The Order of the Dragon (lat. Societas Draconistrarum, hun. Sárkány Lovagrend, ger. der Drachenorden, cro. Zmajev red, rom. Ordinul Dragonului, ser. Ред Змаја / Red Zmaja) was founded on December 12 in 1408 by Sigismund, King of Hungary (who would later become the Holy Roman Emperor). The purpose of the Order, ostensibly, was to prevent the further expansion of the Ottoman Empire into the Baltic region. The not-so-secret purpose was to consolidate and secure Sigismund’s power in Hungary, which he ruled by marriage not heredity. Although his reign would be one of the longest in Hungarian history, in 1408, Sigismund’s control of Hungary was precarious as a result of the death of his first wife Mary of Hungary (and hereditary Queen) in 1395 and the loss at the Battle of Nicopolis a year later.
The Order, whose members were known as Draconists, was the most powerful political association in Hungary and was quickly recognized internationally. As a monarchical chivalric order, the Order of the Dragon was led by Sigismund and members were sworn to his defense and service as well as to that of the Order. In return, members could expect and enjoyed a level of royal patronage including appointment to offices, wealth, honors and royal protection.
Among the Order’s most notable members was Vlad II, Voivode (duke or prince) of Wallachia, Vlad II took the moniker Vlad Dracul when he joined the Order of the Dragon in 1431. That same year a son would be born to the family. He too would be named Vlad but become better known to history as Vlad Tepes or Vlad Dracula. It is worth noting that the future Vlad III was inducted into the Order of the Dragon in 1436, at age 5, which is the same year his father, Vlad II ascended to the throne of Wallachia.
The Symbol of the Order
The insignia of a dragon with its tail coiled around its neck and the red cross of St. George on it’s back identified the initial 24 members of the Order. Other versions of the insignia were used later as membership increased and various classes of membership were introduced.
Few contemporary historical artifacts remain although some portraits such as that of Otto von Wolkenstein depicting one of the Dragon’s classes indicate the importance and prestige of membership in the Order. A portrait of the Emperor Sigismund also depicts the original and presumably highest class of the Order or the Dragon he founded.
The Order of the Dragon would decline in prominence after Sigismund’s death in 1437. Several families in Hungary and throughout the Holy Roman Empire retained symbols of the Order in their coats of arms. Notable among these is the Bathory family. More than 200 years later, a daughter of the house, Elizabeth, would be imprisoned in Csejte Castle for allegedly torturing and killing hundreds of young women in order to preserve her legendary beauty.
The 15th century would profoundly change the course of European and world history. Nations, civilizations and entire continents were emerging from isolation and beginning to develop, if not in tandem at least along similar paths with some cultural exchange. The Renaissance, which began more than a century before, would spread throughout Europe during the 1400s. The influence of the Renaissance is still being felt today. The Order of the Dragon may seem to be just a footnote to this history. In fact, the Order and its members may have had a profound effect on human and preternatural history that we are only beginning to understand.