A pious confraternity, indulgenced by the pope, which arose in 1440 in the Electorate of Brandenburg, originally comprising, with the Elector Frederick at their head, thirty gentleman and seven ladies united to pay special honour to the Blessed Virgin. It spread rapidly, numbering in 1464 about 330 members, as well as branches established in the Margraviate of Anspach (1465) and in the possessions of the Teutonic Order in Prussia. But Protestantism, by suppressing devotion to Mary, abolished the confraternity's raison d'etre. In 1843 King Frederick William IV of Prussia, in his infatuation for the Middle Ages, thought of re-establishing this order, but this was never more than a project. The name is due to the fact that the members wore a medal of the Blessed Virgin to which was attached a swan, the symbolic meaning being variously interpreted.
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