Religious military Order in Spain.
The fortress of Calatrava, which lay near the banks of the River Guadiana northeast of Cuidad Real, in central Spain, was a Muslim fortress, which acted as a base for raiding parties attacking the Christians around Toledo after that city had been taken by Castile in 1085.
The fortress was surrendered to Alfonso VII of Castile and León early in 1147 and handed over to the Knights Templar for its defence. The Templars however saw the Holy Land as their priority; the property that they accumulated in western Christendom was intended to finance their duty to defend the Christian realm in the East.
As Almohad power expanded in Muslim Spain, the Templars returned Calatrava to Sancho III, Alfonso VII’s successor, in 1158. Diego Velasquez, a monk and former knight, who had known Sancho in their youth, persuaded Raimundo, Abbot of Fitero, to offer to defend Calatrava. The volunteers who came with Raimundo formed a religious fraternity of knights. In 1164 the Cistercians recognised this new body, the Order of Calatrava, as a part of their Order. The friars took religious vows, modified in order to enable them to fight. A Master was appointed to lead them, and they were supervised by the Cistercian Order (from 1186 by the Abbot of Morimond). Branches of the Order were formed. Those of San Julián de Pereiro, in León, and Évora, in Portugal, later became the separate Orders of Alcántara and Aviz.
In 1195, after Alfonso VIII of Castile had been badly defeated at Alarcos, the Order lost its castle and headquarters at Calatrava, and was reorganised. By 1198 it had seized a new headquarters from the Muslims, the castle of Salvatierra, which lay far deeper in Muslim territory than Calatrava itself – it is a few miles southwest of Calzada de Calatrava and some twenty-five miles south of Ciudad Real.
In this advanced position the Order continued to irritate the Muslims, materially by launching raids and spiritually by ringing their church bells. Salvatierra was lost by the Order in 1211, as Christian and Muslim Spain prepared for war. The decisive battle was fought well to the south, at Las Navas de Tolosa, and the Order consequently recovered both Salvatierra and Calatrava.
In 1213 the Muslim castle of Dueñas, close by Salvatierra, was taken by Castile and given to the Order. It became Calatrava la Nueva (New Calatrava) and the new headquarters of the Order.
The Order had estates in La Mancha, on three sides of Ciudad Real from west to northeast, and particularly concentrated to the southwest; in this area place-names like Carrión de Calatrava are a reminder of the former glory of the Order.
There were also estates in New Castile around Moratilla de los Meneros and Almonacid de Zorita, both to the east of Madrid, and castles in Andalusia, at Alcaudete and Martos, southeast of Córdoba, and Osuna, southwest.
The Order was usually open to royal influence, though Alfonso X the Wise (1252-84) found it expedient to found Ciudad Real, the Royal City, amongst the territories held by the Order in La Mancha. In late medieval Spain the city was an island of royal government in the middle of a La Mancha governed by the Order. Government was also in the hands of the Order around Alcaudete and Martos in Andalusia.
Royal influence became dominant after 1487, the year in which Ferdinand II of Aragón, husband of Queen Isabella of Castile, was elected Grand Master. From 1523 the office was permanently vested in the Crown.