About the ORDER BENE MERENTI of the Princely House of Hohenzollern is not much to find out in literature. The files location is exiguous because under HH Prince Frederick matters regarding the Order had not nearly been carefully archived as before and furthermore regulatory and public affairs concerning the implementation of the Order, never was put down in writing, therefore the handling of the documents concerning historical evolution of the Order is not sufficient.
Caused by the general economic, political and social disorder in Germany HH Prince Frederick of Hohenzollern felt in summer 1932 to initiate the establishment of an Order Community which should be guided as an Order who follows similar charitable goals like the Sovereign Military Order of Malta – Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta. After having decided “Constitution, Statutes and Grades of Decorations”, the Order was founded on August 9, 1932 by four founding members, under the name “Community Order BENE MERENTI “. In order to be fully protected by the current domestic law, respective documents were sent to the Ministry of Interior for approval, which obviously were adopted by silent procedure without any objection.
Despite this official safety declaration HH Prince Frederick soon get insight that a political and social appropriateness for the incorporation of the Order was not given and therefore in January 1933 the four founding members declared by signature the formation of the Order as suspended. By that way the formation came to an end before it had ever entered into force, also as the declaration being an Order had only exists among the intimacy of the founding members and had never developed any effective presence external.
However, we should take attention to the grades and the planned decorations of this ephemeral Order because it should become a significance for the future evolution of the Order:
We, Frederick, by mercy of God, Prince of Hohenzollern, Burgrave to Nuremberg, Count of Sigmaringen, Veringen and Bergh, Master of Haigerloch and Werstein, have let Us found after the establishment of our Order “BENE MERENTI” to proclaim the following provisions:
Under Our participation the Order Community „BENE MERENTI“ had been founded on August 9, 1932.
We declare, that the Order “BENE MERENTI” should worn solely as an accolade of the below mentioned members of the Order Community.
The Order consists of the following Grades:
- We as Grand Master
- Honorary Members of Our Princely House
- Knights of Justice
- Honorary Knights
This Order of Knights follows the badges for female members, namely:
- Grand Mistress (The Princess)
- Honorary Members (The Princess of Our House)
- Ladies of Justice
- Honorary Ladies
The cross consists of a white cross with black boundary. In the middle stands the inscription “BENE MERENTI”, surrounded by a green enamel wreath. On the back are our initials – three intertwined F with a crown, – on a white field with black border. The ribbon is silver with 3 black stripes – analogous to the Our Princely House Order.
- We as Grand Master wear the larger cross with the crown and the trophy on the collar and the great pectoral cross.
- Honorary Members of Our House wear the same great cross but without the trophy and the pectoral cross.
- Commanders wear the enameled cross on the collar with the crown and 3 golden rays in the corner.
- Knights of Justice wear the same cross as commanders but without the crown.
- Honorary Knights wear the same cross but without the crown and the rays.
- Knights wear the cross on the chest, but here are the bars – not enameled – finished in silver and black.
The Ladies of the Order Community shall wear:
- The Princess as Grand Mistress wears the smaller enamel cross with the crown and the rays on the ribbon as a loop.
- Honorary Members and
- Ladies of Justice the same cross, as set out in 1., but without the crown.
- Honorary Ladies in the same as set out in 2. and 3., but without the rays.
- Ladies the cross with silver and black bars.
Done, at Our Residence of Sigmaringen August 10, 1932 (L.s.) Frederick Even although this Order does not have got out instead of very narrow circle, the original decoration of a Knight of Justice is right known.
The cross on the collar is silver plated; the front white enameled with black edges, the white medal in the middle with the inscription: „BENE MERENTI“ in a green laurel wreath. The back is white enameled and in the middle of the medal there is a reflecting „F“ monogram on a white background surrounded in a black ring. In the each of the cross-angles there are three golden rays.
The ORDER BENE MERENTI did not certainly exist anymore in its provided form, but its name and the decorations were still kept by HH Prince Frederick and added it to the Princely Order of Hohenzollern as a new classification grade. It cannot be evaluated at what time that was happened. Only the often mentioned listing of the Order, medals and decorations of the Princely House of Hohenzollern from around 1935, named the first time the current classification of the Order.
The formal adoption of the class descriptions based on the scheme of Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta has been changed to a modern neutral numbering which also took into account a strengthening of the hierarchy by omitting the former class of Knights of Justice.
In this form the Order BENE MERENTI was incorporated from Romania into the Royal Romanian Order by Decree of King Carol 2nd of Romania, dated December 16, 1935.
The Order was awarded in four grades for men and three grades for women. By decree of March 8, 1940 the ORDER BENE MERENTI was converted by the reigning House of Romania in the newly simultaneously instituted “Order of St. George`s”. The ORDER BENE MERENTI ceased to exist, the already conferred decorations but could still be worn further.
Next time the ORDER BENE MERENTI was mentioned was on December 5, 1941, on the occasion of Proclamation of the revised version of the Statutes –where the ORDER BENE MERENTI, like other Princely Orders too- has been extended.
Again, new grades were added, in the men`s the 4th grade with the crown and in the women`s the 1st grade with the crown without rays and the 4th grade with the crown.
Since it is not easy to trace the evolution of this Order in its changing grades correctly, HH Emanuel Joseph Prince of Hohenzollern had decided 1951 to undertake a revision of the statutes.
In the Republic of Austria the Order was registered in „Amtskalender der Republik Österreich“ (Austrian Official Handbook) and the permission to wear the Order to the uniform of the Austrian Army was given by the Federal Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Austria. The same permission for the military (Armed Forces) is also given in the Republic of Latvia.
The wearing styles of the Order and a reducing of classifications had been modulated in 1998 with respect to the „modern age“. The so called Grand Commander Cross (G.C.C.) is now as it was used to wear on the collar, at the special class grade I with emeralds (EMD). The Knight`s Cross (K.C.) was changed from the simple attach (pin) form into a star form. The ribbon remains in its original form (silver with 3 black stripes).