In England, as well as other European countries, it became commonplace for anyone holding a position of authority or power to wear a collar of office as a symbol. These were termed "livery collars." They were usually made of gold or some other precious metal and were adorned with a symbol of office that denoted fealty or allegiance to a person or institution. The oldest of these collars that still exists is the Collar of Esses, which has been in continuous use since the 14th century. The Collar of Esses started as a royal collar in England and is often used in movies and films to denote the Tudor time period. Interestingly, you'd think that "Esses" was a place, but no! "Esses" is just a clever name for the item that is made up of "S" shaped links! As collars began to rise in popularity, they soon began to be adopted by groups outside of royalty.
The age of chivalry happened to coincide with this uptake of ornamental neck pieces and soon any knightly order worth its weight had a collar of its own for members to wear. The custom was begun by Philip III, Duke of Burgundy, who gave his knights of the Golden Fleece badges of a golden fleece hung from a collar of flints, steels and sparks. In England, until the reign of Henry VIII, the Order of the Garter, most ancient of the great knightly orders, had no collar. But the Tudor king must needs match in all things with continental sovereigns, and the present collar of the Garter knights, with its golden knots and its buckled garters enclosing white roses set on red roses, has its origin in the Tudor age.
Originally, most knightly orders only had one rank. You were either a knight or not. Then the invention of the "Grand Cross" came about and a rank structure was born. Masonry is very fond of the idea of "Grand Crosses" and many Masonic groups give them as a symbol of extreme devotion and service. This includes DeMolay; "Dad" Samuel C. Williamson, Grand Treasurer Emeritus and Past Executive Officer of PA DeMolay, is one of a select number of bearers of the DeMolay Grand Cross. But, I digress, back to collars!
In other situations a collar is the insignia of office of the Grand Master of the order; the French president therefore wears the collar of the Order of the Légion d'honneur. In other countries such as Brazil the collar is a rank above that of a Grand Cross and it is reserved for the president and foreign heads of state. Once the idea of monarchies became ill advised, the collar soon spread to elected offices throughout the land. It is still common for Mayors in England and European countries to wear a collar to denote their office. In the U.S., as a symbol of our break from old world traditions, this custom was done away with and today the collar is almost non-existent in the U.S. outside of fraternal groups.
As an aside, I can safely say that the PA DeMolay collars remain some of my favorite among the several hundred different varieties that I have seen. However, one other collar sticks out in my mind for uniqueness and interest; the collar used by Georgia DeMolay for it's Priory of Knighthood (an old additional DeMolay group that we no longer use in PA.) Check it out at left!
There you have it! A short and concise background on collars. Special thanks to Wikipedia, where I found much of this information. The next type of regalia I plan on tackling is capes, so, stay tuned!
Frat! ~ "Dad" Seth Anthony