New Knights in the Portuguese Order of Santiago during the Mastership of Dom Jorge, 1492-1550

New Knights in the Portuguese Order of Santiago during the Mastership of Dom Jorge, 1492-1550

By Francis A. Dutra

eHumanista, Volume 2, 2002

Introduction: Dom Jorge was born in Abrantes on 12 August 1481, the illegitimate son of Crown Prince João, shortly before the latter became João II of Portugal (r. 1481-95). Dom Jorge’s mother was Dona Ana de Mendonça, daughter of Nuno de Mendonça, Aposentador-mor of João’s father, King Afonso V (r. 1438-81). Dona Ana was a dama or lady-in-waiting to D. Joana, a Excelente Senhora (known to Castilians as “La Beltraneja”). Shortly after his birth, Dom Jorge was entrusted to his aunt (his father’s sister Princess Joana, later known as Santa Joana) who was living in the Dominican Convento de Jesus in Aveiro. There and later he was also educated under the tutelage of the Italian humanist, Cataldo Parísio Sículo. D. Jorge remained in Aveiro until the death of his aunt in May of 1490. He then moved to Court about the same time his halfbrother Crown Prince Afonso was marrying Princess Isabel, daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile. Prince Afonso died in a horseback riding accident near Santarém on 13 July 1491, throwing open the Portuguese succession. Because of strong opposition to the legitimization of Dom Jorge, João II reluctantly named his first cousin and brother-in-law, Manuel, as his successor. Manuel, Duke of Beja, was Master of the Order of Christ since 1484, having succeeded his brother D. Diogo, after João II had stabbed the latter to death for treason earlier that year.

João II, both as prince and as king, had been master of the Order of Avis (since 1468) and the Order of Santiago (since 1476). At an unknown date, João II had both masterships transferred to his son and heir, Prince Afonso (1475-91). But with Prince Afonso dead, João obtained these masterships for Dom Jorge. On 29 December 1491, by the papal bull “Eximiae devotionis,” eleven-year-old D. Jorge was named master of the Orders of Santiago and Avis. Formal ceremonies were held in Lisbon’s monastery of São Domingos on 12 April 1492. Thus, when King João II died on 25 October 1495, the Orders of Santiago and Avis were under the mastership of fourteen-year-old Dom Jorge and the Order of Christ was under the mastership of twenty-six-year-old Manuel, the new king of Portugal. Though relations between D. Jorge and D. Manuel may have been awkward from the start since both had been contenders for the Portuguese throne, the relationship between the two was probably not too different than that between fifteen-year-old Manuel and King João II after that monarch had dispatched Manuel’s brother in 1484. King Manuel arranged Dom Jorge’s marriage in May of 1500 to D. Brites de Bragança, daughter of D. Álvaro and niece of D. Fernando, 3rd Duke of Bragança, whom João II had publicly executed in 1483 in Évora for treason.

Dom Jorge spent most of his life after 1500 in Setúbal (a Santiago town), located on the north estuary of the Rio Sado, not far from the Atlantic Ocean, and relatively close to Palmela (a few miles away as the crow flies), the headquarters of the Order of Santiago.

All three Portuguese military orders had both knights and clergy as members. Knights in the Order of Santiago had always been allowed to marry. But it was not until 1496 that the same privilege was granted to knights in the Orders of Christ and Avis. Allowing knights to marry opened a wide array of patronage possibilities that all three orders would use until 1834. Knighthoods in the Portuguese military orders increasingly became important status symbols. For some these symbols were coupled with financial rewards.

After becoming monarch, Manuel sought to make the Order of Christ – the Order of which he was master– the wealthiest, largest, and most prestigious of the three Portuguese military orders. Dom Jorge tried to do the same for the Orders of Santiago and Avis – especially Santiago – and during his mastership (1492 to his death on 22 July 1550), the Portuguese Order of Santiago reached its apogee in terms of prestige and the number of new knights. This study attempts to determine the names of new knights during the years Dom Jorge was master and discover their social and regional backgrounds.

It is clear that during the years that Dom Jorge was Master more new members by far entered the Order of Santiago than at any other comparable time period before 1777. During the second half of his mastership (1525 to his death) the number of new knights more than doubled from the first half.

The question –and the subject of ongoing research– is how many men became knights in the Order of Santiago during the mastership of Dom Jorge? Before trying to answer this question, it is important to discuss the process of becoming a knight of Santiago and the sources available to determine as closely as possible the number of new knights that entered between 1492-1550.

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