The participation of the nobility in the reconquest and in the military orders

The participation of the nobility in the reconquest and in the military orders

By José Augusto de Sotto Mayor Pizarro

E-Journal of Portuguese History, Vol.4:1 (2006)

Abstract:  Starting from the general framework of the Crusades and the Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, together with the involvement of the nobility in these two processes, the author seeks to clarify to what extent the participation of the Portuguese nobility – exalted by some chroniclers and literary sources – in both the Reconquest and the military orders was effectively materialized through diplomatic and genealogical sources from the 13th and 14th centuries.

Earlier studies have made it possible to conclude that, despite its adoption of the lineage system, the Portuguese nobility did not promote the exclusion of the second-born sons from the paternal inheritance. This weakens the idea that a substantial proportion of them joined the ranks of the military orders, so that it is possible that the same orders also incorporated villein-knights and members of the urban aristocracies.


When Pope Urban II made his famous speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095, exhorting Christendom to liberate the holy places in Palestine, he was far from imagining the dimension and consequences of the phenomenon to which his words were to give rise. The movement of the Crusades did in fact assume truly exceptional proportions. Above all it became a question of expansion, both in territorial terms by extending the frontiers of Christendom to the Near East, and by founding various Christian kingdoms there, and as is obvious, in human terms and in terms of the spread of faith. Yet in addition to conquest and expansion, the Crusades also gave rise to new realities and structures. Among these, one must, I believe, inevitably highlight closer contacts established between West and East, with undeniable repercussions at the economic, cultural, artistic and intellectual levels. At the level of structures, I must emphasize the creation of the Christian kingdoms in the Near East and the appearance of the military orders. Being the embodiment of the idea of the militia christi, the military orders appeared precisely within the context of the Crusades as the legitimately and canonically armed hand of Christianity.

At this level, one cannot fail to give great importance to the emblematic case of the oldest and most prestigious military order, linked even today to the principles that lay behind its now remote genesis. In fact, the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta initially appeared (in 1080) as an institution created for the lodging and the provision of hospital assistance to all those who, in their quest for redemption, made their way to the holy places of Palestine. As is well known, after the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 it was necessary to protect the crowds of pilgrims converging there from all over Europe, which gave rise to the need to create institutions that were capable of guaranteeing such protection and providing military support to the subsequent conquest and occupation of the territory.

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