Captain General

Captain General

Captain General (and its literal equivalent in several languages) is a high military rank and a gubernatorial title.


The term Captain General (actually "General Captain") started to appear in the 14th century, with the meaning of commander in Chief of an army (or fleet) in the field, probably the first usage of the term General in military settings. A popular term in the 16th/17th century, but with various meanings depending on the country, it became less and less used in the 18th century, usually substituted by full Generals or Field Marshals; and after the end of the Napoleonic Wars it had but disappeared in most European countries, except Spain and former colonies.

Republic of Venice

There it meant the commander in chief of the fleet in war times. It is at least documented since 1370 and was used up to the end of the republic (late 18th century)

Great Britain

First attested in the 1520's as the title for the permanent Commander in Chief of the Armies. There, while still common in the 17th century, was only given in the 18th c. to Duke of Malborough in 1702 ( and again 1714), and to the Duke of Ormonde in 1711. The Hanoverian dynasty allowed the title to lapse, being revived shortly for the Duke of York in 1799, for the last time.

At the same time, the title appeared, as in some countries, linked to the head of state in its military capacity , f.i. the King of England at least up to the mid 19th century, or the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell


Mauritius of Nassau received the title of "Captain General of the Union" and "Admiral General" in 1587, which became attached- like the Stadtholder title, and sharing its vicissitudes - to the Orange-Nassau family, till it was suppressed by the States General in 1786.


By the late XV century, the title, besides the usual meaning of Commander In Chief in the Field, was also linked to the highest commander of specialized military branches (artillery, royal guards, ...), usually signaling the independence of that particular corps.

No later than the fall of Granada (1492) the title was conferred also to officers with full jurisdiction of every person subject to "fuero militar" in a certain territorial circumscription. Those offices performed usually also as commanders for the troops and military establishments in his area, and as time passed, those duties (and the title) where mostly united to the highest civilian authority of the area. The military post of "Captain General" as highest territorial commander lasted in Spain till the early 1980's.

In the late 17th or very early 18th century, a personal rank of "Captain General" was created in the Spanish Army (and Navy) as the highest rank in the hierarchy, not unlike the Marechal de France. When wearing uniform, the Kings used captain general insignia. Perhaps the best-known holder of the rank for Americans was Valeriano Weyler, Governor General of Cuba in 1896-97 during the period preceding the Spanish-American War. Briefly abolished by the Second Spanish Republic, it was restored by/for Francisco Franco in 1938. In 1999, the rank was reserved to the reigning monarch.

Since its restoration in 1938, only Franco, Juan Carlos I (1975), Agustín Muñoz Grandes (1956) and Camilo Alonso Vega (1972) were promoted while on active duty, being the rest of the (scarce) promotions either posthumous or to retired officers.

Spain (Navy)

The evolution of the title is parallel with the army's.

During the 16th and 17th century the two main navy captain general post where "de la Armada de la Mar Oceana" y "de Galeras", roughly CIC for the Atlantic and the Mediterranean respectively.

A peculiar usage of the term Captain General arose in the Spanish Navy of the 16th century. A Capitán-General (General Captain) was appointed by the king as the leader of a fleet (although the term 'squadron' is more appropriate, as most galleon fleets rarely consisted of more than a dozen vessels, not counting escorted merchantmen), with full jurisdictional powers. The fleet second-in-command was the 'almirante' (admiral), an officer appointed by the capitan-general and responsible for the seaworthiness of the squadron. ["Spanish Galleon: 1530 - 1690" by Angus Konstam, copyright 2004 Osprey Publishing, Ltd.]

Under the Nationalist regime of 1939-1975, the only holder of the rank of "Capitán General de la Armada" was the Caudillo, Generalissimo Francisco Franco.


The title has been only sporadically used in France. During the 17th century, and for a short while, a rank between Lieutenant General and Marshal of France of this denomination was created. The king of France was the Captain General of the Army, but was represented in the field by Lieutenant Generals who commanded in his absence.

Current usage as a military rank and dignity

British Army

In the modern British Army, and the armies of various Commonwealth nations, the term Captain General is used generally when describing the ceremonial head of the artillery corps. As such, HM The Queen is the Captain General of the Honourable Artillery Company [ [ London Gazette Issue 39509 published on the 4 April 1952. Page 1 of 4] ] , Royal Regiment of Artillery [Ibid.] , Royal Canadian Artillery [ [ London Gazette Issue 39864 published on the 26 May 1953. Page 1 of 2] ] , Royal Australian Artillery and Royal New Zealand Artillery [ [ London Gazette Issue 39866 published on the 26 May 1953. Page 1 of 4] ] . The Queen is also Captain General of the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps [Ibid.] .

One other appointment of Captain General is of The Queen’s Body Guard for Scotland, Royal Company of Archers, the position currently held by David Ogilvy, 13th Earl of Airlie [ [ Royal Company of Archers on the Official Website of the British Monarchy] ] .

Royal Navy

Currently in the United Kingdom the ceremonial head of the Royal Marines is the Captain-General, currently HRH Prince Philip.


In Bolivia, the head of state is for the duration of its tenure has the rank and dignity of Captain General as head of the Armed forces, even if he/she is a civil person


If the Commander in Chief of the Army and the Head of State are reunited in the same person, he is promoted to the permanent military rank of "Capitan General". It has only happened three times in Chile's history (Bernardo O'Higgins, Ramon Freire and Augusto Pinochet Ugarte). Current electoral provisions (as of 2008) forbid the Commander in Chief becoming President.

Spanish Armed Forces

In Spain, the title Captain General ("capitán general") is the highest military rank, since 1999 reserved for the king. Assimilated to a NATO OF-11 rank (OF-10 till that year).

Administrative positions

The term "captain general" can also be used to translate Spanish "capitán general" or Portuguese "capitão-mor", administrative titles used in the Spanish Empire and the Portuguese Empire, especially in the Americas. Each was in charge of a captaincy.

In the Spanish Empire and Latin America

"Capitán General" was the military title given to the Spanish military governor of a province of the Spanish Empire, in the colonies usually also the president of the civilian audiencia (court of law).

In the Portuguese Empire

"Capitão-mor" (plural "capitães-mores"), sometimes also "capitão-donatário", was the hereditary title and office given by the Portuguese Crown to noblemen granted the rule of captaincies in the territories of the Portuguese Empire, most importantly in Terra de Vera Cruz (modern Brazil). They held absolute powers in their lands, subject only to the Crown, and were given the task of settling and colonizing their respective domains.

In Brazil, most of these settlements failed, and their nominal dominions were actually haphazardly settled by colonists and Jesuit Reductions, and ultimately the land was incorporated first into the only succeeding "capitanias", São Vicente and Pernambuco, which then became the Viceroyalty of Brazil and the Viceroyalty of Grão-Pará. The absolute power of the Capitães-Mor was continued, in Brazil, by the tradition of Coronelism that endures to this day in the northeast of that nation.

In fiction

In J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" Boromir is considered to be a captain general of Gondor.

In the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, "Captain-General" is the highest rank of the Ever Victorious Army of Seanchan, excepting only the rank of Marshal-General, which may be temporarily assigned to a Captain-General given the command of a war. In addition, Captain-General is also the title of both the leader of the Queen's Guard of Andor and the head of the Green Ajah of the Aes Sedai.

In the "BattleTech" universe, Captain-General is the title of the military and political leader of the Free Worlds League. Since the 25th century, Captain-Generals have been members of the Marik family.


ee also

* Captain General of the Church
* Captaincy, an administrative division in the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires, governed by a captain general.
* General, a description of the various general officer ranks, including the full general which is the successor to captain general.
* List of senior officers of the British Army
* Queen Elizabeth II's honorary military positions

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Captain general — Captain Cap tain (k[a^]p t[i^]n), n. [OE. capitain, captain, OF. capitain, F. capitaine (cf. Sp. capitan, It. capitano), LL. capitaneus, capitanus, fr. L. caput the head. See under {Chief}, and cf. {Chieftain}.] 1. A head, or chief officer; as:… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • captain-general — captain genˈeral noun The commander of an army • • • Main Entry: ↑captain …   Useful english dictionary

  • captain general — noun (plural captains general or captain generals) 1. : the commander in chief of an army 2. : the commander in chief of the militia of a colony or state 3. : the military governor of a colony, especially a Spanish colony …   Useful english dictionary

  • captain general — ▪ Spanish history Spanish  Capitán General,         in colonial Spanish America, the governor of a captaincy general, a division of a viceroyalty. Captaincies general were established districts that were under serious pressures from foreign… …   Universalium

  • captain-general — n. Generalissimo, general, commander in chief …   New dictionary of synonyms

  • captain general — noun A commander in chief or a ceremonial head …   Wiktionary

  • captain general — noun an honorary rank of senior officer in the British army, especially in an artillery regiment …   English new terms dictionary

  • Captain General of the Church — The Captain General of the Church (Italian: Capitano generale ) was the de facto commander in chief of the papal armed forces during the Middle Ages. The post was usually conferred on an Italian noble with a professional military reputation or… …   Wikipedia

  • Captain General Royal Marines — The Captain General Royal Marines is the ceremonial head of the Royal Marines. The current incumbent is HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.The uniform and insignia are those of a Field Marshal.This position should not be confused with that of the… …   Wikipedia

  • Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief — noun Australian History (in the first decades of settlement) the governor of one of the Australian colonies; Governor in Chief …   Australian English dictionary

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