Did you know that there is an international order of sportsmen, who is dedicated to preserving traditional hunting and fishing, under the royal sponsorship of the king of Spain and whose current Grand Master is an archduke of Austria?
The International Order of St. Hubertus, once known as the Venerable Order of St. Hubertus, is an exclusive knightly order of hunters and conservationists that spans the globe. The organisation may no longer be a secret—seeing as how they have a public website—but the order still prides itself on its ancient traditions. Despite being founded in 1695 and having its first American chapter in 1966, the order is still not widely known among hunters. That may change however, as the organization recently found itself the center of attention after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was reportedly a high-ranking member in the society.
According to The Seattle Times, Scalia and several other members of the order had met up at the West Texas hunting ranch where he later died of natural causes. It is not known what occasion they had gathered for, but being an order of hunters on a hunting ranch, it’s not hard to guess why.
The order is named after St. Hubertus, the patron saint of hunters, fishermen, trappers, and…mathematics. According to the story, St. Hubertus was the son of a French duke who withdrew from court after his wife died in childbirth. He retreated into the woods and became an avid hunter, one day spotting a stag with a vision of the crucifix between its antlers. He is widely regarded as the originator of European hunting ethics and often encouraged compassion for God’s creatures.
The Venerable Order of St. Hubertus was founded in 1695 by Count Franz von Sporck. According to the order’s own account of its history, the count founded the order in the Kingdom of Bohemia as a knightly order dedicated to hunting and the management of game animals. It’s motto is “Deum Diligite Animalia Diligentes,” which roughly translates to “Honoring God by honoring His creatures.”
“In the Middle Ages and again with the revival of interest in the forms of chivalry in Europe, hunting was considered a basic preparation for warfare and was held among the highest activities a gentleman could pursue,” the order stated on its website.
The order was initially reserved only for nobility, including such famed figures as Emperor Charles VI of the Holy Roman Empire. For hundreds of years, the order spread out across Europe but its heart remained in Austria. However, during the Second World War, Nazi Germany annexed Austria and the order found itself in jeopardy. Herman Göring, President of the Reichstag, demanded that the order install him as a leading member. When the Grand Prior of Austria denied him, Göring reportedly had him executed. Adolf Hitler later forcibly disbanded the order in occupied Europe. Following the war’s end, surviving members of the organization worked with US Armed Forces to provide food to rural parts of Austria, consisting primarily of game hunted during winter. The order was officially reconstituted in 1950.
About a decade and a half later, the first American chapter was founded in California. Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Italy, Luxembourg, Argentina, and Scotland also have well-established memberships within the order, along with many other countries. The current Grand Master is His Imperial Highness Istvan von Habsburg-Lothringen, Archduke of Austria. Other titles within the organization—what kind of knightly order doesn’t have impressive-sounding titles?—are the Grand Priors, the Chancellor, the High Justice, the Bursar, the Secretary, and the Counselors. His Majesty Juan Carlos of Spain is the order’s protector.
According to the organization, it’s main purposes are:
- To promote sportsmanlike conduct in hunting and fishing
- To foster good fellowship among sportsmen from all over the world
- To teach and preserve sound traditional hunting and fishing customs
- To encourage wildlife conservation and to help protect endangered species from extinction
- To promote the concept of hunting and fishing as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity
- To endeavor to ensure that the economic benefits derived from sports hunting and fishing support the regions where these activities are carried out
- To strive to enhance respect for responsible hunters and fishermen
As secret societies go, The International Order of St. Hubertus is fairly open with its endeavors. The organization’s next large meeting, or “investiture,” will take place in Charleston, South Carolina next month.
What do you think?