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Wolfram Drews is the head researcher of the "cluster of excellence" "Religion and politics in the modern and pre-modern world", based at the University of Münster, in Germany. Within this cluster, he intends to develop a particular research addressing the fraught relationships between monarchical rulers and religious confraternities. Professor Drews invited a small number of international specialists to build this research, and we are meeting in Münster in mid November.

When Wolfram Drews, from the University of Münster, invited me to participate in his research group on Religion and Politics in the Modern and Pre-Modern World, I did not hesitate a second before accepting. He knew my book, Order and Chivalry, and wanted me to contribute my research on the Order of the Sash. Indeed, two chapters of that book are devoted to this monarchical order of chivalry from the 14th century.

I first became interested in the Order of the Sash in 1992, while I was doing my doctoral studies in Paris. During a venatio codicum to the Bibliothèque Nationale with my friend Jeremy Lawrance, I ordered the manuscript 33 from the fonds espagnol, a thin folio-sized parchment, with a 14th or early 15th century binding, that contains the ruins of a semi-completed, unfinished, sent to the world before its time, regulations of an Order of the Sash –or, in Spanish, Orden de la Banda. I transcribed the strange manuscript, and ordered a microfilm for my records. I think Jeremy –who was, and still is, one of my favorite scholars in the world– was quite happy with the results of our venatio. I believe he spent the hours flipping over the pages of a thick folio-sized Lancillotto.

It took me many years to come back to the microfilm and the transcription. I had included some comments on the Order of the Sash in other publications, and in particular in my first book, El debate sobre la caballería en el siglo XV (1996), mostly accepting what others had said about the manuscript and even about the Order itself. The bibliography is far from being very large, and the most important pieces are just a few, like Georges Daumet article from 1923 or Ceballos-Escalera y Gila‘s edition of the text (accompanied with a very debatable introduction), with the high peak of D’Arcy Boulton’s book of 1986, The Knights of the Crown, in which he studied most of the most important monarchical orders of chivalry during the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe1.

I did not pick it up were I left. I rekindled my interest on the Order of the Sash at the same time that I was also looking at other congregations, fraternities, and brotherhoods that, partaking of knightly discourses and aspirations, were nonetheless composed of merchants, lawyers, and otherwise prominent bourgeois people from cities across the Iberian Peninsula and Europe2. My interest was –and is– much less about Monarchy and Nobility, than about the emergence of a bourgeoisie and the reasons why urban dwellers devoted to the exercise of the law, to wholesale trade, or (less frequently) to their artisan workshops, were so interested in forming all kinds of knightly congregations in some very important and some less important cities.

Order and Chivalry is therefore not about knightly orders in the traditional sense of nobiliary congregations. It is about the complex set of public hopes raised among both citizens and noblemen by the possibility of becoming part of an extremely prestigious, always emerging, and highly regarded ordo, known as “knighthood” or “chivalry”, whose main characteristic is that it can be almost endlessly politically and legally redefined without losing its relevance in the theories and practices of power. What I tried to explain in my first book was that “chivalry” was only the abbreviation of an extraordinary debate on political organization and jurisdictional issues. In this book I addressed the question from the vantage point of the citizens, rather than from that of the nobility, but stressing that monarchs understood the power that knightly brotherhoods –even non-noble brotherhoods– could have for the purpose of instituting a more modern, and also more centralized monarchical jurisdiction.

I begun the actual redaction of that book in 2005, I finished it in 2007, submitted it, and published in Spanish and in English in 2009 and 2010. After that, I did not write one single article about it (I had not before, either), and besides a couple of talks, I more or less considered the project to be finished. I was eager to work on something else entirely different. But I wrote my PhD dissertation on “Chivalry”, I have published many articles on “Chivalry”, and this book, which also had the word “Chivalry” in the title, was perceived as another step in my career as a “specialist in Chivalry.” So, even if I wanted to do something else, this would never go away –which is perfectly fine.

Wolfram Drews gave me the opportunity to revisit the Order of the Sash. The title I chose for my contribution could not be duller: “The Order of the Sash”. I should have called it with the name I just gave to this post, “Sash!”. It’s just more euphonic.

Prof. Drews does not want me to talk about what I have already published in my book. He wants me to address questions that delve into the relationships between religious and political discourse. He wants me to deal with theological-political problems, without ever using the phrase “theological-political problems.”

This was present in my book, but not necessarily developed. I was interested in the conceptual consequences of political-theology for the question of sovereignty, and the intervention of non-noble organizations in the debate about sovereignty.

For this talk I will dwell much more on theological-political questions, but from a different perspective. In a nutshell, I will analyze the ways in which urban and monarchical knightly organizations look at the ways in which they constitute the sacrality of their mission. This will be part of a new project that I intend to develop after I am done with my current one, and that I have tentatively called “Civil Holiness”3.

Last Updated 3 years ago


Jesús R. Velasco, « Sash! », Blogs, Columbia University | LAIC, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures (online), published on October 6, 2014. Full URL for this article

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