“Royal Patrons” of Orders of Knighthood: do’s and don’ts

Most Orders of Knighthood are formulated as charities with or without a national outlook, and often – though not always – regulated within the territory they were founded in. This is in line with the spirit of their ancient and original predecessors, that also focused on protecting the vulnerable. In many cases a person of royal descent is attracted as a patron to give the Order more cachet. This article provides recommendations regarding these Royal Patrons. In a case study, the article focuses on the Orléans obedience of the Order of Saint Lazarus, although more branches of this international Order of Knighthood exist, each recognising their own Grand Master.

In a 2015 BBC News article, Professor Catherina Pharoah, Co-Director of the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy, at Cass Business School at City University, London, states that royal patronage changes the public perception of a charity:

“It’s an endorsement that their work is reputable and high quality,” she says, adding that royal patrons are highly sought-after.”

 “The support of the royal princes for services and ex-services charities has been hugely important. Those areas were very much seen as a legacy of the past, but they’ve brought a new awareness to it and made it a more immediate cause.

“It was like when William and Kate chose charitable causes as part of their wedding celebrations, they chimed in with the mood of the moment.”

Vanessa Barford, Why do charities want a royal patron?, BBC News, 5 January 2012

Recent research

However, recent research concludes that royal patronages provide no discernible financial benefits to charities:

We found that charities should not seek or retain Royal patronages expecting that they will help much. 

74% of charities with Royal patrons did not get any public engagements with them last year. We could not find any evidence that Royal patrons increase a charity’s revenue (there were no other outcomes that we could analyse), nor that Royalty increases generosity more broadly. Giving Evidence takes no view on the value  of the Royal family generally. The findings are summarised in this Twitter thread.

We investigated this mindful that some donors help charities much less than they think they do. Some help a lot; some create so much work that dealing with them consumes the entire donation, meaning that their net contribution is nil; and some are even worse, creating a net drain. (Having been a charity CEO myself, I wrote an entire book for donors, about how charities really function and how donors can help them and avoid hindering them.) Equally, some well-intentioned programmes run by charities are great, some achieve nothing, and some are counter-productive and harmful.

Royal patronages can create costs for charities. For example, The Telegraph newspaper claimed that the Outward Bound Trust flew Prince Andrew, its then-patron, to New York to attend a fundraising event.

Charities often seem to think that a Royal patron will visit them, or enable events at palaces which they can use to attract press coverage or donors. In fact, most UK charities with Royal patrons did not get a single public engagement with their Royal patron last year: 74% of them got none. Only 1% of charities with Royal patrons got more than one public engagement with them last year. {In this video, it transpires that Kate hasn’t visited one of her patronee charities for eight years.} Some got many more, but they are mainly charities set up by the Royals. We found that same pattern when we analysed a three year period, 2016-19. Charities set up by the Royals are 2% of the patronee charities but last year got 36% of the Royals’ public engagements with patronee charities. (Later, Prince William took over two patronages from the Queen and Prince Philip. One of those charities had had one official engagement from their Royal patron in the last ten years: the other had had none in ten years. Data here.)

Charities cite various benefits of Royal patronages e.g., on staff morale, on beneficiaries. We do not deny these. But we are trying to do science, so needed reliable and comparable data about the large number of charities that we needed to analyse. The sole such data are revenue, so we used that. The potential to raise a charity’s revenue appears to among the Palace’s criteria for selecting charities.

Just by looking at graphs (see below) of the revenue over time of the patronee charities versus that of comparable charities it is looks as though revenue is not affected when a Royal patronage starts.

We also looked in much more complicated ways. We used several sophisticated analytical methods: econometric regressions using various combinations of comparator groups and outcome variables. None convincingly found an effect.

In the videos below, we explain what we researched, why, how, and what we found. We had three research questions: what are Royal patronages; which charities have them; and what difference do they make?

Charities seem to matter to the Royal family. ‘Charities and patronages’ is the first permanent item on the Royal website below an article about the Monarch.

As well as finding no evidence that Royals bring revenue to their patronee charities, we also found no reason that donors should assume that a charity with a Royal patronage outperforms its peers. Take air ambulances. The UK has 21 air ambulance charities, each serving a different ‘patch’. The ones with senior Royal patrons are: Cornwall (Camilla: Duchess of Cornwall), London (William: who lives in London), Wiltshire (Camilla, who has a house in neighbouring Gloucestershire), and Yorkshire (Andrew: Duke of York). It seems likely that these selections are driven less by quality than by history and geography.

We found no evidence that a concentration of Royal patronages of charities in a geographic area increases the generosity of people in that area. (We compared English regions on (i) the number of Royal patronages they have, and (ii) the proportion of people who have given recently). And looking internationally, we found no evidence that a resident Royal family makes a nation more generous. In short, we looked from many angles, and did not find evidence of a beneficial effect from any of them.

Caroline Fiennes, Royal patronages of charities don’t seem to help charities much, 16 July 2020.

Orders of Knighthood

Most Orders of Knighthood are international charities that attract donations from their members and subsequently distribute these funds among worthy causes. They often have a Royal Patron as they think this adds value to their organization. In certain cases, this is true. In other cases the opposite is true.

Dynastic Orders should be connected to the original dynasty that was involved in the formation of the Order to add historical legitimacy. This places the Order in its dynastic context, which certainly adds historical value to the Order. A good example in this respect is the French branch of the Order of Saint Lazarus, which attracted the Count of Paris (the head of the French Royal Family) as their patron.

Case study: the Order of Saint Lazarus

On Sunday 12 September 2004 in the Cathedral of Orléans, the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus was restored to its traditional Protector – the Royal House of France. This event restored the status of the Order which it formerly enjoyed and which had been lost to the Order since 1830. In the presence of numerous witnesses His Royal Highness the Count of Paris, Duke of France and Head of the House of France, declared before the High Altar that the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem would once again be given the Protection of the House of France (photo: OSLJ).

Since 12 September 2004, the Protection of the Order of Saint Lazarus has been assumed by the Royal House of France. By offering its Protection, the Royal House of France has restored the Order to the status it had lost in 1830, when a royal decree caused the order to lose its royal protection after both King Louis XVIII, the Order’s protector, and the duc de Châtre, the Order’s lieutenant-general, had died in 1824. Confirmation of the Royal Protection was given (see Appendix) in the Cathedral of Orléans, during the Investiture of Prince Charles-Philippe d’Orléans, Duc d’Anjou, as Grand Master of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. The installation of the Prince was solemnly witnessed and validated by His Royal Highness the Count of Paris and by His Eminence Cardinal László Paskai, Primate Emeritus of Hungary. The document was also signed and witnessed in the Chapel dedicated to St Joan of Arc in the Cathedral of Orleans by the leaders and delegates of 19 National Jurisdictions of our Order. In addition, the ceremony was attended by representatives of the Catholic, Greek Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Reformed Churches. Also present were members of the diplomatic corps, dignitaries of the French Republic and the City of Orléans and Military Officers of France, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Ireland. It should be noted that Wikipedia’s statement “The Orléans obedience claims the protection of Henri d’Orléans, Count of Paris.” is false as it suggests that this claim might in fact not be true. The statement is based on a negatively biased source.

The Order of Saint Lazarus is an international confraternity of Christians who profess their commitment to Jesus. Its three pillars are charity, spirituality and tradition (source: Order of Saint Lazarus). The Order of Saint Lazarus offers financial support to, for example, the Society for Uplift and Rehabilitation of Leprosy Affected People, based in Sri Lanka. It offers assistance primarily to people with leprosy, but it also works to help children orphaned because of leprosy and those affected in any way by this terrible disease (source: Order of Saint Lazarus). The combination of historical authenticity and genuine good works strengthen the legitimacy of this important charitable institution enormously.

When the Royal House of France took the Order of Saint Lazarus under its wings again, the question regarding the formation date of the Order was reduced to an academic question. The fact that it is an Order of the Royal House of France, revives the Order’s full legitimacy.

Recommendations

I have five recommendations for organisations that consider attracting a Royal Patron.

  • There is a difference between a Fons Honorum and a Royal Patronage. A Fons Honorum is the legitimate and legal authority of a person or institution to grant titles and awards to other parties (see e.g.: Versélewel de Witt Hamer, 2017, p. 100). The Fons Honorum is needed to create a new legal entity, like reviving an ancient Order of Knighthood or granting a title of nobility. A Royal Patronage is in fact only a formal act of support. Therefore, there is no need for a Royal Patron to hold the Fons Honorum. In the exceptional case of the Order of Saint Lazarus, the Fons Honorum and the Royal Patronage have merged when the Count of Paris became the Order’s patron and endorsed the appointment of his nephew as Grand Master. But in general, it is not necessary to attract a Royal Patron who is the head of a dynasty. Other members of dynastic houses can very well carry out the task of patron. Although a head of a dynastic house will often be the first choice, Orders should not limit themselves to one person when this is not feasible. Selecting a specific member of a Royal Family can also be the result of a process where the person with the best abilities is chosen to become the Order’s patron. In fact, this is a much better strategy than to just aim for the Head of the Family. In addition, other persons of achievement, like celebrities or successful business leaders, can act as a valuable patron of the Order.
  • In general, it does not help the funding activities if a Royal Patron gives her/his blessing to an organisation. In case of Orders of Knighthood, this is different. These organisations gain reputation when an influential patron endorses the Order. As a consequence, the Order will attract more members and is therefore better equipped to perform charitable activities. Finding a good patron is therefore an important task for an Order.
  • Royal Patrons who do not have a historical relation with the Order, are in a way a red flag for becoming a member. It shows that the Order is unable to find a historically relevant patron. Unintentionally, it sends out a signal of illegitimacy. The Royal Patron sends out the wrong signal as well because her/his irrelevant background supports the idea that something is not right.
  • It is peculiar that the Order of Saint Lazarus sought (e.g. L’Osservatore Romano of 21 March 1952) and possibly still seeks some kind of recognition from the Pope. Such a recognition is irrelevant and will never come. Being a Roman Catholic Order of Knighthood means a breach with the ecumenical principles, which is one of the most important pillars of the success of the Order. The Order of Saint Lazarus should remain fully independent and focus on interfaith dialogue. It should not become involved in the Roman Catholic church hierarchy. For the same reasons, I advise against the formation of local entities of the Order in the form of Catholic lay organisations, as has become a regular practice.
  • I noticed that some more recent dynastic claimants enter into so-called ‘friendship treaties’ with exotic Royal Houses (e.g. in Asia) in order to become more accepted within nobiliary circles. This serves the same purpose as attracting a Royal Patron. I strongly advise against this practice because it shows the opposite: a lack of acceptance. When a claimant needs to reach out to Royal Houses in other continents to substantiate her/his case, it shows that more obvious ‘royal friends’ decline to engage in joint activities. It should be kept in mind that a genuine dynastic claim does not need recognition from anyone, because of the sovereign character of a dynasty. In most cases, it is enough when the claim is transparent and reasonably embedded in a historical context. The perfect claim does not exist.

Acknowledgement

An anonymous reviewer is thanked for critically reading the manuscript and suggesting substantial improvements. His suggestions helped improve and clarify this article.

Appendix

Déclaration de Monseigneur le Comte de Paris, Duc de France, Chef de la Maison Royale de France

Henry, par la grâce de Dieu, Chef de la Maison de France, faisons savoir à tous, tant présents que futurs que,

Considérant les lettres patentes données à Poitiers, en juillet 1308, par le Roi Philippe IV le Bel qui déclara “prendre sous notre garde spéciale et notre protection le Maître Général et les frères de l’Ordre de Saint-Lazare de Jérusalem” afin de leur éviter toute spoliation,

Considérant les origines pontificales et l’organisation canonique de l’ordre de Saint-Lazare de Jérusalem rappelées, notamment, par le Pape Alexandre IV (bulle donnée à Naples le 11 des calendes d’avril 1255) et par le Pape Clément XIV (bulle Militarium Ordinum Institutio du 10 décembre 1772),

Considérant les différents accords conclus entre les Chefs de la Maison Royale de France et les Souverains Pontifes complétant l’exercice de ce Protectorat depuis le concordat du 15 aoùt 1516,

Considérant que ce Protectorat a été assumé par les Chefs de la Maison Royale de France jusqu’en 1830,

Considérant la titulature de Protecteur Temporel de l’Ordre Militaire et Hospitalier de Saint-lazare de Jérusalem comme faisant intégralement partie de l’héritage que nous assumons en tant que Chef de la Maison Royale de France,

Nous déclarons perpétuer cet engagement en garantissant le caractère authentique et unique, dans sa dimension juridique et traditionnelle, de cette antique Institution.

Orléans, le 12 septembre 2004

Declaration by H.R.H. the Count of Paris, Duke of France, Head of the Royal House of France

We, Henri, by the Grace of God, Head of the House of France, make known to all persons, for now and the future, that,

Whereas pursuant to letters patent given at Poitiers, in July 1308, by King Philippe IV the Fair, who declared that he took “under Our special guard and protection the Master General and brethren of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem” in order to prevent their suffering any despoilment;

Whereas pursuant to the pontifical origins and canonical structure of the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, as recalled in particular by Pope Alexander IV in a Bull given at Naples on the eleventh day of the calends of April 1255, and by Pope Clement XIV in the Bull Militarium Ordinum Institutio of 10 December 1772;

Whereas pursuant to the various agreements entered into between the Heads of the Royal House of France and the Sovereign Pontiffs setting out in full the exercise of that Protectorship following the Concordat of 15 August 1516;

Whereas pursuant to this Protectorship being assumed by the Heads of the Royal House of France until 1830;

And whereas the title of Temporal Protector of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem being an integral part of the heritage that we have entered into as Head of the Royal House of France;

We declare our perpetuation of this commitment, guaranteeing as we do, in terms both of the law and of tradition, the authentic and unique character of this ancient Institution.

Orléans, 12 September 2004

OSLJ

Literature

Versélewel de Witt Hamer, T. J. (2017). Geloven verplicht: Een elite-onderzoek naar ridderlijke orden in het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden (1965-2015). Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.