1. The ancient portuguese military orders
The ancient portuguese military orders of Christ, Avis and St. James are amongst the oldest in existence, having been founded in the Middle Age.
They were founded during the time of the Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula – the Crusade of the West – in order to protect and defend the territories conquered to the moors and to promote its economic development and the attraction of population.
The Order of Our Lord Jesus Christ was founded in 1319 by king D. Dinis with Papal sanction, in order to replace the extinct Order of the Templars in the kingdoms of Portugal and of the Algarves.
The Order of Avis, known initially as the Évora Militia, was founded around 1170 after the Reconquest of the strategically placed city of Évora, having later on adopted the Rule of the Order of Calatrava from Castile.
The Order of St. James of the Sword was founded in the kingdom of Leon and became active in Portugal since 1172 being a grand commandery of the leonese-castilian order till obtaining autonomy in 1288.
These religious-military orders played an important role in the defense of the Iberian kingdoms and in the efforts of the pursuing the Reconquest contributing with disciplined and highly motivated armed contingents. With the Reconquest advancement to the south – by 1360 the moors only hold the kingdom of Granada – the structure and the orders’ objectives and structure underwent considerable changes. They acquired vast territories with seigneurial rights but its administration fell gradually under the influence and control of the Crown, namely by influencing the election of the Grand Masters.
During the XVth century, in the reign of king John I – a former Master of the Order of Avis – the orders’ masterships, becoming vacant, were given to princes of the Royal House with papal approval. This process reached a final climax in 1551 with the annexation of the Masterships of the Orders to the Crown, in perpetuum, conceded by a Bull of Pope Julius III, in the reign of king John III.
The laicization process begun in the XVth century with the relaxation fo the vows of poverty and chastity to which members of the religious orders were attached (with the exception of the Order of St. James who were allowed to marry by their Rule).
In 1789, under Queen Mary I, a Reform was made which altered the nature of the military orders thus becoming a hybrid between the lay orders of chivalry and the orders of merit created after the model set by the Order of St. Louis till the French Revolution.
In 1801, an order for ladies was created – the Order of Saint Elizabeth –the princess of Brazil, D. Carlota Joaquina being its grand master
With the arrival of the Royal Family to Brazil in 1808, avoiding becoming prisoners of Napoleon I, as it happened with the Spanish Bourbons arrested at the Castle of Valençay, new orders of chivalry were created: in 1808, the Order of the Tower and Sword to commemorate the safe arrival of the Court to Brazil and the Order of Our Lady of the Conception of Vila Viçosa, ten years later, to commemorate prince John’s accession to the throne as king John VI.
The Order of the Tower and Sword lasted from 1808-1834 in its original form, since in 1832, at the beginning of the civil war, Dom Pedro, duke of Braganza (former king Peter IV of Portugal and Emperor Peter I of Brazil), decided to reform the order founded by his father as an order of merit based on the egalitarian principles of the Constitutional Chart of 1826.
With the victory of the Liberals in 1834 the ancient military orders were extinct and its patrimony reverted to the Treasure. Curiously enough the law of 1789, as regards the lay knights, was kept untouched but with the adaptations imposed by the Constitutional Chart. The ancient military orders became orders of merit, its members having no privileges, following the path set by the Legion d’Honneur founded by the First- Consul General Napoleon Bonaparte and reformed by king Louis XVIII after the restoration in 1815.
The Order of St. James was reformed in 1862, the Order of Avis in 1894 while the order of Christ was kept untouched till its abolition by the Republic in 1910.
2. The orders under the Republic
After the proclamation of the Republic, the Provisional Government decreed the abolition of the orders of merit created during the Monarchy, with the exception of the Order of the Tower and Sword due to its prestige among the Armed Forces.
However, the revolutionary impetus having decreased and taken the participation of Portuguese Armed Forces in the Great War, the government wisely decided to re-establish the orders of the Tower and Sword, Christ, Avis and St. James in 1917-18, the President of the Republic, becoming its Grand Master.
The orders statutes underwent several modifications under the I Republic and during the dictatorship, after the coup d’état of 28 May 1926, till new regulations were approved in 1962 and which were to prevail till 1975.
After the «25th April» revolution, the orders statutes were derogated in 1975, and a regime of exception was created according to which the orders could only be awarded by the President of the Republic. In 1986, a new organic law was approved putting an end to the regime of exception created after the revolution, by re-establishing the Chancellors, the Orders’ Councils and the power of initiative from the Prime-Minister, the Government or the Orders’ Councils to propose the award of orders.
The orders were thus grouped:
I – The ancient military orders: Order of the Tower and Sword, Valour, Loylaty and Merit, Christ, Avis and St. James of the Sword.
II – The national orders: Order of Prince Henry (Infante D. Henrique) and the Order of Liberty.
III – The orders of civil merit: Order of Merit (former order of Benemerência); Order of Public Instruction and Order of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Merit.