The Knights of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta
Grand Masters of the Maltese period
Term of Office
|The Grand Masters and short History||Photo||Coat of Arms|
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.
|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
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
|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.
THE GRANDMASTER'S TOIL TO BUILD PAOLA
|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.
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.
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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
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.
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.
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.