The Knights of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta

Grand Masters of the Maltese period

 
 

 

 

Term of Office

The Grand Masters and short HistoryPhoto Coat of Arms
1530 -1534

 

Philippe Villiers de L'Isle Adam of the langue of France was elected in Rhodes on 13th November 1521.

Grand Master L'Isle Adam and his knights sailed into the Grand Harbour at Malta in the morning of the 26 October 1530 on the carrack St. Anne, to take possession of their new home. On the 13 November he renewed the oath "to observe the privileges and usages" granted by the King of Aragon and Sicily and took formal possession of Malta in Mdina, a medieval town which was the capital city, at a pompous ceremony where the Silver key to the city was surrendered to him by the Captain of the Rod

Instead of making Mdina their headquarters, the Knights preferred to establish themselves in Birgu, a small village in the entrance of the harbour, where they had their galleys at hand, in the shadow of Fort St. Angelo. As Birgu lacked the facilities required, they constructed bastions to fortify it against any assault and in the narrow streets they began to build their Auberges, one for each Langue - the construction work creating opportunities for the Maltese people. Where more convenient, they leased premises for this purpose. Each Langue began to bring in its men-at-arms, serving brothers, clerics, artificers, sea-captains, seamen and military engineers. A palace was also constructed which served the knights until the time of La Valette. They set up their infirmary in a private house until 1533, when they built an ad hoc hospital. This building today houses cloister nuns. 

The memories of Rhodes still troubled L'Isle Adam as although he should have been pleased with the transfer of the Order to Malta and the way things seemed to be working successfully, he may have been hoping that he would one day recapture his former home.  

The Order's first coinage - the Scudo, Tari, Carlino and the Grano were struck in this period. 

The defenses of Fort St. Angelo, a stronghold that still dominates Grand Harbour to this day, were enlarged and the Grand Master established himself in the fort. An existing Chapel inside the fort was enlarged and dedicated to St. Anne.

L'Isle Adam set up a sound administration, dividing Malta into two parts: one comprising the city of Notabile (Mdina), and the parishes of Naxxar, Birkirkara, Siggiewi and Zebbug - placed under the Capitano della Verga or Captain of the City; the other including Birgu, the parishes of Zejtun, Zurrieq, Qormi, Gudja and the adjoining districts - under the civil jurisdiction of a magistrate chosen by the Grand Master. This new official, who shared in the administration of the island was the first assault on the rights of the people. On 5 September he promulgated a body of laws which chiefly dealt with criminal matters. 

L'Isle Adam died on 21 August 1534 in Rabat and was buried in Fort St. Angelo

  

1534 - 1535

 

Pierino del Ponte, of the langue of Italy, from the noble Italian family of Lombriaco, in the county of Asti, Piedmont, and Bailiff of St. Euphemia in Calabria, succeeded as Grand Master on the death of Villiers de L'Isle Adam on the 26th August 1534. Del Ponte was still in Calabria when the news of his election was conveyed to him by Monsignor Bosio, then Bishop of Malta, brother of the celebrated chronicler of the Order.


After having vainly protested his unworthiness to fill the high office of Grand Master, and protracted his stay for over two months in Calabria, Del Ponte finally consented to govern the Order in Malta, where he arrived on the 10th November 1534.

1535 - 1536

 

Didier de St. Jaille, of the langue of France was Prior of Toulouse, and one of the strenuous defenders of Rhodes, was elected Grand Master of the Order on the 22nd November 1535 during his absence from the island. While at Montpellier on his way to Malta he was suddenly taken ill and died on the 26th September 1536, and was buried there in the Priory of St. Giles.

During this brief reign, the Knight Jacques Pelliquen acted as Lieutenant of the order and took important decisions in the absence of the ailing Grand Master. In fact he had decided to attack the El Haid Tower near Tripoli. The attack was carried out by 700 Maltese and Calabrian soldiers with 150 Knights - led by the Knight Bottigella. During this fierce battle the Muslim Corsair Chasse-Diable was mortally wounded, his troops defeated and the attack was a complete success.

 

1536 - 1553

 

Juan de Omedes,  of the language of Aragon, Bailiff. of Caspe, was elected, on the 20th October 1536, to succeed as Grand Master of Malta on the death of Didier de St. Jaille.

Several disastrous expeditions against the Turks took place during the reign of Omedes. The arms of the Order sustained heavy losses at Susa and Monastir, and an attack on Algiers was repulsed by Barbarossa, who at the time was King of Algiers and tributary prince of the Sultan of Turkey. The Christian army, however, was successful in rescuing Tunis from the hands of Barbarossa, and would no doubt also have succeeded in taking Algiers had the wise suggestions of Admiral Doria been acted upon. Inflated by the success of the Turkish arms, the King of Algiers besought the Sultan to proclaim war against the Knights of St. John, suggesting that the island of Malta and the neighboring stronghold of Tripoli should be taken off their hands and added to the Turkish Empire. The position of Tripoli had undoubtedly been rendered very precarious by the utter defeat the arms of the Order had sustained in their expedition against Algiers. Negotiations were speedily entered into with the Sultan Soliman and a large fleet of galleys was accordingly placed under Dragut, Governor of St. Maura, and a strong army under the command of Sinam Pacba, with orders to proceed to Malta and Gozo. The allied forces of Barbarossa and the Sultan arrived in Malta on the 16th July 1551 and marched at once to attack the city of Notabile. Vargagnon, of the language of France, was dispatched with six Knights to assist the besieged. The presence of the well known Knight inspired with the greatest courage the beleaguered inhabitants. The acclamations and the cries of joy of the people at the sight of their favourite Knight, led the Turks to think that a strong reinforcement had arrived from the Bourg. At the same time the false report that a Christian fleet had arrived for the relief of Malta was spread about, and Sinam Pacha beat his retreat from the island and tried a descent on Gozo. Galatian de Sesse, of the Langue d'Auvergne, was at the time Governor of the island. Unable to sustain a siege, he capitulated, and, together with 6,000 inhabitants, was put in chains and embarked on the Turkish galleys, which soon set sail for the coasts of Barbary.

The eyes of Sinam were now turned to Tripoli, which he eventually won from the hands of the Knights who were under the command of Governor Gaspard de Vallier. Murat Aga was invested with the title of King of Tripoli and Tagiora, he giving the right of succession to Dragut.

On the loss of Tripoli the Grand Master at once took measures to ensure the safety of Malta. A motion having been brought forward before the Council on the 8th January 1552 by Leon Strozzi, Prior of Capua, to provide for the further defense of Malta, it was unanimously carried, and as a result Fort St. Michael was built and Fort St. Elmo reconstructed.

The Grand Master, far advanced in years, died on the 6th September 1553, after reigning seventeen years.

 

1553 - 1557 

Claude de la Sengle, of the Langue of France and Grand Hospitaller, was in Rome at the time of his election as Grand Master, on the 11th September 1553. The first design of la Sengle on taking possession of his new dignity was to add to the security of the island, continually menaced by the Ottoman galleys. Fort St. Michael was enclosed by a line of bastions, and those at the Bourg, which were begun at the time of Juan d'Omedes , were now completed. A town soon rose within the new ramparts, which up to the present day is called Senglea, after its founder. A terrific cyclone played great havoc in Malta during the reign of this Grand Master. Both by sea and land the Order and the inhabitants suffered greatly. Galleys and sailing vessels which were in harbor were dashed against the shore and foundered. The munificence, however, of the Christian Princes soon supplied the Order with men, money and galleys, to make up for the severe losses that had been sustained.

Towards the beginning of 1556 six Ottoman galleys were seen approaching the island. On receiving this information the Grand Master, thinking that these vessels were but the vanguard of the armament of Soliman, ordered a general call to arms, and the defences of the island were manned. It was found out, however, that the galleys, the appearance of which had created such consternation, were a part of the fleet of Dragut, who was on his way to Tripoli to assume the reins of government with the title of King, in succession to Murat Aga, who had recently died.

At the age of sixty-three the Grand Master was taken suddenly ill, and he appointed the French Knight De La Vallette to the post of Lieutenant to the Mastership. On the 18th August 1557 De la Sengle died while at Notabile. His body was embalmed and conveyed to Fort St. Angelo, whence twelve years later it was transferred to the Conventual Church of the Order in Valletta. His heart was encased in an urn and deposited in the Carmelite Church at Notabile.

 

1557 -1568 

Jean de la Vallete Parisot, a Knight of the Langue of Provence, was proclaimed Grandmaster on 21st August 1557.  La Vallette, however, had other more threatening problems to attend to. Tripoli was one of these: It had been reconquered by the Turks and was governed by the Turkish General, Dragut. On 18th May 1565 some 138 galleys under the command of Piali' Pasha and carrying a landing force of 40,000 men commanded by Mustapha Pasha appeared off Malta's coasts and started the Great Siege of 1565. Almost four months later, on 6th September, the defeated Turkish armada left these shores. The heroic Grandmaster died on 21st August 1568. He was buried in the church of Our Lady of Victories (where the foundation stone of Valletta (Malta's capital city) was laid in 1566 by La Vallette himself).

Jean Parisot de la Vallete, of the Langue of Provence, Prior of St. Giles, was elected Grand Master, by the general assembly of the sixteen venerable electors, on the 21st August 1557. Knowing through his emissaries in Constantinople that the Sultan was preparing a vast armament to make a descent upon Malta, he at once took steps to resist an attack. The Bourg, Senglea, and Castle St. Elmo were greatly improved, ramparts were added and ditches completed. Whilst these additional defenses were being hurriedly pushed forward, a gun fired from the Castle St. Angelo on the 18th May 1565 announced that the professed enemy of Christianity was in sight of the island of Malta.

The Turkish fleet consisted of 130 galleys, 50 smaller vessels, and several transports laden with stores and ammunition, under Piali. The full military strength under the command of Mustafa Pasha consisted of 35,000 men, of whom 5,000 were janissaries. It had been the express wish of Soliman that Dragut should also take part in this expedition, to which this celebrated corsair added a further reinforcement of 1,500 Algerians. Fort St. Elmo was the first base of operations on the disembarkation of the Ottoman Army. Inch by inch did the worthy Knights dispute their ground, but, unable to withstand the overpowering strength brought to bear against them, they fell victims to the brutal rage of the Infidels. Great as was the loss sustained by the Order in the, siege of Fort St. Elmo, still greater was the slaughter wrought among the Turkish lines. For thirty four days did that fort hold out against the attacks of the Turkish Army, and it was on the 23rd June that it finally fell into their hands. Their victory was purchased at the high cost of 8,000 men, including the notorious Dragut.

During the siege of Fort St. Elmo the Order lost 200 men, mostly Maltese, and 122 Knights. Several assaults were next made by the Turks upon the Bourg and Forts St. Angelo and St. Michael, but all their attempts were fruitless, and their army repulsed with heavy losses. The invading army next turned its efforts against the city of Notabile, but the promptitude and vigour with which the Knights met the attack were such that the Turkish force was driven back with immense slaughter. Intelligence having been conveyed to the Pasha that a relieving army, sent by the Viceroy of Sicily, had landed in Malta and was advancing towards the Bourg, he immediately gave orders for his troops to embark and set sail for Constantinople. This order had no sooner been given, than information was received that the numbers of the relieving force had been greatly overestimated. He therefore decided to land 9,000 men, and at their head he marched against this new enemy. But such was the impetuosity with which this attack was repulsed, that, without striking a blow, the Turks turned and fled, unable to stand their ground. They embarked at last on their galleys on the 8th September and were soon out of sight.

Over 30,000 men, the flower of the Moslem army, perished during this memorable siege. Of the 9,000 heroes who had flocked under the banner of la Vallete, only 600 were left to share with their honored leader in the triumph that had attended his arms. Porter, the celebrated writer of " Malta and its Knights," speaking of the heroism displayed by the Maltese soldiers in this memorable siege, has in his valuable work transmitted to posterity the following words:-

"The Order were, moreover, ably seconded in their efforts by the bravery and resolution of the Maltese. It must be borne in mind that the great bulk of the soldiery was composed of the native element. Had this failed, no amount of individual heroism on the part of the Knights could, in the long run, have been successful. The Maltese have, however, wherever they have been tested, proved themselves steady and resolute soldiers, and on this memorable occasion they were not found wanting. No single instance is recorded throughout the siege in which they failed in their duty, and on many occasions (notably when the Turks attempted to destroy the stockade formed at St. Michael's) they proved themselves capable of the most devoted heroism. The history of the siege is indissoluble interwoven with that of the Maltese inhabitants, and they have just cause to remember to this hour, with pride and satisfaction, the noble deeds of their ancestors in 1565."

To this the author adds a note which shows his impartiality when dealing with the subject :-

"It is necessary to draw attention to this fact because most of the histories of the siege, having been compiled by writers in the interests of the Order, everything has generally been sacrificed to the object of adding to the glory of the fraternity. It is only by a careful study of facts that the heroism of the Maltese appears in its true light."

No sooner was la Vallete cleared of his deadliest foe than he resolved to carry out a plan which   l'Isle-Adam owing to the exhausted treasury of the Order, had been unable to put into execution. This project was to found a city which was to occupy the, entire area of Mount Sceberras, and thus render the .island safe from the ever-brooding attacks of the enemy. To make up for the deficiency of pecuniary resources and carry out this gigantic scheme, la Vallete appealed to the munificence of the Christian Princes, a request which was promptly responded to. Charles IX, King of France, contributed the handsome sum of 140,000 livres, Philip Il of Spain offered a subsidy of 90,000 livres, Dom Sebastian, King of Portugal, gave 30,000 crusadoes. The Holy Pontiff, Pius V, contributed very largely to the execution of the intended work, and, not content with subsidizing the Order most munificently, he even placed his chief engineer, Francesco Laparelli, at the disposal of the Grand Master.

On the 28th March 1566, amid the greatest enthusiasm and rejoicing, the honoured hand of la Vallete laid the first stone of the new city, which, after its founder, is still called Valletta.

"Several gold, silver and -bronze medals were deposited beneath the newly-laid stone, all bearing on the obverse the bust of la Vallete, and on the reverse of some the inscription 'IMMOTAM COLI DEDIT'; on others, 'MELITA RENASCENS.' Other medals bore the inscription, ' DEI PROPVGNATORIS SEQVENDÆ VICTORLÆ; and others represented David in the act of killing Goliath."

On the 21st August 1568, whilst the work of the new city was being carried on, Jean de la Vallete died, to the untold grief of the fraternity and of the inhabitants of the island of Malta, by whom he was held in the greatest esteem and affection

 

1568 - 1572

 

Pietro del Monte, of the langue of Italy, Prior of Capua, nephew of Pope Julius Ill, was elected on the 23rd August 1568 to fill the post of Grand Master on the death of de la Vallete. The lengthened services of del Monte and the high reputation to which he had risen, both at the siege of Rhodes and during the siege of Malta, had fully entitled him to the position which the vote of the fraternity now called upon him to occupy. His first thoughts on assuming the magisterial baton were at once bent on carrying out the reforms which his glorious predecessor had begun. The works of the new city progressed rapidly under his fostering care, and although the new residence of the Order was still unfinished, he moved the Convent from the Bourg to Valletta with great pomp and magnificence on the 18th March 1571.

The navy under the administration of this Grand Master attained a strength unparalleled in the history of' the Order. In addition to the galleys of the regular navy, a number of Knights obtained permission from their chief to fit out ships at their own expense and to cruise the waters of the Mediterranean in search of marauding vessels. Fired with ambition, they undertook several expeditions against the corsairs, returning to Malta with many valuable prizes.

In 1571 the Maltese navy once more vindicated its glorious reputation. Three galleys under the command of Pietro Giustiniani took part in the hard-fought battle of Lepanto, when the combined fleets of Christendom inflicted such an overwhelming defeat upon the Turks that the Mediterranean was practically freed from their depredations for many years.  Del Monte died on the 27th January 1572 at the advanced age of seventy six years.

 

1572 -1582

 

Jean Levesque de la Cassiere, Jean l'Evesque de la Cassiere, Chief of the language of Auvergne and Grand Marshal of the Order, was elected on the 30th January 1572 as Grand Master rendered vacant by the death of Pietro del Mont e San Savino.


La Cassiere had gained for himself a very high reputation for his dauntless bravery in saving the colours of the Order in the hard fought day at Zoara, in Africa.


During his career as Grand Master he was fated to witness very turbulent proceedings on the part of the Knights, unprecedented in the history of the Order. He strove hard to settle the countless disputes which had arisen between the Convent and the Bishop of Malta, mostly about the extent of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the latter. The matter had to be finally submitted to the Pontiff for decision, and this eventually led to the appointment of a Grand Inquisitor in Malta, a proceeding which was greatly resented by the Order. Another dispute arose in 1575 with the Republic of Venice, pertinent to the seizure of a Venetian galley laden with Jewish goods, which was captured by the Knights of Malta. This affair assumed such great proportions that the loss of the property of the Order within the territories of the Republic seemed imminent, and it was only after the intervention of Gregory XIII, then Sovereign Pontiff, and complete reparation on the part of la Cassiere, that the matter was finally brought to an amicable conclusion.


But one of the greatest sources of discord among the Knights, and of intense displeasure to the Grand Master, was the appointment, through the intrigues of the King of Spain, of the Archduke Wenceslaus of Austria to the Grand Priory of Castile and Leon and the .Bailiwick of Lora. This interference on the part of the King caused such irritation among the Castilian Knights, that they openly rebelled against this appointment, for which act of insubordination they were ordered by the Pope to publicly apologize before the Grand Master and Council. A spirit of veiled mutiny, however, reigned in the Convent, and in 1581 it broke out more powerfully than ever against la Cassiere as the alleged source of all their dissatisfaction. The French Knight Romegas, Prior of Toulouse, was elected by the mutineers to the post of Lieutenant to the Grand Master, and la Cassiere, after having been deposed from his office, was placed in close confinement in Fort St. Angelo. No sooner had the Pope been informed of this scandalous state of affairs in Malta than he at once dispatched a special envoy to enquire into the causes which led to this unfortunate insurrection, and at the same time to assume the reins of government of the Order until matters were brought to a favourable issue. Both la Cassiere and Romegas were summoned to appear before the Pontiff and personally plead their cause. La Cassiere, on his arrival in Rome on the 26th October 1581, was treated every mark of deference and respect, his entry into the city being attended with the greatest pomp and ceremony. This was done by special wish of Gregory XIII. in order to show his esteem for the Grand Master, and, as a mark of sympathy for the unwarrantable treatment he had received. Romegas, however, was treated with the greatest coolness on every side, and unable to support this blow to all his hopes and aspirations he sank beneath it and died on the 4th November of that same year. La Cassiere was most honourably acquitted of the malicious charges alleged against him, and restored to the dignity which had been so unjustly wrested from him. He did not, however, survive to resume the duties of his office. While still in Rome he succumbed on the 21st December 1581 at the advanced age of seventy eight years. His
body was conveyed to Malta and interred in the Conventual. Church of St. John the Baptist, which during his reign he had constructed at his own expense and munificently presented to the Order.
 


1582 -1595

 

Hugues de Loubens Verdalle of the langue of Provence, was elected Grand Master on the 12th January 1582. In order to show the high regard in which he held Verdalle for his personal merits Pope Gregory XIII appointed him Cardinal of St. Mary in Portico.

Verdalle was pious but worldly and he was shrewd enough to realize that it was hard for the young Knights of his days to adhere strictly to the standards of rigid monastic life. He himself found it somewhat difficult to do so. He built the princely Verdala Palace and surrounded it with a beautiful garden known as il-Buskett. He repaired and rebuilt many of Valletta's bastions and constructed two massive new ones to protect the city from the landside.

It had always been the custom on the death of a Grand Master within the Papal territories for the Pope to appoint a successor to the magisterial office. Pope Gregory XIII, however, desirous of restoring harmony amongst the members of the Order, instead of availing himself of the prerogative of appointing a Grand Master, submitted to the sixteen electors of the Order the names of three candidates, one of whom was to be selected to fill the vacant dignity; these were, Chabrillan, bailiff of Manosque, Verdale, Grand Commander, and Panisse, Grand Prior of St. Giles. The Papal mandate was acted upon without the least opposition, and Hugues de Loubenx Verdale of the Langue of Provence was elected Grand Master on the 12th January 1582.

The rule of Verdale, like that of his predecessor, was disturbed by a spirit of dissension among the Knights of the Order. A man of gentle and peace loving disposition, he did his utmost to restore a spirit of concord within the Convent, but in spite of all his efforts he was unable to quell the rebellious spirit of his brethren. Harassed by the intrigues which were continually being set afoot against him, Verdale proceeded to Rome and asked for the intervention of the Pope against his turbulent subjects. The reception of this Grand Master by Pope Sixtus V was marked by such magnificence and cordiality as to surpass the one accorded to la Cassiere. He was received in audience by the Pontiff in a public consistory in the presence of thirty eight cardinals, and the rooms in the Vatican formerly occupied by the Emperor Charles V were placed at his disposal during his stay in Rome.  In order to show the high regard in which he held Verdale for his personal merits the Pope created him Cardinal of St. Mary in Portico, in the hope that this new dignity would secure some respect for the Grand Master from the disaffected Knights. These anticipations on the part of the Sovereign Pontiff were realized for a time. On the 10th February 1588 Cardinal Verdale returned to Malta and resumed the active duties of his office until his death, which took place on the 4th May 1595, at the age of sixty-four years.

Many monuments still remain to attest the piety and munificence of this Grand Master. A convent for the Ursoline Nuns was erected in the Bourg, and in 1588 the Capuchin Fathers were presented with the beautiful convent in Floriana which Verdale had erected for this purpose. The continual dread of a Turkish invasion induced the Grand Master to strengthen the defenses of the island, and several fortifications were constructed in Gozo. A country residence which Verdale built at Rabat, and which afterwards was used by his successors, still bears his name. Two very valuable works on the history of the Order were published in the reign of this Grand Master, and although somewhat verbose and overburdened with detail, are admitted to be reliable and trustworthy sources of information.

 

1595 -1601

 

Martin Garzes, Castellan of Emposta,of the Langue of Aragon, was elected to succeed to the magisterial office on the death of Cardinal Hugues Loubenx de Verdal le on the 8th May 1595. Gentle and mild in character and zealously devoted to his Order, he happily succeeded in bringing about a peaceful termination to the numerous dissension’s which during the reign of his two last predecessors had been the cause of great discord among the Knights. The external relations of the Government were also greatly improved under the auspices of this Grand Master.


Garzes had not long occupied his new position, when the news reached him that a strong Turkish fleet, under the command of the Pasha Cicala, had received orders to leave the harbour of Constantinople for the purpose of attempting a descent on Malta. On receipt of this intelligence, preparations were at once made to resist an attack. On the 30th September 1597 the foe appeared off Gozo where a disembarkation of 2,000 men was effected by the Turks on the following day. But the bravery and determination of the cavalry of the Order, under the gallant command of Beauregard, inflicted such heavy slaughter among the Turkish lines that the remainder of the shattered force had to beat a hurried retreat and seek refuge on board their ships. Hastily setting sail, the fleet directed its course towards Algiers, which had been its real place of destination.
No events of importance marked the next few years of the rule of this Grand Master, who, on the 6th February 1601,closed his peaceful career to the grief of the whole fraternity. The third part of his personal estate he left to the Order with strict instructions to erect a fort at Gozo. Five years later the fort was built, and has ever since been known as Fort St. Martin.
 

1601 - 1622

 

Alof de Wignacourt of the langue of France,  was Grand Hospitaller of the Order at the time of his election as Grand Master of the Order on the 10th February 1601. He had joined the ranks of the fraternity in the island at the early age of seventeen, one year after the celebrated siege under La Vallete. In 1570, at the age of twenty-one, he was made Captain of the new city of Valletta and Aide de camp to the Bailiff Montgaudry, who was then Governor. He continued to hold this important office with great credit until the removal of the Convent from the Bourg to the new city. Wignacourt's subsequent successes as a naval commander raised him high among his compeers, and he had by his own unaided merits elevated himself step by step to the supreme dignity which by unanimous consent and universal acclamation he was called upon to fill on the death of Martin Garzes.


The rule of Alof de Wignacourt witnessed several brilliant naval exploits against the Turks. Successful descents were made upon Patras, Lepanto in the Morea, Lango in Rhodes, Liazzo, and Corinth, and the amount of booty which the Order reaped from these expeditions was something enormous. Infuriated by these depredations, Mahomet III, then Sultan of Constantinople, determined at all costs to assume the offensive. Death, however, cut short Mahomet's project. In 1615 a descent on Malta was attempted during the reign of Achmet II, which resulted in the Turks being defeated.


The name of Alof de Wignacourt is interwoven with the construction of one of the most useful and enduring monuments in the island. Wignacourt constructed the magnificent aqueduct which carries water from Bingemma Hills, near Citta' Vecchia, into all parts of Valletta, a distance of over nine miles. This fine aqueduct, at which over 600 men were employed for the space of five years, was completed in 1616, and cost 154,864 Maltese scudi of which 114,864 scudi were contributed by the Grand Master, and 40,000 scudi were voted by Council from the "granaries and bakery" revenue.


Whilst hunting in the grounds at Verdalle on the 27th August 1622 Wignacourt was seized with an attack of apoplexy, and lingered on to the 14th September of that year, when he died at the age of seventy-five, after governing the Order for twenty-one years, and enriching the islands of Malta with numerous important memorials of his munificence and piety.

 

1622 - 1623

Louis Mendez de Vasconcelles of the langue of Castille, Leon, Portugal, Bailiff of Acre was elected Grand Master on the 17th September 1622. . This Knight had greatly distinguished himself in several naval expeditions against the Turks, and his dauntless bravery had won for him the admiration of the fraternity. The prudence and skill which he manifested in several important missions for which he had been selected by his late chief greatly contributed to his election.

He survived his new honours only six months, and no events of importance are known to have taken place during his short rule. He died on the 7th March 1623.

1623 - 1636

 

Antoine de Paule, of the Langue of Provence Grand Prior of St. Giles, was elected as Grand Master on the death of Grand Master Louis Mendez de Vasconcelles on the 10th March 1623.


De Paule was seventy-one years of age at the time of his election, and although a Knight of noble qualities who had always won for himself the esteem and admiration of the fraternity, it could hardly be expected that at that age he could efficiently carry out the many and arduous duties attached to his high office.


An event of great importance, the holding of one of the last General Chapters of the Order, marks the reign of this Grand Master. It was one of the rules of the Order that a General Chapter was to be held every five years for the revision of existing statutes and for the addition of new ones as circumstances required. These Chapters had become so unpopular, and the authority of the Grand Master on these occasions was so difficult to uphold, that De Paule's successors, for a period of 150 years, abandoned the practice of convening an assembly over which their control was so limited. On the 11th May 1631 De Paule summoned a meeting of a General Chapter, which was the sixteenth held in the island and the ninth in the new city of Valletta. Pope Urban VIII strongly insisted that the Grand Inquisitor of Malta should from this date preside at each of these conclaves. De Paule and his Council implored the Court of Rome to alter the proceeding, which they thought to be in direct opposition to the fundamental principles of their Order, but nothing was gained. The Grand Master submitted to the pontifical decree without any further opposition, and in order to avoid any disturbance which might arise through the younger and more turbulent members of the fraternity, who had openly declared that they would resist the papal mandate, they were sent out of the island on a cruise, and the General Chapter took place during their absence. This was with one exception the last General Chapter held, as it was found impossible to convene others under similar circumstances.


During this reign several naval engagements of more or less importance took place, which swelled the treasury of the Order and tended to increase the commercial prosperity of the island.


After a severe illness, de Paule died on the 10th June 1636, at the advanced age of eighty-five, after a reign of thirteen years.


In order to replace the great quantity of deteriorated copper coins which were current at this time, the Grand Master, by an order of the 6th August 1628, caused 2,000 copper pieces, varying in value from the carlino to the picciolo, to be struck and placed in circulation in the island.


A decree of this Grand Master, of the 7th August 1631, ordained that all gold and silver coins of the value of one scudo and over were to be weighed both by those paying and those receiving them, under penalty of confiscation of the coins. This order was caused by the discovery that, much of the gold and silver in circulation had been filed by unscrupulous persons for the sake of profit.
 

THE GRANDMASTER'S TOIL TO BUILD PAOLA
Many people decided to move to Valletta when the capital city was built - this created an overpopulation problem. The same had happened in the area surrounding Vittoriosa when this was the capital city – in fact this resulted in the building of Cospicua and Senglea. However this time, for reasons of security to the fortifications, the Order of St.John did not want to issue any permits for settlements in front of Valletta’s bastions.
As a solution, Grand Master. De Paule ordered a new village to be built on the hill known as "Ta' l-Gherien" (translated literally – "Of the Caves"). This hill was nearer to the harbour than Tarxien, which was already an established village. It was an ideal place for those people who lived in villages far from their place of work. The Grand Master gave this order in 1626 - but his plan did not succeed. The people living in Valletta sustained that this new village was not protected since bastions did not surround it. Others were not willing to leave their present village, which usually was their place of birth, to go and live to a new village. The knights arrival to Malta resulted in the cities becoming more protected and so the only way to convince people to move was that their new place would be secured by fortifications. To encourage the people to go and live Grand Master de Paule built a new church dedicated to St.Ubaldesca. This saint in her living days was a member of the Order of St. John. The knights venerated her very much. The building of this church started on the 25th August, 1630 by Grand Master de Paule himself.

 

1636 - 1657 

Jean-Paul de Lascaris-Castellar,  Bailiff of Manosque, of the noble Genoese family of Vintimiglia, and a descendant of Theodore Lascaris, Emperor of Constantinople, was seventy six years of age at the time of his election on the 13th June 1636. He had joined the ranks of the fraternity in Malta under Cardinal Verdalle's rule, and was attached to the Langue of Provence.
The first aim of Lascaris on assuming the reins of Government was to endeavour to pacify the offended Prince of Palermo, Viceroy of Sicily, who, during the fierce war which was raging at the time between France and Spain, had forbidden the exportation of grain to Malta. This step was taken by the Viceroy in revenge for the sympathies and support which the preponderating French element among the Knights of St. John had shown towards France during the conflict. As Malta had always looked to the neighbouring island of Sicily for its supply of grain the Viceroy's edicts would have practically meant starvation, and it was mainly due to the tact and exertions of Lascaris that the prohibition was finally withdrawn.
Under the energetic rule of this Grand Master the navy of the Order was still further strengthened, and naval expeditions against the Turks were carried out on an even larger scale. In 1644 six galleys of the Order, under Boisboudrant, captured a large and powerful Turkish galleon whilst, cruising off Rhodes, after a fierce and sanguinary struggle with eight of the enemy's vessels. Over 600 Turks were killed in the engagement, and the Order had to deplore the loss of 120 men including their gallant captain, Boisboudrant.


Among the captives was the young Basseba, Sultana of the Imperial harem of Ibrahim, with her infant son Osmal, on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Sultana died shortly after her arrival in Malta, and the child was educated and received into the Catholic Church. He subsequently joined the Dominican Order of Preachers, under the name of Father Ottoman. and died in Malta in 1676 while Prior of Porto Salvo.


The Sultan, irritated at the loss inflicted by the Knights of Malta in the engagement off Rhodes, threatened to carry war into the enemy's country, and dispatched heralds to the Grand Master informing him of his intentions. Lascaris upon this at once took steps to resist an invasion. Knights were summoned to Malta from their commanderies abroad, and many volunteers from all over Europe hastened to the island in the hope of participating in a second siege of Malta, possibly still more glorious than that which had brought such lasting fame to la Vallette and his gallant hand of heroes in 1565. Viscount D'Arpajou brought at his own expense a reinforcement of 2,000 men, which he placed at the disposal of the Order. The gratitude of the Grand Master and of the fraternity at this generous and unexpected offer was so great that D'Arpajou was amidst acclamation elected Commander in Chief of all the forces in Malta, a post hitherto always held by the Grand Marshal of the Order. Warned of the measures which were being taken in Malta to resist the might of the Turkish Empire, Ibrahim turned his gigantic force against the Venetian island of Candia, and thither the Maltese galleys, under the command of the Prior of La Roccella, at once repaired to assist the Venetians in their hour of peril.


The prosecution of the war in Candia, in which the Knights of Malta played so brilliant a part, did not prevent the Grand Master from making further improvements in the Convent and in the defenses of the island. He engaged the celebrated Italian engineer Floriani to inspect the fortifications, and to add whatever in his opinion would be necessary to strengthen them. The several plans which this engineer submitted to the Grand Master and Council for the additional protection of the island were put into execution under Lascaris, and completed in 1721.


By a decree of this Grand Master, it was ordered, in 1650, that all books belonging to the members of the fraternity, both in Malta and in the various commanderies abroad, were not to be sold on the death of their owners, but were to be added to the library of the Order, which it was intended to open to the public. Such was the origin of the present public library of Malta, which since that date has been rapidly increasing. The gratitude of posterity will recall the name of Lascaris as the founder of one of the most useful and enduring monuments which the island possesses.


On the 14th August 1657 Lascaris died at the venerable age of ninety seven years.

 

1657 -1660

 

Martin de Redin On the death of Jean Paul de Lascaris Castellar the Convent found itself divided into two powerful factions, each of which sought by every means to secure the election of its own candidate. The first was fomented by the Prior of Navarre, Martin de Redin of the Langue of Aragon, then Viceroy of Sicily, and the other known as the faction of "the flying squadron," favoured a very powerful rival, the Grand Inquisitor Odi. The latter, in order to attain his purpose, had armed himself with a papal brief declaring that any Knight who was guilty of canvassing either directly or indirectly, or of employing promises or threats to secure his election, thereby rendered himself ineligible as Grand Master of the Order. This brief was presented with due formality to the Council by Odi's secretary, along with a declaration of the Grand Inquisitor accusing Martin de Redin of using malpractices to secure the post, and disqualifying him from competing. The exertions of Odi's party, however, were not crowned with success; De Redin was elected on the 17th August 1657, and as a last resource the Grand Inquisitor appealed to the Pontiff. The Grand Master elect, however, immediately submitted his election for the approval of the Court of Rome.

 Alexander VIII, then Pope, thinking well of this readiness to abide by the decision of the Holy See. The Pope, desirous of maintaining friendly relations with the King of Spain, who strongly favoured the cause of De Redin, confirmed the election, and furthermore directed the Grand Inquisitor to personally announce the fact to the venerable fraternity. As a mark of gratitude for the high favour shown him by the Pontiff, De Redin on assuming the contested dignity, appointed the Pope's favourite nephew, the Prior de Bichi, to one of the richest Italian commanderies, and presented him with a diamond cross worth 1,200 Maltese scudi. During his short rule of two years De Redin achieved great popularity for his zeal in procuring provisions from all parts of Italy, while Malta was labouring under great difficulties, and his conciliating policy restored perfect tranquillity within the Convent. For the better protection of the island he constructed, at his own expense, fourteen lunettes and raised a standing regiment of 4,000 musketeers.

He died on the 6th February 1660, at the age of sixty-nine.

 

1660 -1660

Annet de Clermont-Gessan  of the illustrious Auvergne family of the Counts of Clermont, was seventy-six years of age at the time he was called upon to succeed De Redin as Grand Master on the 9th February 1660. The dauntless bravery, which Gessan had shown at the capture of Mahometta in Africa in 1606, had raised him high in the estimation of the fraternity. For a long time he held the important office of confidential adviser to the Prince De Vendome, Prior of Toulouse, and on his being called to Malta in 1645 he was made Grand Marshal and subsequently Bailiff of Lyons.


He had barely occupied the supreme dignity four months when the wound, which he had received at the capture of Mahometta, opened afresh and was the cause of his death, which occurred on the 2nd June 1660.
No events of importance took place during the brief rule of this Grand Master

 

1660 - 1663

 

Raphael Cotoner, of the Langue of Aragon, Bailiff of Majorca, was raised to the high dignity of Grand Master on the death of Annet de Clermont Gessan on the 5th June 1660. The established reputation for bravery, and the religious zeal with which he was imbued, were among the principal merits which secured for Cotoner the much coveted dignity to the detriment of La Hilliére, Prior of Toulouse, for whose election the party of the "flying squadron" had unsuccessfully directed itself.


Throughout the brief period in which Cotoner's rule lasted we find him enjoying a well-deserved popularity, not only for the good administration of his office, but also for his great affability in private life.


Through his efforts further reinforcements were sent from Malta to assist the besieged Venetians in Candia. The brilliant and glorious deeds of the Maltese contingent under the Knights of St. John increased the renown in which they were held throughout Europe. In token of gratitude for this continual help, and as a mark of its appreciation for the valour displayed by the Knights throughout the siege of Candia, the Republic of Venice passed an unprecedented decree permitting members of the Order of the Knights of Malta to appear armed within the dominions of the Republic. A privilege never known to have been accorded to any of the subjects of the Republic themselves.


The prolonged war in Candia did not in any way interrupt those successful naval expeditions which, while rendering the flag of the Order a terror to the Infidel, greatly contributed to the prosperity of the island.
It was during the rule of this Grand Master that the magnificent painting of the roof of St. John's Church was begun by the celebrated artist Mattia Preti, known as the Calabrese. As a recompense for his valuable services he was received into the ranks of the fraternity.


A malignant fever cut short the great projects which this munificent Grand Master had entertained of further securing the protection of the island, and, after lingering nine days, he died on the 10th October 1663, at the age of sixty-three, after a short reign of three years
.
 

1663 - 1680

 

Nicolas Cotoner, Bailiff of Majorca, was by unanimous consent raised to the vacant dignity on his brother's death on the 23rd October 1663. Only once before in the history of the Order do we find two brothers appointed in succession as Grand Master. This was the case of the two Villarets, who followed each other as Grand Masters during the stay of the Order in Rhodes.
The many noble qualities of the deservedly popular brothers Cotoner fully justified their election to the great position of trust which they had been called upon to occupy.


Naval expeditions similar in character to those attempted under preceding Grand Masters marked the reign of Nicholas Cotoner by a series of victories in which the names of Tremincourt, Creinville, and Hocquincourt had earned undying fame. The glorious death of Tremincourt added still further to
the brilliant reputation, which he had enjoyed during his lifetime. Shipwrecked on the coasts of Barbary, he was captured by the Infidels and conveyed to Adrianople, there to bear the brunt of the Sultan's wrath. Mahomet IV. was the Chief of the Ottoman Empire at the time, and many were the alluring offers which he made to tempt the valiant Tremincourt to abjure the religion of his fathers and enter the Turkish service. Exasperated by the reiterated and obstinate refusals of the young Knight, the Sultan ordered his head to be cut off and his body flung into the sea.
The siege of Candia, which had lasted for twenty-five years, and in which the Knights of Malta bore so great and heroic a part, was brought to a close in 1670, and the Turkish flag waved triumphantly over -the ramparts of Crete. Nicholas Cotoner was fearful that the Turks, flushed with victory, would next turn their attention to Malta. In order to avenge themselves for the
ready support that the Order had accorded to the Venetians throughout the memorable siege, at once took steps to further ensure the security of the island. To this end he chained in Count Valperga, a most talented Italian engineer in the service of the Duke of Savoy. Under the direction of this engineer the stupendous fortifications known as " the Cottonera Lines " were constructed. The Grand Master laying the first stone of the bastion of St. Nicholas on the 28th August 1670, with the same pomp and ceremony as had been used by La Vallette at the dedication of the City of Valletta in 1566.


The works at Cottonera were carried on with great vigour for a period of ten years, at the end of which time, however, they were unfortunately stopped owing to lack of resources. This great work was then neglected for some thirty years and was eventually completed in 1716 by Grand Master Ramon Perellos y Roccaful. Several important additions were made to the existing fortifications of Floriana. Under the superintendence of Valperga, a new fort was erected at the entrance of the grand harbour. The fort was named Fort Ricasoli, after a Florentine Knight of that name who had contributed 30,000 Maltese scudi towards its construction.


While the Order was preparing to send strong reinforcements to share the brilliant successes of the heroic John Sobieskip, King of Poland, against the Turks, the plague broke out in Malta, and the Grand Master took all necessary precautions for the protection of the inhabitants. A lazaretto was established in the Marsamuscetto harbour, and the strictest regulations were enforced in order to stamp out the disease. 113,000 persons perished during this plague.
After successfully governing the Order for sixteen years, Nicholas Cotoner died on the 29th April 1680 at the age of seventy-five, to the great grief of the fraternity and of the Maltese people, to whom he had endeared himself by his wise administration.

 

1680 - 1690

 

Gregoire Carafa. On the death of Nicholas Cotoner the fraternity with respect to his successor set the most open cabals and intrigues on foot. One party nominated Adrian de Wignacourt, Treasurer of the Order, and nephew of the deservedly popular Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt. Another favoured Knight, whose merits fully entitled him to the much-coveted post, was Gregorio Carafa, Prior of La Roccella, and brother of the celebrated cardinal of that name. In strong opposition to these two candidates was Bertrand de Moretton Chabrillan, Prior of St. Giles and a Knight of immense wealth and gifted with a mild and genial character, which had procured for him the love and respect of the whole community.


After much deliberation, the election of the new Grand Master was finally decided. The President of the sixteen Venerable Electors united in conclave gave the news to the assembly that the Aragonese Knight, Gregorio Carafa, Prior of La Roccella, member of the language of Italy, had been elected to the supreme dignity in succession to Nicholas Cotoner.


The newly elected Grand Master, desirous of emulating his predecessor, at once devoted himself to the completion of the fortifications of Floriana and of the Cottonera Lines. Colonel Don Carlos de Grunenburg, chief engineer to the King of Spain, was consulted on the subject. The principal works, which appear to have been carried out under his superintendence were the construction of four batteries at the foot of Fort St. Angelo for the better protection of
the grand harbour, and the fortifications around St. Elmo.


Several successful naval expeditions in the Levant took place during Carafa's rule, and Emperor Leopold, in 1683, addressed a very flattering letter to the Grand. Master, thanking him most warmly for his continued efforts to protect Christendom from the incessant ravages of the Ottoman fleet.


The glorious victories which John Sobieski gained over the Turks in 1683 led to the formation of a formidable alliance against the Infidel, which was inaugurated in 1684. The principal players of this league,
which subsequently dislodged the Turks from the Adriatic, were the Pope, the Republic of Venice, and the Order of the Knights of Malta. It was by the united efforts of this powerful combination that Previsa, Santa Maura, and Coron fell into the hands of the Christians. Correa, general of the galleys and commander of the Maltese contingent, earned for himself an imperishable renown for his dauntless bravery in recapturing a fort, which had been taken by the Turks. After a most stubborn resistance he succeeded in planting on its ramparts the white-cross banner of the Order, but a musket ball, which struck him in the chest, put an end to his brilliant career. On the fall of Navarino, Napoli di Romagna, chief town of the Morea, was next to feel the power of the League, and after a month's siege the Turks lost their last stronghold in the Morea.


In 1687 eight galleys of the Order under the command of Count Heberstein, Grand Prior of Hungary, greatly contributed to the successful issue of the day at Castel Nuovo, and by this last victory of the allied fleets the Muslims were finally driven from the Adriatic.


The intelligence of the unsuccessful attempt of the allies at the siege of Negropont, in which the Order had to mourn the loss of many a valiant Knight besides a large number of the bravest of their soldiery, was the cause of the death of the Grand Master. He was attacked by a fierce and most malignant fever.

He died, on the 21st July 1690, at the age of seventy-three, after a successful reign of ten years, during which period we find the most perfect tranquillity reigning within the Convent, and Malta prospering under his fostering care.
 

1690 - 1697

 

Adrien de Wignacourt, of the Langue of France and nephew of the former Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, was Grand Treasurer of the Order at the time of his election, which was on the 24th July 1690. His first act on assuming the reins of government was to establish a relief fund for the widows and orphans of those among the Maltese soldiery who had fallen in the wars which the Order had been waging for so many years against the Turks.


In 1693 a terrible earthquake that lasted at intervals for three days, causing considerable damage and distress in the island struck Malta. The cathedral church at Notabile was completely laid in ruins, and other buildings suffered most severely. The effects of this earthquake were still more serious in Sicily, and the town of Augusta was utterly destroyed. When this sad intelligence was conveyed to the Grand Master he at once dispatched plentiful supplies, to which the wealthier Knights contributed munificently, thus alleviating the misery and destitution of the unfortunate inhabitants.


It was through the exertions of Wignacourt and the good offices of Pope Innocent XII that the dispute which since the days of Lascaris had raged between the Knights of Malta and the Republic of Genoa on the question of naval salutes was amicably settled, and as the result of this reconciliation the Genoese were once more admitted into the Order.


After a successful reign of seven years Adrian de Wignacourt died on the 4th February 1697, at the age of seventy-nine.

 

1697 - 1720

 

Ramon Perellos y Roccaful, of the Langue of Aragon and Bailiff of Negropont, was sixty years of age when he was unanimously elected to assume the magisterial office on the death of Adrian de Wignacourt on the 7th February 1697.


Still possessed of a vigorous activity, Ramon Perellos, on first assuming the reins of government introduced several important laws for the better internal administration of the Convent. In this he was warmly seconded by Pope Innocent XII, who from the very beginning of his reign had invariably shown the greatest interest in the welfare of the Order of the Knights of Malta. He restored to them one of their most important privileges, that of filling the vacant commanderies in the Langue of Italy by their own selection, which prerogative had been exercised exclusively by the Court of Rome. Nor did the conciliating policy of Innocent XII stop here: through his good offices he reconciled several disputes which had arisen between the Bishop of Malta and the Prior of the Conventual Church touching their respective authorities, and freed the Order from further annoyance, which had been caused by the pretensions of Inquisitor Delci relative to the management of
the infirmary. As a mark of recognition of the continual support that had been received at the hands of this Sovereign Pontiff, Perellos y Roccaful caused a bust of Innocent XII to be placed on the high front of the facade of the church dedicated to Our Lady of Victory, in Valletta, and an appropriate inscription was added in perpetual commemoration of the gratitude of the fraternity towards the Holy Pontiff.


The Knights throughout the reign of Perellos y Roccaful continued the naval expeditions against the Turks, which had added so much to the prosperity of the island. Although a large Turkish man-of-war of eighty guns was captured, still the necessity of augmenting the navy with vessels of larger size was greatly felt in order to be able to cope with more advantage with the Turkish fleet, which of late years had been considerably increased.


To place the navy of the Order on a surer footing, Perellos y Roccaful built at his own expense the "St. Ramon," and three more vessels of the same type were built at the expense of the treasury. The command of the new fleet was entrusted to the Knight St. Pierre. Under whose superintendence the ships had been built, and, as a result of his first cruise, he captured a Tunisian flag-ship of eighty guns, which was at once added to the navy of the Order, under the title of "Santa Croce." In 1707 this vessel, under the command of the Knight De Langon, fought its way through the midst of the powerful Algerine fleet, then blockading Oran, and was
able to disembark a strong Maltese contingent, together with a large supply of ammunition, to assist the besieged Spaniards.


In the following year a descent on Gozo was attempted by the Turks, but overtaken by De Langon, they suffered the loss of two of their vessels, and over 400 men were taken prisoners, the famous Tripolitan commander Stamboli being amongst the captives.


The gigantic armament which at this time was being prepared at Constantinople, and the uncertainty of its destination, called for preparations for the defence of the island, which were at once carried out. Under the superintendence of De Tigné and De Mondion, engineers to Louis XIV of France, fortifications were repaired and in some cases even reconstructed with marvellous rapidity. A strong reinforcement of Papal troops was placed by Innocent XII at the disposal of the Order, and many a valiant Knight journeyed from afar eager to fight under the white cross banner of the Knights of St. John. This alarm, however, proved groundless, as it was the Republic of Venice against which the Ottoman Empire had declared war.


After a long illness, Perellos y Roccaful died on the 10th January 1720, at the advanced age of eighty-four, mourned by all classes which for a period of twenty-two years had experienced the effects of his wise and successful administration.

 

1720 - 1722

 

Marc Antoine Zondadari,  of the Langue of Italy, brother of the celebrated cardinal bearing the same name, and nephew to Pope Alexander VII, was elected to succeed Ramon Perellos y Roccafull as the Grand Master on the 13th January 1720. At a very early age he had joined the ranks of the fraternity at Naples, rising with great rapidity to the rank of General of the Galleys, and was eventually appointed Master of the Horse in the household of the late Grand Master. The first important event which took place during his brief rule was the gallant capture, made by the navy of the Order, of two Turkish men-of-war, and the flagship, with 25 guns, of the Algerine navy, with a crew of 500 men. This success was soon followed by the capture of another Algerine vessel of 40 guns, and a Christian galley was retaken from the enemy after an hour of sharp fighting.


The fleet of the Order of the Knights of St. John had at this period attained such a degree of superiority that the Infidels no longer dared to ravage the Mediterranean as they had been wont to do.
The energetic and pious Grand Master added several important reforms for the administration of the Convent, and enforced to a great extent those already introduced by his predecessors.


He was the only Grand Master who earned for himself a reputation for literary ability, through his valuable work on the history of the Order. Although his tenure of office extended only a little over two years, he enjoyed great popularity within the Convent, and was much beloved by the inhabitants of Malta, who deeply mourned his death, which took place on the 15th June 1722.

 

1722 - 1736

 

Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, of the Langue of Castile, Leon and Portugal, was Bailiff of Acre at the time when he was called upon to assume the reins of government on the death of Marcantonio Zondadari on the 19th June 1722. At a comparatively early age he had joined the ranks of the fraternity, and had gradually risen to occupy the most important and trustworthy positions that were in the power of the Order to bestow.

A temporary cloud threatened to disturb the early part of De Vilhena's peaceful rule. Ali, a Turkish slave in Malta, having obtained his freedom by exchange, returned to Constantinople and persuaded the Sultan to dispatch a fleet for the capture of Malta. Alleging that it was arranged for the slaves, who actually outnumbered the population of the island, to rise at the approach of the vessels and secure possession of the town. De Vilhena, who, in accordance with the practice of his predecessors, maintained spies in Constantinople, was not long in learning of the plot, and he instantly took means to place Malta in a state of defence.  Fort Manoel was constructed upon an island in the Marsamuscetto harbour for the better protection of the harbour itself and of the fortifications on the town side. Every precaution was taken to secure the numerous slaves who had so confidently allied themselves to the treacherous designs of the Moslem Ali.

The hostile fleet appeared off Malta on the 28th June 1722. Finding his plans frustrated, the Turkish commander, Abdi Agà, contented himself with writing a threatening letter to the Grand Master demanding that he should give up all the slaves in his possession under pain of incurring the displeasure of the Sultan. The Grand Master showed his readiness to treat for the exchange of captives. The matter was placed in the hands of Monsieur de Bonnac, French Ambassador at Constantinople. Through these good offices the negotiations would have been brought to a successful close, had not the officers of the Turkish fleet, through their influence over the Sultan, frustrated all further attempts, and the subject was finally abandoned.

Naval expeditions against the Infidel corsairs continued throughout the reign of De Vilhena, and several minor successes were achieved in the waters of the Mediterranean. As a special mark of approbation of these successful exploits, Beiiedict XIII, then Sovereign Pontiff, presented the Grand Master with a silver gilt sword and a velvet casque embroidered in gold and enriched with pearls, which had been specially blessed on Christmas Day, 1729. The Grand Master caused a magnificent medal to be struck commemorating this important event in the annals of the Order.

During the fourteen years through which De Vilhena's rule lasted he had rendered himself most deservedly popular, 'both by his wise administration of office as well as by the charitable zeal which he constantly displayed for the aged poor. He died on the 10th December 1736, leaving behind him, as his epitaph tells us, "monuments of his piety, munificence, foresight, and charity."

Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena  was a wealthy and lovable but firm Portuguese aristocrat of royal descent. The inscription on his magnificent mausoleum in St. John's affirms this with the words "he was not elected but born a prince". He was a benevolent and popular ruler. To meet the demand for housing and accommodation in Valletta he laid the plans for the building of a suburb in the neighbourhood, Floriana, where his statue still stands today at a prominent place. He built Fort Manoel in Marsamxett Creek, and also the Manoel Theatre which is believed to be the second oldest theatre in Europe and is still in use today.

 

1736 - 1741

Ramon Despuig, of the Lange of Aragon, Bailiff of Majorca and Seneschal to the Grand Master, was elected to fill the magisterial dignity on the death of de Vilhena on 16th December 1736. His rule of five years presents no event of importance beyond the capture of several vessels of the Algerian navy, made by the galleys of the Order.

Gentle and mild in character, and an earnest lover of peace, Despuig died on the 15th January 1741, at the age of seventy-one years.

1741 -1773

 

Manuel Pinto de Fonseca,  of the noble Portuguese house of De Fonseca, the Langue  of Castile,  Leon and Portugal, Bailiff of Acre, was unanimously elected, on the 18th January 1741, to fill the vacant position of Grand Master on the death of Ramon Despuig.

No events of importance occurred to disturb the peace and tranquillity, which marked the first years of the rule of this wise and energetic Prince. A plot of the most dangerous character, and one that threatened the direst disaster to the Christian inhabitants of the island, was, however, discovered on the 6th June 1749. At the head of this conspiracy was the Pascha Mustafa, Governor of Rhodes, then a prisoner of war in Malta. This dignitary, while on his way to Rhodes, had been captured by the Christian slaves who manned his galley. The mutineers, after having murdered their officers and became masters of the vessel, made for Malta, where they arrived on the 2nd February 1748. The Pascha, instead of being looked upon as an ordinary prisoner of war, was treated by the Order with every mark of respect. From the moment of his arrival Mustafa devised the detestable plot of massacring the whole Christian population of Malta with the assistance of the Turkish slaves in the island, who at the time numbered about 1,500, and then annexing Malta to the Ottoman Empire. Continual promises of support from Constantinople emboldened the conspirators, and the 29th June, the festival of St. Peter and St. Paul was selected as the date on which their atrocious designs were to be carried out. As on that day the city would be practically deserted the majority of the inhabitants being away at the festivities at Notabile. Had it not been for an accidental quarrel that led to the betrayal of the plot, a wholesale massacre would have most undoubtedly ensued. The quarrel originated in a tavern where two of the conspirators had gone to endeavour to enlist as a confederate a young Maltese soldier of Pinto's bodyguard. Enraged by his continual refusals to join their ranks, they attempted to stab him. He would have been torn to pieces had it not been for the timely interference of the innkeeper, who, on learning the motive of the quarrel, lost no time in revealing this dangerous plot to the Grand Master himself. Several of the conspirators were at once seized and subjected to torture, under the extreme agonies of which a complete confession was extorted and some sixty of the ringleaders were put to death. The honest innkeeper, Cohen, was handsomely rewarded, and the faithful young soldier, Cassar, for his unflinching devotedness to his colours, was promoted from the ranks and given the command of Pinto's bodyguard, known as the " Guardia Urbana." On the anniversary of the discovery of the plot, the Knights of Malta regularly held a thanksgiving service in the church of St. John in commemoration of this providential escape from massacre.

Several naval engagements, of more or less importance, between the rival fleets, took place in Pinto's reign. In 1760 the Christian slaves that manned it captured a large Turkish man-of-war of seventy-eight guns. They made their officers prisoners, and brought the vessel to Malta laden with booty. Irritated by the loss of one of the finest vessels in the Turkish navy, the Sultan threatened to despatch a hostile fleet to Malta, but through the good offices of Louis XV of France, the vessel was purchased by the French and restored once more to the Ottoman navy.

Pinto died on the 23rd January 1773, at the advanced age of ninety-two, after governing the Order for no less a period than thirty-two years. Full of enterprise and energy this Grand Master caused several notable additions to be made in the fortifications both of Malta and Gozo, and also erected the Law Courts and several other important public edifices. Pinto claimed for himself the title of " Most Eminent Highness," and was the first Grand Master to make use of the Imperial crown. He demanded for his ambassadors at foreign Courts the prerogatives enjoyed by those representing royalty, which was granted to him by Pope Benedict XIV and a medal was ordered to be struck to commemorate the event. It is doubtful, however, whether this medal was ever really issued.

 

1773 -1775

 

Francisco Ximenes de Texada, of the Langue of Aragon, Grand Prior of Navarre and Seneschal to Pinto, was elected to succeed his late chief on 28th January 1773. The brief rule of this Grand Master marked by a succession of disorders and by a general feeling of discontent, not only within the Convent, but also among the people. Although a man who had gained a high reputation for his bravery, he rendered himself most unpopular by the arrogance of his bearing and the obstinacy of his character. Before long he became involved in so many disputes that the island was thrown into a state of the utmost confusion.

In addition to the unpopularity of the Grand Master there were  restrictions imposed upon those indulging in field sports. The suppression of various important appointments in the University and the proposed taxation of bread, were among the many causes of dissatisfaction which unfortunately led to the revolt of the 1st September 1775. This rebellion would undoubtedly have had very serious results had not the Order besought the intervention of Monsignor Pellerano, then Bishop of Malta. Ever submissive to ecclesiastical authority, the insurgents, on the appeal of their pastor, laid down their arms and tranquility was once more restored.

Ximenez died on the 9th November 1775, at the age of seventy-two, after an unfortunate reign of two years.

 

1775 - 1797

 

Emmanuel Marie de Rohan-Polduc, of the venerable language of France, Bailiff of Justice and General of the Galleys of the Order, was unanimously elected Grand Master, on the death of Francisco Ximenes de Texada on the 12th November 1775. The language of France had not a member raised to this coveted post since the death of Wignacourt in 1697.

De Rohan's first step on assuming the duties of his high office was to assemble a General Chapter, a proceeding that had been allowed to lapse for a period of 155 years. All previous statutes were revised and several beneficial measures of reform were introduced. All proceedings were  published in book form by order of this Grand Master. By his instructions a Code of Law was also drawn up, which is still quoted in the Malta Courts as a model of jurisprudence.

Bent though he was on improving the internal affairs of the Order, de Rohan at the same time lost no opportunity of ameliorating its external relations. The ancient institution of the Order of St. Anthony was incorporated with that of St. John in 1781 and its entire property transferred to the Knights of Malta. An Anglo-Bavarian language was created in 1782 in place of the language of England, which had been lost to the Order since 1538. The Elector of Bavaria endowed this new language, which comprised twenty commanderies, with the yearly income of £15,000, derived from the forfeited estates of the Jesuits in that kingdom.

At this period the Order of Malta appears to have been in a most flourishing condition. Considerable augmentation to its resources had lately been made through the negotiations of its beloved chief, who throughout his reign had secured the attachment of all classes. Following De Vilhena's example, he established an extensive fort on Point Dragut, which protects the entrance of the harbour. This fort is still known as Fort Tigne', being named after the Grand Prior of Champagne, who had borne a large portion of the expense involved in its erection.

The peaceful calm which the Order enjoyed at this time was but the forerunner of the dreadful storm  commencing with the French Revolution. After ravaging the whole of Europe it was destined to sweep the Knights of Malta from their island home, which they had so proudly and gallantly held for nearly three centuries.

On the 19th September 1792 the deadly blow was struck, when the Directory decreed that the various commanderies of the Order existing in France should be broken up and all their property confiscated by the State.

This done, the Directory turned its attention to the expulsion of the Order from Malta, in the hope of attaching the island to French territory.

The seeds of sedition and rebellion were sown amongst the Knights by secret agents from France, and later on were destined to help to bring about the downfall of the Order.

In the midst of this dark period, which presaged the inevitable destruction of an institution in whose fidelity he had placed his pride and reliance, De Rohan had a stroke of apoplexy, from which he never recovered. He died on the 13th July 1797 to the untold grief of the fraternity and of the inhabitants of Malta, whom he had wisely governed with paternal solicit for a period of twenty-two years.

 

1797

Ferdinand von Hompesch,  of the venerable language of Germany, Grand Bailiff of Brandenburg, was elected Grand Master on the death of Emmanuel Marie de Rohan-Polduc on the 17th July 1797. Born in 1744, of one of the noblest families of the Lower Rhine, Hompesch joined the ranks of the fraternity at a very early age as a page to Grand Master Pinto. In an incredibly short time rose high in the estimation of his comrades for the tact and prudence which he displayed in the discharge of the several appointments to which he had gradually been named. For twenty-five years he resided in Vienna as ambassador of the Order to that Court, after which period he was elected to fill the important post of Chief of the Anglo-Bavarian language, which had been established in 1782.


The rule of Hompesch opened brightly owing to the support which Paul I, then Emperor of Russia, gave to the Order, of which he was an enthusiastic admirer. He created a Russian Priory, which he endowed with revenue of £7,500, and which was incorporated with the Anglo-Bavarian language. For this practical proof of his friendship towards the fraternity, Paul I was accorded the title of "Protector of the Order of Malta, and decorated with the identical Grand Cross which had been worn by the celebrated  Grand Master de la Valette-Parisot.   An ambassador extraordinary to the Imperial Court of St. Petersburg was also named, and on the 27th November 1797 the Bailiff Count De Litta was formally appointed in this capacity.


The day, however, was drawing near when the Order was to be dispersed from the island-home which for nearly three centuries had witnessed scenes of its most glorious achievements, and over which its chiefs had ruled so wisely and beneficially.


Hompesch paid but scant attention to the continual warnings which he had received of the vast armament which Napoleon was preparing at Toulon, believing that the French Government had no intention of showing any hostility to the Order, and that the real destination of the fleet was Egypt. It was not long, however, before he discovered that he had lulled himself into a sense of false security.


On the 9th June 1798 the great armada appeared off Malta, comprising four hundred transports convoyed by fifteen ships of the line, fifteen frigates, seven corvettes and three armed vessels of smaller size, carrying a total strength of 54,000 men, under the command of the already celebrated General Bonaparte.


Napoleon at once sent an aide-de-camp to the Grand Master asking free entrance for his fleet into the Grand Harbour under pretence that his ships were short of water. Hompesch met this demand with a stern refusal, alleging that such an act would be a breach of neutrality, and that in virtue of the Treaty of 1798 it was only possible to admit four vessels at a time. This was the answer that Napoleon desired, as it gave the necessary pretext for a quarrel. As soon as Bonaparte received the message, he ordered the French Consul Caruson, whom he detained on board the " Orient," to write a threatening letter to the Grand Master in which he was given to understand of Bonaparte's intention was to obtaining by force what should have been granted to him by the principles of hospitality, which he knew to be the basis of the Order of the Knights of Malta.
Hompesch, however, was not the man for this crisis. Easily led by others, who were only scheming to bring about his downfall, he in this supreme moment was unable to inspire that confidence which a stronger-minded and more resolute chief would have done.


On Sunday, the 10th June, 15,000 men were landed at eleven different points, and in less than two hours the French occupied the whole outlying country. Meanwhile great confusion was everywhere. Rumours of treachery were rife, and the ingenuous populace in their blind fury committed many acts of violence against the Knights, for which the French emissaries of sedition were alone to be blamed. Several sorties were made in order to prevent the combined advance of the besieging army, but to no purpose, and at last negotiations were entered into with Bonaparte demanding a cessation of hostilities. This was granted on condition that it was only to treat for the surrender of the island. The agreement was signed on the 12th June, in virtue of which " the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem delivered " to the French Army the town and forts of Malta, renouncing " in favour of the French Republic the sovereign rights and property they possessed in the islands.


Such were, the principal terms of the capitulation, which handed over the islands of Malta to the French. Their stay, however, was only of a short duration. After two years of vicissitude the ultimate destination of the islands was determined on the 30th May 1814, in the seventh article of the Treaty of Paris, in the following terms "The Island of Malta with its dependencies will appertain in full authority and sovereignty to His Britannic Majesty."


Hompesch abdicated in 1799 and died on the 12th May 1805
 

 

 

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