nor garrisons, a deficiency that the military orders supplied, combining as they did military training with monastic stability. Alcántara was first committed (1214) to the care of the Castilian Knights of Calatrava, who had lately given many proofs of their gallantry in the famous battle of Las Navas de Tolosas against the Almohades (1212). Alonzo of Leon wished to found at Alcántara a special branch of this celebrated order for his realm. But four years later these Knights felt that the post was too far from their Castilian quarters. They give up the scheme and transferred the castle, with the permission of the king, to a peculiar Leonese order still in a formative stage, known as "Knights of St. Julian de Pereiro". Their genesis is obscure, but according to a somewhat questionable tradition, St. Julian de Pereiro was a hermit of the country of Salamanca, where by his counsel, some knights built a castle on the river Tagus to oppose the Moslems. They are mentioned in 1176, in a grant of King Fernando of Leon, but without allusion to their military character. They are first acknowledged as a military order by a privilege of Pope Celestine III in 1197. Through their compact with the Knights of Calatrava, they accepted the Cistercian rule and costume, a white mantle with the scarlet overcross, and they submitted to the right of introspection and correction from the Master of Calatrava. This union did not list long. The Knights of Alcántara, under their new name, acquired many castles and estates, for the most part at the expense of the Moslems. They amassed great wealth from booty during the war and from pious donations. It was a turning point in their career. However, ambitions and dissensions increased among them. The post of grand master became the aim of rival aspirants. They employed against one another swords which had been vowed only to warfare against the infidels. In 1318, the castle of Alcántara presented the lamentable spectacle of the Grand Master, Ruy Vaz, besieged by his own Knights, sustained in this by the Grand Master of Calatrava. This rent in their body showed no less than three grand masters in contention, supported severally by the Knights, by the Cistercians, and by the king. Such instances show sufficiently to what a pass the monastic spirit had come. All that can be said in extenuation of such a scandal is that military orders lost the chief object of their vocation when the Moors were driven from their last foothold in Spain. Some authors assign as causes of their disintegration the decimation of the cloisters by the Black Death in the fourteenth century, and the laxity which recruited them from the most poorly qualified subjects. Lastly, there was the revolution in warfare, when the growth of modern artillery and infantry overpowered the armed cavalry of feudal times, the orders still holding to their obsolete mode of fighting. The orders, nevertheless, by their wealth and numerous vassals, remained a tremendous power in the kingdom, and before long were involved deeply in political agitations. During the fatal schism between Peter the Cruel and his brother, Henry the Bastard, which divided half Europe, the Knights of Alcántara were also split into two factions which warred upon each other.
The kings, on their side, did not fail to take an active part in the election of the grand master, who could bring such valuable support to the royal authority. In 1409, the regent of Castile succeded in having his son, Sancho, a boy of eight years, made Grand Master of Alcantara. These intrigues went on till 1492, when Pope Alexander VI invested the Catholic King, Ferdinand of Aragon, with the grand mastership of Alcántara for life. Adrian VI went farther, in favour of his pupil, Charles V, for in 1522 he bestowed the three masterships of Spain upon the Crown, even permitting their inheritance through the female line. The Knights of Alcántara were released from the vow of celibacy by the Holy See in 1540, and the ties of common life were sundered. The order was reduced to a system of endowments at the disposal of the king, of which he availed to himself to reward his nobles. There were no less than thirty-seven "Commanderies", with fifty-three castles or villages. Under the French domination the revenues of Alcántara were confiscated, in 1808, and they were only partly given back in 1814, after the restoration of Ferdinand VII. They disappeared finally during the subsequent Spanish revolutions, and since 1875 the Order of Alcántara is only a personal decoration, conferred by the king for military services. See Military Orders.
De Robles, Privilegia militiæ de Alcantará a pontificibus (Madrid, 1662); De Valencia, Definiciones y establecimientos de la Orden de Alcántara (Madrid, 1602); Manrique, Annales cistercienses (till 1283) (Lyon, 1642), 4 vols. fol.; Rades y Andrada, Cronicón de las tres órdenes y caballerías (Toledo, 1572); Araujo y Cuellas, Recopilación histórica de las cuatro ordenes militares (Madrid, 1866); Hélyot, Histoire des ordres religieux et militaires, 6 vols. (Tours, 1718); De la Fuente Historia ecl. de España, 4 vols. (Madrid, 1874).
Alcántara, Saint Peter of. See Peter.
Alcantarines. See Friars Minor.
Alcedo, Antonio de, soldier, b. at Quito (Ecuador), 1755, where his father was President of the Royal Audiencia from 1728 to 1737. He selected the military career, and rose to the rank of Brigadier General in 1792, in the Spanish army. He wrote a dictionary, historical and geographical, of the West Indies, in five volumes, for which the work of Father Giovanni Coletti, S.J., "Dizionario dell'America meridionale" (Venice, 1771) was a substantial basis. The work of Alcedo was translated into English by G. A. Thompson in 1812, and that translation is looked upon by many as an improvement, whereas it in fact teems with errors from which the original is relatively free.
Alcedo, Diccionario geografico-historico de las Indias occidentales (Madrid, 1786–89); Thompson, The Geographical and Historical Dictionary of America and the West Indies (London, 1812); Beristain de Souza, Biblioteca hisp.-americana septentrional (Mexico, 1816); Mendiburu, Diccionario etc. (Lima, 1874).
Alchemy (from Arabic al, the, and Greek χημία or χημεία, which occurs first in an edict of Diocletian), the art of transmuting baser metals into gold and silver. It was the predecessor of the modern science of chemistry, for the first steps in the development of the modern science were based on the work of the old alchemists. Chemistry dates from the latter half of the eighteenth century. About this time the idea was formulated that the formation of an oxide was an additive process; that an oxide was heavier than the original metal, because something was added to it. The discovery of oxygen is often taken as the date of the birth of chemistry. It established the fact that red oxide of mercury is composed of mercury and oxygen. The lack of this seemingly simple conception gave alchemy its definite existence. From old Egyptian times men had studied the chemical properties of bodies without establishing any tangible or tenable theory. The name alchemy has been applied to the work of all early investigations. By their means were determined a vast number of facts, which were only classified and reasonably explained by the new science of chemistry. Many of the alchemists were earnest seekers after truth, and some of the greatest intellects of their time figure among them. Two motives actuated many investigators: the hope of realizing the transmutation of metals, and the search for terrestrial immortality by the discovery of the elixir vitæ. The fantastic element apparent in such desires operated to give