Captain general

Captain general (and its literal equivalent in several languages) is a high military rank of general officer grade, and a gubernatorial title.


The term "Captain General" 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 and 17th centuries, but with various meanings depending on the country, it became less and less used in the 18th century, usually substituted with, simply, General or Field Marshal; and after the end of the Napoleonic Wars it had all but disappeared in most European countries, except Spain and former colonies. See also Feldhauptmann ("field captain"). Other ranks of general officer, as distinct from field officer, had the suffix "general"; e.g. major general, lieutenant general, brigadier general, colonel general.

Republic of Venice

In the Republic of Venice, 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 in 1797.

Great Britain

From 30 June to 22 October 1513, Catherine of Aragon held the titles Governor of the Realm and Captain General of the King's Forces as Queen Regent of England.[1] It was first attested in the 1520s as the title for the permanent Commander in Chief of the Armies. The title was commonly used in the 17th century. In the 18th century, the office was held by the Duke of Marlborough (1702 to 1711, and again 1714 to 1717), and by the Duke of Ormonde, 1711 to 1714, and by the Duke of Cumberland 1745.

The rank remains in Scottish use of the Royal Company of Archers.

The title appeared, as in some other countries, linked to the head of state in his military capacity. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is Captain General of the Honourable Artillery Company and also of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, an appointment similar to Colonel-in-Chief in other regiments. Her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has been Captain General Royal Marines since 1953.

New South Wales

In 1787 and 1837 the Governor of New South Wales was referred to as Captain-General.[2]


In Prussia a Generalkapitän was the commander of the castle guard and life guards.

Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, the Governor holds two different military titles. According to Article IX, section 3 of the Rhode Island Constitution, the Governor holds the titles of "captain-general" and "Commander-in-Chief" [3]


In Connecticut, the state Constitution of 1965 states that the Governor is also the Captain General of the state militia.


The 1786 Constitution of Vermont, which became effective when Vermont was an independent country and continued in effect for two years after Vermont's admission to the Union in 1791, says "The Governor shall be captain-general and commander-in-chief of the forces of the State, but shall not command in person, except advised thereto by the Council, and then only as long as they shall approve thereof."[4] The language remained in the 1793 Constitution of Vermont.


Maurice of Nassau received the title of "Captain General of the Union" and "Admiral General" in 1587, which became hereditary – like the Stadtholder title, to the Orange-Nassau family, until taken away by the States General in 1786.



By the late 15th century, the rank, 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, etc.), usually signaling the independence of that particular corps.

No later than the fall of Granada (1492) the title was conferred also on officers with full jurisdiction of every person subject to fuero militar (military obligations) in a region. Those officers usually also acted as commanders for the troops and military establishments in their area and, as time passed, those duties (and the title) were mostly united in the highest civilian authority of the area. During the period of Spanish rule in much of Latin America there were several Captaincies of the Spanish Empire. The military post of captain general as highest territorial commander lasted in Spain until the early 1980s.

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. Valeriano Weyler, Governor General of Cuba in 1896–97 during the period preceding the Spanish–American War, held the rank. Briefly abolished by the Second Spanish Republic, it was restored during the regime of Francisco Franco in 1938; Franco himself was the only officer of this rank. Later King Juan Carlos I (1975), Agustín Muñoz Grandes (1956) and Camilo Alonso Vega (1972) were promoted while on active duty; a few posthumous promotions and promotions of retired officers to this rank were also made. In 1999, the rank was reserved to the reigning monarch.


The evolution of the title in the Spanish Navy is parallel to that of the army.

During the 16th and 17th century the two main naval captain general posts were Capitán-General de la Armada de la Mar Oceana and Capitán-General 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 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.[5] One captain-general that sailed under the Spanish flag that is now well known was Ferdinand Magellan, leader of the first fleet to sail around the world.

Under the Nationalist regime of 1939–1975, the only holder of the rank of capitán general de la armada was the Caudillo, Generalísimo Francisco Franco.

Air force

The rank of captain general of the Air Force is held only by HM King Felipe VI.



The title was given, in 1508, to the commander-in-chief of the Ordenanças (the territorial army of the crown).

During the Portuguese Restoration War, after 1640, the "Captain-General of the Arms of the Kingdom", became the commander-in-chief of the Portuguese Army, under the direct authority of the War Council and the King. In 1762 the post of the captain-general was replaced by the title marechal-generalfieldmarshall-general.


Like in the Army, the Capitão-General da Armada Real (Captain-General of the Royal Navy) was the commander-in-chief of the Portuguese Navy in the 17th and 18th centuries.


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.

Kingdom of Bavaria

In the former Kingdom of Bavaria, the generalkapitän was the leader of the royal Hartschier guard. The position was associated with the highest class ranking in the Hofrangordnung (court order of precedence).[6]

Papal States

During the time of the Papal States the title of Captain General of the Church was given to the de facto commander-in-chief of the Papal Army. It existed parallel to the office of Gonfalonier of the Church, which was a more ceremonial position than a tactical military command position. Both offices were abolished by Pope Innocent XII and replaced with the office of Flag-bearer of the Holy Roman Church.

Czech, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine

The term "Captain General" as Hetman (the word from the German Hauptmann "Capitan") is a political title from Eastern Europe, historically assigned to military commanders. It was the title of the second-highest military commander (after the monarch) in 15th- to 18th and 20th-century.

Current usage as a military rank and dignity


In Bolivia, the head of state for the duration of his tenure has the rank and dignity of Captain General as head of the Armed forces, despite being a civilian.

Commonwealth realms

In the armies of various Commonwealth realms, the term Captain General (Captain-General in Canada) is used generally when describing the ceremonial head of a corps or unit. As such, Elizabeth II, the monarch of each of the realms, is the Captain General of the British Honourable Artillery Company,[7] Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery,[7][8] Royal Australian Artillery, and Royal New Zealand Artillery and Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps.[9]

One other appointment of Captain General is of The Queen’s Body Guard for Scotland, Royal Company of Archers, the position currently held by the Earl of Airlie.[10] Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is the Captain General Royal Marines, currently .


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.


In Spain, the title Captain General (capitán general) is the highest military rank, and has since 1999 been exclusively borne by the Spanish monarch (currently Felipe VI). Assimilated to a NATO OF-11 rank (OF-10 until that year).

Administrative positions

Main article: Captaincy

The term "captain general" can also be used to translate Spanish capitán general or Portuguese capitão-general, 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

In the Portuguese Empire, a capitão-general (plural capitães-generais) was a governor of a capitania geral (captaincy general), with a higher rank than a capitão-mor (captain-major) and directly subordinated to the Crown. A captaincy general had a higher category than the simple captaincies (also referred as subaltern captaincies). Sometimes, a captaincy general included one or more subaltern captaincies. The governors of the captaincies general were usually styled "governor and captain-general", with the term "governor" referring to his administrative role and the term "captain-general" referring to his military role as commander-in-chief of the troops in his captaincy.

The title capitão-general was also associated to the roles of Governor-General or Viceroy of Portuguese India and of Brazil. Thus, in Brazil, besides the captains-generals that were governors of the several captaincies general, existed a central captain-general that was the governor-general or Viceroy.

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 theatre of 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.

In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Cesare Borgia is depicted in the office of Captain General of the Papal Army, a position he did in fact hold along with Gonfalonier of the Church.

In the Ring of Fire universe (created by Eric Flint), Gustav II Adolf, King of Sweden, is granted the newly created hereditary title of "Captain General of the State of Thuringia" (later known as the State of Thuringia-Franconia) at the end of the first book, entitled '1632'. This was a recognition of his authority over Thuringian territory as an integral part of the "Confederated Principalities of Europe", a Protestant substitute for the Holy Roman Empire which he created, while allowing the Thuringian government to continue to claim that it was a republic and not a monarchy.

In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the title Captain-General of the Adeptus Custodes is given to the head of the Adeptus Custodes, the elite 10,000 genetically engineered supersoldiers who acted as the God-Emperor of Mankind's elite bodyguard, joining him in battle during the Great Crusade and Horus Heresy. During the Horus Heresy, the Captain-General was Constantin Valdor, called the "Emperor's Spear". In the aftermath, the Captain-General was granted a position as a High Lord of Terra and ultimate authority over who could approach the Golden Throne, where the Emperor was interred after his battle with the Warmaster Horus.


See also

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