Goyeneche Name




The Order of the Golden Fleece

The Order of Charles III

The Order of Isabella the Catholic

The Order of Maria Luisa

The Four Military Orders

        The Order of Santiago

        The Order of Calatrava

        The Order of Alcántara

        The Order of Montesa



©Guy Stair Sainty

The crusade to drive the Moors from Spain, four hundred years of almost constant warfare interspersed with skirmishes and short periods of armed peace, was not only the longest of all European wars but was the only crusade to achieve its objective. The role played by the knights of the Military Orders was a crucial one; their monastic structure, the harsh discipline and the devotion of the knights to the cause of liberating their nation from the invader, gave them an unmatched strength of purpose. By granting key strategic fortresses to the knights, the Iberian Kings of Castille, Aragón, León and Portugal were able to establish border outposts in newly conquered territories whose boundaries were continually pushing back the areas controlled by the Moors. With the success of the Reconquista and the expulion of the Moors, the four Orders lost their independence from secular authorities when they were put under the "perpetual administration" of the Spanish Crown. They then found a new role as an elite corps of the nobility, maintaining their castles and estates as commanderies to provide incomes for those who had distinguished themselves in the service of the Monarch. With the loss of their estates in the nineteenth century their role became purely honorary and the Republic attempted to suppress them entirely, although this was contrary to Canon Law under which they were regulated as Religious-Military Orders founded by Papal Bull. Restored under the present Monarchy, they have been maintained as exclusively Catholic, Noble Orders dependent on the Crown.

They had their origin in the small, local military confraternities founded for self-protection by members of the knightly class. The Moors had conquered almost all of the Iberian peninsular within five years of invading in the year 711 a.d. The Christians, however, advancing gradually southwards, fortifying the small towns in which they settled, steadily regained their lost territories. By the end of the eleventh century northern Spain was divided into a number of small states, León, Castille, Navarre, Aragón, Galicia and Portugal, frequently at odds with each other but united by their religion and the continual concern over a revived threat from the Moorish states to the south.

Although the Moors were relatively tolerant of religious minorities living within their dominions, indeed there was considerable intermarriage between the different communities, Christian, Jewish and Moor, they saw the expanding Christian communities on their borders as ready victims for plunder. The Moorish Kingdom based at Córdoba was itself divided by factionalism and its break-up into smaller taifas (city states) gave the Christian confraternities their chance to consolidate their power and firmly establish themselves in the territories they had captured during two centuries of protracted struggle. [1] By the end of the eleventh century the Christian Kingdoms enjoyed an uneasy truce with the Moors, interspersed with occasional hostilities, but this was disrupted by the appearance of a fanatic Berber sect, the Almohads, in the early twelfth century.

The Almohads, led by Abd al-Moumin, invaded Andalucia in 1147, uniting the Moorish principalities under their rule and menacing the Christian states. The Spanish Christians were forced to put aside their internal conflicts and, with the help of the Templars, who had established themselves in a number of border fortresses, united to defeat this new threat to their security. The example of the Templars, a highly disciplined military confraternity dedicated exclusively to the defense of the Church, proved to be the model which would be followed by the native Spanish Orders. Some of the original defensive fraternities formed in the outlying towns provided the nucleus for the Orders of Chivalry, while others, more modest, later became Maestranzas or Noble Associations, some of which have survived to the present day. The Templars themselves were in gradual retreat in Spain as the local magnates preferred to endow the newly former military Orders rather than further add to the strength of the threateningly powerful Templar Order.

The first Order to be founded, but the second to receive Papal approval, was the Order of Calatrava. The earlier recognition, however, granted to the Order of Santiago by the Holy See, gave the latter precedence before the other three. Santiago was also far more extensively endowed than the other Orders (in the eighteenth century the value of its benefices totaled 40% of the combined value of those of all four Orders together). Once the mission of driving the Moors from Spain was accomplished, the four Orders, like the great crusader Orders elsewhere in Europe, were perceived as over-mighty subjects and it became a priority for the Crown to gain control over them - particularly as the not infrequent quarrels between the rival bodies was a source of dissension at a time when the Crown was struggling to establish its central authority.

The Spanish Kings had frequently obtained the election of close connections of their families as Masters of the Orders and at Calatrava in 1489, Santiago in 1494 and Alcántara in 1495 the administration of the three Magisteries were ultimately granted to King Ferdinand of Aragón, as Sovereign of Aragón and King-Consort of Castille. Finally, by the Bull Dum intra of Pope Adrian VI dated 4 May 1523, the `perpetual administration' of the three Orders was transferred to Charles I (the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V), King of Spain, and his heirs and successors, with the provision that this dignity could be exercised by a future female Sovereign.

The much smaller Order of Montesa was not perceived as such a threat as the other three and it was not until a Bull of Sixtus V, of 15 March 1587, that its perpetual administration was eventually transferred to the Crown of Aragón. By a further Bull of 22 May 1739 (at the request of Philip V) its council was united with that of the other three Orders. The Orders were administered by a `Council and Tribunal' appointed in 1523, but each of the four retained their independent structure, their own statutes, and requirements for noble proofs and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The exemption from the control of local ordinaries was preserved in the Bull of 1523 and in subsequent Papal dispositions concerning the four Orders, until the first Spanish Republic. By the mid-sixteenth century the Tribunal had authority over two cities, two hundred and twenty small towns and seventy-five villages. Membership of the Council included the Secretary of the Orders, the Treasurer of the Orders (Contador Mayor), the Grand-Usher, three (later four with Montesa) Procurator-Generals, three (later four) fiscals (who inspected noble proofs) and a Treasurer of the Council. The lesser officers of each of the Orders, lawyers, etc were not members of the Council. [2]

Without a military function, the four Orders became a valued means of honoring the nobility and rewarding servants of the Crown who had distinguished themselves. Thus, in the eighteenth century, a number of Jacobite exiles, who had served in the armies of Philip V, were received into the four Orders and rewarded with the grant of valuable commanderies. Several gentlemen of Irish, English, Scots and Welsh descent settled permanently in Spain and between 1702 and 1780 there were forty knights of Santiago of British birth or origin admitted, [3] and a handful to the other four Orders (Santiago attracted more postulants because of the larger number of benefices available). The admission into the four Orders of foreigners who were not in the service of the Spanish crown was almost unknown, and although there is no prohibition against non-Spanish members of the four Orders today, only one - the Duke of Braganza, Head of the Royal House of Portugal - has been admitted. [4] Membership of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which was regarded as having greater prestige both by the Borbón Kings and non-Spaniards, was considered incompatible with membership in any of the four military Orders until a reform of 1773 (before which a Papal Bull was required to leave one to receive the other). The Fleece was therefore the preferred award of the Spanish Kings for foreigners and the greatest nobles, while the four Orders were used to honor service to the Crown, until the establishment of the Order of Charles III, whose lowest rank also could be granted to less illustrious individuals.

The downfall of the Borbón Kingdom in 1808 and the establishment of a Bonapartist Monarchy under Joseph NapoLeón, led to the suppression of the four Orders by the secular authorities (canonically invalid) and the seizure of their benefices. [5] Ferdinand VII re-established them and restored their properties upon recovering his Crown in 1814. Between 1814 and their suspension by the revolutionary government in 1869, there were some three hundred and forty-admissions into the Order of Santiago, one hundred and fifty into Alcántara and eighty-five into Montesa.

The liberal government of the regency of María-Christina attempted to suppress the Orders in 1836, confiscating their benefices, but re-established them shortly afterwards (without restoring their estates). Their exempt ecclesiastical jurisdiction was preserved under the terms of the 1851 Concordat, by which certain of the confiscated properties were restored and concentrated together near Ciudad Real, which was established as a Prelature nullius dioeceseos, under the title Priory of the four reunited Military Orders of Santiago, Calatrava, Alcántara and Montesa [6]. In 1873 the Holy See, acting in disregard of this earlier agreement, suppressed the exempt jurisdiction - to accord with the wishes of the new republican government - but following the restoration of the Borbón Monarchy once again, with Alfonso XII as King, the four Orders regained their independence in 1876. Their ancient prerogatives restored, but with only those benefices situated at Ciudad Real, the status of the four military Orders was primarily honorific - since the Order of Saint John had ceased to require proof of nobility from the mid-nineteenth century they were the only surviving Spanish Orders for which proof of nobility was required. [7]

Once Alfonso XIII attained his majority, he began to take interest in the Orders and their well-being, and attached to his other titles that of "Grand Master" - obtaining de facto Papal approval of his new title of Grand Master and Perpetual Administrator when the Holy See confirmed certain regulations in 1916. The King was accustomed to wear the crosses of the four Orders on all official occasions and actively participated in their ceremonies. Indeed, the white mantle with the four Crosses was taken with him into exile in 1931 and, on his death ten years later, his body was dressed in this mantle when it lay in state. After his exile in 1931, a handful of new knights were admitted whose nominations had been under way before the downfall of the Monarchy - including several knights of Santiago and Calatrava. [8] The Count of Barcelona, who succeeded him as claimant to the Spanish Throne, made only two admissions during the years from 1941 until the restoration of the Monarchy, the Infants Luis-Alfonso and José-Eugenio, Princes of Bavaria, who were received as novices on 23 April 1941. The Republic had declared the four Orders abolished by an act of 29 April 1934 but, although this action was canonically invalid, the nationalist government did not accede to the four Orders request for reestablishment. [9]

The restoration of the Spanish Monarchy in 1975 led to new moves to restore the four Orders. In 1978 the Count of Barcelona, who had abdicated in favor of his son, King Juan Carlos I, as Head of the Royal House of Spain and Chief and Sovereign of the Order of the Golden Fleece in the previous year, was nominated Dean President of the Council and Tribunal of the Orders of Chivalry of Santiago, Calatrava, Alcántara and Montesa. On May 29 of that year, Don José Fernández-Villaverde y Roca de Togores, Marquess of Pozo Rubio and Grandee of Spain (a novice knight of Calatrava since 1921), was appointed to be "Councilor-Minister" of the four Orders. Three years later on 14 October 1981, in a decree signed by the Count of Barcelona in the name of the King, the Marquess of Pozo Rubio was nominated "Grand Commander" of Calatrava - an appointment which was followed by that of D. Gonzalo García de Blanes as "Grand Commander" of Alcántara on 15 March 1982 (succeeded by the Duke of Calabria on 13 October 1986). On 7 December 1982 the first admissions of novices to the four Orders begun - eight to Santiago, twelve to Calatrava, six to Alcántara and two to Montesa. The first professions were permitted from January 1983 - some of those making profession having been novices for sixty years or more.

Today the four Orders have a total membership of more than two hundred and thirty - the majority in Calatrava - re-establishing themselves rapidly and adopting various humanitarian duties. His Majesty the King retains the title of Grand Master, Perpetual Administrator by Apostolic Authority, the late Count of Barcelona was "Dean President" until the nomination by His Majesty of His Royal Highness the Infante Duke of Calabria as his successor on July 5th, 1993. There is also a Minister Councilor (previously the Duke of Calabria) and two Councilors. The post of Prelate of Ciudad Real, to which the titular Episcopal see of Dora had been attached, has, since 1984, been elevated to the status of Bishop of Ciudad Real (within the Archdiocese of Toledo), and the Priory of the four Military Orders is still attached thereto. The Holy See has not intervened in the re-establishment of the Orders and when a request was made as to the attitude of the Vatican, an informal reply was given that their abolition in 1934 had been unrecognized by the Holy See and that previous privileges (excepting the exempt ecclesiastical jurisdiction) had not been revoked. Each of the four Orders have initiated ceremonies at their ancient seats but the principal ecclesiastical seat is the Church of the four Orders in Madrid.


[1]The most recent study in English of the Military Orders can be found in Desmond Seward, The Monks of War, Eyre Methuen 1972, pp.135-193.

[2]For a general historical survey of the four Orders see Count Carlos Zeininger de Borja, Les Quatre Ordres Militaires d'Espagne, in Rivista Araldica, 1949, pp. 113-115, pp.208-214. For a more detailed study, see Helyot, op.cit..

[3]Including Daniel, 1st Count O'Mahony in 1711, while in 1789 John and Sebastian O'Kindeland, the latter the ancestor of the famous General in Franco's Nationalist Army, were admitted.

[4]To the Order of Calatrava, as a Novice knight, in 1985.

[5]Although four knights of Santiago were admitted (between 1811 and 1813) and two knights of Alcántara (in 1810 and 1813).

[6]The Priorato dei Riuniti Ordini Militari Spagnoli di Santiago, Calatrava, Alcántara, Montesa (Annuario Pontificio, 1994).

[7]Noble proofs were later restored in the Spanish Priory of the Order of Saint John after it was reunited with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, but were generally less rigorously applied. Today, because of internecine squabbling among the members of the Spanish Assembly of the S.M.O.M. and a cooling of the relationship between that Order and the Royal Family, many of the most eminent candidates who might hitherto have been expected to join Malta have instead joined the four Orders.

[8]Among the latter were the Conde de Barajas and D. Diego de León y Núñez-Robles, on 7 April 1932, the Marqués de Herrera and his brothers D. Luis and D. Ramón Díaz de Bustamente y Quijano on 23 February 1935. Certain of the titular offices of the Order were filled by a process of seniority - for example in 1960 the Baron de Llauri was appointed to the post of Clavero Mayor of the Order of Montesa.

[9]This decision of the Franco government, which ultimately re-established every other Monarchical institution, was never explained and it has been presumed that it was related to their decision not to prohibit the actions of the "Order of Saint Lazarus" which established itself in Spain in the 1930's.