For centuries, British citizens have been invested into the Orders of the Royal House of the Two Sicilies. Admiral Lord Nelson was invested as a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Saint Ferdinand and Merit in 1798. Another early recipient of this Order was the Neapolitan Prime Minister Sir John Acton who was already a Knight of the Illustrious Royal Order of Saint Januarius.
The first known British subject to be invested into the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George was Lieutenant Colonel John Pritchard in 1798. Captain Sir William D’Arley was also invested in 1801, receiving the decoration from King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies. In the same year, he obtained a Royal Licence from King George III of Great Britain which permitted him to be styled as “Sir William” and to wear the Order’s decoration at Court.
In 1810, Sir John Carr was invested into the Order’s ranks. Several members of the Winspeare and Acton families, who had close ties to the Royal Neapolitan Court, were invested in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1883, the industrialist and inventor, Sir Edward Thomason, was invested into the Order’s ranks.
In the first 75 years of the 20th century the Anglo-Neapolitan families of Acton and Winspeare were again the mainstay of British members of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St George. Sir Harold Acton, famous for his two-volume history of the Bourbons of Naples, became a Constantinian knight.
In the early 1970s some prominent members of the British and Polish Associations of the Order of Malta decided to establish a national association for the Constantinian Order in Britain and Ireland. In 1975 the premier baron of England, Lord Mowbray, Segrave and Stourton, was elected as its president and remained in office until 2000.
Among those invested during this time were three presidents of the British Association of the Order of Malta including Major-General Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, Sir Peter Hope and Captain Peregrine Bertie. Other members included HE The Ven Bailiff Frá Anthony Furness (the first solemnly professed Knight of Justice of the Order of Malta in England since the Reformation) and the future Garter King of Arms Sir Conrad Swan and John Brooke-Little,later Clarenceux King of Arms.
Among activities undertaken by the Delegation in the early years were the publication of the first history of the Order in English entitled ‘Italy’s Knights of St George: The Constantinian Order’ by Desmond Seward, the attendance of many British and Irish knights and dames at the State Funeral of the last monarchs of the Two Sicilies, King Francis II and Queen Sofia in the Basilica of Santa Chiara in Naples in 1984, and a ground breaking exhibition on the art and civilisation under the Bourbons in southern Italy, created and presented at the Neapolitan museums of Capodimonte and San Martino and at the Detroit Institute of Art in the USA.
HE Archbishop Luigi Barbarito was invested into the Constantinian Order in 1986 at the start of his eleven year term as Apostolic Nuncio to the Court of St James’s. The Rt Rev Mgr Adrian Arrowsmith, Canon of Westminster Cathedral, became the new Prior of the delegation and, when Rector of the Church of Our Lady of Victories in Kensington (which served as pro-Cathedral for over 30 years before Westminster Cathedral was completed), placed a special chapel at the disposal of the knights and dames. The chapel contains an interesting plaque marking the fact.
Members of the old recusant families were also invested including in 1985 HMEH Frà Andrew Bertie, 78th Grand Master of the Order of Malta. In 1987, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, then Lord Chancellor was invested as a medallist of the Constantinian Order.
The Delegation and its activities grew considerably further from 2000 onwards under delegates Lord Belhaven and Stenton (2000-2003), Anthony Bailey, KGCN, OBE (2003-2006, 2012-) and Lord Brennan of Bibury QC (2006-2009).
The delegation membership in Britain today includes royalty, peers of the realm, judges and lawyers, members of parliament, authors, charity workers, diplomats, businessmen, ministers, civil leaders, interfaith campaigners, military leaders and senior clergy. Among them are the current Grand Master of the Order of Malta, HMEH Frà Matthew Festing, HSH Princess Marie-Therese von Hohenberg Lady Bailey, Sister Ellen Flynn of the Passage Homeless Centre, the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury (medallist), the Duchess of Norfolk, the current and former Chief Ministers of Gibraltar the Hon Fabian Picardo and Sir Peter Caruana, QC, the Lord High Constable of Scotland, the Earl of Erroll (medallist), former Chief of the Defence Staff Field Marshal the Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, former Attorney General and Secretary General of the Commonwealth Alderman Baroness Scotland of Asthal, QC, Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool, Chief Executive of the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem Brigadier Thomas Ogilvie-Graham, several ambassadors accredited to the Court of St James’s and former MP, pro-life campaigner and entertainer Ann Widdecombe.
The senior dame of the Delegation in Britain is HRH Princess Michael of Kent who was invested into the Constantinian Order in 1996.
His Eminence Cormac, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor is the Prior of the British and Irish Delegation and His Grace the Most Rev George Stack, Archbishop of Cardiff, is the Sub-Prior. The current Archbishop of Westminster, His Eminence Vincent, Cardinal Nichols, is a longstanding member, having been invested into the Order in 1990 and later promoted in grade in 2000 and 2014.
In 2012 HE Archbishop Antonio Mennini was invested into the Order at the start of his term as Apostolic Nuncio to the Court of St James’s.
Within the Royal Order of Francis I, which is not exclusively Roman Catholic in nature, are foreign royalty, a former prime minister, charity workers, artists, cabinet ministers, barristers, academics, inter-faith leaders, businessmen and members of parliament.
Among them are two former Archbishops of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, and Lord Carey of Clifton, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain and Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, Vivian Wineman, former President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, inter-faith leader Sir Sigmund Sternberg, HRH The Princess Elena of Romania, HRH Princess Katarina of Yugoslavia, The Duke of Westminster, Lord Denman, Lord Lingfield, chef Albert Roux, as well as a number of current and past Ambassadors and High Commissioners accredited to the Court of St James’s including Italy, Ireland, Poland, Colombia, Hungary, Albania, Kosovo, Andorra and the Holy See. The former Prime Minister Baroness (Margaret) Thatcher was also a member.
The current British Delegate is HE Anthony Bailey, KGCN, OBE, who simultaneously serves as the Order’s worldwide Magistral Delegate for Inter-Religious Relations, Secretary General of the Royal Order of Francis I and Deputy of the Royal Deputation within the Grand Magistry in Rome. He is supported by a Council, which is elected every three years. The Vice-Delegate for England is currently vacant, the Vice-Delegate for Scotland is Field Marshal The Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, the Vice-Delegate for Wales is The Rt Hon Lord Paul Murphy and the Vice-Delegate for Gibraltar is the Hon Sir Peter Caruana, QC.
The Delegation in Great Britain has supported numerous charities and organisations over the years including the Passage Homeless Centre, St Thomas Fund, Westminster Cathedral, Blind Veterans UK (St Dunstan’s), the Council of Christians and Jews, the Schola of the London Oratory School, Tyburn Convent and Shrine, the Apostolic Nunciature, the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group within the British Parliament, Co-Operation Ireland, Forthspring Inter-Community Group, St Peter’s Italian Church in London, Stroke Association, Fr Peter McVerry Trust in Dublin and many international charitable and humanitarian initiatives of the Grand Magistry in Rome.
The Delegation of Great Britain and Ireland observes the Order’s feast days, particularly the Feast of Saint George (23 April), and the Glorification of the Cross (14 September).