The succession to the position of Grand Master of the Order is unique, in that it passes by male primogeniture within the Royal House of Bourbon as heirs of the Farnese family.
In 1698, the grand mastership of the Order was acquired by Francesco Farnese, Duke of Parma. Pope Innocent XII’s apostolic brief, Sincerae Fidei, in 1699 and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I’s imperial decree Agnoscimus et notum facimus of the same year, confirmed to Francesco Farnese and his heirs the position of Grand Master, as a dignity separate and apart from the House of Farnese’s sovereignty over the Duchy of Parma.
In 1705, the Farnese grand master granted the Order new statutes, approved the following year by the Pope, which incorporated the requirement that the grand mastership pass by male primogeniture, a requirement confirmed again in the 1718 papal bull Militantis Ecclesiae.
In 1731, the House of Farnese died out in the male line. The positions both of Grand Master of the Constantinian Order and Duke of Parma then passed, as separate dignities, to Prince Charles of Bourbon, Infant of Spain, heir of the House of Farnese as the eldest son of Elisabeth Farnese by her husband, King Philip V of Spain. Charles was forced to surrender the Duchy of Parma in 1736, but he retained the separate position of Grand Master of the Constantinian Order and continued to administer the Constantinian Order’s Parma estates and membership, despite no longer being sovereign duke.
Charles’s succession as Grand Master of the Constantinian Order occurred in 1731. He became King of Naples and Sicily in 1734.
In 1759, the same Charles, still King of Naples and Sicily, ascended the throne of Spain in succession to his childless half-brother. He thereupon abdicated the thrones of Naples and Sicily to his second surviving son, Ferdinand (hereafter referred to, for the sake of simplicity, as King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies). Some ten days later, he abdicated the position of Constantinian Grand Master to the same Ferdinand. In his Constantinian abdication, he delegated to his son Ferdinand the position of “first born Farnese heir”, as this was a necessary condition of Ferdinand’s becoming Grand Master.
These separate abdications in 1759 underlined the fact that the Constantinian Order and its grand mastership were separate from the Crowns of Naples and Sicily (later the Crown of the Two Sicilies). Charles’s abdication of the thrones of Naples and Sicily when he became King of Spain was in execution of the Pragmatic Decree of 1759, which specified that the Crown of Naples and the Crown of Spain must not be united under the same head. The Pragmatic Decree was intended to address questions concerning the balance of power in Europe, and was enacted under the provisions of two international treaties (in 1737 and 1759).
For his part, King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies confirmed the independence of the Constantinian Order from the Crowns of Naples and Sicily in a 1796 decree, which stated in part: In his (Ferdinand’s) royal person there exists two very distinct qualities, the one of monarch of the Two Sicilies, and the other of grand master of the illustrious, royal and military Constantinian Order, which though united gloriously in the same person form nonetheless at the same time two separate independent lordships.
At the time Ferdinand became grand master, the Holy See recognized that succession to the position of Constantinian grand master, a dignity based in canon law, was separate from other positions, such as the secular position of King of Naples and Sicily. The Holy See recognized this again in 1860, when the Two Sicilies dynasty lost its crown. Indeed, the Holy See continued to accord privileges and recognition to the Constantinian Order for decades after the kingdom of the Two Sicilies ceased to exist.
The Order’s Statutes of 1919, confirmed by the Holy See, and the revised Statutes of 1934-43 in the articles governing the succession to the grand mastership, state explicitly that the “dignity of Grand Master, reserved to the House of Bourbon, as heirs of the House of Farnese, is transmitted by male primogeniture.”
The Order’s Royal Deputation in 1935 issued a lengthy historical statement in which the separate nature of the Order from the Crown was emphasized.
Since the accession of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies to the position of Constantinian Grand Master in 1759, the Constantinian grand mastership has passed by strict male primogeniture among his direct descendants in the male line of the House of Bourbon.
The present Grand Master, HRH Prince Pedro of Bourbon, Prince of the Two Sicilies, Duke of Calabria succeeded his father as Grand Master in 2015. Prince Pedro is the senior descendant of King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies by male primogeniture. The Grand Master’s heir is his eldest son, HRH Prince Jaime, Duke of Noto and Grand Prefect of the Constantinian Order.