|San Raimundo de Fitero|
This made for a magnificent fighting force indeed and in their first battles against the Arab and North African invaders, they proved themselves well worth their keep, winning decisive victories in engagement after engagement. In fact, they were so successful that the neighboring King of Aragon called on them for help in defending his own lands. Yet, this was a long and arduous war that was to know many setbacks as well as victories. The lands that were given as a reward for their many battles won soon became imperiled and divided due to a family dispute between the Castile and Leon branches of the Royal House of Ivrea. Then came the greatest disaster which was a renewed, fierce Muslim invasion by the Almohads of Morocco. The Almohad Caliphate overthrew and supplanted the previous Almoravid dynasty and by 1172 came to rule all of the Islamic areas of the Iberian Peninsula with fundamentalist zeal. At the Battle of Alarcos in 1195 the fortress of Calatrava fell to the Almohads and the order was almost wiped out completely. Those living in the Kingdom of Aragon tried to take charge and set up their own Grand Master but this was objected to by the remnant in Castile so that, while the Castilian knights of Calatrava sheltered and reformed in the Cistercian monasteries where they took refuge, the leader of the knights in Aragon, while not permitted to be Grand Master, was elevated to the status of Grand Commander for Aragon.
|Knight of the Order of Calatrava|
When other important cities, including Seville, were retaken, King Alfonso X of Castile was feeling so triumphant that he began to plan for a campaign eastward to restore the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem with his Spanish knights. The Order of Calatrava was respected, militarily powerful, largely independent of the local government and quite wealthy with extensive lands of its own. However, these strengths also made them a prize to be fought over and in 1296 an internal dispute broke out with two rival Grand Masters fighting for leadership of the order. By the early years of the Fourteenth Century it became noticeable that the zeal and piety of the early knights had been dissipated by greed and ambition. Plots and intrigues started to be commonplace with rival leaders or factions allying with the secular powers in various power plays. This ultimately resulted in the Kings of Castile becoming ever more involved with the leadership of the order, ultimately forcing the election of the candidate of their choosing to be Grand Master. One was even set to marry Queen Isabella I of Castile until his death prevented it.
|Rodrigo Telles Giron|
With the expulsion of the last Islamic stronghold in Spain, King Ferdinand of Aragon took control of the Order of Calatrava himself and this was approved by Pope Innocent VIII. By 1540 Pope Paul III removed the vow of celibacy for the knights, replacing it with a vow of conjugal fidelity which greatly changed the nature of the order which began to become increasingly less military-religious and more of an honorary and secular. With the 800-year “Reconquista” having ended in triumph, the knights had lost their original reason for existing. The vow of poverty was later removed by Pope Julius III and though King Philip IV, in 1652, charged with Spanish orders with defending the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, it was clear that the military character of the order was a thing of the past. They became restricted to the aristocracy and upper class with the last thing close to military action being undertaken by them was a call for assistance in suppressing the 1640-50 Catalan rebellion during which time the Order of Calatrava did not participate directly, consisting mostly of wealthy, older men and not young warriors, the order funded the arming and outfitting of an army regiment, along with the other Spanish orders of knighthood, which thus became known as the “Regimen of the Orders”.
|King Alfonso XIII|