A Short History of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.


The history of the Order until its expulsion from Malta is well documented and has provided no shortage of books on the subject. What is offered here is a simplified version of the Order's history unitl 1798. Two further parts will follow providing the reader with a history up to the present day.

Where a work is cited a number of times, a shortened form of reference is given. Opt Cit. and Ibid. are deliberately omitted so as to aid researchers. The reference number plus this reference guide should quickly identify the work concerned.
in the text refers to the Old Style Calender current in Russia until 1918. The Old Style, or Julian Calender is 13 days behind the New Style or Gregorian Calender.
*1964 Constitution; Barthet, Gaston Tonna. Constitution of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, given by His Majesty King Peter II of Yugoslavia 19th March 1964, Progress Press, Russian Grand Priory, Malta, 1974.
*1968 OSJ Bulletin; Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem The Hospitallers, Knights of Malta. Bulletin Special Issue in Honor of the newly elected Lieutenant Grand master H.S.H. Prince Serge Belosselsky-Belozersky, Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem 475 Fifth Avenue, New York, USA 1968.
*1990 OSJ Deliberations; :Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller. Deliberations of the Sovereign Council of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem August 8-11, 1990. English Translation August 1990.
*Attwater; Attwater, Donald, The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, Penguin Books 1965.
*Billings; Billings, Malcolm. The Cross and the Crescent, BBC Publications, London 1987.
*Boisgelin; Boisgelin, Louis de. Ancient and Modern Malta, and the History of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, 3 Volumes bound together. G & J Robinson, London 1804.
*Bradford; Bradford, Ernle, The Knights of the Order, Dorset Press, New York, 1972.
*Brett-Crowther; Brett-Crowther M.Sc., Ph.D., D.I.C. S.Th. , Dr. Michael Richard. Orders of Chivalry under the Aegis of the Church. Lambeth Diploma of Student in Theology (S.Th.) Thesis, 1st December 1990.
*Gervers, Secunda Camera; Gervers, Michael (ed.), Records of Social and Economic History, New Series VI, The Cartulary of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem in England, Secunda Camera, Essex. The British Academy, Oxford University Press 1982.
*ICOC; Commission International Permanente D'Etudes Des Ordes De Chevalerie. Registre des Orders de Chevalerie, The International Commission for Orders of Chivalry, The Armorial, Edinburgh, 1978.
*King-Knights Hospitaller; King, Edwin J. The Knights Hospitaller in the Holy Land. Methuen & Co. Ltd. London 1931.
*King-Seals; King, Edwin, J. The Seals of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Methuen & Co. Ltd. London 1932.
*King-Statutes; King, Edwin.J. The Rule, Statutes and Customs of the Hospitallers, Methuen & Co. Ltd. London 1931.
*Pierredon 1926; Pierredon, Count Marie Henri Thierry Michel de, Histoire Politique de l'Ordre Souverain des Hospitaliers de Saint-Jean de Jerusalem dit de Malte, Paris 1926.
*Pierredon 1963 Vol. 2; Pierredon, Count Marie Henri Thierry Michel de, Histoire Politique de l'Ordre Souverain de Saint-Jean de Jerusalem, Ordre de Malte, Paris 1963 Volume 2.
*Porter: Porter, Major Whitworth. A History of the Knights of Malta, Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, London 1858.
*Riley-Smith; Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Knights in St. John of Jerusalem and Cyprus c. 1050-1310, Macmillan St. Martin's Press London 1967.
*Riley-Smith MVO; Riley-Smith Jonathan, The Order of St. John in England, 1827-1858, in; Baker, The Military Orders - Fighting for the Faith & Caring for the Sick, Variorum, Ashgak Publishing Ltd. Gower House, Croft Road, Aldershot 1994.
*Runciman; Runciman, Steven, A History of the Crusades (3 vols.), Penguin Books 4th Edition 1991.
*Sainty; Sainty, G.S. The Orders of Saint John, New York 1991.
*Seward; Seward, Desmond, The Monks of War, Eyre Methuen, 1972.
*Sire; Sire, H.J.A. The Knights of Malta, Yale University Press, New Haven, USA, 1994.
*Smith/Storace; Smith, Harrison, and Storace, Joseph E, Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Second Edition, Akker Print, Delft, The Netherlands 1977.
*Southern; Southern, R.W. Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, The Pelican History of the Church Volume 2, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1970.
*Tenison; Tenison. E. M. Short History of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem from its Earliest Foundation in AD1014 to the end of the Great War of AD1914-18, Banton 1991.
*Torr Athen; Torr, Cecil. The Hospitallers in England, Correspondence in The Athenæum - Journal of English and Foreign Literature, Science and the Fine Arts, Music and the Drama, John C. Francis, The Athenæum Press, 22 Took's Court, Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane London EC, Volume for 1890. No.s 3245 Jan 4th, page 16, 3248. Jan 25th, pages 117 and 118. 3267 June 7th, pages 737-739. 3268 June 14th, page 770.

After she had been converted to Christianity, Helena, Empress and mother of the Emperor Constantine, set out to discover Calvary and to find all the relics of the passion around 330 AD. Following the discovery of the the location, the Emperor Constantine, built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site. Thereafter a steady stream of pilgrims sought to visit the scenes of our Lord's earthly life. By the beginning of 700 many ancient centers of Christianity had been lost to Islam, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.
In 1095 the Eastern Emperor, Alexius asked Pope Urban II to appeal to the West for military help in maintaining his borders and to secure passage for pilgrims to the Holy Land. The Pope held a Council 18th November 1095 during which he appealed for a Holy War to free Palestine. Instead of military help to work under the Emperor, whole Armies set out, which ended in the establishment of Latin territories and a Kingdom in Palestine. The successful end to the first Crusade was marked by the date 11/11/1100, St. Martin's Day #2, when Baldwin of Boulogne declared himself to be the King of Jerusalem, proclaiming the beginnings of a Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Even before the Crusade, help was available to pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, usually provided by the Church. In the sixth Century the Patriarch of Alexandria, John the Almsgiver had set up and endowed lying-in and other hospitals. He gave to the poor and helped all those in trouble. No one, or no matter was too insignificant to him. After Jerusalem had been sacked in 614, he assisted refugees and sent large amounts of money and food for the relief of the city. When invasion threatened Egypt John retired to the place of his birth, Cyprus where he died 11th November 619 #3. After the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land, in 1023 the Latin Christians were allowed back into Jerusalem. Amalfi, now a district of Italy, but then an important Republic led the way in the restoration of Latin buildings. The Church of St. Maria Latina was rebuilt with a Benedictine Monastery attached to it. The same Benedictines founded or, then staffed, a Hostel for Pilgrims dedicated to St. John the Almsgiver (fd. 23rd January) #4. Although a date around 1070 is accepted by most writers for the foundation of the Hostel, some historians place the foundation of the Hospital of St. John at 1014, and other authors even earlier #5.

Prior to the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, with the knowledge that Jerusalem was going to be besieged, the Administrator, Peter Gerard #6 along with other Christians were banished from the city by the Moslem authorities. After the Crusaders' capture of Jerusalem, Gerard persuaded the new Government to make endowments to the Hospital. In 1099 Duke Godfrey, ruler of Jerusalem allowed the separation of the Hospital from the Benedictine Convent and provided it with one of his own manors. The brothers independent of the Benedictines from that time on, were known as the 'Hospitallers'. Due to the increase in the numbers of pilgrims, the Hospital and Convent were reorganised and adopted the Augustinian Rule #7. Official recognition was given by the Papacy to the Order in 1113. The Order benefited by the generosity of many Knights and Nobles and possessed properties in France, Italy and Spain. With these possessions the Order began to establish daughter houses in Europe along the pilgrimage routes.
Peter Gerard died in 1118. His successor the Frenchman Raymond de Puy fundamentally changed the direction of the Order. Hitherto it had been solely pacific in purpose. Earlier in the same year a Knight from Champagne, Hugh of Payens persuaded King Baldwin I to allow the creation of a military monastic order following the rule of St. Benedict. The first task was that of keeping the road to Jerusalem free from Bandits. Their headquarters was a wing of the Royal Palace in the Temple area. The Order took the title of 'The Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon', referred to as the 'Poor Knights' or the Templars. Almost at once the Order became independent of the Benedictines through the influence of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. They had become 'military Cistercians' #8.
It was St. Bernard that provided the theological justification for the military Orders. Killing for Christ was 'malecide not homicide'. It was the extermination of evil not murder. To kill a pagan was to win glory for Christ. It had already been established that to die in battle for the Church was to become a martyr, and immediately inherit heaven, Bernard simply pushed the doctrine along #9. Raymond de Puy followed the example of the Poor Knights, and a military arm was grafted onto the Hospitallers.
There is evidence that lay donors preferred supporting the military involvement in the defence of the Holy Land, rather than the care of the sick and wounded. The militarisation of the Order may be in part, a response to this preference #10. At the same time, the new Grand Master strengthened the pacific purpose, and added the care of the sick to its duties of providing hostels for pilgrims and crusaders #11. To assist with the changes Raymond de Puy modified the Augustinian rule in line with the Poor Knights constitution #12. At the same time and almost imperceptibly John the Almsgiver was replaced by a major Saint, St. John the Baptist (principal fd. 24th June, celebrating his birth. fd. 29th August celebrating his death). At least one authority states that St. John the Evangelist (fd. 27th December) had become the Order's Patron #13. The change of patronage can be explained by the fact that at some stage the Order had incorporated into their possessions, the adjacent Greek Monastery of St. John the Baptist, an ancient foundation. The requisitioning of Orthodox property will have owed itself to the establishment of the Latin Kingdom. In addition to absorbing into the Order the patronage of a major Saint, the early traditions belonging to the Monastery, provided a prehistory #14. The Order retained some attachment to St. John the Almsgiver, as perhaps by way of compensation, the Hospital under the Priory of Constantinople retained the Order's original dedication. The Priory ceased in 1259 with the end of the Latin Empire #15.
Both Orders, Hospitaller, and Templar, although independent and only subject to Papal jurisdiction enjoyed the full support of Baldwin II who had succeeded his cousin. They were supplying what the Kingdom most needed, a supply of regular trained soldiers. In 1136 the transition of the Hospitallers into a fully military Order was spurred on by the presentation of the important castle of Bethgeblin, south Palestine to hold against the Moslems. By the middle of the twelfth century the Hospitallers had command of several castles including the famous Krak des Chevaliers, becoming the most formidable fortress in the East. The second Crusade in 1148 had been an entire failure through a decision to seek to take Damascus. Raymond de Puy, Leader of the Hospitallers shared in the fateful decision, and the failure to take the city with the consequent loss of the Crusading Army brought an ignominious end to the Crusade. Many blamed the Hospitallers for the failure of the Crusade. In 1158 Auger de Balben succeeded Raymond de Puy and had adopted the title 'Grand Master' following the fashions of the Templars. By 1168 the Order was of sufficient strength to send 500 Knights and mercenary troops as its contribution to a crusading venture into Egypt. Despite the influx of Frenchmen into the Order, the Hospitallers retained the Amalfitan Cross (which had been the emblem of the Republic of Amalfi) which evolved to become the eight-pointed white cross (later to be known as the Maltese Cross) of the Order #16.

Originally the Order was composed of clerical and lay brethren. Pope Anastasia IV (1153-1154) allowed the Order to have their own Priests, which ensured that sacramentally they were self sufficient. Members of the Order were professed, that is they took the normal monastic vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. The poverty was only individual poverty. The Order in common with many other Orders could own possesions.
The Rules of the Order as laid down in the time of de Puy differed little from other monastic institutions. Like the Franciscans, the brothers were mendicants and could beg for alms. Meals were eaten in silence, and after Compline the Convent entered into silence. The fasts and feast of the Church were kept and the daily office said. When the Order later became a maritime power, even at sea, the Knights chanted their 'Pater Nosters' #17. The object of the Order was "the service of the poor" #18. Only later at the beginning of the thirteenth century was this modified to admit a dual vocation, with the addition of, "and the defence of the Catholic Faith". The Statutes of 1181 included the term "Brethren-at-Arms" and is the first specific mention of a separate class of military brethren #19.
As a military Order the first half of the day was spent in prayer and discussion on religious matters, and the afternoon was devoted to work, recreation and military exercises. Late afternoon saw a return to prayer, with the brethren retiring at 7pm in the Winter and 8pm in the Summer, to be roused at midnight for Matins, the first prayers of the following day #20. Gradually the Rule was supplemented by Statutes and Usances (Customs). Removed from the early days of the Order's piety and idealism, and for practical reasons (e.g. the equipment for a Knight), a certain amount of private property could be kept, but on death the property belonged to the Order. Originally the Priests of the Order had precedent over the Knights, but this was reversed by Grand Master Bertrand de Comps (1236-1239) #21. To join the Order, was to belong to the 'Religion of St. John' as opposed to the 'Religion of the Temple' or some other Order.
Despite the vocation of the Order to be servants of the poor, class distinction eventually pervaded the Order. There were two grades of Priest, those of the Convent under the Prior, who could be promoted to Commanderies, and those who were of common birth, priests-of-obedience in Europe, for whom promotion was rare #22. The Brethren-at-Arms were differentiated by noble and common birth, although there was no practical difference between them. The Knights were of noble birth by both parents. The inferior class were Serjeants-at-Arms. By the mid 1700s, these were described as Demi-Chevaliers #23. In the Knighthoods of today, which are merely ceremonial, an egalitarian distinction is made with Knights of Justice, and Knights of Grace. Lay brethren or Serving brothers were of common birth #24. The Order, in common with other Orders, had created Lay Associations, this also was divided between those of Noble birth and those not; Confraters and Donats. They could be attached to the Convent or Priory, or Commandery. If they died as associate members of the Order, they were considered at death, as if they had become professed members #25. If the Order was short of skills it would employ people to undertake various tasks, e.g. Serjeants-at-Office (a domestic servant), Priests, Doctors, and Turcopoles (native light horse bowmen) #26.
The provincial Order became governed by a series of Commanderies created for some purpose (a Village, a hospice, an estate etc.). The unit was governed by a Commander. The Commanderies were grouped into Priories, which themselves could be part of a Grand Priory, part of a Langue (a Language Grouping) of the Order, linking in to the Convent itself.

In 1187 through intrigue and jealousies amongst the Outremers (a name for those western Crusaders which had settled the Holy Land) and through lack of interest in the West over the fortunes of those who held the Christian East, sadly territories gained by the first Crusade, were lost to Islam one by one. In July 1187 Acre had been lost. By October of that year Jerusalem was lost. The Hospitallers were forced to re-establish their Convent and Hospital at their Castle at Margat. By 1188 only Tyre remained. This became a rallying point for those who had escaped. All the Secular Knights and Princes had lost everything, as their wealth existed in the territories conquered by the first Crusade. These were now lost. The Templars and the Hospitallers were cushioned from this financial impoverishment due to the vast Estates bequeathed and granted to them in Europe. The revenues enjoyed by these possessions ensured the survival of these Orders, even after Palestine had been lost.
The rulers of Europe were alarmed when news of the loss of Jerusalem and other Christian territories reached them. The Crusaders assisted King Guy of Jerusalem in laying siege to Acre. After three years in 1191 the City capitulated. The Convent and Hospital of St. John was relocated in Acre. The third Crusade managed to secure the coast from Jaffa to Tyre, and to retain the City of Antioch and its surrounds along with Tripoli. However the main objective of Jerusalem remained outside their grasp. The fourth Crusade in 1204 placed great shame on western Christianity with its wanton sacking of Constantinople. So-called Crusaders settled for glory in the conquest of the Christian East, with no help afforded to the Outremers. The events of 1204 spelt the death knell to Christian dominions in Palestine. The fifth Crusade landed in Acre in 1218. By 1221 the Crusade ground to an end with a botched attempt at conquering Egypt.
The Western Emperor, Frederick II, having failed to join in the fifth Crusade, whilst under an edict of Excommunication for that very reason #27, set out on his own Crusade, and through the Emperor's reputation and by the then weakness of Moslem Rulers, Jerusalem was surrendered to him. Frederick took residence in the old Hospital of St. John and then proceeded on Sunday 18th March 1229 to Crown himself King of Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As the agreement was by way of a Truce, with conditions attached, Jerusalem was left defenceless and was subject to repeated attacks by bandits. To the annoyance of the Templars, the Temple area was to remain in Moslem hands. In 1239 Tibald of Champagne, King of Navarre led a further Crusade in response to Pope Gregory IX with a further botched attempt at the conquest of Egypt decimating the Crusading Army. In 1240 Tibald returned to Europe having achieved very little.
The intrigues of Christian against Christian denied any effective leadership and by 1241 Acre was ruled by a Commune that was powerless to stop the Templars and Hospitallers fighting each other in the streets #28. The Military Orders had by the middle of the thirteenth century almost become republics in themselves. The Templars gained the sponsorship of the leading nobility in the Outremer and in 1243 they regained the Temple area by way of treaties with Islamic Rulers. They boasted much to the jealousy of the Hospitallers that they were rebuilding the defences of Jerusalem. However, all the alliances made with the local Moslem Rulers were futile against a wave of Krishna Turks, who in mid 1244, swept through Palestine with ten thousand horsemen, taking Jerusalem on the 11th July. The Preceptor of the restored Hospital of St. John was killed by the invading forces. Jerusalem would have to wait just short of another seven hundred years before a Christian Army under the leadership of a Knight of St. John, wrested it from Moslem rule #29. As the Turks swept through the Holy Land, Guillaume de Chateauneuf, the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John was captured, along with the Grand Master of the Templars. Both gained their freedom through large ransoms being paid.

By 1271 the Hospitallers lost their Castle Krak des Chevaliers followed in 1285 by the fall of Margat. Acre finally fell in 1291. This ended the Hospitallers claim to the Holy Land as their Headquarters. The Grand Master John de Villiers was seriously wounded but escaped. The Hospital and Convent moved to Limassol in Cyprus, which had become a base for all the refugees from the Holy Land. Pilgrims still undertook the dangerous journey to visit the Holy Land, and the Order of St. John provided ships to transport pilgrims and to combat Moslem Pirates.
In 1307 the Hospitallers gaining papal approval set about capturing the Island of Rhodes, part of the Byzantine Empire, which had become an independent state. By 1310 Rhodes had become the Order's fifth home (Jerusalem, Margat, Acre, Cyprus being the four previous Convents). Employing the Rhodian Seamen, the Knights became a maritime power. The Hospitallers had adapted and could continue in their fight against Islam, providing an ongoing purpose.
In the same period that the fortunes of the Hospitallers were looking up, the fortunes of their arch-rivals were to suffer. Nearly all the Templars had taken refuge in France, where in 1312 King Philip secured their suppression on grounds of blasphemy and heresy. The Order of 'Poor Knights' had become extremely rich, and had acted as bankers to the Crusaders. The King hoped to gain their possessions but was thwarted by Pope Clement V issuing a Bull transferring all the Templars possessions to the Hospitallers. The only surviving part of the Templars existed in the 'Order of the Knights of Christ', continuing in Portugal under King Dinis in 1318. The King was concerned that the Order of St. John did not become predominant in Portugal and gained permission from Pope Clement V, for the creation of an Order to take over the possessions of the Templars. The new title had been arrived at, by the deletion of "and of the Temple" from the original title #30.
The Order of St. John, developed into a truly sovereign Order with the Grand Master of the Order becoming a Prince of a sovereign state. The Order had evolved as a multinational force, and was divided in Langues or Tongues (Knights of the various European Languages), the first seven of which were Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Germany, England and Spain (The latter Langue divided in 1462 into two Langues , Castile and Aragon) #31. Whilst this could lead to jealousy, it tended towards efficiency in battle. The prowess of the Order at sea, was such that in no small measure they halted the islamisation of Europe. In 1314 the Order defeated a squadron of some twenty Turkish ships. In concert with the fleet of the King of Cyprus, the Order's fleet overwhelmed an Ottoman Fleet near the Island of Samos. Victory after victory at sea made them a major force in the Aegean.
In 1365 the Order was able to assist the Crusade of 1365 in a sea-borne conquest of Alexandria. The Crusaders demonstrated the same blood lust that had accompanied their forefathers in the sack of Jerusalem in 1099 and Constantinople in 1204. The only outcome of the Crusade was a return of the Soldiers of the Crusade laden with booty back to their homes. The only practical result was the destruction of the Egyptian fleet stationed at the Alexandrian Port. Those they captured at sea were destined to become slaves of the Order, manning the galley ships. In this they were no different from the slaves of the Moslems. The switch from slave master to slave could be achieved in a single encounter. The Order was able to take part in the Crusade of 1396 consisting of some 100,000 men, designed to check Moslem power in Europe, and perhaps be a springboard with which to regain the Holy Land. The Order's task was to provide ships for the Troops. The badly equipped Army encamped outside Nicopolis proved easy prey to the Turkish Sultan's light horsemen. With these losses this Crusade proved to be the last of the great international Crusades.
Occupied with the Tartars the established Moslem rulers were receptive to alliances. In 1403 the Order established an alliance with Egypt allowing them to maintain a consulate in Jerusalem and also rebuild their original Hospital in Jerusalem. They were allowed preferential trading rights and were able to assist pilgrims in their journeys. When the treaty broke down in 1441, the Order was able to defeat the Egyptian Navy. In 1444 the Egyptians sought to lay siege to Rhodes, but again were defeated.
Events soon turned for the worst, and Constantinople fell in 1453 to the Moslems. The Order was asked to become a Vassal to Sultan, but refused. A campaign by the Turks, did not begin against Rhodes until 1480. Some 50 ships, and a force of 70,000 men was pitched against Rhodes. To oppose them stood some 2,000 militia and mercenaries and some 600 Knights. Cannons by now were common in battle, and these were used to seek to reduce the battlements. The battle lasted from mid May until mid July, with the Moslem retreating owing to severe losses, for very little losses sustained by the defenders. At one point when a serious breach had been made and the Moslems poured in, panic set in, with a sudden retreat. Legend places this panic to a vision of a Cross of gold accompanied by figures of the Virgin and St. John the Baptist clad in goat skins and followed by a dazzling band of heavenly warriors. What counted was that the Order was spared, and had elevated itself in the eyes of the world. The outcome was an unprecedented period of prosperity, the Order's reputation higher than ever before. Admiration for the Order by Sultan Bajazet II led to a gift of the relic of the Hand of St. John the Baptist which had been held in the Sultan's treasury, part of the spoils of the invasion of Constantinople #32. The admiration by the Moslem authorities did not last long and in 1503 a Turkish raiding party of sixteen Galleys was soundly defeated. A further Victory was given to the Order in 1510 with the capture of an Egyptian/Turkish Armada. From these victories a myth grew up of the Order's invincibility.

In 1522 the Grand Master of the Order, Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam received a message from the Sultan, ordering him to surrender Rhodes. Assembling 700 ships, and an Army of some 200,000 men, against the Order, the Grand Master realised their time at Rhodes was up. The battle preceding a capitulation lasted from July until December. Having seen the day of the birth of our Lord, on the Feast of Stephen 26th December, the Order agreed to give up Rhodes, but were allowed to leave in honour. It was on January 1st 1523 that the Order left Rhodes which had been their home for over two centuries. Apart from their Cannons the Order was able to leave with their possessions including the precious relic of the Hand of St. John the Baptist #33. It was after the loss of Rhodes, the Order switched from a Red Cloak to a Black Cloak as a sign of mourning.

The Order was unique amongst Christendom and unlike any other religious order and had evolved as a sovereign state but now it was now without its own sovereign territory. The Convent to the Order was first secured at Viterbo north of Rome and then at Nice. The Order continued to search for a new home. Charles V of Spain was crowned Emperor by Pope Clement VII at Bologna. Under his vast rule were three small islands of the Maltese archipelago. The Order approached the Emperor who agreed to the gift of Malta to the Order on payment of an annual rent of one falcon, and on condition the Order should garrison Tripoli on the north African coast. Although Malta seemed most inhospitable with little in the way of natural resources and that the condition of guarding Tripoli would drain the Order's resources, being surrounded by Moslem states, Malta was accepted. In 1530, having founded a new Convent and Hospital L'Isle-Adam died four years later and was buried at Mdina the ancient Capital of Malta. The Emperor sought the Order's help in an attack by sea on Algiers, and an expedition was mounted in 1519 but ended in disaster due to bad weather. In 1550 the Knights secured a victory against Mahdia which was laid to waste to avoid providing a garrison, but in the same year the Moslems took revenge with the capture of Tripoli, which served to aid the Order, now only having to concentrate its forces at Malta. In 1551 the Moslem forces made a raid on Malta, but were driven away. Fearing a full scale invasion, preparations were made for a long siege. The inhospitable terrain would now work for them in denying a siege Army of provisions.

In 1565 on May 18th an Army of some 40,000 men and a fleet of some 200 ships made their way to Malta. By June 23rd, St. Elmo, the smaller of the Island's Forts had fallen, but at a cost of some 8,000 of Moslem lives, with the loss to the Order of only twenty or so Knights and about 80 militia. Mustapha, the Moslem leader exclaimed "Allah! what will the Parent cost, if the child has been bought at such a price?" #34 The Knights captured or killed were decapitated and the heads fixed to poles. In return the Grand Master, Jean de La Vallette-Parisot ordered the decapitation of Turkish prisoners and the heads were shot into the enemy's lines as a reply to their treatment of the Knights. The assault of the main fort, St. Angelo continued until August 7th, when the Moslem forces had gained a hold inside the citadel, but at a moment when victory was within their grasp, the retreat was sounded. News of a relief force caused panic, and only when it was too late, was it discovered it was a diversionary tactic of a raid on the Turkish Camp, whilst most of the Army were engaged in the assault. Supplies at the Camp were destroyed in the raid, which assisted in prolonging the chances of the Knights holding out.
The Order held out until the 6th September when a Spanish relief fleet reached Mellieha Bay with some 8,000 troops. The siege was raised two days later on the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin. Added to the many, many thousands killed by battle, the insanitary conditions forced upon siege warfare had killed many thousands of others. The total loss is estimated at 30,000 men. News of the great victory won by the Order resounded throughout Europe. Even in England, which was then firmly Protestant and the Order suppressed, the victory of the Knights was seen as the salvation of Europe and of Christendom. Queen Elizabeth ordered the Archbishop of Canterbury to issue a special form of Thanksgiving to be read out in all the churches throughout the land, thrice weekly for three weeks #35. Gifts poured into Malta in thanksgiving. Pope Pius IV dispatched Francesco Laparelli a student and assistant of Michaelangelo to study and advise on refortifying the Island. Besides fortifying the Harbours, a new fortified city was built to be called after the Grand Master 'Valetta'. Valetta arose in a wave of enthusiasm rekindling the spirit of the Crusades. Money was given by Pope and the Monarchs' of France, Portugal, Spain. They sought to ensure Malta could hold out against any renewed attack. In the following year no further attack was made. The main arsenal at Constantinople had been blow up taking with it the dockyard and the ships which were being equipped for another invasion force. Tradition places the cause of the incident as the hands of the agents of La Valette. By the end of the year Suleiman the Turkish Sultan had died. La Valette died in 1568 from a stroke and was buried in the city that bore his name. In 1571 the Order took part in an allied attack against the Ottoman Fleet in the Gulf of Patras, just off the Port of Lepanto with a victory for the Allies, who then squabbled over the booty. Although the Christian Fleet displayed military superiority, the wealth of the Ottoman Empire was such, that losses were made up easily.

The Order began to enjoy its zenith. One of the greatest architectural achievements of the Order was the building of the Conventual Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, completed in 1578. As the years went by any real threat of invasion moved further into the background. The Order only had minor incidents with which to contend, such as in 1615 when a Moslem assault force of sixty Galleys landed several thousand troops on Malta, but had to abandon their operations due to the immense fortifications. In 1645 the Turks began war against Crete. The siege was to last on, and off, some twenty years and ranks as the longest siege in history. Although eventually defeated, the Order in no small measure held up the eventual defeat costing the Turks many thousands of lives. In one sea battle in 1656, with the Turkish Fleet at the mouth of the Dardanelles, the Order in concert with the Venetians destroyed most of the fleet and freed some five thousand Christian slaves. Finally when Candia fell to the Turks in 1669 the Knights were assisting with the evacuations.
In the 17th Century with income from the various Commanderies in Europe, the acquired plunder from Moslem shipping and with the agriculture of the Island being improved with the provision of irrigation, the Knights homeland of Malta became very prosperous. The original vocation that had created the Order of the Hospitallers had never been forgotten, or ignored, although it had been overshadowed by the military side. Valetta had the greatest hospital in the world. The Order was advanced in medical practice and strict attention was paid to cleanness and hygiene. The Order was well able to provide an international relief force such as in 1693 when an earthquake stuck Augusta in Sicily. Surgeons, medical supplies, tents, beds, food and clothing were provided. The same aid was given to the Seaport of Reggion in Southern Calabria and to Messina in Sicily in 1783 when an Earthquake struck #36.

Yet within this period which proved to be the Order's zenith, it also provided it's slow but sure decline. Since the seventeenth century a moral laxity had invaded the Order. The Monastic vows were only treated as form. Knights openly had mistresses. In a book on Malta published in 1776, Patrick Brydone could record that the Knights embarking for a raid on Tunis were all waving from the galleys at their mistresses who openly wept at their departure #37. The Order's decline was accelerated by Manuel Pinto who reigned from 1741 to 1773, the longest period of any Grand Master. He saw himself over this period of thirty years as the Monarch of Malta. He effectively stifled all ambition of those below him, enjoining to himself all the offices of the Order. Under the succeeding Grand Master, Francis Ximenes de Texada, heavy taxation laid on the Maltese began disquiet and in September 1775 an insurrection took place to overthrow the rule of the Knights on Malta. The rebellion led by some Priests of the Island was soon put down, but demonstrated that a wind of change was blowing.
The Order in Malta had become fearful of the predatory European powers, each with its own ambitions of which Malta could fulfil a part. The Order looked towards Russia with which it had a long relationship #38. In 1698 Czar Peter the Great had sent a mission to Malta under Field Marshal Boyard Boris Petrovich Sheremeteff. Nothing became of this initial visit but under Czarina Catherine II the Great (1762-1796) a renewed relationship was established. Russian Naval Officers were trained at Malta 1766-1769. The Russian Baltic Fleet was organised by the Order's Knights. When Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc was elected in 1775 he found a strong "Russian party" had developed in Valetta circles, certainly a matter to which he did not object. In 1782 Czarevitch Paul visited De Rohan in Malta. In 1789 Bailiff Count Giulio Renato de Litta who had been involved in the organisation of the Baltic Fleet took up service at St. Petersburg and became involved in the war against Sweden. He soon distinguished himself and was awarded the Cross of St. George and given the rank of an Imperial Rear-Admiral. He was taken into the inner circle of the Empress Catherine.
The developing relationship between the Order which was ostensibly Roman Catholic and the Russian Imperial Court which was Orthodox in faith was approved of by the succeeding Popes from Innocent XII onwards. At the very least it provided an opportunity of contact between the Papal and Russian Imperial Courts. It would advance the cause of Roman Catholics in Russia and Poland, and provided a means of reconciliation between an Eastern Church and the Catholic Church of the West. In his travels in the early 1780s Czarevitch Paul had been a guest of Pope Pius VI at Rome. Such a visit and the common interest in the Order of St. John provided hope for Christian reconciliation.
Alarmed about revolutionary France, under Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc, the Order assisted the French King Louis XVI in his attempt to regain his throne in 1789 by providing a third of the income from its French Commanderies. By 1792 the revolutionaries had proved victorious, and declared that all the property of the Order in France belonged to the French national domains. It was also declared that any Frenchman belonging to an Order of Knights that required proofs of nobility was no longer considered a French citizen. In essence the very lifeblood of the Order outside Malta had been ended. In 1797, because of the fear about France and possibly England, de Rohan-Polduc secured a definite alliance of the Order with Russia which led to making Czar Paul I who had ascended to the Imperial throne in 1796, the Protector of the Order. This alliance was to change forever the direction of the Knights of St. John.

In 1797 Ferdinand von Hompesch was elected Grand Master, however he was to be the last Grand Master in an undisputed and continuous succession to Brother Peter Gerard. The Czar of Russia, Paul I had taken an interest in the Order, both for the possibility of territorial gain and a genuine interest in the Order of St. John #39. However it was not the Czar that was to be successful in gaining Malta but Napoleon. Although warned, Hompesch did nothing to prepare Malta for invasion. A decree published by the French on April 12th 1798 declared Malta as an enemy of the French and sent a fleet to take possession. Hompesch sat alone in his Palace not knowing what to do. He gave no orders and the French walked in with very little struggle. On June 11th the Island was signed over to the French. Hompesch took refuge at Trieste under the protection of Austria. The Knights of the Order were not allowed to take any possessions with them save the relics of their Order which included the Hand of St. John the Baptist. The majority of the Knights accepted the hospitality of Paul I and the Seat of the Order moved to St. Petersburg. In many ways the Order had become an anachronism. A medieval institution that was now away from its own time. Given the laxity of the Order, it was not even true to itself. There was no fight left in the Order, and very little of its religious vocation.

#1 The general background to the creation of the Order can be gained from *Runciman.
#2 It was not until Christmas Day 1100 when the Coronation of King Baldwin took place after a reconciliation with the Patriarch Daimbert. However "On St. Martin's Day, Sunday, 11 November, with general approval and rejoicing, Baldwin assumed the title of King of Jerusalem". *Runciman, Vol. 1, page 325.
#3 *Attwater, page 190. See also, *Smith/Storace, page 11.
#4 *King-Knights Hospitallers page 12, *Smith/Storace, page 11, *Attwater page 190, *Runciman page 156.
#5 *Tenison, passim. *King-Statutes, places the foundation "about the year 600" and its founder as Abbot Probus acting "under the instruction of Pope Gregory the Great", page 1. For one survey of evidence about an early date see *Riley-Smith, pages 32-37. The best discussion is found in King-Knights Hospitallers, pages 5-23.
#6 The name Peter is provided by *Boisgelin, Volume 2, page xiii.
#7 *King-Statutes, page 2. *Seward, page 21.
#8 *Seward page 22.
#9 *Seward page 26.
#10 Gervers, Michael, (ed.) The Cartulary of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem in England Part 2 Prima Camera Essex. Records of Social and Economic History New Series 23, The British Academy, Oxford University Press, 1996. Introduction Chapter 6, pages ic-c.
#11 Cross, F.L. and Livingstone, E.A. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, London 1974. Article on Hospitallers page 669.
#12 *Seward page 30. For the English translation of de Puy's Rule see *King-Statutes, pages 20-28.
#13 The change to St. John the Evangelist during Raymond de Puy's time is provided by *Runciman, Vol. 2, page 157. Runciman is normally well researched. Some of the debate about the first Patron is given in *Riley-Smith, pages 34 and 35.
#14 King-Knights hospitallers, pages 4, 22 and 23.
#15 The Hospital was donated by the Emperor Manuel, who had a wide respect for the Latins. The Priory of Constantinople is not listed amongst the Order's Priories in 1294, and it is doubtful if it survived the defeat of the Latin Empire. cf. *King-Statutes, pages 37, 97 and 100.
#16 The Cross on the original Great Seal of the Convent of St. John in Jerusalem is a Patriarchal Cross, which adds an upper crossbar (inscription-plate added). See *King-Statutes, photo-plate opposite page 10. The arms of the Cross are slightly degraded (or fluted). A simple form of Cross was used by the Order, the Greek Cross with fluted arms. This eventually gave way to the Cross Patee (a thicker form of Cross with definite fluted arms) with a variant form, in the Patee Formee (almost four triangles in square formation). A simple V cut into the arms of a Patee Cross, produces the now familiar Maltese Cross. The Nuns of Sixena, originally a part of the Order of St. John, had at the end of the fifteenth century separated, to come under the direct authority of the Pope. In 1569 they returned to the obedience of the Order. Their emblem was described as a "white cross with eight points" *Boisgelin, Volume I, Book II, Chapter I, page 136. The reconciliation of the Nuns may well prove to be the origins of the introduction of the Maltese Cross to the Order. Certainly no example of the Maltese Cross is used by the Order, earlier than the mid sixteenth century (except anachronistically). See *King-Knights Hospitaller, page 22, for some discussion on this matter. A good example of early forms of the Cross are provided by the two seals of the Oxford Hospital circa 1236 and later. These are in the form of Cross Patee and Patee Formee, both with Fitch at Foot. Salter (Revd) H.E. (ed.). A Cartulary of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist, Oxford Historical Society, Claredon Press 1917. Vol. III Frontispiece. See also various coins and seals *King-Statutes, Plates opposite pages 60, 100, 122.
#17 *Seward page 228.
#18 From the rule of Raymond de Puy see *King-Statutes, page 20.
#19 The second object was probably added under Alfonso de Portugal (1203-1206), See *King-Statutes, page 20. For the 1181 Statutes see *King-Statutes, page 39.
#20 *King-Statutes, pages 144 and 145.
#21 *King-Statutes, pages 8 and 46.
#22 *Seward, page 228, also *Riley-Smith, page 348.
#23 *King-Statutes, pages 46 and 140. For Demi-Chevalier see Vertot, Monsignor L'Abbe de. History of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem, Edinburgh 1757.
#24 *Riley-Smith, page 239.
#25 *Riley-Smith, pages 230, 242-246.
#26 *King-Statutes, pages 26, 35, 129, 140.
#27 Frederick II of Germany 'took the Cross' (pledge to join the Crusade) in 1215 but was granted a postponement to set the affairs of Germany in Order. He was keen on undertaking a Crusade as Emperor, and not just as King of Germany. In 1220 he was crowned Emperor but still prevaricated and in 1225 married Yolanda, Queen of Jerusalem, whose father John had ruled as King, as a consort to her mother Maria. John was regent on account of Yolonda's age. On his marriage to Yolonda, Frederick was granted two more years to embark on a Crusade. In the Autumn of 1227 Frederick set out on a Crusade, but an epidemic of malaria reduced the size of the Army and sickness caused Frederick to delay. Believing it to be another ruse, Pope Gregory IX excommunicated the Emperor. In June 1228 he continued his Crusade, but as Yolonda had died in the April, after the birth of their Son Conrad, Frederick's status of King consort of Jerusalem had altered, the title going to his son. *Runciman Vol. 2, pages 163-190.
#28 *Runciman, Vol. 2, page 220.
#29 There is an irony here. It was a Knight of the British Order of St John which ended Turkish rule in Palestine, when General Edmund Allenby, led a British Army into Jerusalem on the 9th December 1917. For the claim of Allenby to be a Knight see *King-Knights Hospitaller, page 240. For details of the campaign see Wilson, Trevor. The Myriad Faces of War, Polity Press, Cambridge 1986, page 501.
#30 *Seward page 160-161. Vane, Sir Francis Fletcher, Agin the Governments, Sampson Low, Marston & Co. Ltd. London 1929 page 81.
#31 *Smith/Storace, page 12. The Langues may have been four in number originally - France, Spain, Italian and German. King-Statues, pages 14 and 44.
#32 *Smith/Storace, Appendix VII page 220. Pages 219-222 relates the tradition about the Hand of St. John the Baptist. #33 *Bradford, page 120.
#34 *Bradford page 155.
#35 *Bradford page 168/9. #36 *Bradford page 200.
#37 Brydone, Patrick. A, A Tour through Sicily and Malta, London 1773.
#38 *Smith/Storace, Chapter 7 pages 91-95.
#39 *Bradford page 209.

Author: The Reverend Michael Foster SSC MIWO
Date of Publication. First published 10th October 1997.

© The Reverend Michael John Foster SSC MIWO.
© The British Association of the Russian Grand Grand Priory of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Registered Charity at Law No. 1049553

Updated 14th December 1997
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