Part One: The Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar

 

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For seven years the Hospital was without a base. Finally, after negotiations with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain, the islands of Malta with their superb natural harbour were ceded to the Order in exchange for the nominal rent of one Maltese falcon each year. This was to be presented on All Saint’s Day each year to the Emperor’s resident Viceroy in Sicily. Hence the classic Humphrey Bogart movie The Maltese Falcon, based on Emmett Hamell’s novel which refers to this arrangement in Malta in 1530.

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On 26 October of that year the Order’s 1700-ton warship Santa Maria, commanded by Sir William Weston, Grand Prior of England, sailed into Malta’s Grand Harbour and landed the Hospitaller’s advance party. Characteristically, before even beginning repairs on the run-down Castel Sant’Angelo, the knights opened their first hospital on Malta in the castle.

The arrangement with Charles V also included Tripoli on the Libyan coast where the Order immediately established a garrison. In 1551, however, Tripoli was captured from the Hospitallers by the Barbary Corsairs.

The local population was not keen to find the Order as its new overlord. Although the Hospital’s rule of the Maltese was not as the result of an invasion Charles V had passed the islands over to the Hospital without ever consulting the Maltese people and their government.

Once again, this is usually ignored by historians who often leave the impression that the islands of Malta were previously uninhabited. As it happened, in time, the Maltese became reconciled to the presence of the Knights Hospitaller who were more and more becoming known simply as – The Knights of Malta.

However, historians are united in their view that it was the extraordinary leadership of Grand Master de La Valette that prevented Suleiman the Magnificent from conquering the knights a second time. It was Voltaire who said, “Nothing is better known than the Siege of Malta!”

Yet today, nothing is probably less known than the Siege of Malta. What was it? Why was Voltaire so moved to such superlatives?

The Great Seige

Voltaire was recalling the event two hundred years earlier, in 1565, when the Knights Hospitaller achieved their greatest victory. Under the order’s most famous leader, Jean Parisot de La Valette, a French nobleman and the 49th Grand Master of the Hospital, the knights defeated the Ottoman Empire at Malta in one of military history’s most famous battles.

The Ottoman Empire was the greatest world power of the day and was on the move. Its plan was to conquer Europe. The only remaining obstacle in its path was the little Mediterranean island fortress of the knights – Malta. The Sultan of Turkey, Suleiman the Magnificent, determined to get rid of these knights once and for all and he dispatched one of the largest invasion fleets in history against the Knights of Malta.

He attacked with an armada of 130 galleys, 50 sailing ships, and a fleet of transports carrying 30,000 experienced troops with a further 20,000 reinforcements, totalling 50,000. La Valette had only 540 knights and 5000 Maltese militia plus 3000 Italian and Spanish reinforcements, totalling 8500. In other words they were outnumbered six to one!

La Valette (who was one of the knights that Sulieman had set free at Rhodes forty-two years earlier) was already 71 years old when the Ottoman Empire attacked his sovereign island fortress of Malta. Hopelessly outnumbered he withstood one of history’s greatest sieges.

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Ernle Bradford’s account The Great Seige is the stuff Hollywood’s epics are made of:

From May until September the Turkish forces remained on the island, and the fighting employed every device and stratagem of sixteenth century warfare. There were conflicts between armed galleys, hand-to-hand combats, siege weapons and artillery duels, cavalry charges, and even armed bands of swimmers. When the Turkish forces at last withdrew defeated, the Ottoman power had suffered an immense reverse. In the long war between East and West the Great Siege of Malta proved one of the turning points in history.

Image result for parisot de valette    Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette had repelled the Turkish force saving not only his sovereign territory but the heart of Europe itself. It was a heroic defence and prayers of thanks were heard all over Europe. Jean de la Valette was hailed as ‘The Shield of Europe’. Rewards and riches piled in from grateful monarchs.

Philip II of Spain sent the Grand Master a fabulous gold sword and dagger encrusted with pearls, diamonds and precious jewels with the punning device ‘Plus quam valor valet Valette’ which today can be seen in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

But, for a rollicking, page-turning good read, the best modern book written about the great siege of Malta is Tim Willock’s epic The Religion

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From the shores of the Golden Horn, Suleiman the Magnificent, Emperor of the Ottomans, has sent the greatest armada since antiquity to wipe out Islam’s most implacable foe, the Knights of Malta. To the Turks the knights are known as ‘The Hounds of Hell’. The knights call themselves ‘The Religion’.

Meanwhile, in Sicily, a disgraced and exiled Maltese noblewoman, Carla La Penautier, has been trying to return to the doomed island in an attempt to find the bastard son who was taken from her at his birth. The Religion have refused her every plea and a tormented Roman Inquisitor, Ludovico Ludovici, seeks to imprison her. But Carla recruits a notorious adventurer and arms merchant – Mattias Tannhauser – to help her evade the Inquisition and to escape on the last galley to run the Turkish blockade. As the ensuing apocalyptic conflict between Islam and Christianity becomes the most brutal and harrowing siege in military history, Tannhauser and Carla must survive the bloody inferno and track down a twelve-year-old boy whose face they have never seen and whose name they do not know. And neither of them reckon on the return of the avenging Inquisitor, Ludovico Ludovici.

The Religion is an epic and exuberant tale of love and war, of intrigue and obsession, of politics and faith and high adventure. Against a rich and meticulously detailed historical backcloth, it tells of a small band of intrepid men and women who defy the madness of Holy War to realize their own vision of God and Eternity.

A gripping story with reliable factual underpinnings – Times Literary Supplement

Even in England where Henry VIII had suppressed the order twenty years earlier, his daughter Queen Elizabeth I, directed that prayers be offered and all the bells of England to be rung in celebration. She, too, sent him gifts. Many prizes were bestowed upon the French knight and his order all of which he accepted … except one.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/El_Greco_050.jpg Pope Pius V tried to get La Valette to accept a cardinal’s red hat but he refused! One can scarcely imagine today what it was like in those day’s to be offered a red hat by the pope and what it would have meant in personal prestige for La Valette to wear one. One can imagine even less the level of courage it took to refuse it.

Why did La Valette refuse a red hat?

It was a matter of sovereignty. Bearing in mind the fate of the Templars, he wanted to maintain the independence and sovereignty of his Order from the meddlesome politics of the Vatican. La Valette knew that while it was one thing for his Order to serve the pope, it was yet another to be under the thumb of Rome so he declined his cardinal’s hat.

In the hot summer of 1568, three years later, La Valette, returning to his Magistral Palace after a day’s hawking, was felled by a stroke. On the 21st of August the knights and their Maltese comrades heard that their Grand master, Jean Parisot de la Valette, was dead. Bradford concludes his book: “The Knights of the Order had his body placed aboard the admiral’s galley and rowed across Grand Harbour to the city, Valetta, that bore his name. Four other galley’s shrouded in black, accompanied this greatest of Grand Masters on his last voyage.”

La Valette now lies in the great crypt of the cathedral of St. John. Beside him rests an Englishman, his secretary and faithful friend, Sir Oliver Starkey–the only man other than a Grand Master to be buried in the crypt. The Inscription on La Valette’s tomb was composed in Latin by Sir Oliver Starkey. Translated it reads: Here lies La Valette, worthy of eternal honour. He who was once the scourge of Africa and Asia, and the shield of Europe, whence he expelled the barbarians by his holy arms, is the first to be buried in this beloved city, whose founder he was.

Around him lie the Grand Masters who were to follow him in later centuries. Above, on the tessellated floor of the great cathedral, shine the arms and insignia of Knights who, for more than 200 hundred years, were to maintain the impregnable fortress of Malta.

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The Order ruled Malta for over 250 years until the French Revolution when it lost its treasury and many of the knights families lost their heads on the guillotine. What Clement V was to the Templars, the French Revolution was to the Hospitallers.

The Historic End of the Knights of Malta

In the aftermath of the Revolution economic ruin made it impossible for the Order to maintain its international navy and infrastructure. The Order’s sovereign, Prince Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch, felt he had no choice but to face the reality of the new world order that had emerged and he decided, in 1798, to dissolve his sovereign government and surrender Malta to Napoleon without a single shot being fired. As one can imagine, this decision (to disband the Hospital after seven centuries!) was, however pragmatic, a most devastating one which took its toll on the Prince von Hompech who never recovered from it.

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amalfiOn the dissolution of their Order, the Hospitaller knights scattered throughout Europe. One group of knights sailed straight from the Grand Harbour in Valetta to the harbour of Amalfi south of Naples. Others went further afield and returned to their home counties and kingdoms. Soon after, new replicant groups began to emerge across Europe. The newest of the replicant orders is the Order of the School of Joseph of Nazareth.

However, the most famous example of the replicators was to become the new Russian Order which was formed when a high-ranking group of ex-Hospital members who sought the protection of the Czar and moved to Russia. They established a new Russian Orthodox Order, in St. Petersburg, with Czar Paul I of Russia as their Sovereign Grand Master.

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The court at St. Petersburg must have seemed remote for many of the western European knights. However, the new order began to prosper and soon there were over 250 Russian knights. The Czar became Royal Protector of the Russian Order in perpetuity. This office of Hereditary Protector of the Russian Order of the Hospital was assumed for himself and for all his descendents. Paul I was subsequently elected Grand Master and he installed the government of the Russian Order in the Worontzoff Palace in St. Petersburg. Paul admitted ladies into the Order including members of the Royal family and Lord Nelson’s Lady Hamilton.

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He also established hereditary commanderies or branches which increased the opportunity for future replicant groups to emerge

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After Paul I’s assassination in 1801, all subsequent Russian Czars became hereditary Grand Masters of the Russian Order. They were, of course, Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II, Alexander III, and Nicholas II. Czar Alexander I inherited, from his father, Paul I, the complicated political problems of the Order.

His personal involvement in attempting to reach an accord among all the scattering replicant Hospitaller groups that were emerging has been well documented by noted historians of the orders such as Harrison Smith, de Taube and Michel de Pierredon.

Alexander I’s successor, Nicholas I, restored the Russian Order’s two Catholic and Orthodox chapels in the Order’s palace at St. Petersburg.

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Czar Alexander II is often seen in photographs wearing his insignia as Grand Master. His crown as Sovereign of the Russian Order (the one made for Paul I) was displayed in his funeral cortege. During his reign as Grand Master, Alexander II elevated Prince Alexander Vassilievitch Troubetzkoy to the rank of Hereditary Commander at a ceremony on 19 October, 1867.

Following his predecessors involvement with the Russian Order, Nicholas II honoured various members of his family, including the Empress Alexandra and the Grand Dukes Serge and Paul, with the high decorations of Bailiff Grand Cross. The same Czar also gave officers graduating from the Imperial Military Academy, now situated in the Russian Order’s palace, the right to wear the famous eight-pointed Maltese Cross on a round gold plaque.

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With the Russian Revolution and the assassination of Nicholas II and his Imperial Family at Eketerinburg, the Grand Mastership of the Czars ended. The Order ceased to function in Russia and was carried off to Paris and New York by the Russian Knights of the Royal Family and the Hereditary Commanders in the Russian Nobility who fled the Russian Revolution.

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In Paris, on 31 July 1950, the direct descendent of Czar Paul I, Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovitch Romanoff confirmed his title of Royal Protector of the Russian Order.

In 1998 it was 200 years since the last Prince Grand Master of the Hospital dissolved the original order on Malta. Over the last 200 years replicant orders have flourished around the world.

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In addition to the Russian Order, there still is the British Order, with Queen Elizabeth II as Sovereign of the Order, and well known for its St. John Ambulance Brigade.

There is also the Papal Order in Rome (also known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, SMOM) under Prince Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing, an English nobleman, with its hospitals in several countries.

There are replicant branches of the Order in Europe – in Spain, in the Netherlands, in Germany, in Sweden and elsewhere, usually with their current reigning sovereign as head of each country’s branch of the Order. These replicant Orders do much to foster leadership development and voluntary charitable works in their activities.

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Today, and following in the ancient footsteps of The Hospital and The Temple, is also The Schoolthe newest of the replicant orders to adopt this chivalric ideal–and called the Order of the School of Joseph of Nazareth. Why? Because, in exercising his paternal care, Jesus first and most influential teacher was Joseph. So we choose to honour and recognise, as the Patron of the Order of the School, one of history’s most important and revered teachers, Joseph of Nazareth.

Like all children, Jesus learnt through imitation and mostly from his parents. Because Joseph happily dedicated himself to his upbringing, Jesus learnt not only how to talk and read and write but as his apprentice Joseph also taught Jesus how to think and solve problems and design and innovate with the use of tools. Also how to maintain and grow a small business. How to behave and work and play at the side of his father and mentor, Joseph, for the first twenty years of his life.

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There are many throughout Western history who were also inspired by the story of Joseph of Nazareth. After the conclave that elected him John XXIII seriously considered taking ‘Joseph’ as his pontifical name and was thereafter known by many as the Josephine Pope. Good Pope John once spoke of his own personal devotion to Joseph saying:

All the saints in glory merit and honor a particular respect, but it is evident that St. Joseph has a special place in our hearts, a place which belongs to him alone, fragrant, more intimate, and penetrating… Add to all this the experience of life and the knowledge of Christian doctrine . . . and we can measure more fully the grandeur of St. Joseph, not only by reason of the fact that he was close to Jesus and Mary, but also by the shining example which he has given us of all the virtues.

The School of Joseph

Thus, established as a traditional order of chivalry but with the New Rule, the School follows in the 900-year tradition of their ancient brothers and sisters. Today’s Knights and Dames Scholar contribute their personal time and energy to replicate the New Rule of the Order of the School which is:

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To Teach, As Our Lords, The Sick And The Poor.

Francis celebrates the Feast of St Joseph