Knights of Alcántara

views updated


One of three chief military orders in Spain, established in the 12th century to fight the Moors. The order was known initially as that of San Julián del Pereiro. The first evidence of its existence is a charter from King Fernando II of León (Jan. 1176), addressed to the community settled at Pereiro on the borders of León and Portugal. In December of the same year Pope alexander iii gave his approval to the community. The settlement at Pereiro may date from 1167 as suggested by innocent iii's bull of 1207 referring to the possessions that the order had held for 40 years or more. lucius iii's bull of 1183 indicates that the knights followed a mitigated benedictine rule as a dependency of Cîteaux. Sometime before 1187 they were affiliated to the Order of Calatrava. About the same time they transferred their chief seat to Trujillo in the Kingdom of Castile where it remained until the Moors captured Trujillo in 1195. In 1218 the Order of Calatrava ceded the fortress of Alcántara (on the Tagus River near the Portuguese frontier) to the Knights of San Julián. Henceforth they were known as the Order of Alcántara. The master of Calatrava retained the right to visit Alcántara "according to the Order of Cîteaux." The organization and customs of Alcántara were similar to those of the Order of Calatrava. The Knights of Alcántara played an active role in the reconquest of Extremadura and Andalusia, but in the later medieval centuries, from 1318 onward, their energies were diverted increasingly by internal dissension and by involvement in domestic politics. This prompted King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella, who had seen the loyalty of the master vacillate from Spain to Portugal and back, to assume administration of the order in 1494 with papal permission. Pope adrian vi in 1523 annexed the mastership of the crown in perpetuity. Since 1546 the knights have been permitted to marry. Although Charles V and other rulers underwent the year of probation and became professed members in the order, the original spirit was gradually lost. The order survives today as an honorary society of noblemen.

Bibliography: a. de torres y tapia, Cronica de la Orden de Alcántara, 2 v. (Madrid 1763). j. f. o'callaghan, "The Foundation of the Order of Alcántara, 11761218," Catholic Historical Review 47 (196162) 471486. Bullarium ordinis militiae de Alcántara (Madrid 1759). a. forey, The Military Orders from the Twelfth to the Early Fourteenth Centuries (Toronto 1992).

[j. f. o'callaghan]

About this article

Knights of Alcántara

Updated About content Print Article