Spanish Military Orders were founded in the Twelfth Century following the religious and chivalrous drive of the Crusades. When the conquest of Jerusalem was finally completed at the end of the first crusade, the problem of defense became the foremost concern. With that in mind, in 1120 Hugo de Payns founded the order of Knights Templar (or of the temple of Jerusalem). This was the first of all military orders and the mirror on which others saw themselves. In 1226 the Monks of the order of Saint Benedict founded the Order of the Knights Hospitallier of Saint John of Jerusalem, both Orders became protectors of the Sacred Places with the support of all the European kings.
On the other extreme of the Mediterranean Sea and since the Muslim invasion in 711 AD Spain was trying to achieve a restoration of the unity it had formerly achieved in both the cultural and administrative spheres in Roman Spain and politically, with the Visigoth Recaredo. Spanish aspirations combined with the Crusader spirit to bring about the foundation of local orders by Papal Bulls issued by Alexander III: Santiago in 1175; Calatrava in 1164; Alcántara in 1177 and Montesa by bull issued by John XXII. In 1317. Very much aware of fact that the struggle being waged in the western Mediterranean was the same as that being fought in the East, Pontiffs granted the same indulgences as those formerly granted in Jerusalem.
Their purpose was to defend Christian faith with the ultimate aim of liberating territories occupied by Islam, thus liberating those Christians living there who suffered under the Muslim yoke, by a violent armed struggle, entrusted to the knights, who in those days constituted a combat unit made of the mounted knight, the horse and his weapons. Members lived in community, they were bound by the three vows of consecrated life, prayed canonic hours; and depended of the Pope, enjoying exempt jurisdiction and self- government.
Contrary to the armed retinues of lords and kings which were temporarily summoned to a campaign, the knights of the orders were the protagonists of the Re-Conquest of Cuenca (1177). The Alarcos disaster which set peninsular kingdoms at peril and also in the great victory of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) which brought Christianity to Andalucía; in the re-conquests of Valencia and Alcántara (1221), Caceres (1227) and Badajoz (1229), and in the campaigns which ended with the liberation of Córdoba (1226) and Seville (1248). Lastly, with the victory of Rio Salado (1340) which ended the danger represented by the Benimerines.
As the re-conquest ended, the knights were charged with the defense of the frontier with the vassal kingdom of Granada, were the last of the Muslim population lived. When the Catholic Kings decided to put an end to the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, responsibility for the last war fell upon the four orders, and on the thirtieth of December 1492, the Master of Santiago certified his victory by attending Mass in the Palace of the Alhambra.
In the beginnings of the Sixteenth Century, Spanish orders concluded the objective they had striven to accomplish: namely, a Christian Spain subject to Christian kings. The task of considering a different use of the Military Orders fell upon Ferdinand and Isabella, creators of the Spanish State, conscious of the fact that the power attained by the Military orders had brought about serious political conflicts. They succeeded in convincing the Pope to grant the Spanish King perpetual authority over such institutions, by means of modifying the existing elective system. With that novelty, in 1523, Pope Hadrian VI granted a bull for Santiago, Calatrava and Alcántara. The bull for Montesa was delayed until 1587, in accordance with the bull issued by Sixtus V.
The fact that infantry could defeat the invincible French cavalry proven in Ceriñola by Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba, thus opening the possibility for a new military unity, aside from the Tercios, manned by mercenary soldiers substituting the knights in their traditional role as the main weapon, would not remain unknown to the king´s designs.
Spanish Orders fulfilled their sworn duty as defenders of the faith, by using their patrimony to pay the cost of the continuous wars to defend the Catholic Church. They would also institute the price for those subjects who excelled in their service to the fatherland. The Real Concejo de las Órdenes (Royal Council of the Orders) was constituted in the image of those of Castile, Aragon or Naples in order to administer the immense patrimony and to be able to govern the numerous subjects. The date is uncertain but in 1525 it was already working as such.
Spanish orders underwent a deep transformation: the rigor of the vows was mitigated, and a not too Christian discrimination was introduced. This does however show the prevalent feeling at those times on the subject of races and converts. As counterpart, in its first part, nobility as a vital attitude was exalted, together with the sense of duty, honor and loyalty and on the second, the Christian family by the praise of lineage. In accordance with its new standing, the orders developed into loyal servants of the King and the State. This situation went on for more than three hundred years.
The 19th Century was noted by the Orders by its adverse nature. The 1812 Constitution suppressed the lordships of Cadiz; the first Confiscation of 1820, and the definite ones of 1835 and of the following years, took from the orders their already depleted goods, even depriving them of their places of worship. The Concordat with the Holy See of 1851 tried to mitigate this situation, although dispositions such as those of the constitution of the Coto redondo y Priorato de las Ordenes Militares (Round limit and Priory of the Military Orders) were never carried into effect.
The 1868 Revolution which ended the First Republic was the epitome of misfortunes to the orders, which in 1873 were unilaterally suppressed by the State. When monarchy was reinstated with Alfonso XII, in 1874, the orders were restored and their situation with the Round Limit and Priory of Military Orders was clarified by the Ad apostolicam bull issued by Pius IX. From that time on, the orders were turned into the most prestigious nobility institution in Spain. Their spiritual character was entrusted to the personal religiousness of each member, which in the instance of their last two Dean Presidents, was exemplary.
In 1931, once again unilaterally, the 2nd Republic suppressed Spanish Orders. In order to survive, they had to resort to the Ley de Asociaciones Civiles (Civil Association Law) living a precarious existence until the advent of the 1953 Concordat, which recognized the Priory, afterwards by the Constatmilitarium bull the Priory was reduced into merely a title of the Bishop of Ciudad Real.
In 1980, upon request from his august father, who was appointed Dean President of the Council, King Juan Carlos I caused the rebirth of the Orders under regal initiative. Under the Apostolic Pastoral Tertiomillenioadveniente, in 1996 Spanish Orders began their renewal process.
Today, the aims of the Spanish Orders are basically the same as those they had when founded: The defense of the Catholic Faith. The sword has been put aside, but their doctrine, example, self- sanctification, and Divine worship aims remained active, aside from their cultural and social activities. Their two hundred and fifty members keep the spirit and life of the Orders of Santiago, Calatrava, Alcántara and Montesa under their Grand Master, King Felipe VI and the Real Consejo de las Órdenes (Royal Council of the Orders) presided over by his Royal Highness Pedro de Borbón Dos Sicilias, Duke of Calabria.