History of the Spanish Order of Calatrava

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History of the Spanish Order of Calatrava
History of the Spanish Order of Calatrava

The Spanish Order of Calatrava is a military Catholic order that existed in the 12th-19th centuries. It was founded by the Cistercians, who branched off in the 11th century. from the Benedictines and in 1157 in Castile was the first of the Catholic on Spanish soil. In 1164 it was approved by Pope Alexander III. In 1838, the order ceased to exist, having been nationalized by the Spanish crown. The history of the Order of Calatrava will be discussed in the article.


Archbishop Rodrigo of Toledo wrote about the emergence of the order, who communicated with its living creators. Calatrava is a Moorish castle located in the southern outskirts of Castile. It was recaptured in 1147 by King Alfonso VII of Castile.

However, keeping the newly acquired land was quite problematic. Even kings could not maintain permanent garrisons. This contributed to the rise of militant orders. First, the Templars took up the defense of Calatrava, but were forced to retreat, surrendering the castle to the enemy.

After that, Raymond, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery located in Fitero, helped the king. It relied on the monk-knights, led by Diego Velazquez, who had military ability, and the newly emerged education - "lay brothers".

The latter were, in fact, monastic peasants capable of carrying weapons. These groups were at the heart of the establishment of a new order in 1157 under the auspices of King Alfonso.

Calatrava Cross

Cross of Calatrava

Having settled in the fortress, the knights sought to expand the order's possessions at the expense of the Moors. In 1163, after the death of Raymond, the knight Don Garcia became the organizer of the first offensive sorties. After that, some of the monks, dissatisfied with the militarization, left the fortress. Diego Velasquez and a few of the clerics remained with the knights. According to the papal charter of 1164, Velasquez took the title of prior. In 1187, a special charter was issued by Pope Gregory VIII, additionally asserting the rights of the order.

In it, various restrictions and vows were imposed on the knights of the Calatrava order. Among others, there were demands that you need to sleep in battle armor, walk in white Cistercian robes. They had a red cross made up of lily flowers - the Calatrava cross. Organizationally, the order was not subordinate to the chapter, not to the Spanish bishops, but, like the Fitero monastery, located in Burgundy, Morimon Abbey.

New Calatrava

Knights of Calatrava

The first order campaigns were victorious, and the king of Castile generously rewardedknights. Later, in 1179, they also served the king of Aragon. Then came a series of defeats. In 1195, at the battle of Alarkos, the knights had to lay down their arms and hand over Calatrava to the Moors. Prior Velázquez died the following year.

After recruiting new fighters, the Order of Calatrava managed to recuperate. A new castle was built in Salvatierra, after which, for 14 years, the order was called the Knights of Salvatierra. This fortress fell to the Moors in 1211. After the crusade of 1212, the knights returned Calatrava. In 1218, the order was moved to a new center. It was New Calatrava, which was built eight miles from the old one, in a place that was safer.

Internal strife

Knight Robe

In the 13th century, the Order of Calatrava becomes the largest military force in Spain. He is able to put on the battlefield from 1,200 to 2,000 warrior knights. His we alth and prosperity at the beginning of the 14th century. leads to clashes of a political nature, to dual power, to frequent changes of priors. For example, Garcia Lopez was elevated to the rank of prior three times and deposed twice.

As a result, he transferred power to another candidate and died naturally in 1336. There was an open conflict between King Pedro I and the order. Three priors in a row had to lay down their heads on the royal chopping block, they were accused of treason, and the fourth died in captivity. In the same period, the kings began to take an active part in the appointment of the head of the Order of Calatrava.

Maximum bloom and decline

Foot formation

Under the Master of the Order, Pedro Giron, as well asunder his son, his greatest flowering was observed. The order controlled 56 commanderies plus 16 priories, or curiae. More than two hundred thousand peasants worked for him, and his annual profit reached fifty thousand ducats. In the war that broke out between Portugal and Aragon, the knights fought for the last time on the battlefield, siding with Aragon.

With the approval of the Pope in 1487, the leadership of the order was seized by King Ferdinand the Catholic. The need for a powerful military unit disappeared after the capture of Granada in 1492. It was the last Moorish fortress on the peninsula.

Pope Paul III actually removed the knights from the monastic class. For them, the vow of celibacy was replaced by an oath of marital fidelity. Pope Julius III issued a decree allowing knights to acquire real estate.

By the end of the 14th century. the order of Calatrava actually transformed into a nominal holder of land that generated income. They were distributed by the king among trusted high-ranking officials. In 1838, after a series of confiscations carried out under the Bourbons (1775) and under the reign of Joseph Bonaparte (1808), the order was finally abolished.

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