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What Is The Order of Charles III?

Princess Leonor of Spain, heir to her country’s throne, is about to come of age.

The future queen turns 18 on October 31st 2023. On that day, Princess Leonor will swear the Spanish Constitution before the Cortes Generales in Madrid. After the swearing-in ceremony, the collar of The Royal and Distinguished Spanish Order of Charles III will be presented to her.

The Order of Charles III, established by King of Spain Charles III, dates back to 1771. It is meant to reward people for their actions that benefit Spain and the Crown. It is the highest civilian honor given by the Spanish Kingdom.

The origin of the Order comes from the Charles III’s prayers and thanksgiving of having heirs to the Spanish throne. His son and heir Charles IV was married but after many years, had no children. When it was announced a child was on the way, Charles III wanted to leave a long-lasting symbol of his gratitude to God and the Virgin Mary, to whom he prayed.

King Charles III named himself “Great Master of the Order” and gave his heirs the same title, as long as they held the title “King of Spain.”

Originally the order had two classes, Pensioner Knights and Knights Grand Cross. In 1783, a third class, the Supernumerary Knights were created. 

Recipients of the Order take an oath of loyalty towards the king, his family and the protection of the Royal House, recognizing the monarch as the Great Master, live and die in the Catholic faith, accepting as indisputable fact the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception and attending and receiving communion at mass at least once a year.

In 1847, the Order of Charles III became a civil order. Pensioner Knights and Supernumerary Knights were renamed Commander by Number and Knight. In 1878, the Knight of Collar was introduced as the highest class of the order, limited to 60 recipients. 

Today, the objective of the order is to honor civilians who bring distinction and great service to Spain. The Grand Master of the order is the monarch of Spain, currently King Felipe VI.

Though the medals and ribbons of the Order have varied throughout time, many of the original features still remain. The ribbons are a blue silk band with white design and the medals have an eight-point cross with the image of the Immaculate Conception, the motto Virtuti et Merito and the figure of Charles III. There is also the Knights Collar which is gold with the eight-point cross in the middle. Knights Collar and Knights Grand Cross of the Order are addressed with the honorific “The Most Excellent” in front of their name. Other members can be addressed as the honorific of “The Most Illustrious.”