Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
17
ST JOHN OF JERUSALEM

shared in the disastrous defeat of Nicopolis. The invasion followed of Timur the Tatar, invited to his aid by the Eastern emperor. Sultan Bayezid, the victor of Nicopolis, was overthrown; but Timur turned against the Christians and in 1402 captured Smyrna, putting the Hospitallers who defended it to the sword. It was after this disaster that the knights built, on a narrow promontory jutting from the mainland opposite the island of Kos, the fortress of St Peter the Liberator. The castle, which still stands, its name corrupted into Budrun (from Bedros, Peter), was long a place of refuge for Christians flying from slavery.[1] Some years later the position of the order as a Mediterranean sea-power was strengthened by commercial treaties with Venice, Pisa, Genoa, and even with Egypt (1423). The zenith of its power was reached a few years later, when, under the grand master lean Bonpar de Lastic, it twice defeated an Egyptian attack by sea (1440 and 1444). A new and more imminent peril, however, arose with the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, for Mahommed II. had announced his intention of making Rhodes his next objective. The attack was delayed for twenty-seven years by the sultan's wars in south-eastern Europe; and meanwhile, in 1476, Pierre d'Aubusson (q.v.), the second great hero of the order, had been elected grand master. Under his inspiration, when in June 1480 the Turks, led by three renegades, attacked the island, the knights made so gallant a resistance that, in July, after repeated and decisive repulses, the Turks retreated. In 1503 Pierre d'Aubusson was succeeded by Aymar d'Amboise, who directed a long series of naval battles. In 1521 the famous Philippe de Villiers de l'Isle d'Adam was elected grand master, just as the dreaded sultan Suleiman the Magnificent directed his attack on Rhodes. In 1522 he besieged the island, reinforcements failed, the European powers sent no assistance, and in 1523 the knights capitulated, and withdrew with all the honours of war to Candia (Crete). The emperor Charles V., when the news was brought to him, exclaimed, “Nothing in the world has been so well lost as Rhodes!” But he refused to assist the grand master in his plans for its recovery, and instead, five years later (1530), handed over to the Hospitallers the island of Malta and the fortress of Tripoli in Africa.

The Knights in Malta.—The settlement of the Hospitallers in Malta was contemporaneous with the Reformation, which profoundly affected the order. The master and knights of the bailiwick of Brandenburg accepted the reformed religion, without, however, breaking off all connexion with the order (see below). In England, on the other hand, the refusal of the grand prior and knights to acknowledge the royal supremacy led to the confiscation of their estates by Henry VIII., and, though not formally suppressed, the English “langue” practically ceased to exist.[2] The knights of Malta, as they came to be known, none the less continued their vigorous warfare. Under Pierre du Pont, who succeeded Villiers de l'Isle d'Adam in 1534, they took a conspicuous part in Charles V.'s attack on Goletta and Tunis (1535). In 1550 they defeated the redoubtable corsair Dragut, but in 1551 their position in Tripoli, always precarious, became untenable and they capitulated to the Turks under Dragut, concentrating their forces in Malta. In 1557 Jean Parisot de la Vallette (1494-1548) was elected grand master, and under his vigorous rule strenuous efforts were made to put the defences of Malta into a fit state to resist the expected Turkish attack. On the 18th of May 1565 the Ottoman fleet, under Dragut, appeared before the city, and one of the most famous sieges in history began.[3] It was ultimately raised on the 8th of September, on the appearance of a large relieving force dispatched by the Spanish viceroy of Sicily, after Dragut and 25,000 of his followers had fallen. The memory of La Vallette, the hero of the siege, who died in 1568, is preserved in the city of Valletta, which was built on the site of the struggle. In 1571 the knights shared in the victory of Lepanto; but this crowning success was followed during the 17th century by a long period of depression, due to internal dissensions and culminating during the Thirty Years' War, the position of the order being seriously affected by the terms of the peace of Westphalia (1648). The order was also troubled by quarrels with the popes, who claimed to nominate its officials (a claim renounced by Innocent XII. in 1697), and by rivalry with the Mediterranean powers, especially Venice. In Malta itself there were four rival claimants to independent jurisdiction: the grand master, the bishop of Malta, the grand inquisitor, whose office was instituted in 1572, and the Society of Jesus, introduced by Bishop Gargallo in 1592. The order, indeed, saw much fighting: e.g. the frequent expeditions undertaken during the grand-mastership of Alof de Vignacourt (1601-1622); the defence of Candia—which fell after a twenty years' siege in 1669—under Nicholas Cottoner, grand master from 1665 to 1680; and, during the grand mastership of Gregorio Caraffa (1680-1690), a campaign (1683) with John Sobieski, king of Poland, against the Turks in Hungary, and the attack in alliance with Venice on the Morea in 1687, which involved the Hospitallers in the defeat at Negropont in 1689. The decline of the order was hastened by the practice of electing aged grand masters to ensure frequent vacancies; such were Luiz Mendez de Vasconcellos (1622-1623) and Antonio da Paula. (1623-1636) and Giovanni Paolo Lascaris (de Castellar), in 1636, who died twenty-one years later at the age of ninety-seven. The character of the order at this date became more exclusively aristocratic, and its wealth, partly acquired by commerce, partly derived from the contributions of the commanderies scattered throughout Europe, was enormous. The wonderful fortifications, planned by French architects and improved by every grand master in turn, the gorgeous churches, chapels and auberges, the great library founded in 1650, were the outward and visible sign of the growth of a corresponding luxury in the private life of the order. Nevertheless, under Raymond Perellos de Roccaful (1697-1720) and Antonio Manoel de Vilhena (1722-1736), the knights restored their prestige in the Mediterranean by victories over the Turks. In 1741 Emmanuele Pinto de Fonseca, a man of strong character, became grand master. He expelled the Jesuits, resisted papal encroachments on his authority and, refusing to summon the general chapter, ruled as a despot.

Emanuel, prince de Rohan, who was elected grand master in succession to Francesco jimenes de Texada in 1775, made serious efforts to revive the old spirit of the order. Under him, for the first time since 1603, a general chapter was convoked; the orders of St Anthony and St Lazarus were incorporated, and the statutes were revised and codified (1782). In 1782 also Rohan, with the approval of George III. established the new Anglo-Bavarian “langue.” The last great expedition of the Maltese galleys was worthy of the noblest traditions of the order; they were sent to carry supplies for the sufferers from the great earthquake in Sicily. They had long ceased to be effective fighting ships, and survived mainly as gorgeous state barges in which the knights sailed on ceremonial pleasure trips.

The French Revolution was fatal to the order. Rohan made no secret of his sympathy with the losing cause in France, and Malta became a refuge-place for the émigrés. In 1792 the vast possessions of the order in France were confiscated, and six years later the Directory resolved on the forcible seizure of Malta


  1. There is a reduction of a photograph of the castle in Bedford and Holbeche's Order of the Hospital, p. 20. The building materials were largely taken from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
  2. The great priory church at Clerkenwell in London was almost wholly destroyed by the Protector Somerset, who used the materials for his palace in the Strand. Only the great gateway, spanning St John Street, now survives above ground of the priory buildings. It is the headquarters of the revived English “langue.” Sir Join Rawson, prior of Kilmainham, the headquarters of the order in Ireland, accepted the royal supremacy and was created Lord Clontarf. In 1679 the duke of Ormonde erected the present hospital on the site of the ancient priory. The preceptor of Torphichen, headquarters of the order in Scotland, was surrendered in 1547 by the preceptor Sir James Sandilands of Calder, who was created Lord Torphichen. As “Lord of St John” he had had precedence of all the barons of Scotland, and this right—originally exercised as a spiritual peer—was retained by him and his successors.
  3. In Protestant England public prayers were offered for the success of the knights. Yet a few years later Queen Elizabeth was seeking the alliance of the sultan against Spain, on the ground of their common religion as against “the idolaters”!