Reuben Pace

Blog 69 - The Knights of St John Blog 7

The final part of this series gives details of the 7 years spent by the Knights roaming the seas until they were given the Maltese islands as their home.


Fifty vessels, crowded with a mixed multitude of citizens and soldiers left Rhodes on stormy waters. Having been the noblest and wealthiest population in Rhodes, they became a crowd of beggars, dependent on the charity of their sovereign on a daily basis. L’Isle Adam commanded the fleet in person and they eventually reached the shores of Candia and the harbour of Messina, welcomed by seven hundred knights (those who had been absent from Rhodes) and nobles of Sicily and the ambassadors of foreign courts. Then the grand master set out for Rome where he was received with extraordinary honours.

On January 25th 1524, L’Isle Adam set out for Viterbo “ the most delicious city of the Pope’s dominions” as Fontanus calls it and pursued his journey to the different courts of Europe looking for some permanent and independent residence.

Soleiman the Magnificent, free from the attacks of the knights of Rhodes then decided to turn his attention to the northern frontier of his empire and ravaged the Kingdom of Hungary in only two hours on August 28th 1526. A huge part of the Hungarian nobility , eight bishops and 20,000 common soldiers perished in this terrible invasion.

In February 1527 at Viterbo the decision was made to offer l’Isle Adam the islands of Malta and Gozo and Tripoli. The island of Malta was nothing but a rock of soft sandstone, unfit for growing corn, disagreeable almost insupportable, particularly in summer.

On September 27th 1529, the Turkish army appeared under the walls of Vienna. Soleiman’s purpose was to conquer the whole of Christendom. His army assaulted the walls of the city on three different days but each time they were repulsed with loss. On October 14th, Soleiman gave orders for a retreat.

On October 26th 1530, the knights were established in an independent sovereignty and became thenceforth known through Europe as the Knights of Malta. The last days of l’Isle Adam were clouded with fresh sorrows as he lived to see the breaking out of the great religious revolution which was to change the face of Europe. He died on August 21st 1534 .During the twenty years that succeeded the death of l’Isle Adam, the knights of Malta engaged with the corsairs of Algiers and Tunis and thanks to naval skills managed to keep Christendom in Algiers. At the first rumor of an attack on Malta, the knights hastened to assemble for its defense. In the morning of July 16th 1551, the whole Ottoman fleet sailed before the principal fort of the island, Fort San Angelo after capturing the entire population of 6,000 Gozitans into slavery on their way to Malta, but they did not attack for St.Angelo. In August 1557, after the death of la Sangle, John Parisot de la Valette was placed at the head of the Order. He immediately put his islands in a state of defense, convinced that another attack was meditated.

Seven hundred knights and eight thousand and five hundred paid soldiers formed his army of defense in the same order as in Rhodes. Each language had its own place assigned to it. France, Provence, Auvergne, Italy, Castille, Aragon , England and Germany. John Parisot de la Valette reviewed all the troops bearing that same air of tranquil serene intrepidity which distinguished l’Isle Adam.

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