In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Religio-Military Orders

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Archival Source
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Ethos
  • The Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (Hospitallers/Knights of Malta)
  • The Order of St. Mary of the Germans (Teutonic Knights)
  • The Iberian Orders
  • Lesser Military Orders
  • Later Christian Orders of Chivalry
  • The Baltic Region
  • The Iberian Peninsula

Military History Religio-Military Orders
Jonathan Riley-Smith
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 March 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0112


Christian society generated two types of religiomilitary order: military orders and Christian orders of chivalry. Some orders have survived, but they have not engaged in warfare since the end of the 18th century, although there was a new and very short-lived foundation in 1890. Military orders are orders of the Roman Catholic Church, the brothers (and occasionally sisters) of which are professed religious. Some of them had the right and duty to bear arms. Since priests are forbidden by canon law to use force, these orders were unusual in that they were run by their lay brothers the knights. Many flourished in the central Middle Ages, ranging from international corporations—the Temple, the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (the Sovereign Military Order of Malta), and the Order of St. Mary of the Germans (the Teutonic Order)—through smaller bodies like St. Lazarus, to the Iberian orders of Calatrava, Aviz, Santiago, Alcántara, Christ, and Montesa; the German Brothers of the Sword and Knights of Dobrzyn; and the tiny English Order of St. Thomas. The Iberian military orders were secularized in the late 15th and 16th centuries. They were no longer legitimated by the church, but were subject to the sovereignty of princes and their constitutional or dynastic successors. But in some of them the transformation was only partial, because elements from their religious past were retained. Although warfare was no longer their first priority, their knights continued to serve in North Africa or in Mediterranean galley fleets or in the Portuguese Empire, and their membership continued to entail public, as opposed to private, obligations that related to the defense of Christendom or the faith. These Iberian hybrids influenced a number of new creations that mirrored their nature. They included the Tuscan Order of St. Stephen (1562), which ran an effective navy for nearly two centuries, the Savoyard Order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus (1572), the French Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Lazarus (1609), the Parmese Constantinian Order of St. George (1697), the Papal Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (1847), and five Protestant orders, claiming to have inherited in one case the traditions of the Teutonic Order and in four others those of the Hospital of St. John: the Bailiwick of Utrecht (1815) and Order of St. John (1946) in The Netherlands, the Bailiwick of Brandenburg (1852) in Germany, the Most Venerable Order of St. John (1888) in the British Commonwealth, and the Order of St. John (1920) in Sweden.

General Overviews

It is hard to find historians prepared to tackle all aspects of an enormous field of study stretching from the late 11th century to the present and covering not only theaters of war from the Levant to the Baltic and the Atlantic, as well as the management of the western properties that provided support for the orders’ frontier activities. Widespread academic interest only began to be evident from the 1960s. The number of historians seriously involved in 1960 could probably have been counted on the fingers of two hands, whereas no fewer than 240 scholars contributed to Bériou and Josserand 2009. Most attention has been paid to the great international orders. Land and sea warfare has not attracted nearly as much interest as institutional, social, and economic topics. Only two works, Bériou and Josserand 2009 and Sainty and Heydel-Mankoo 2006, cover both the military orders and the Christian orders of chivalry. Demurger 2002, Forey 1992, and Prutz 1968 focus only the military orders proper, particularly the Temple, the Hospital, and the Teutonic Order, and concentrate on the period before 1312. Luttrell 1995 is an introduction to the later period. All make some reference to military activities.

  • Bériou, Nicole, and Josserand, Philippe, eds. Prier et combattre: Dictionnaire européen des ordres militaires au Moyen Âge. Paris: Fayard, 2009.

    Written by acknowledged experts, who have been recruited by the editors from all over the world, this provides a good entrée into the orders’ history.

  • Demurger, Alain. Chevaliers du Christ: Les ordres religieux-militaires au Moyen Âge (XIe–XVIe siècle). Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2002.

    This deals with the military orders in some detail before 1300, but its treatment thereafter is cursory.

  • Forey, Alan J. The Military Orders from the Twelfth to the Early Fourteenth Centuries. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1992.

    Covering the military orders in the 12th and 13th centuries, this is written by one of their leading historians and has an interesting section on military affairs, together with a good bibliography.

  • Luttrell, Anthony T. “The Military Orders, 1312–1798.” In The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades. Edited by Jonathan Riley-Smith, 326–364. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    An important chapter by a leading scholar on the orders’ history from the 14th century to the end of the 18th, including some discussion of naval warfare.

  • Prutz, Hans. Die geistlichen Ritterorden: Ihre Stellung zur kirchlichen, politischen, gesellschaftlichen und wirtschaftlichen Entwicklungen des Mittelalters. Berlin: Haude & Spener, 1968.

    The classic introduction to the history of the military orders up to the fall of the Templars in the early 14th century. Prutz was a great historian, but he was more interested in ecclesiastical, social, and economic topics than in warfare. First published Berlin: E.S.Mittler und Sohn, 1908.

  • Sainty, Guy Stair, and Rafal Heydel-Mankoo, eds. World Orders of Knighthood and Merit. 2 vols. Wilmington, DE: Burke’s Peerage & Gentry, 2006.

    DOI: 10.5118/wokm.2006

    At first sight this glossy production looks more like something for a coffee table than a library, but it is a scholarly survey of all known orders of knighthood and merit. It also contains an extensive bibliography.

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