Originally the term "order" denoted an association of people who had submitted to certain rules and obligations for a particular spiritual or secular purpose.
Orders are divided into two groups, namely religious or spiritual and secular.
Medieval timesReligious - monastic - orders were formed at an early stage in Christian history. Several such orders came to Sweden in medieval times, including for example the Franciscan Order, which established monasteries and churches in Stockholm, Visby, Skara and elsewhere during the second half of the 13th century.
Crusading fervourThis group of religious orders also included the religious orders of knighthood - chivalry - which had come about as a result of the crusading fervour of the early 12th century. The basic ideas of the monastic orders and spiritual fraternities were transferred to these orders of chivalry and subsequently passed on to the secular orders.
Beginning with the spiritual orders of knighthood, certain insignia of order and rank already began to be used in the Middle Ages. Secular rulers favoured "orders" in this sense as a reward for services of different kinds, and this in turn was the origin of civil orders or honours as we know them today.
The official system of ordersIt was not until 1748, with the foundation by Fredrik I of the Orders of the Seraphim, Sword and Polar Star, followed in 1772 by Gustav III's institution of the Order of Vasa, that Sweden acquired an official system of orders primarily intended for Swedish recipients.
The King is "Lord and Master of all Swedish orders", or "Grand Master" as the term now goes. The Swedish orders (except for the Order of the Seraphim, which has one only) know five degrees: Commander Grand Cross, Commander First Class, Commander, Officer First Class and Officer. Women and clergy are called "members", not "officers", of the orders concerned.
Only foreign citizensUnder a law passed in 1974, Swedish orders can only be conferred on foreign citizens or stateless persons for personal services to Sweden or Swedish interests. The only exception to this rule is the power of The King, since 1995, to confer the Order of the Seraphim and degrees in the Order of the Polar Star on members of the Swedish Royal Family.
Other ordersApart from the national, official system of orders, Sweden, like most other countries, has a number of official and quasi-official orders, foremost among them being the Order of King Carl XIII, of which The King is Grand Master. The quasi-official orders include the Order of St John in Sweden.
Other recognised orders are the Grand Order of the Amaranth, instituted by Queen Kristina in 1653, and the Order of Innocence, both of which are to be regarded as fraternities/sororities or "social orders".
Several orders - the Order of Carpenters, the Order of Good Templars and the Order of Odd Fellows, for example - work for various scholarly, idealistic and humanitarian purposes.