Order of Saint James of the Sword

Order of Saint James of the Sword
This article deals with the Portuguese Order of knighthood. For the Spanish branch, see Order of Santiago.
Emblem of the Order of St. James of the Sword

The (Royal) Military Order of Saint James of the Sword (Portuguese: (Real) Ordem Militar de Sant'Iago da Espada) is a Portuguese Order of Chivalry.



The Order of Saint James began in Castile-León in circa 1171, later confirmed in 1172 by Pope Alexander III's legate Cardinal Hyacinthus of Acardo,[1] as an Order of knights for the protection of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.


The Castle of Palmela, long-time headquarters of the Order of Santiago in Portugal.

In 1186, King Sancho I of Portugal donated to the Order of Santiago (then based in Uclés, Castile) the Portuguese dominions of Palmela, Almada and Alcácer do Sal (all three in the Setúbal District, south of Lisbon). But in 1190-91, all three citadels were conquered by Yaqub al-Mansur, emir of the Almohads. They were recovered sometime between 1194 and 1204. The Order of Santiago established its Portuguese headquarters at Palmela shortly before 1210, and definitively by 1212.

One of the more notable of Portuguese Santiago knights was Paio Peres Correia. Between 1234 to 1242, Correia led the conquest of much of the southerly Moorish dominions of Baixo Alentejo and the Algarve. In 1242, Paio Peres Correia was elevated to Grand Master of the Order of Santiago, the only known Portuguese to have held the supreme title of the Castilian-based Order.

In 1249, Paio Peres Correia and the Order of Santiago helped Afonso III of Portugal sweep up the final Moorish possessions in the Algarve. The possessions of the Order of Santiago in Portugal were expanded and confirmed by Afonso III in 1255.

After the death of Correia in 1275, the Order of Santiago returned firmly into Castilian hands. Thus, in 1288, King Denis of Portugal separated the Portuguese branch from the Castilian-Leonese Order. This was confirmed by Pope John XXII in 1320.[2]

Royal Princes

Panel of the famous polyptych of St. Vicent by painter Nuno Gonçalves, believed to represent the four younger sons of John I. The constable John of Reguengos is thought to be on the left, in the red color and blade-holding pose typical of the Order of Santiago. In black above him is Ferdinand the Saint (Aviz), below in purple is Henry the Navigator (Christ), and on the right in green is the regent Peter of Coimbra

During the 1383-1385 Portuguese succession crisis, D. Fernando Afonso de Albuquerque, master of the Order of Santiago in Portugal, backed the candidacy of John, Master of Aviz, and served briefly as John's ambassador to the English court.

King John I of Portugal set about trying to seize the masterships of all the principal military orders in Portugal for his family. In 1418, he secured the mastership of the Order of Santiago for his son, John of Reguengos, the future Constable of Portugal, and in 1420, the Order of Christ (ex-Templars) for another son, Henry the Navigator. After his death in 1433, John I's own Order of Aviz (ex-branch of Calatrava) was passed to a third son, Ferdinand the Saint.[3] The mastership of the three major orders - Santiago, Christ and Aviz - would remain in the hands of princes of the royal family (infantes) for much of the next century.

After the death of John of Reguengos 1442, his brother, the regent prince Peter of Coimbra appointed John's son Diogo as master of Santiago. But Diogo died within a year, so Peter passed the mastership on to his nephew, Infante Ferdinand, Duke of Beja, the younger brother of King Afonso V of Portugal. This was confirmed by Pope Eugene IV in 1444.[4] In the 1452 bull Ex apostolice sedis, Pope Nicholas V confirmed once more Ferdinand's appointment and put a definitive end to questions (up to then still being raised by Castile) about the autonomy of the Portuguese branch of Santiago.

At the death of Henry the Navigator in 1460, his title of Duke of Viseu and the mastership of the Order of Christ passed on to Infante Ferdinand, Henry's designated heir. Ferdinand was in an unusual position of holding two major military orders, but this was ratified by Pope Pius II in 1461.[5]

At Infante Ferdinand's death in 1470, all his titles, including both the orders of Christ and Santiago, were inherited by his eldest son, John, Duke of Viseu. But the sickly John died just two years later, in 1472. The mastership of the orders was subsequently separated again: John's younger brother, Diogo, Duke of Viseu became master of the Order of Christ, while the Order of Santiago passed to his brother-in-law, Infante John, the eldest son and heir of Afonso V of Portugal. (John had recently married Infante Ferdinand's daughter, Eleanor of Viseu).

With the ascension of Infante John as King John II of Portugal in 1481, the fortunes of the Order of Santiago rose with him. At the time, the Order of Christ, with their vast possessions (including the Atlantic islands), was the richest and most powerful military order in Portugal. To combat their influence, John II, a centralizing prince, doted on and deployed his Order of Santiago at their expense.

The Order of Christ had been out of the explorations business since the death of Prince Henry in 1460. As A result, the Order of Santiago supplied a greater share of the knights for the slate of new expeditions organized by John II in the 1480s.

The death of John II's only legitimate son and heir Prince Afonso in 1491 threw the kingdom into a succession crisis, as it left John II with only one legitimate successor, his cousin and brother-in-law, Manuel, Duke of Beja. Manuel of Beja had become the master of the Order of Christ in 1484 (following the death of his brother, Diogo of Viseu). John II did not trust Manuel, and suspected he might fritter away his hard-won gains. As a result, John II launched a campaign to legitimize his natural son, Jorge de Lencastre, as royal heir. From Pope Innocent VIII, John II received authorization to appoint Jorge de Lencastre as the Master of the Order of Santiago in April 1492 (and also administrator of the Order of Aviz). However, the Pope refused to legitimize his birth, and as a result, at the death of John II in 1495, Duke Manuel of Beja ascended as King Manuel I of Portugal.

In the first decade of Manuel's reign, D. Jorge de Lencastre was the leader of what might be called the political opposition to Manuel, composed mostly of loyalists of the late John II. The Order of Santiago was his powerbase, and its castle in Palmela served as something akin to an 'alternate' rival court.

Afonso de Albuquerque, Portuguese governor of the Indies (1509-1515), wearing a cloak with the cross of the Order of Santiago.

The Order of Santiago played a leading role in the early India expeditions, a legacy project from the reign of John II. Vasco da Gama, Paulo da Gama, D. Francisco de Almeida, D. Afonso de Albuquerque and Duarte de Meneses, were leading knights of the Order of Santiago.[6]

It is reported by chronicler João de Barros (p. 274) that just before his departure for India in 1497, King Manuel I of Portugal presented Vasco da Gama with his personal standard - not the familiar armillary sphere flag later associated with Manuel, but rather the banner of the Order of Christ, of which Manuel was the grand master. But chronicler Gaspar Correia (p. 15) reports that as soon as the ships left sight of Lisbon harbor, Paulo da Gama pulled 'the royal standard' down from the mast. Evidently the Gamas took the king's gesture as a calculated slight against their beloved Santiago.

Nonetheless, in subsequent years Manuel I would set his Order of Christ to poach the knights of the Order of Santiago. In January, 1505, Manuel managed to coax D. Francisco de Almeida to abandon Santiago and move over to the Order of Christ. Vasco da Gama himself eventually did the switch in 1507. Afonso de Albuquerque, by contrast, refused; he was buried in his Santiago vestments.[7]

Master Jorge de Lencastre spent much of his career trying to defend the Order of Santiago against Manuel's encroachments. In May 1505, he actually managed to secure a royal order prohibiting knights from leaving his orders without his express permission. But Manuel soon obtained from Pope Alexander VI two bulls to undermine him - one from July 1505, giving the King of Portugal the right to dispose of the property of all three Orders; another in January, 1506, authorizing knights to move freely from other Orders to the Order of Christ.

In 1509, D. Jorge de Lencastre introduced a new set of rules for the Order of Santiago, overhauling its administration in a centralized fashion, bringing it closer in line with the rules of their Spanish brethren. This was done perhaps to gain the support of the Spanish monarchy and the Pope, but to no avail. In 1516, Manuel secured from Pope Leo X the authority to appoint Jorge's successor as grand master of Santiago.

Manuel died in 1521, and was succeeded by his son John III of Portugal who kept up the effort to erode the Order of Santiago. When Jorge de Lencastre died in July, 1550, John III received a bull from Pope Julius III a couple of weeks later appointing him personally as the master of both the Order of Santiago and the Order of Aviz. This was followed up by a second bull, Praeclara cahrissimi, issued by the pope under great diplomatic pressure by John III in December 1551, appointing the Kings of Portugal as masters in perpetuity of all three military orders, Christ, Santiago and Aviz, thus bringing an end to the independence of the military orders in Portugal.

Later Years

Pope Pius VI (1789) and the Queen Mary I reformed the order into a secular institution. In 1834 when the civil government of Portugal became anti-Catholic, after the defeat of King Miguel in the Civil War, under the constitutional monarchy the order lost its properties. The ancient Military Orders were transformed by the liberal constitution and subsequent legislation into mere Orders of Merit. The privileges which once had been an essential part of the membership of the old military orders were also ceased.

In 1910, when Portuguese monarchy ended, the Republic of Portugal abolished all the Orders except the Order of the Tower and Sword. However, in 1917, at the end of the World War I, some of these Orders were re-established as mere 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 Military Order of St. James, together with the other Portuguese Orders of Merit, had its statutes revised on several occasions, during the First Republic (1910–1926), then in 1962, and again in 1986.

The Military Order of Saint James, together with the Military Orders of Christ and of Aviz, form the group of the "Ancient Military Orders", governed by a Chancellor and a Council of eight members, appointed by the President of the Republic, to assist him as Grand Master in all matters concerning the administration of the Order. The Order, despite its name, can be conferred to Portuguese and foreigners for outstanding services to science, literature or art. The highest grade of the Order, that of Grand Collar, is a special award, conferred only to foreign Heads of State.


The Order of St. James of the Sword, as awarded by the Portuguese government today, comes in six classes:

  • Grand Collar (GColSE), which wears the badge of the Order on a special collar (chain), and the star of the Order in gold on the left chest;
  • Grand Cross (GCSE), which wears the badge of the Order on a collar (chain), or on a sash on the right shoulder, and the star of the Order in gold on the left chest;
  • Grand Officer (GOSE), which wears the badge of the Order on a necklet, and the star of the Order in gold on the left chest;
  • Commander (ComSE), which wears the star of the Order in silver on the left chest;
  • Officer (OSE), which wears the badge of the Order on a ribbon with rosette on the left chest;
  • Knight (CavSE) or Dame (DamSE), which wears the badge of the Order on a plain ribbon on the left chest.


Insignia of the Order of St. James of the Sword
  • The badge of the Order is a gilt cross with red enamel, similar to the Order's emblem illustrated here, but with a longer lower arm, and is surrounded by a wreath of green-enamelled palm leaves; a white-enamelled scroll, bearing the legend "Ciência Letras e Artes" (Science Literature and Art), is located at the bottom of the badge. (The Grand Collar badge has no scroll, and a laurel wreath instead of palms.) During the monarchy the badge was topped by the Sacred Heart of Christ.
  • The star of the Order has 22 asymmetrical arms of rays, in gilt for Grand Collar, Grand Cross and Grand Officer, and in silver for Commander. The central disc is in white enamel, with a miniature of the modern badge in it. During the monarchy the Sacred Heart of Christ was placed at the top of the star.
  • The ribbon of the Order is plain lilac.


  1. ^ Blanco, Enrique Gallego, The Rule of the Spanish Military Order of St. James , (E.J.Brill, 1971), 4.
  2. ^ Tagore, Sourindro Mohun, The orders of knighthood, British and foreign, (Catholic Orphan Press, 1884), 79.[1]
  3. ^ Fonseca, 2008: p.64
  4. ^ Subrahmanyam (1997: p.41)
  5. ^ Subrahmanyam (1997: p.41)
  6. ^ Fonseca (2008, p.70)
  7. ^ Albuquerque's Commentaries, Vol. 4, p.196

See also


  • Afonso de Albuquerque (1557), Commentarios Dafonso Dalboquerque, capitam geral & gouernador da India [1774 Port. ed. trans. 1875-84 by Walter de Gray Birch, as The Commentaries of the great Afonso Dalboquerque, second viceroy of India, 4 volumes, London: Hakluyt Society]
  • João de Barros (1552–59) Décadas da Ásia: Dos feitos, que os Portuguezes fizeram no descubrimento, e conquista, dos mares, e terras do Oriente..
  • Gaspar Correia (c.1550s) Lendas da Índia [first pub. 1858-64)
  • Fonseca, L.A. (2008) "The Portuguese Military orders and the Oceanic Navigations: From piracy to empire (Fifteenth to early Sixteenth Centuries), in J.M. Upton-Ward, editor The Military Orders: On Land and by Sea. Aldershot: Ashgate.
  • Subrahmanyam, S. (1997) The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Tagore, Sourindro Mohun, The orders of knighthood, British and foreign, Catholic Orphan Press, 1884.

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