Monday, 7 September 2015


The latest addition to the world of royal fantasy can be found at in an imaginary kingdom of Etruria. Rather then being located in Tuscany, however, the pseudo "Grand Prince" Ralph is based in Huntsville, Alabama, USA. "Grand Prince" Ralph, otherwise known more prosaically as Ralph Johnson, has a wife, Mariane ("Grand Princess") and a son Rutherford and a cousin Charles Daniel II ("count of Santa Croce") who has two sons Charles and Andrew. Whether this is the invention of "Grand Prince" Ralph or of his son,  "HRH Monseigneur Cardinal" Rutherford ("Cardinal Prince of Florence and Archprince of Etruria") and Hanna ("Princess of Florence and Archprincess of Etruria") is not explained. At this web page Rutheford advertises himself first as an "active member of the American Agricultural Economics Association" with a photo of himself dressed as a Catholic Bishop and a self-declaration that begins with the statement that he is "Archbishop of the Episcopal Archdiocese of the Southwest."

Etruria was created from the territories of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to compensate the Bourbons for the loss of Parma, which had been incorporated into France by the treaty of Aranjuez between France and Spain of 21 March 1801. Ferdinand, Duke of Parma, had been forced to abdicate but his wife, Infanta Maria Luisa, had to be compensated for her loss of status as she was a daughter of King Charles IV of Spain whom Napoleon had cajoled into what proved to be a short-lived alliance (and whose consequences included the return of Louisiana to France and the catastrophic destruction of the Spanish fleet at Trafalgar). Maria Luisa was made Queen Regent and her son Carlo the nominal sovereign of the new state; Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, as a Habsburg and younger brother of the Emperor, was a committed foe of the French and was expelled from his capital. As part of subsequent treaty arrangements the Grand Duke was given the territories of the Prince-Bishopric of Salzburg with the title of Duke and Elector on 26 December 1802, exchanging Salzburg for  the newly laicised state of the Prince-Bishop of Wurzburg as Elector on Christmas day 1805. Following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 Wurzburg became a Grand Duchy, until 30 May 1814 when he was restored as Grand Duke of Tuscany.

The Sacred (sometimes called Ecclesiastical) Military Order of Saint Stephen, whose red Maltese cross had flown on the Order's galleys at the battle of Lepanto and later engagements with Moorish pirates and the Ottoman navy, was based in Pisa and the new Queen of Etruria claimed the Grand Mastership for her son. The Grand Duke, who was Grand Master by Papal Bull, refused to surrender the title which remained in dispute until Maria Luisa and her son were deposed in 1807, when the Spanish alliance was no longer of great value to the French (and Napoleon was plotting the downfall of the Bourbon monarchy). Etruria was now incorporated into France and Saint Stephen illegally suppressed - perhaps in revenge for having humiliated the young Joseph Bonaparte, who had been refused admission in the 1780s because his proofs of nobility were considered inadequate. While Tuscany was also incorporated into the French Empire, Napoleon gave his sister Elisa the empty title of Grand Duchess as well as making her reigning duchess of Massa and Carrara (allowing her to profit considerably from the marble quarries which churned out statutes of Napoleon and his family).

With the return of the Grand Duke to Florence after the collapse of French rule in Italy Saint Stephen was restored to its former position as a well-endowed institution tied closely to the nobility of the Grand Duchy. Just forty-four years later, however, the campaign for Italian unification led to the deposition of the Grand Duke and the purported suppression of the Order by the provisional government of the state. Tuscany was first aggregated to the kingdom of Sardinia and then incorporated into the  kingdom of Italy with the former Tuscan capital of Florence as the seat of the new Italian government for the next decade.

The Tuscan provisional government which had purported to suppress the Order had no authority over an institution subject to canon law. Before the downfall of the monarchy Grand Duke Leopold II had abdicated to his teenage son on 21 July 1859 who was duly recognised as Grand Duke by France and Austria - Leopold retired to Rome where he died a few months before the city fell to Sardinian troops. The fourteen year old Grand Duke Ferdinand IV had already departed with the rest of the family to Salzburg by the time of his formal deposition on 22 March 1860 but he and his successors continued to award the Order of Saint Stephen (and of Saint Joseph) to members of their family, to foreign princes and to a handful of Tuscan nobles who had remained sentimentally attached to the Habsburg dynasty.

In the 1980s the Italian Republic determined that as a dynastic award of the former reigning house of Tuscany it could be included (along with the other Tuscan Orders of Saint Joseph and Military Merit, the Neapolitan and Parmesan Constantinian Orders, the Neapolitan Order of Saint Januarius and the Parmesan Order of San Lodovico) among the non-national Orders that Italians could be authorised to accept and wear under Law 178 of March 1951. The Order is awarded today by HIRH Archduke Sigismund, titular Grand Duke of Tuscany, along with the Tuscan Order of Saint Joseph, and has among its members the Archbishops of Florence and Pisa.

So, one might ask, where and how Ralph and his family fit into this history?  "Cardinal" Rutherford Johnson had a conventional American middle class background which he must have found disappointingly mundane at some point in the years since he graduated with a BSc from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2000 (making him about thirty seven years old) and an MS from the same university in 2003.   He makes no claim to have studied theology and it is hard to see how the PhD in Agricultural Economics he obtained from the University of Kentucky in 2007 can have prepared him for either his role as Cardinal and Archbishop or heir to the Kingdom of Etruria. He makes no claim to have studied theology let alone to have been ordained a priest before he became the 6th bishop of a breakaway "American Anglican Church" diocese of the South-West. What is known (from his Linkedin page - - is that he was Assistant Professor of Economics at SolBridge International School of Business and is now Adjunct (Research) Professor of Economic Geography at the University of South Alabama and an independent consultant on Economics and Economic Geography. Presumably neither post is as challenging as exercising spiritual and temporal power over a substantial part of Italy. Rutherford claims to be fluent in Italian which must help him this role.

It is apparent that the modest title of bishop was an insufficient measure of his importance and the diocese was elevated to Archdiocese with Rutherford as its first Archbishop. What is unclear is whether this title is recognised by the church he claims to belong to, since the church is also titled on one web page he authored as  "Episcopal" (presumably different from Episcopalian). Evidently still dis-satisfied by such a modest title he formed a new church in 2011, becoming "His Eminence Rutherford Cardinal Johnson, Patriarch of the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church" having been elected "Patriarch" of the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church by the "Patriarchal Electors" (whoever they may be) and as such claims the titular See of Leopontopolis as "Archbishop in partibus infidelium" and "Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria Antiqua in camera persona." One would not find his name on the list of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, however, as the "Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church" is apparently an autonomous historical community of the "Catholic Faith in the Anglican Tradition." The fact there is a validly founded Ordinariate of the Anglican tradition established by Pope Benedict XVI seems to carry no weight with Rutherford who has more recently elevated himself to Royal Highness! [For more on the history of Rutherford and his church, see]. It seems that his "aboutme" ("fordJohnson) autobiography may pre-date his most recent self-elevation but what is revealing is that he likes to join organisations - he lists a considerable number of memorial societies of one kind or another. He also claims to have received a Papal knighthood and to be "Chaplain of the Royal College of Papal Knights in the Americas" an organisation of pretended Papal honorees who have for the most part purchased false diplomas. There is no Rutherford Johnson listed among the recipients of a Papal honour published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.

Ralph and Rutherford have included a "genealogy" on their web site which begins with Charlemagne in one "ancestral" line, and Gratianus Major on another, continuing with the latter's son Roman Emperor Valentinian I (reigned 364-375 a.d.). These two lines purportedly coincide with Pepin I, king of the Lombards, and from there progress to Ebles, Count of Roucy where the line ends with a series of black dots (covering approximately 800 years) until one arrives at a purported John "Count" Johnson (so created, according to the web site but with no documentary substantiation) in 1821. "Count" John died in 1862 and Ralph descends from his youngest son. What happened to the progeny of the other sons, if any, is not noted nor is any explanation given how the "Count" had any provable connection with any royal house, let along the Bourbon-Parmas or Habsburgs. This mysterious genealogy gives the outline of several other pre-medieval dynasties but all end in the 11th-13th centuries with no explanation whatsoever of the connection with Ralph.

Lacking any discernable genealogical claim to their self-styled titles one might turn with some puzzlement to the web page titled "History". This gives a brief outline of the kingdom's foundation in 1801 and dissolution in 1807 and even takes one through to the advent of the Italian Republic in 1946. But then fantasy strikes with the assertion that "the titular kingdom of Etruria was restored by the Holy Roman Empire to the Franco-Italian House of Johnson-Etruria di Daniell in compensation for ancestral lands lost and in continuation of their service of their ancestors in the Holy Roman Empire regions of France, Italy, Normandy, and the British Isles and Colonies." So somewhere out there in this game of thrones fantasy there is a Holy Roman Empire perhaps even more extensive than that which was dissolved in 1806 as it apparently includes Normandy and the British Isles (and even Colonies) which were never any part of the Empire.

Etruria is apparently a "titular Ecclesiastical kingdom under the Old Holy Roman Church of the English Rite" (presumably another name for Rutherford's church) and while "spiritual and temporal authority are maintained" (how, one might ask?) "administration of government in the region is vested in the Republic of Italy" (the President of the Italian Republic, as it is more properly titled, must no doubt be hugely relieved at this concession). "Its primary purpose is the preservation of the chivalric and noble traditions, both spiritual and temporal, of the Holy Church" (founded 2011).

The web site includes a list of some twenty-six Popes, beginning with Sergius III (904-911) and ending with Benedict XIV (1724-1730) who are mysteriously described as "Papal Cousins". The web pages are decorated with images of portraits of various princes who, one is apparently led to believe, have some connection to the Johnsons of Arizona. There is a heraldic page which illustrates the arms of various states and combines them into an extravagant achievement attributed to "Grand Prince" Ralph.

While one may dismiss all this as the ravings of someone who has spent too much time in the Alabama sun, more serious is the usurpation of the name and insignia of the Order of Saint Stephen which Mr Johnson purports to award. Ralph Johnson obviously has no right whatsoever to usurp the Grand Mastership of this Order, nor use its badge or plunder the history of the Tuscan Order by copying its 19th century uniform. He has also replicated exactly the badge of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (but suspended from a blue ribbon) and has titled it the Order of Mary Immaculate. The invented "Legion of the Eagle" which presumably gives Ralph another opportunity to decorate himself and his family but its membership is limited to Roman Catholics so it is hard to understand how Ralph and Rutherford, who run their own fantasy church, could actually qualify to be among the chosen twenty-five members.

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