Writings and essays about flamenco

Heraldry 101: The Cross of Queen Isabella – the inside story

Recent entries in this blog have focused on the great flamenco singer Manolo Caracol. An entry in another blog, David Pérez Merinero’s excellent “Papeles Flamencos” from January 24th, 2017, reveals that in 1969 Caracol received a notable honor, the Order of Isabel la Católica. It was granted by the Chief of State, who at that time was the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco.

Specifically, Caracol received the “Cruz de Caballero de la Orden de Isabel la Católica” and the blog entry goes on to say it is “within the the Royal Order of Isabel la Catolica a distinction of minor categoría (the recipients’ names are not even published in the BOE). (The blog adds “If, improbably, some reader of these pages wishes to acquire a similar decoration, they’re available on ebay for 200 euros.)”

Okay, I think Cruz de Caballero may translate as “Knight’s Cross”. In 2008, I received the Cruz de Oficial, which translates as “Officer’s Cross” — the third of six categories, and one step higher than the Knight’s Cross.

(Here’s the drill: Beyond category is the King of Spain, who is the Grand Master of the Order — that was Juan Carlos I in 2008, and is now his son Felipe V. Next up is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is the Grand Chancellor of the Order. Then we get to the First Class recipients, who are Knights of the Collar (Caballeros del Collar) — limited to just 25 people at any one time; and the Knight Grand Cross people, or Caballeros Gran Cruz; limited to 500 people at any time. Lowering ourselves to the two categories of Second Class members of the Order — first there are the Commanders by Number or Encomienda de Numero, limited to 800 lucky winners, and then the mere Commanders or Encomiendas, with no fixed limit.

Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Next is the Third Class of the awards, specifically the Officer’s Cross or Cruz de Oficial that I received. Fourth Class is the Knight’s Cross or Cruz de Caballeros. Both of these categories “enjoy personal nobility and have the privilege of adding a golden heraldic mantle to their coat of arms.” (Great. Now, where can I buy a coat of arms? For that matter, how do I start enjoying personal nobility?)

Bringing up the rear are the Fifth Class holders of the Silver Cross (Cruz de Plata) and the Sixth Class folks, who hold either the Silver Medal (Medalla de Plata) or the Bronze Medal (Medalla de Bronce). (There used to ba a Gold Medal but it was abolished long ago.)

Mine came with the requisite fancy scroll signed by then King Juan Carlos I, which is better than Francisco Franco any day. On the front it bears the legend “Lealtad Acrisolada” which means “Proven Loyalty”.

On the royal website, https://casarealdeespana.es/2016/02/08/orden-de-isabel-la-catolica/ I see the Cruz de Oficial but not the Cruz de Caballero, which might’ve been dropped or superseded.

Anyway, I was told that I should be referred to as “Ilustrísimo”, which seems to mean “very illustrious” or possibly “fully illustrated”. So far, this has not happened.

My official English-language notification said I’d been knighted by King Juan Carlos, which I happily take at face value, since an Officer is considered a Knight, but of even higher stature.

I sure hope my name appears in the BOE, whatever that is, but have my doubts.

(I got the thing for increasing American understanding and appreciation of Spanish culture – in my case, through the prism of flamenco. Seventy years ago, when I was five, my Pennsylvania Dutch and Communist father took up flamenco guitar and inflicted his practicing on me night after sleepless night until I went off to college. Sadly, I had become habituated to the racket and have been inflicting it upon myself and everyone in my vicinity for the fifty years since. I’ve spent years learning about flamenco in Spain, and talking and writing about it here in the U.S., to no apparent avail until I was notified about the Cruz – which I assumed was a very elaborate and inventive hoax until I had eliminated all the usual suspects.)

You assume I am delusional, in the grand tradition of other quixotic obsessive wannabes? Okay, check this out: http://www.flamencoexperience.com/

Better known and/or more deserving recipients include: Samuel F.B. Morse, of code fame, in 1859; Lord Mountbatten, Prince Charles’s late uncle; La Argentinita, the great Argentinian dancer (see the remarkable story of this elsewhere in this blog); Imelda Marcos and Saddam Hussein in 1974 (a vintage year for dictators); Alicia Alonso, the great Cuban ballet dancer in 1993; Celin, Pepe and Angel Romero, the “Royal family of the Spanish Guitar” in 2000; Fernando Botero, the Colombian artist; Mexican President Felipe Calderón; Jorge Drexler, the Uruguayan singer-songwriter in 2010; Montserrat Caballé; Plácido Domingo, and scores of others.

Brook Zern


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