The Military and Religious Orders between the XIst and the XVth century

Translation : Carole Resplandy

The period of after the year one thousand saw for one the birth of the Military and Religious Orders of Knighthood, true revolution in the evolution of the political and social structure of the States.

The primary division of the functions, born during the Carolingian time and somewhat modified with the beginning of Xst century divides the company between Orant (monks), Pugnant (warriors) and Laborant (the working labour).

These divisions will remain the operating mode of the Western society until 1129, date of the Council of Troyes which will recognize officially the existence of the Order of the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem, in short the Order of Templars which joins together two functions of this society, namely the monks and the soldiers.

The Order of the Temple was the first Order of knighthood of this new type which was recognized by the ecclesiastical and secular authorities, although other Orders already existed immediately after the first crusade, like the Order of the Hospital or the Order of Saint-Lazare.

These Orders existed like Orders exclusively religious until their militarization, which will intervene about 1149 for the Hospital and on another date unspecified for the Order of Saint-Lazare, who recovered in his ranks the leprous knights.

The History with a large H monopolizes the attentions on the crusades and the events which proceeded in the States of the Middle East. The historians very often forget to mention the crusades and expeditions which were carried out in the north of Europe, on banks of the Baltic Sea.

These crusades, intended to christianise pagan tribes began officially under the aegis of Papacy about 1147, by raids against the Slavic tribes of the shores of the Baltic.

Other military and religious Orders were created in these areas, as the Knights ‘Porte-Glaive’ in Livonia and the Order of the Knights of Christ in Dobrin (Dobrzyn) on the border between Mazovia and Great Poland.

With the passing of timed events, these two Orders were included in the Teutonic Order, founded as for it in the Middle East at the end of XIIth century, but of which the essential combat was delivered in the steppes of Eastern Europe.

The Iberian peninsula, theatre of the resounding "Reconquista" saw also the birth of Orders specific to these territories. There were the Order of Calatrava, the Order of Alcantara, the Order of Avis, the Order of Santiago, the Order of Alfama, the Order of Christ, the Order of Montesa and still some others.

The end of the crusades marked the knell of these Orders, created by them and for them. The particular organization of these Orders, independent of any secular control, having to return account only to the Holy See, gave them powers which were considered useless and dangerous by the Kings.

The Order of Templars was the first to be removed, in 1307, by the action of King de France, Philippe IV The Fair, jealous of their power. In Spain and in Portugal, the different Orders were incorporated in monarchy, thus depriving them of any independence. The Teutonic Order, builder of a powerful empire on banks of the Baltic to the detriment of the local populations, started to decline after one crushing defeat in 1410 against a coalition directed by the King of Poland Wladislaw II Jagellon. The Order of the Hospital - as for it, retreated instant of advancing Muslim troops, then the Ottomans - ending in taking refuge in Malta, where they are still present, but only as a charitable order.


More references... Bibliography
  1. "Chevaliers du Christ - Les Ordres religieux-militaires au Moyen-Age"
    Alain Demurger; Editions Seuil 2002
  2. "Les Croisades Nordiques - L'Occident médiéval à la conquête des peuples de l'Est 1100-1525"
    Erik Christiansen; Editions Alerion 1996
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