Carole Pietrzak

Blog 68 -The Knights of St. John Part 6


In the sixth part about the history of the Knights of St. John we are given details of the Siege on Rhodes.

The Turkish forces, commanded by Mustapha Pasha, landed on July 28th 1522 but siege-operation did not start until August 1st. They were very disappointed to find themselves in a desert land without crops, inhabitants or forages. The Turkish soldiers were nevertheless stimulated to conquer Rhodes and started using their monstruous guns and even shells .The walls of Rhodes were of prodigious height and the Turks undertook the construction of two vast mounds or hills ten to twelve feet above the battlements, artificially composed of earth and stones brought together. In the first week of September, Villiers de l ’Isle Adam , sad but not discouraged, entered St John’s Church in order to pray. His force was now reduced to scarcely three thousand men and three hundred knights only were left. He had received a courier from Rome bearing the news that the struggle was desperate. The city started trembling as from an earthquake. An explosion was heard and the Turks took possession of most of the bastion. At this precise moment, the grand master and his intrepid followers appeared upon the scene and threw themselves on the enemy. After an hour’s combat, the thick masses of the enemy were forced to retreat. Five days passed without any fresh attack, during which the Turks were preparing a confident new assault directed this time against the Italian bastion. The battle seemed easy to gain until the assailants’ faced the grand master and had to draw back. The grand master drove back the enemy with his single arm and the handful of defenders were left masters of the field. That occurred on September 13th. Another four days passed without the assault being renewed when the Turks decided on a new attack on the ruined bastion of England, determined to carry it at all costs, or die in the entrenchments rather than appear again before Soleiman after a new defeat. The 5 battalions of the Turks, were met on the summit of the ruined ramparts by the English knights, with Sir John Buck at their head. He was the first to fall but in spite of their leader’s death, the English gained the day and held their shattered ruin by main courage and strength of arm for yet another month. After this defeat, the infidels began to think of abandoning the enterprise as hopeless since the knights could never be beaten in the presence of their chief L’Isle Adam. Soleiman devised a new plan to attack on all four quarters of the city (England, Provence, Spain and Italy) on September 24th. The battle on the English bastion was the bloodiest fight.
The grand master hastened there and threw down the scaling-ladders and the ditch below was choked with the prostrate Turks. The English would not yield and priests, monks and even children joined in the defence. The Turkish flags were torn down and the Cross planted. The assault was repulsed from England and directed towards Spain. L’Isle Adam called Auvergne to the rescue but the carnage lasted six hours before the knights’ victory. During the restful following week the Turks held a council of war which determined to renew the assault on the eighth day. During that extraordinary struggle, Rhodes presented the spectacle of a city entirely unwalled, within neither gates nor ramparts left, garrisoned by about two thousand wounded and exhausted men but still fighting until the beginning of the month of December. The Turks, in spite of the stormy weather and the loss of ninety thousand men managed to conquer Rhodes, taking advantage of the rivalry of the knights who ware then scattering over Europe instead of sending succours to Rhodes. Soleiman, wishing to obtain a reputation for clemency, had recourse to negotiations but l’Isle Adam rejected all overtures with the enemy and claimed his firm resolve to be buried under the ruins of Rhodes sooner than consent to yield his trust into the hands of the infidel. Being unsupported by the crowds of weeping citizens, he eventually yielded to take advantage of the first overtures that were made to treat for a surrender. On December 10th, the sultan caused a flag of truce to be hoisted on a neighbouring church outside the walls, and despatched two of his officers with a letter offering to allow the knights and citizens a free embarkation, carrying goods and chattels with them, in case of capitulation; otherwise an indiscriminate massacre of all, without distinction of age or sex, and that instantly. The grand master in return begged a three days’ armistice for deliberation, which Soleiman refused. Hostilities were renewed. As no prospect of relief appeared, and all hope of prolonging the defence was gone, l’Isle Adam consented to the terms proposed by Soleiman and the treaty was signed. The Christians were granted with free exercise of religion, a safe passage out of the port and even free supply of vessels from the Turks. Two days after the signature, l ’Isle Adam paid the Ottoman sovereign a visit and was offered the highest rank within his power if he would embrace the Moslem faith and join his service. L’Isle Adam’s refusal led to more pillage and atrocity and the church of St John was turned into a mosque. They massacred every single Christian on their way, women, children and even the sick from the hospital were beaten with such violence that many died. Soleiman, worthy of his title of “ Magnificent” paid l ’Isle Adam a last visit and found him resigned and tranquil. The Turks entered Rhodes on the morning of Christmas Day.
The next and last part of this series on the history of the Knights prior to coming to Malta deals about the 7 years the Knights spent homeless, roaming the seas.