Knights of St. James

views updated


Military religious order under the patronage of the Apostle James, established Aug. 1, 1170, in Cáceres, Spain, by Pedro Fernandes and companions. King Fernando II of León, realizing the value of such an order for the defense of his recent conquests in Extremadura, ceded Cáceres to the order. Thus the order was known initially as that of Cáceres, although the Moslems soon reconquered the town. In 1171 the knights concluded a pact with the archbishop of santiago de compostela, who placed them under the Apostle's protection and received their master as a canon of the cathedral chapter. Meanwhile, Fernando II, who was later to be considered one of the founders, continued his generous donations to the order. At the same time the order acquired properties in Portugal, Castile, and Aragon, and by 1184 even held property in France, England, and Carinthia. alexander iii gave his approbation to the new order in 1175, stipulating that a convent of clerics under the direction of a prior should be responsible for its spiritual welfare. A general chapter was to be held each year, and 13 councilors were to elect the master, who served for life. The knights, following the Rule of St. augustine, were allowed to marry under certain conditions. In addition to the master, the principal officers were the priors of León and Uclés and the commanders entrusted with the administration and defense of the order's encomiendas.

Uclés, lying east of Toledo, was the order's principal seat in the Kingdom of Castile, and frequently the order was known by that name. The order contributed substantially to the Reconquest in all the Hispanic kingdoms, though its major holdings were located in Extremadura, the Campo de Montiel, and Andalusia. It soon became the wealthiest of all the peninsular military orders, and in the later Middle Ages the mastership became a prize avidly sought by powerful personages.

Some of the leading figures of 15th century Castilian politics, viz, Enrique, nephew of King Enrique III, Alvaro de Luna, Beltrán de la Cueva, and Juan Pacheco, Marquess of Villena, all enjoyed the power, prestige, and revenues attached to the mastership. To curb this threat to monarchical authority, King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella, with papal approval, annexed the mastership to the crown in 1493. In 1523 Pope Adrian VI united the mastership to the crown in perpetuity.

Bibliography: Bullarium ordinis sancti Jacobi, ed. a. f. aguado et al. (Madrid 1719). j. lopez agurleta, Vida del venerable fundador de la Orden de Santiago, 2 v. (Madrid 1731). c. gutiÉrrez del arroyo, Privilegios reales de la Orden de Santiago (Madrid 1946). a. forey, The Military Orders from the Twelfth to the Early Fourteenth Centuries (Toronto 1992).

[j. f. o'callaghan]