Initially conferred in one class (Knight), the order was revised in 1815 by Landgrave
William IX (later William I, Elector of Hesse), who added the grades of Grand Cross and Commander. It was further expanded in 1818 with William splitting the Commander grade into two separate classes; thus, the order had the grades of Grand Cross, Commander 1st Class, Commander 2nd Class and Knight. It reverted to a single-class order on 20 August 1851 when Elector
Frederick William I founded the
Wilhelmsorden, which was created from the latter three classes. Membership of the Order of the Golden Lion was then restricted to 41 knights, including the princes of the electoral family (who were inducted into the order from birth).
In the wake of the
Austro-Prussian War in 1866, Hesse-Kassel – who had sided with
Austria – was annexed into
Prussia, with the Order of the Golden Lion and all electoral orders of chivalry incorporated into the Prussian honours system. With the death of Frederick William I with no legitimate heirs, the main line of the Electoral House of Hesse-Kassel became extinct, and the orders were subsequently abolished on 27 August 1875. The order was later resurrected as the "Grand Ducal Hessian Order of the Golden Lion" by
Louis III, Grand Duke of Hesse in October 1875, as a single-class order below that of the
Ludwig Order. It was thereafter awarded to members of the Grand Ducal House and foreign royalty, as well as the high nobility.
The Order of the Golden Lion ceased to be a state order in 1918 with all grand ducal orders, following the defeat of
World War I and the abdication of the last
Grand Duke. It currently survives as a
dynastic order of the House of Hesse.
The badge consists of a crowned golden lion within a golden oval hoop on the obverse with the motto: "Virtute et Fidelitate", and on the lapel with the inscription:
I. Model: "Fridericus II D. G. Hassiae Landgravius inst. 1770."
II. Model: "Wilhelmus I Hassiae Elector 1803".
The ribbon is crimson in the widths for the sash, neck cross (commander) and pectoral cross (knight).
The collar, which was worn on special occasions, consisted of golden lions alternating with medallions with the inscription "FL".
The knights wore this medal on a crimson ribbon, hanging from the right shoulder to the left hip, and also on the left breast an eight-pointed silver star embroidered with rays, in the center of which on a blue handle with the red background and silver embroidered motto.