The Order of the Golden Fleece is one of the premier Orders of chivalry in the world, with a distinct history and awarded only to highest nobility of Europe.
Founded in 1430 by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, it was considered to be the Catholic counter to the Order of the Garter. After the Habsburgs absorbed the Burgundian lands, the Grand Mastership of the Order passed to that noble House. However, in 1700 a dispute arose between the Habsburgs and the Borbons over the rights to the Spanish throne and the Grand Mastership of the Order. Ever since, there have been two distinct branches of the Order of the Golden Fleece: an Austrian one, under the Habsburgs and a Spanish one, under the Borbons.
Though the Order was originally a strictly Catholic Order, the Spanish branch has become a State Order and has admitted non-Catholics and non-Christians such as King Constantine II formerly of the Hellenes and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the Habsburg branch has retained its Catholic character as a dynastic order of knighthood.
Considering the long and distinguished history of the order and, especially, its knights, it is no wonder that it has been studied extensively over the centuries. All knights, throughout its history, have been armigerous and numerous armorials have been produced.
Perhaps the most famous of all the armorials of the knights of the Golden Fleece is the “Grand Armorial of the Golden Fleece” or, as it is properly named “Grand Armorial de la Toison d’Or”. This seminal work is considered one of the most beautiful manuscripts created in the late Middle Ages, painted in gouache, and is currently preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France).
For any lover of heraldry or even for anyone that love art, this is an exceptional piece of work!
The National Library of France has done an exceptional job in bringing this manuscript to the online world so that everyone can access it. It even has an audio companion to the book that is a great aid to the visitor.
The URL to the work is: http://expositions.bnf.fr/livres/armorial/index.htm
The URL to the Bibliothèque nationale de France is: http://www.bnf.fr
Note: images from Wikipedia and the Bibliothèque nationale de France