957.

Italy

The official title of Commendatore, which is equivalent to the English Knight Commander, is rewarded by order of the President of Italy to people who are given this honor in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and other orders of knighthood. The Commendatore, or Knight Commander, rank is a higher award than that of “Ufficiale” (Officer), which in turn is higher than the first level of “Cavaliere” (knight) in this order of chivalry, which was originally established in Italy by the Royal House of Savoy. The Italian government’s orders are exceptional to the international standard in that they do not officially have special ranks or decorations for females (Dames).

The rank of Commendatore is presented in several Italian dynastic orders of the royal houses of Savoy, the Two Sicilies, Parma, and Tuscany. The Republic of Italy officially recognizes the Orders and titles conferred upon its citizens from the Holy See and from some of the royal houses of Italy.

Commendatore is the Italian equivalent for the rank of Knight Commander in foreign orders, such as the Order of the British Empire.

Il Commendatore is a character in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and was also generally used to refer to Enzo Ferrari. In the movie The Godfather: Part III, Michael Corleone is addressed as “Commendatore” Michael Corleone on his return to Sicily since he received a Papal order of knighthood.

The military rank of Commander is Comandante in the Italian Armed Forces.

Germany

In German, Komtur, which was derived from Latin: commendator, was a rank within military orders, particularly the Teutonic Knights. In the State of the Teutonic Order, the Komtur was the commander of a basic administrative division called Kommende (also Komturei). A Komtur was responsible for feeding and supporting the Order’s Knights from the yield of local estates. He commanded several Procurators. A Kommende had a convent of at least 12 brothers.[1] Various Kommenden formed a Ballei province.

Grosskomtur (Grand Commander or Großkomtur) was one of the highest ranks within the knights, which was responsible for the administration of the Order and second-in-command after the Grand Master, which was first-in-command. He had his seat at Malbork Castle (Marienburg). Grosskomtur and four other senior officers like the Grand Marshal were appointed by the Grand Master and formed the council of Großgebietiger with competence on the whole order.[1]

Papal Orders

It is also applied in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (in its Order pro merito Melitensi presented for merit) and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. Traditionally, the analogous rank for ladies is Dama di Commenda (“Dame commander”), but today the word “Commendatrice” is sometimes used.

United Kingdom

United Kingdom is differentiated by its use of differentiating Commander and knight or Dame Commander (female).

Knight Commander or Dame Commander (female) is the 2nd most senior grade of 7 British orders of chivalry, 3 of which are dormant (and one of them remains as a German house order). The rank entails admission into knighthood, allowing the recipient to use the title ‘Sir’ (male) or ‘Dame’ (female) before his or her name. In the Commonwealth Realms orders and decorations, Knight Commander and Dame Commander rank before Knights Bachelor but after the Order of the Companions of Honour, although Companions of Honour obtain no knighthood or other status.

In the Order of the British Empire and the Royal Victorian Order, the grade of Commander is senior to the grade of Lieutenant or Officer respectively; however, junior to that of Knight Commander or Dame Commander (female). In the British Venerable Order of Saint John, a Commander ranks below a knight. However, Knights of the Venerable Order of St John are not entitled Sir.

The orders that reward the rank of Knight Commander and related post-nominal letters are as follows (dormant orders in italics):

  • Order of the Bath (KCB / DCB)
  • Order of the Star of India (KCSI)
  • Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG / DCMG)
  • Order of the Indian Empire (KCIE)
  • Royal Victorian Order (KCVO / DCVO)
  • Order of the British Empire (KBE / DBE)

Knights Commander and Dames Commander (female) rank behind the most senior rank in each order, that of Knight Grand Cross. The third most senior rank in each order is a Companion (CB, CSI, CMG, CIE), knight (KH), or Commander (CVO, CBE). Insignia include a breast star, a badge, and a ribbon.

Spain

In military orders with extensive territorial possessions, individual estates could be called commenda and entrusted to a knight as a de facto fief. Apart from cases where such a fief was ex officio linked to a higher office within the order, his style would then be Commandeur; this etymology is best preserved in the Spanish form Commendador, important in the military orders involved in the Reconquista such as the Order of Santiago.

References

  1. Hazard, H. W. (Ed.). (1975). A History of the Crusades: The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries (Vol. 3). Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press. (p. 578). ISBN 0299066703.

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Commander (Order). (n.d.). Retrieved July 30, 2017.

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