Military order (monastic society)

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This article is about the medieval Catholic chivalric military orders. For modern military orders of merit, see Military orders, awards and decorations.
Indications of presence of military orders associated with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Holy Land during the Crusades (in German).
Reconquista of the main towns (per year) (in Spanish).
Extent of the Teutonic Order in 1410.

A military order (Latin: Militaris ordinis) is a confraternity of knights, originally established as Catholic religious societies during the medieval Crusades for protection of Christians in response to the aggression and persecution of the Islamic conquests (623–1050) in the Holy Land and the Iberian Peninsula, as well as by Baltic paganism in Eastern Europe. Most members, often referred to as knights, were laymen, not priests, but sometimes cooperated with the clergy, taking vows such as poverty, chastity, and obedience according to monastic religious vows.

It was in the military orders, in fusion of religious and military spirit, that chivalry reached its apogee. Its traditions eventually influenced many subsequent secular Western fraternities, or brotherhoods, and most importantly the honour systems of honourfic orders of today.

Prominent examples include the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar in Outremer, as well as the Teutonic Knights in the Baltics.[1]

Many were suppressed by the Pope before 1500 with few establishments afterwards, while others evolved into Roman Catholic ceremonial, missionary, charitable organisations. Some persisted longer in its original functions, while growing into honorific chivalric orders with charitable aims in modern times, such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, both Papal orders of knighthood conferred still today.

Parallel institutions of unilateral Roman Catholic adherence exist in continuous or revived forms among current and former European royal houses.


Already in 1053, for the Battle of Civitate the Knights of Saint Peter (Milites Sancti Petri) was founded as a militia by Pope Leo IX to counter the Normans.[2]

The larger threat that would definitively establish the tradition, however, came from the east. In response to the Islamic conquests of the former Byzantine Empire and Christianity in the Holy Land, numerous Catholic military orders were set up following the First Crusade. The founding of such orders suited the Catholic church's plan of channelising the devotion of the European nobility, and also complemented the Peace and Truce of God.[1] The foundation of the Knights Templar in 1118 provided the first in a series of tightly organised military forces for the purpose of fighting invading Islamic conquests in the Holy Land and in the Iberian Peninsula — see the Reconquista — as well as Islamic invaders and pagan tribes in Eastern Europe.

The first secularised military order was the Order of Saint George, founded in 1326 by the King Charles I of Hungary, on which he made all the Hungarian nobility swear loyalty to him. The next secular order which is known to appear was the Order of the "Knights of the Band", founded in 1332 by the King Alfonso XI of Castile. Both orders existed only for about a century.[3]


The original features of the military orders were the combination of religious and military ways of life. Some of them, like the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights of Saint Thomas, also had charitable purposes and cared for the sick and poor. However, they were not purely male institutions, as nuns could attach themselves as convents of the orders. One significant feature of the military orders is that clerical brothers could be, and indeed often were, subordinate to non-ordained brethren.

In 1818, the orientalist Joseph von Hammer compared the Catholic military orders, in particular the Knights Templar, with certain Islamic models such as the Shia Islamic sect of Assassins. In 1820, José Antonio Conde suggested they were modeled on the ribat, a fortified religious institution which brought together a religious or hospital way of life with fighting the enemies of Islam. However popular such views may have become, others have criticised this view, suggesting there were no such ribats around the Outremer until after the military orders had been founded.

Yet, the innovation of the role and function of the military orders has sometimes been obscured by the concentration on their military exploits in the Holy Land, Prussia, and the Baltics. In fact, they had extensive holdings and staff throughout Western Europe. The majority were laymen. They provided a conduit for cultural and technical innovation, for example the introduction of fulling into England by the Order of Saint John, or the banking facilities of the Knights Templars.

Because of the necessity to have a standing army, the military orders were founded, being adopted as the fourth monastic religious vows.

List of military orders[edit]

These are military orders listed chronologically according to their dates of foundation and extinction, sometimes approximate due to scarce sources, and/or repeated suppressions by Papal or royal authourities. Their militarisation may vary from case to case, the foundation of an order, its ecclesiastical approval, and occurring on different times and for different purposes. Presently active institutions are listed in consideration with their legitimacy according to the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry.

They are divided into international and national according to their adherence, mission, and enrolment, disregarding the extent of eventual gradual geographical distribution outside of their region of concern.


Symbol Name Founded Founder Origin Recognition Protection Extinction Notes
Malteserkreuz.svg Sovereign Military Order of Malta
(Knights Hospitaller)
(1048?) 1113
Gerard Thom Jerusalem, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1113 by Pope Paschal II Grand Master (1113-),
Prince (1607-),
Cardinal (1630-)
Today known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Regional continuity claimed by Protestant chivalric orders of the Alliance of the Orders of Saint John of Jerusalem.
Croix de l Ordre du Saint-Sepulcre.svg Order of the Holy Sepulchre c.1099
(1084?) 1113
Godfrey of Bouillon Jerusalem, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1113 by Pope Paschal II
1122 by Pope Calistus II
Kingdom of Jerusalem to 1291,
Custos of the Holy Land: 1230-1489,
Pope: 1489-
Awarded to prominent pilgrims. Reorganised as Sacred and Military Order of the Holy Sepulchre in 1496 by Pope Alexander VI. Reorganised by Pope Pius IX with the residential restoration of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1847.[4] Known as the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem since 1931.
Cross of the Knights Templar.svg Knights Templar 1118 Bernard of Clairvaux,
Hugues de Payens
Jerusalem, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1129 by Pope Honorius II
until 1312 by Pope Clement V
Pope: 1129-1312 1312 The property of the Templars was transferred to the Knights Hospitaller. In effect, the dissolution of the Templars could be seen as the merger of the two rival orders. In Portugal they simply changed their name to Knights of Christ, founding the Order of Christ (Portugal).
Lazarus cross.svg Order of Saint Lazarus 1119
Gerard Thom Jerusalem, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem 1255 by Pope Alexander IV
until 1489 by Pope Innocent VIII
King Fulk of Jerusalem: 1142
Pope: circa 1255-1572
House of Savoy: 1572-
House of France: 1609-1830
Italian branch merged 1572 with the Order of Saint Maurice to form the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus under the Royal House of Savoy, still extant.

In 1609, King Henry IV of France linked it in France administratively to the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to form the Royal Military and Hospitaller Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem united, which remained listed as of royal protection in the French Royal Almanac until 1830.[5]


Symbol Name Founded Founder Origin Recognition Protection Extinction Notes
Sigillo Altopascio.gif Order of Saint James of Altopascio 1075
Matilda of Tuscany Altopascio, Tuscany, Holy Roman Empire 1239-1459,
but mentioned in a Papal bull 1198 of Pope Innocent III
Properties of the hospice of "Altopassus" in Italy confirmed in 1244 by Emperor Frederick II 1459,
Primarily provided safety and protection to Italian pilgrims to the Holy Land and Camino de Santiago. Merged with the Order of Saint Stephen in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V at request of Grand Duke of Tuscany. In France absorbed into the Order of Saint Lazarus in 1672.
Ordem Avis.svg Order of Aviz 1146
Avis, Portugal Received a grant in 1129 by Theresa, Countess of Portugal
House of Aviz: 1385-1580
1789 Secularised 1789. Statutes revised repeatedly together with the other Portuguese orders of merit, during the First Republic (1910–1926), then in 1962, and again in 1986.
Cross wing saint michael.png Order of Saint Michael of the Wing 1147
King Afonso I of Portugal Santarém, Portugal First statutes approved in 1171 by Pope Alexander III House of Braganza: 2001- 1732 Abandoned by 1732,[6] restored[7] by King Miguel I in 1828[8] during his brief rule before losing the Liberal Wars to his brother King Pedro IV,[9] revived 1848[7]/1986 [10]
Cross Calatrava.svg Order of Calatrava 1158 Raymond of Fitero Calatrava la Vieja, Kingdom of Castile, Spain 1164 by Pope Alexander III House of Bourbon 1838 by secularisation King Charles III of Spain requested old orders to contribute to his new order in his name (1775), which led to dissolution. Confiscated by King Joseph (1808), re-established by Ferdinand VII at the Restoration (1814). Secularised in 1838.
Croix de l'Ordre Hospitalier du Saint-Esprit.svg Order of the Holy Ghost 1161 Guy de Montpellier Provence, France ca. 1161–June 16, 1216 by Pope Innocent III in Santo Spirito in Sassia, Rome 1692/
20th century
Historically both religious and chivalric. In 1692 in France, King Louis XIV merged it with his own Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The remaining organisation was edicted in 1700 as purely religious order.[11] Offshoots of the order in France survived into the 20th century.
Aubrac sceau.jpg Order of Aubrac 1162 Aubrac, France 18th century Disappeared during the French Revolution in late in the 18th century.
Cross Santiago.svg Order of Santiago 1170 León or Uclés in Castile, Spain By Papal bull 5 July 1175 by Pope Alexander III House of Bourbon
Badge of the Order of Alcantara.svg Order of Alcántara 1177 Alcántara, Extremadura, Spain
Cross of order of mountjoy.svg Order of Mountjoy 1180 Holy Land 1221 Merged into the Order of Calatrava.
Crux Ordis Teutonicorum.svg Teutonic Knights 1190 Acre, Israel Converted into a purely Catholic religious order since 1929.
Cross saint thomas 1236.png Hospitallers of Saint Thomas of Canterbury at Acre 1191 1538
Cross of order of mountjoy.svg Order of Monfragüe 1196 1221 Merged into the Order of Calatrava.
Croix Gueules.png Order of Sant Jordi d'Alfama 1201 15th century Early 15th century, merged into the Order of Montesa.
SwordBrothers.svg Livonian Brothers of the Sword 1202 1236 Merged into the Teutonic Order as the Order of Livonia, disbanded 1561.
Dobrzynski braty.svg Order of Dobrzyń 1216 Dobrzyń Land, Poland 1240 Small number, maximum 35 knights. Battled by the Prussians, around 1235 most knights joined the Teutonic Order. In 1237 the rest of the brothers reinforced Drohiczyn by order of Konrad. Last mentioned when Drohiczyn was captured by Prince Daniel of Kiev in 1240.
Cross of MJC.svg Militia of the Faith of Jesus Christ 1221 1285 Note: Symbol that of the Dominican Order. Merged into the Third Order of Saint Dominic.
Cross monreal.svg Military Order of Monreal 1231 King Alfonso the Battler Monreal del Campo, Aragon 1143
Order of the Faith and Peace.jpg Order of the Faith and Peace 1231 1273
Cross with red star.svg Knights of the Cross with the Red Star 1233 Agnes of Bohemia Bohemia 1237 by Pope Gregory IX
Confirmed 1292 by ambassador of Pope Nicholas IV
Mainly hospitals. Allegedly still existing.
Militia of Jesus Christ.jpg Militia of Jesus Christ 1233 Bartolomeo da Vicenza Parma 22 December 1234 by Pope Gregory IX. 1250s Disappeared mid-13th century.
Cross frati gaudenti.png Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary 1261 Loderingo degli Andalò, Catalano dei Malavolti, Ugolino Lambertini Bologna 23 December 1261 by Pope Urban IV 1556
Emblema OrdendSantaMariadEspaña.svg Order of Saint Mary of Spain 1270 1280 Merged into the Order of Santiago.
Cross montessa.svg Order of Montesa 1317
OrderOfCristCross.svg Order of the Knights of Our Lord Jesus Christ 1318 Portugal 1789 Secularized 1789.
Insignia Hungary Order Ordo Draconum History.svg Order of the Dragon 1408 1475s Disappeared late 15th century.
Cross of saint Maurice.png Order of Saint Maurice 1434 Amedeo VIII of Savoy Château de Ripaille, Thonon-les-Bains, Savoy 1572 Merged with the Order of Saint Lazarus in Italy in 1572 by Pope Gregory XIII into Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, considered the legitimate successor of both by the ICOC.
Ordem Militar da Torre e Espada.svg Order of the Tower and Sword 1459 King Afonso V of Portugal Portugal Revived 1808 by Prince Regent John, later John VI of Portugal. Since the end of the monarchy in 1910, all military orders abolished except the Order of the Tower and Sword, with President of Portugal ex officio its Grand Master.
Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem.jpg Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem 1459 Pope Pius II Lemnos, Byzantine Empire 18 January 1459 by Pope Pius II 1460 Founded in 1453 by Pope Pius II after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, to defend the island of Lemnos, soon recaptured by the Turks, thus rendered useless and suppressed almost as soon as founded.[12][13]
311St.Georgs Ritterorden Einsetzung durch Papst Paul II.jpg Order of Saint George of Carinthia 1469 Emperor Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor In 1469 by Pope Paul II Abolished 26 July 1598
Croix constantinien.svg Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George 1522-1545
Angeli Comneni family Addressed in 1550 by Pope Julius III
Cardinal protector in 1910 by Pope Pius X
Decrees by King Philip III of Spain, Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor on 7 November 1630 Appears to have been established between 1520 and 1545, with certains statutes dated 1522 by the Angeli Comneni family. Its Grand Master Andrea Angelo Flavio Comneno was addressed first in 1550 by Papal bull Quod Aliasla by Pope Julius III.
Cross of saint stephen.svg Order of Saint Stephen Pope and Martyr 15 March 1561 Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany Tuscany 1 October 1561 by Pope Pius IV Founded as Benedictine order by Cosimo I de' Medici,.[14][15] dedicated to the martyred Pope Stephen I and the victories at the Battle of Montemurlo in 1537 and the Battle of Marciano (Scannagallo) in 1554. Fought the Ottoman Turks and pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. Abolished in 1859 by the annexation of Tuscany to the Kingdom of Sardinia.[16] Present, Catholic continuation claimed by Archduke Sigismund, Grand Duke of Tuscany.[17][18]


Chivalric and/or military orders that could qualify depending on definition.

Modern development[edit]

A few of the institutions survived into honorific and/or charitable organisations, including the papal orders of knighthood.

While other contemporary Catholic societies may share some military organisational features and ideology, such as the Society of Jesus (1540),[19] they differ from the medieval military orders in absence of military purposes or potential.

As for several national, state and even dynastic military orders of merit, such as the Dutch Military Order of William and the Austrian Military Order of Maria Theresa, they are not military orders other than nominally.

Echoing the medieval institutions, however, it is possible for modern orders to be founded explicitly as a military order, for instance the Military Order of Loyalty (Spanish: Orden Militar de la Constancia), founded in 1946 by the Spanish protectorate in Morocco. Awarded to both Spanish and Moroccan military officers and soldiers, the single-class order was abolished in 1956.

In contrast, inspired by the legacy of the original military orders, besides legitimate chivalric orders, in addition, vast modern imitations flourish, referred to as "self-styled orders".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Crawford, Paul (1996). "The Military Orders: Introduction". The ORB: On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. 
  2. ^ Template:Ref-Demurger-Templiers
  3. ^ Michael Jones ed., The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 6: c. 1300 - c. 1415, (Cambridge, 1998), p. 209.
  4. ^ "Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem". Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Moeller, Charles. "The Military Orders." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 22 Jun. 2015
  6. ^ Anderson, James (1732). Royal genealogies: or, The genealogical tables of emperors, kings and princes, from Adam to these times; in two parts. London: James Bettenham. pp. ix. Retrieved 9 December 2011. St Michael's Wing in Portugal founded by the said King Alphonse 1165 or 1171 after his obtaining a notable Victory over Moors and Alberto King of Seville in which Battle MICHAEL the Arch Angel is said to appear on the right Side of Alphonse and fight against them. This Order is now out of use. (1732) 
  7. ^ a b Almeida, Gomes Abrunhosa Marques de and Manuel Ângelo (2007). Precedentes histórico-teóricos dos regionalismos dos Açores e da Galiza. Santiago de Compostela: Univ Santiago de Compostela. p. 187. 
  8. ^ Cheke, Marcus (1969). Carlota Joaquina, queen of Portugal. (Reprinted. ed.). Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-8369-5040-3. 
  9. ^ Jenks, George C (1911). Monarchs in Exile, The Bookman vol. 32. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co. p. 273. 
  10. ^ Sainty, Guy Stair (2006-11-22). "Royal Order of Saint Michael of the Wing". rec.heraldry. Retrieved 2011-01-21. While the Duke of Braganza is the unquestioned heir and successor of Dom Miguel, the institution of the Royal Brotherhood of St Michael of the Wing is better seen as a modern memorial revival of the original institution than any kind of continuation of the Miguelist award. 
  11. ^ Orders of the Holy Ghost - Catholic Encyclopedia article
  12. ^ Besse, Jean. "Bethlehemites." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 23 Jun. 2015
  13. ^ Trollope, Thomas Anthony. An encyclopædia ecclesiastica, 1834
  14. ^ Pasquale Villari, '"The Medici" (1911). Hugh Chisolm, ed. The Encyclopaedia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information, Volume 18 (11 ed.). New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica. p. 36. 
  15. ^ Woodhouse, Frederick Charles (1879). The military religious orders of the Middle Ages: the Hospitallers, the Templars, the Teutonic knights, and others. With an appendix of other orders of knighthood: legendary, honorary, and modern. New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. p. 338. The members followed the rule of St Benedict and the Popes granted them the same privileges as those enjoyed by the Knights Hospitallers 
  16. ^ Carmichael, Montgomery (1901). In Tuscany: Tuscan Towns, Tuscan Types and the Tuscan Tongue. New York: E P Dutton. p. 173. The Order was swept away by the French Revolution but was revived again in a modified form in 1817. The Italian Revolution once more swept it away beyond hope of revival on 16 November 1859 and its Church and property became the property of the State. Alas that modern Italy should not be a little more tender of the memories of her past glories. 
  17. ^ Bernardini, Rodolfo (1990). Il Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire (in Italian). Pisa: Familiare della Casa Asburgo Lorena. 
  18. ^ Cardinale, Hyginus Eugene (1983). Orders of knighthood awards and the Holy See. Gerrards Cross: Van Duren. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-905715-13-1. 
  19. ^ Harro Höpfl (2004), Jesuit Political Thought: The Society of Jesus and the State, c. 1540–1630, Cambridge; p. 25

Further reading[edit]

  • "Military Orders" in Catholic Encyclopedia (1911)
  • Nicholson, Helen J. The Knights Hospitaller (2001).
  • Riley-Smith, Jonathan. Hospitallers: The History of the Order of St John (1999).
  • Morten, Nicholas Edward. The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land 1190-1291 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2009)
  • Burman, Edward (1988). The Templars: Knights of God. Inner Traditions/Bear. 
  • Forey, Alan John. The Military Orders: From the Twelfth to the Early Fourteenth Centuries. *(Basingstoke: Macmillan Education, 1992)