The Military Order of St. James of the Sword

(Ordem Militar de Sant'Iago da Espada)

  1. Historical outline
  2. The Order under the I Republic
  3. The Order Today
  4. Insignia
  5. The wearing of insignia
  6. Selected bibliography

Historical outline

During the XII th. century some of the religious orders of knighthood or military orders founded in the Holy Land after the I Crusade, began to establish themselves in the Iberian Peninsula looking for recruits, obtaining land from the Iberian Kings and helping them in the Reconquest.

The example of the Templars and of the Hospitallers of St. John might well have had a decisive influence in the appearance of the first Iberian military orders, founded with the same Christian ideal of leading an evangelical life and of fighting the infidel with arms, defending the Holy Church.

The existence of confraternities of lay men living a religious life and fighting with arms to defend the weak and the Church was also known in the Iberian Kingdoms. One of these confraternities, created to assist and defend the pilgrims of the Camiño de Santiago , was known as the Fratres de Cáceres, to whom King Ferdinand II (1157-1188) of Leon had given the stronghold of Cáceres, in 1170. The knights were led by a master - Don Pedro Fernández who, by 1171, established an agreement with the archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, and as a result the knights of Cáceres adopted the patronage of St. James, becoming henceforth known as the Milicie Iacobitane.

The lay knights, both married and single, and the former wives of the married knights formed a community living under a common rule inspired by that of St. Augustine. By 1173, Pope Alexander III, placed the Santiago friars and their properties under his protection and two years later, approved its rule and recognized it as a religious military order in the papal bull Benedictus Deus. The statutes were again approved by Pope Innocence III, at the Fourth Lateran Council, in 1215.

Under the revised Rule (1175), traditionally written by the Augustinian Cardinal Alberto de Morra (eventually elected to the Chair of St. Peter, under the name of Gregory VIII), and closely inspired by the Rule of St. Augustine, the lay brother-knights professed the three evangelical vows of obedience, poverty and conjugal chastity. The vow of chastity was thus followed according to the state of life of the lay knight - which meant that those lay knights who were married lived chaste conjugal lives with their wives. Knights who were single were expected to live chaste lives.

By 1175, the Order had already another class of members, the clerks in holy orders, called brother-chaplains, who probably had joined the new order between 1173-75, and who had previously belonged to the Order of St. Augustine.

The Order of St. James appeared in Portugal, as early as 1172, playing an active part in the Reconquest helping the first Kings of Portugal in their efforts to drive out the Moors. The first documented donation of land by a Portuguese monarch dates back to 1172.

Although the Order was formally dependent upon the Grand-Master in Castile, being one of its grand-commanderies, it assumed from the beginning a national character. Politically, it depended only on the Kings of Portugal who donated vast territories of land to the Order such as the land south of the river Tagus, which the knights had helped to conquer from the Moors.

In 1194, they received the Convent of Santos-o-Velho, in the then outskirts of Lisbon. The recently reconquered town of Alcácer do Sal, on the river Sado, was given to the Order, for the second time in 1217, followed by the donation of the town of Almada, facing Lisbon, as well as the town of Sesimbra.

By 1239 they received Alfajar da Pena (today in Spanish territory) and the southern Moorish stronghold of Mértola on the banks of the river Guadiana, having then moved their headquarters to this old village (until probably sometime after 1284).

In 1240, the Order received from the King of Portugal the newly reconquered village of Ayamonte on the banks of the Guadiana river, and in 1244, it was the turn of the important town of Tavira in the Algarve. All these possessions and others were mentioned in several Bulls of Pope Innocent IV, in September 1245.

The second seat of the Order was the strategic town of Alcácer do Sal from 1217 till 1239, when they moved to Mértola. In 1284 they moved again to Alcácer do Sal and in 1442, to Palmela.

By the middle of the XIII th century, Dom Paio Peres Correia - grand-commander of Portugal, was elected Grand Master of the Order in the Chapter General, beginning a period of great interference in the order's administration in Portugal. This gave rise to conflicts with the Portuguese knights and the Portuguese Crown. With the end of the reconquest in the Portuguese territory by 1250, conflicts with the neighboring kingdom of Castile assumed greater importance.

Owing to the latent state of war between the crowns of Portugal and Castile at the time, the formal dependence of the grand-commandery of Portugal upon the Master in Uclés, became dangerous to the interests of the Portuguese Crown. King Dennis I asked Rome to recognize the autonomy of the Order of St. James in Portugal.

The autonomy of the Portuguese commandery was recognized by a papal constitution of 1288 - Pastoralis officii - from Nicholas IV, allowing the Portuguese knights of St. James to elect their own Master. Celestin V renewed this prerogative in 1294, but under Castilian pressure and the requests of the Master at Uclés, he reconsidered, placing the grand-commandery of Portugal under the authority of the Castilian master.

By 1314, the Portuguese Chapter of the Order elected its own master - D. Lourenço Eanes, with the support of the King of Portugal, refusing obedience to the grand-master at Uclés.

There arose a long dispute with Castile and the Grand-Master of St. James at Uclés, through successive appeals to Rome, under Popes Boniface VIII, Clement V and John XXII. However, in 1333, Pope John XXII ordered the issue to be submitted before the Archbishops of Braga and of Santiago de Compostela, with no practical results.

The long standing dispute was resolved in 1440 and in 1452, with the formal and final recognition of the Portuguese branch of the Order of St. James, by Popes Eugene IV and Nicholas V - bull Ex apostolice sedis.

During the reigns of Kings Alphonse III and Dennis I the Crown undertook a policy of attacking the feudal powers of the various lords, lay and ecclesiastic. One of the strongest powers of the Realm were precisely the Military Orders. The Kings' policy towards the Orders was to give then new concessions of land and privileges while simultaneously protecting them against the power of the foreign Masters at Castile. In this struggle for autonomy the Order of St. James came slowly under the increasing influence of the Crown, namely through the election of recommended masters.

In 1386, Dom Fernando Afonso de Albuquerque, Master of the Order of St. James in Portugal died and the Chapter General elected D. Rui Freire as Master. King John I, however, did not approve the election and suggested the name of D. Mem Rodrigues de Vasconcellos, one of his faithful followers during the war against Castile. The Chapter General obeyed the King's wishes and elected the latter, giving the "deposed" D. Rui Freire the rich commanderies of Palmela and Arruda.

After the death of the last "elected" Master in 1418, and still during the reign of King John I, one of his sons - Prince John - was appointed, with papal approval, as Governor of the Order.

Under his rule the seat of the Order was transferred, as it was stated earlier, from Alcácer do Sal to Palmela, where he had a convent built to receive the knights. From his time onwards, the administration of the Order remained in the hands of members of the Royal Family until, in 1551, after the death of Prince George, Duke of Coimbra and "Master" of the Orders of St. James & of Aviz, Pope Julius III conceded, "in perpetuum", the Grand-Mastership of the three Military Orders to the Crown during the reign of King John III.

King John III then established a Royal Council with judicial power to administer the affairs of the Order. Entrance into the Order as a knight and the concession of a commandery with its sometimes large revenues, became an important aim to those wanting to obtain social status. On the other hand, the grand-mastership of the Orders gave the Crown an important way of rewarding services without having recourse to taxes or other crown revenues which were always scarce.

The Spanish Habsburgs upon becoming Kings of Portugal (1580) used it abundantly to obtain or confirm loyalties among their reluctant Portuguese subjects and John IV, former Duke of Braganza, upon being acclaimed King of Portugal in 1640, also used the concession of habits and commanderies in the Orders to gain loyalties to the new dynasty.

In the middle of the XVI th century, new rules reflecting the current religious intolerance, forbade the admission into the military orders of people with "infected blood" or of non-noble origins. So, entrance into one of the military orders became, in some cases, a way to clean one's obscure origins and gain social acceptance. These rules lasted till the middle of the XVIII th century when under the influence of the Marquis de Pombal, acting as Prime - Minister of King Joseph I, the religious discrimination was formally abolished

Commanderies became almost hereditary in the principal noble and titled families of the Realm and their considerable revenues were in some cases an important source of income for these families, until 1834.

In 1789, upon request of Queen Mary I, Pope Pius VI, approved what has since been known as the secularization of the military orders. The orders became, as far as the secular or lay knights were concerned, mere orders of knighthood of an aristocratic nature.

Under this reform three classes were introduced: grand-crosses, commanders and knights. Some of the old dignities of the Order were preserved and given to members of the Royal Family.

Under the reforms of the liberal governments (1832-1834) the Military Order of St. James, together with all the other Orders, was abolished and its properties were confiscated. The Convents and the estates were sold in public auctions.

The Order became a simple Order of Merit following the principles of equality inserted in the new liberal Constitution, which had earlier on been awarded by King Peter IV.

When Queen Mary II ascended to the throne after the civil war (1828-1834), admissions to the orders, based on equalitarian principles and on individual merit continued to be made under the legislation of Queen Mary I, until the reform of 1862.

Indeed, in the reign of King Louis I, the Order was reformed under the name of "Ancient, Noble Order of St. James, for Scientific, Literary and Artistic merit" and was reserved to reward personal merit and relevant services in the Sciences, Arts and Letters.

The Order under the Republic

In 1910, the Republic abolished the Orders, but in 1917-18, at the end of the Great War, some of them were re-established as Orders of Merit to reward outstanding services to the state, the office of Grand-Master belonging to the Head of State - the President of the Republic.

The Order of St. James was thus re-established and reorganized in 1918, under the name of Military Order of St. James of the Sword with five classes. It was conferred, both to Portuguese and foreigners, military or civilians, to reward outstanding services in the Arts, Sciences and Letters.

The Order together with the other Portuguese Orders of Merit, had its Statutes revised in several occasions during the I Republic (1910-1926), then in 1962, and again in 1986.

The Order in present days

The President of the Republic is the Grand-Master of the Order.

The Military Order of St. James of the Sword together with the Military Orders of Christ and of Aviz form the group of the Ancient Military Orders, having a Chancellor and a Council of eight members of the Orders, appointed by the President of the Republic to assist him as Grand-Master in all matters concerning the administration of these Orders.

The Order can be conferred on Portuguese and foreigners, civilians and military, to reward literary, scientific and artistic merit and ranks after the Military Order of Aviz.

The Order has a Grand-Collar and five classes: Grand-Cross; Grand Officer; Commander; Officer; Knight/Dame.

The Grand-Collar is reserved to foreign Heads of State.


For images of the Order's insignia see The Order of St. James' Insignia

The Badge of the Order: is the St. James' Cross fleury enameled red, edged gold, within two palm branches enameled green, with a silver escroll inscribed with the legend - "Sciencias, Letras e Artes" in letters of gold, surmounted by a wreath of laurel enameled green and gold;

The Star of the Order is a multi-pointed star in gold (in silver for Commanders), with asymmetrical rays, charged in the center, upon a field of silver, with the Badge of the Order, and surrounded by a circle of red, having thereon the legend "Sciencias, Letras e Artes" in letters of gold, all within a garlanded wreath of laurel in gold.

The Grand-Collar of gold is formed of escallops, having in the center an escallop over two dolphins, the whole linked together with chains, and having pendant therefrom the Cross of the Order, within a garlanded wreath of laurel in gold, surmounted by a wreath of laurel gold;

The Collar of gold (silver for the knights) is composed of Badges of the Order and laurel wreaths alternating, enameled in proper colours, surmounting a wreath of laurel, enameled green and gold, from which is pendant the Badge of the Order.

The Ribbon is plain lilac, to distinguish itself from the Order of Christ.

The wearing of insignia

1.1. General rules

The insignia of the Portuguese Orders of Merit precede those of all foreign Orders of Merit or of Knighthood in the following order of precedence, from the right to the left, on the left-hand side of the chest:

Order of the Tower and of the Sword, Valour, Loyalty and Merit, Order of Christ, Order of Avid, Order of St. James of the Sword, Order of Prince Henry (Infante D. Henrique), Order of Liberty, Order of Merit, Order of Public Instruction, Order of Merit for Agriculture, Commerce and Industry.

The knights promoted within an Order wear only the insignia of the highest class, except those decorated with the Order of the Tower of the Sword or, in case of decorations awarded with palm, who can wear the insignia of all the classes they have been awarded.

Not more than one Collar or an insignia pendent from a neck ribbon can be worn at one time around the neck.

1.2. Formal suit (white-tie, grand-uniform or long-dress):

a) The grand-insignia or full-insignia are only worn with gala dress or suit:

The Grand­Collar class wears the Grand-Collar with the Sash and Star of the grand-cross class, but with the Cross garlanded with a wreath of laurel in gold.

The Grand­Cross class wears the Badge of the Order suspended from a Sash and the Star of the Order in gold;

The Grand Officer class wears the Star of the Order in gold;

The Commander class wears the Star of the Order, in silver;

The Officer class wears the Badge pendant from a chest ribbon (30 mm large) with rosette ;

The Knight/Dame class wears the Badge of the Order pendant from a chest ribbon (30 mm large) without rosette;

All classes will also wear, on ceremonial occasions, the Badge of the Order pendant from the Collar.

b) Miniatures

Miniatures are the exact reproduction on a smaller scale of the order's badge and ribbons and they are worn, with gala suit, pendant from a barrette on the left hand side of the chest.

1.3. Day Suit

Rosettes and button-hole ribbon

With day-suit, knights can wear, according to their class a rosette (8 mm), on the button-hole of the coat. Commanders, grand-officers and grand-crosses wear the rosette with a metal plate, of silver, of silver and gold, and of gold, respectively. The grand-collars wear a rosette with the colour of the Order but larger (12 mm), rimmed gold.

Knights can wear a small ribbon with the colours of the Order on the coat's button-hole.

Foreigners awarded with the Order become Honorary-Members having the right to wear its insignia. In the event of a promotion to a higher class within the Order, ceases the right to wear the insignia of the former and lower class of the Order.

Selected Bibliography:

ABRANTES, Marquês de, (D. Luís de Lancastre e Távora), O Senhor D. Jorge, in «OCEANOS», # 4, C. N. CV. D. P., Lisboa, 1989, pp. 82-92

ADÂO DA FONSECA, L. A Memória das Ordens Militares:«O Livro dos Copos» da Ordem de Santiago, in «As Ordens Militares em Portugal. Actas do I Encontro sobre Ordens Militares (Março de 1989), C. M. Palmela, 1991, pp. 205-220;

AYALA MARTINEZ, Carlos de, La Orden de Santiago en la evolucion politica del reinado de Alfonso X (1252-1284), in «Cuadernos de Historia Medieval», #4, Univ. Autonoma de Madrid, 1983;

BAQUERO MORENO, Humberto, O Infante D. Fernando, mestre da Ordem de Santiago, in «As Ordens Militares em Portugal e no Sul da Europa - Actas do II Encontro sobre Ordens Militares - Palmela, 2-4 Outubro 1992», Colibri, C.M.Palmela, Lisboa, 1997, pp. 325-344

BARBOSA, Isabel Mª do Lago, A normativa da ordem de Santiago: uma memória peninsular, in «As Ordens Militares em Portugal e no Sul da Europa - Actas do II Encontro sobre Ordens Militares - Palmela, 2-4 Outubro 1992», Colibri, C.M.Palmela, Lisboa, 1997, pp. 65-72; Regimentos e Visitações da Ordem de Santiago em Portugal nos finais da idade Média, in «As Ordens Militares em Portugal. Actas do I Encontro sobre Ordens Militares (Março de 1989)», C. M. Palmela, 1991, pp.159-170; Um códice inédito dos Estabelecimentos de 1440 da Ordem de Santiago na Biblioteca Pública Municipal do Porto, in «Actas das II Jornadas Luso-Espanholas de História Medieval», III, Porto, 1989, 1197-1204; A Ordem de Santiago em Portugal na Baixa Idade Média, dissertation thesis for the Masters degree at University of Oporto, Porto, 1989;

CUNHA, Mário R. de Sousa, A Ordem Militar de Santiago: das origens a 1327, Porto, mimeo, 199= 7; A quebra da unidade santiaguista e o mestrado de D. João Osório, «As Ordens Militares em Portugal e no Sul da Europa - Actas do II Encontro sobre Ordens Militares - Palmela, 2-4 Outubro 1992», Colibri, C.M.Palmela, Lisboa, 1997, pp. 393-406

CUNHA. Mª Cristina de Almeida e, As Ordens Militares, in Catálogo da Exposição «Nos Confins da Idade Média. Arte Portuguesa séculos XII-XV. Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis (10 Nov. 1992 - 30 Jan. 1993)», IPPAR, s/d, pp. 65-68

DUTRA, Francis A., Evolution of the Portuguese Order of Santiago, 1492-1600, «Mediterranean Studies», IV (1994= ), pp. 63-72; The Order of Santiago and the Estado da India, 1498-1750, in «The Portuguese in the Pacific», (eds. F. Dutra & João Camilo dos Santos), (Santa Barbara, California, 1995, pp. 287-304; The Restoration of 1640, the "Ausentes em Castela", and the Portuguese Military Orders: Santiago, a Case Study, in «O amor das Letras e das Gentes. In Honor of Maria de Lourdes Belchior Pontes», (João Camilo dos Santos & Frederick G. Williams, eds.), Santa Barbara, California, 1995, pp. 117-126.

FOREY, Alan, The Military Orders and the Spanish Reconquest in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, «Traditio», 40 (1984), 197-234

GALLEGO BLANCO, Enrique, The Rule of the Spanish Military Order of St. James, 1170-1493. Latin and Spanish Texts, Leiden, 1971

GARCIA, João Carlos, Alfajar de Pena. Reconquista e repovoamento no Andélavo do século XIII, sep. « Actas das II Jornadas Luso-Espanholas de História Medieval», vol. III, Porto, (1989)

LOMAX, Derek W., El rey D. Diniz de Portugal y la Orden de Santiago, in «Hidalguía», # 30 (1982), pp. 477- 487; La Orden de Santiago (1170-1275), Madrid, 1975; The reconquest of Spain, London, 1978; St. James Friars and Pilgrims, «Bulletin of the Confraternity of St. James», 25, (1988), 8-11; The Order of Santiago and the Kings of Leon, in «Hispania», 18 (1958), 3-37

MACKENZIE, D., Las primeras versiones impresas de las Reglas de las Órdenes Militares Peninsulares, «Anuario de Estudios Medievales», 11 (1981), pp. 165-178

MADRID Y MEDINA, A., La encomienda de Portugal en tiempos de Pay Pérez Correa, in «Actas das II Jornadas Luso-Espanholas de História Medieval», III, Porto, 1989, pp. 1179-1195

MARTÍN RODRÍGUEZ, José Luís, Orígenes de la Orden Militar de Santiago (1170-1195), Barcelona, CSIC, 1974

OLIVAL, Fernanda, A Ordem de Santiago e o Sal do Sado, in «OCEANOS», # 4, Lisboa, 1989, pp. 93-96

PIMENTA, Mª Cristina, A Ordem de Santiago em Portugal, in «OCEANOS», # 4, C. N. C. D. P., Lisboa, 1989, 56-63

PORRAS ARBOLEDAS, P., (estudio introductorio a…) La Regla y Establecimientos de la Cavalleria de Santiago del Espada. Con la Historia del origen y principio della. Madrid, 1627, 2ª ed.; por el Lic. Garcia del Medrano, Valladolid, 1991 (reed. facs.)

RODRIGUEZ BLANCO, Daniel, Las Relaciones fronterizas entre Portugal y la Corona de Castilla. El Caso de Extremadura, in «Actas das II Jornadas Luso-Espanholas de Historia Medieval», I, Porto, 1987, pp. 135-146;

SASTRE SANTOS, Eutimio, La Orden de Santiago y su Regla, Madrid, 1981

© (1997, 1998) José Vicente de Braganza - (English text revised by Stewart LeForte)

Updated: 26 October 1998

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