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Order of St. John

This page deals with the order founded in the 19th century. For the original order of St John, see Knights Hospitaller and Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
The “Most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem” is a British based organisation, and is found throughout the territories and formers territories of the British Commonwealth, as well as the United States of America. Whilst members are mainly of the Protestant faith, those of other Christian denominations may join as full members. It perhaps better known via its largest service organisation "St John Ambulance".

The history of the Order of St John

In June 1826, the Council of the French Langues, which was an unofficial revival of the Order of Malta in France, sought to raise money by which to restore a homeland for the Order. The Council had decided upon a private venture, funded by subscription. Essentially they sought to create a mercenary army, attracting into its service some of the large numbers of unemployed English soldiers and utilise the cheap war surplus that was available. Philippe de Castelain, a French Knight had been appointed to negotiate with suitable people in England. Donald Currie a Scotsman living in England was given the authority to raise £240,000. Both financial subscribers to the Scheme, and all Commissioned Officers of the mercenary army had the right to become Knights in the Order. Although new Knights were created, little money was raised. The Greek war had been won without the help of the French Knights. Castelain and Currie were authorised by Chevalier de Sainte-Croix to form the Council of the English Language. This was inaugurated on 12th January 1831. The executive power of the Council was given to a person who called himself 'Count' Alexander Mortara. The address for the Council was the "Auberge of St John, St John's Gate, St John's Square, Clerkenwell". This was non other that the public house "The Old Jerusalem Tavern", which occupied what had been the Gatehouse to the mediæval English Grand Priory.

The Reverend Robert Peat, Vicar of a Parish in Brentford, Middlesex, and a former Chaplain to King George IV was recruited as a member of the English Langue. Peat with other British members of the Langue expelled Mortara, accusing him of selling Knighthoods. The Council of the French Langues backed Mortara, and so from early 1832, there were two competing English Langues, the Langue led by Peat, being the unofficial English Langue. The rival organisations co-existed for five years, until the disappearance of Mortara early in 1837, when his organisation also disappeared.

Following Peat's death in April 1837, Sir Henry Dymoke succeeded as Grand Prior, and under his leadership, contact was re-established with the Knights in France and Germany. The British Order sought official recognition from the Roman Catholic Headquarters of the Order of Malta but this was refused by Lieutenant Grand Master Commander Philippe de Colloredo-Mansfeld (1845-1864). Up to this point, the English organisation had only considered itself to be a Grand Priory and Langue of the Order. In response to the Roman Catholic Order's refusal of recognition, the English Priory declared itself to be the Sovereign Order in England, under the title "The Sovereign and Illustrious Order of St John of Jerusalem Anglia".

The English Order continued in its growth, and had been able to recruit the 7th Duke of Manchester, who became their Grand Prior in 1861. The beginnings of well-established national Hospitaller organisation began when the Order created a corps of Ambulances in the 1860s. In 1871 a new Constitution brought about a further change of name offering a more modest identity; "Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in England". In 1876, the Princess of Wales was recruited into membership, followed by the Prince of Wales. In 1877 the British Priory of the Order established St John's Ambulance Association in large railway centres and mining districts so that railway men and colliers might learn how to treat victims of accidents. This was followed up in 1887 with the creation of the St John's Ambulance Brigade. In 1882 the British Grand Priory founded a Hospice and Ophthalmic Dispensary in Jerusalem.

Already to their credit was the very practical and life saving work undertaken by both the Ambulance Brigade and Association. In terms of status, the biggest leap forward was the official recognition conveyed in 1888 by way of the granting of a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria, under the title "The Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in England". The most recent Charter is dated 1955. Even this recognition by way of a Royal Charter, has not made the organisation an official Order of Chivalry in the United Kingdom, and membership only ranks as a Decoration in the same category as the Royal Red Cross and Kaisar-I-Hind Medal.

Whilst the British Order is ecumenical in membership, and from its early days counted Roman Catholics as members, it is identified with the Reformed tradition, through its Royal Head, who is the Head of the Church of England, as the State Church.

See also: Museum_of_the_Order_of_St_John