Carole Pietrzak

Blog 66 - The Knights of St. John Part 4

Ms. Pietrazk gives us an account of the first attempt of the Ottomans on Rhodes

Peter d’Aubusson was descended from one of the most illustrious houses of France. Norman in his origins and allied to the royal Norman blood, he was a soldier and also a man of letters. The popularity of his name was felt among the populace of Rhodes who, once d’Aubusson was at the head of the knights of St John, no longer feared Mahomet. Ha was at the head of every department but never extended his power. Mahomet saw that there was little chance of taking Rhodes and its defenders by surprise. D’Aubusson made no distinction between Latins or Greeks but said he reigned over Christians. His first act after investiture was to destroy the suburbs of Rhodes so as to prevent the enemy from finding shelter under the city walls. The Rhodians watched this process with tears of regret but knew that the calamity was inevitable.

Even though the city of Rhodes stood on the declivity of a wooded hill on the border of the sea and surrounded by a double wall flanked by large towers and a broad ditch beyond the wall, on May 23rd 1480, the great Turkish fleet made its apparition. The hostile troops succeeded in entrenching themselves in the neighbourhood of Mount St. Stephen and landed their heavy artillery. After resisting the furious bombardment for several days, the tower fell, to the joy of the enemy. A man of genius and of war, d’Aubusson drew the plans of his walls and ramparts and led the attack and from midnight to ten on the following morning the attack and the defence endured with unabated fury. At length the triumph of the knights was secured. The victorious knights precipitated their flying enemies from the mole and pursued them even into the waters of the harbour. 2,500 infidels fell and among them their renowned commander, Ibrahim Bey, the sultan’s son-in-law. The loss on the Rhodian side was also important and twelve of the brave knights of St John were among the slain.

D’Aubusson superintended all himself and set the example to the rest by incessant labour. The siege went on for three months and the Turks counted 9,000 soldiers killed and 15,000 wounded.

The outpost of Christendom was saved. Rhodes was rescued for nearly half a century. D’Aubusson was wounded but as soon as he could walk he proceeded to the Church of St John to offer his thanksgiving for the deliverance of the city by the intervention of the Blessed Virgin. In the meanwhile, the Turks first set foot on the tempting shores of Italy, making a successful descent on the Apulian coast and marched at once to invest Otranto. They took Kafia, which belonged to the Genoese and sent 40,000 of its inhabitants to Constantinople. The inhabitants of Otranto defended themselves with great courage but, unprepared, the town fell after suffering the loss of 12,000 from 22,000 inhabitants. Despite the triumphant success in Italy, the failure before Rhodes rankled like a poisoned arrow in the heart of Mahomet and he decided to prepare for vengeance. He thus assembled a force of 300,000 men whom he led into Asia Minor, designing from thence the fall upon Rhodes and the crushing of the audacious islanders to the dust. But he died at Nicomedia after a brief and sudden sickness, pouring the words:

“Rhodes, Rhodes, Rhodes!”

His body was carried to Constantinople and buried in the mosque he had founded and the inscription he had himself dictated on his deathbed was placed over his tomb:

I intended to conquer Rhodes and to subdue Italy.

In the next part we shall see the rise of Suleiman the Magnificent who was to be crucial for the siege of Malta.