The Knights of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta


Grand Masters of the Maltese period


Term of Office

The Grand Masters and short History Photo Coat of Arms
1530 -1534

Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam of the langue of France was elected in Rhodes on 13th November 1521, on his arrival on the Maltese Islands on the 26th October 1530, was greatly disappointed to find the Malta had nothing else for protection but an arid rock with the Castle of St. Angelo. The capital city, called Notabile by King Alphonse of Aragon, lay in the centre of the island. Several small villages were scattered here and there. like specks over the island. The magnificence of the grand harbour was the only point of attraction.

1534 - 1535

Pierino del Ponte, of the langue of Italy, from the noble Italian family of Lombriaco, in the county of Asti, Piedmont, and Bailiff of St. Euphemia in Calabria, succeeded as Grand Master on the death of Villiers de L'Isle Adam on the 26th August 1534. Del Ponte was still in Calabria when the news of his election was conveyed to him by Monsignor Bosio, then Bishop of Malta, brother of the celebrated chronicler of the Order.
After having vainly protested his unworthiness to fill the high office of Grand Master, and protracted his stay for over two months in Calabria, Del Ponte finally consented to govern the Order in Malta, where he arrived on the 10th November 1534.

1535 - 1536

Didier de St. Jaille, of  the langue of  France was Prior of Toulouse, and one of the strenuous defenders of Rhodes, was elected Grand Master of the Order on the 22nd November 1535 during his absence from the island. While at Montpellier on his way to Malta he was suddenly taken ill and died on the 26th September 1536, and was buried there in the Priory of St. Giles.

1536 - 1553

Juan de Omedes of the langue of Aragon, Bailiff. of Caspe, was elected, on the 20th October 1536, to succeed as Grand Master of Malta on the death of Didier de St. Jaille  Several disastrous expeditions against the Turks took place during the reign of Omedes. The arms of the Order sustained heavy losses at Susa and Monastir, and an attack on Algiers was repulsed by Barbarossa, who at the time was King of Algiers and tributary prince of the Sultan of Turkey. The Christian army, however, was successful in rescuing Tunis from the hands of Barbarossa

1553 - 1557 Claude de la Sengle, of  the langue of  France was elected as Grand Master, on the 11th September 1553. The first design of la Sengle on taking possession of his new dignity was to add to the security of the island, continually menaced by the Ottoman galleys. Fort St. Michael was enclosed by a line of bastions, and those at the Bourg, which were begun at the time of Omedes, were now completed. He also fortified the present day town of Senglea, A terrific cyclone played great havoc in Malta during the reign of this Grand Master. Both by sea and land the Order and the inhabitants suffered greatly. Galleys and sailing vessels which were in harbour were dashed against the shore and foundered. The munificence, however, of the Christian Princes soon supplied the Order with men, money and galleys, to make up for the severe losses that had been sustained.

1557 -1568 Jean de la Vallete Parisot,  of  the langue of  Provence, Prior of St. Giles, was elected Grand Master  on the 21st August 1557. He at once took steps to resist any attacks on the Islands. The Bourg, Senglea, and Castle St. Elmo were greatly improved, ramparts were added and ditches completed. 

On the 18th May 1565 a Turkish fleet consisted of 130 galleys, 50 smaller vessels, and several transports laden with stores and ammunition entered in the grand harbour. The full military strength under the command of Mustafa Pacha consisted of 35,000 men, of whom 5,000 were
Janissaries. Dragut and his 1,500 Algerian fighters also joined this invasion of this small island . Fort St. Elmo was the first base of operations Ottoman Army. 

The Knights and handful of soldiers fought hard to hold the forth but, unable to withstand the overpowering strength brought to bear against them, they fell victims to the brutal rage of the Infidels. Great as was the loss sustained by the Order in the, siege of Fort St. Elmo, still greater was the slaughter wrought among the Turkish lines. For thirty four days did that fort held out against the attacks of the Turkish Army, and it was on the 23rd June that it finally fell into their hands. 

This victory cost the invaders 8,000 men, including the notorious Dracut.  During the siege of Fort St. Elmo the Order lost 200 men, mostly Maltese, and 122 Knights. Several assaults were next made by the Turks upon the Bourg, Forts St. Angelo & St. Michael and Notabile,, but all their attempts were fruitless, and their army repulsed with heavy losses. Such was the impetuosity with which this attack was repulsed, that  the Turks after loosing 30,000 men turned and fled, unable to stand their ground. They embarked at last on their galleys on the 8th September and were soon out of sight.

1568 - 1572

Pietro del Monte,  of  the langue of  Italy, Prior of Capua, nephew of Pope Julius Ill., was elected on the 23rd August 1568 to fill the post of Grand Master on the death of la Vallete. The lengthened services of del Monte and the high reputation to which he had risen, both at the siege of Rhodes and during the siege of Malta, had fully entitled him to the position which the vote of the fraternity now called upon him to occupy. His first thoughts on assuming the magisterial baton were at once bent, on carrying out the reforms which his glorious predecessor had begun. The works of the new city progressed rapidly under his fostering care, and although the new residence of the Order was still unfinished, he moved the Convent from the Bourg to Valletta with great pomp and magnificence on the 18th March 1571.

The navy under the administration of this Grand Master attained a strength unparalleled in the history of' the Order. In addition to the galleys of the regular navy, a number of Knights obtained permission from their chief to fit out ships at their own expense and to cruise the waters of the Mediterranean in search of marauding vessels. Fired with. ambition, they undertook several expeditions against the corsairs, returning to Malta with many valuable prizes.

In 1571 the Maltese navy once more vindicated its glorious reputation. Three galleys under the command of Pietro Giustiniani took part in the hard-fought battle of Lepanto, when the combined fleets of Christendom inflicted such an overwhelming defeat upon the Turks that the Mediterranean was practically freed from their depredations for many years, Del Monte died on the 27th January 1572 at the advanced age of seventy six years.

1572 -1582

Jean Levesque de la Cassiere, of  the langue of  Auvergne, was elected on the 30th January 1572 as Grand Master rendered vacant by the death of Pietro del Monte.La Cassiere had gained for himself a very high reputation for his dauntless bravery in saving the colours of the Order in the hard fought day at Zoara, in Africa.

During his career as Grand Master he was fated to witness very turbulent proceedings on the part of the Knights, unprecedented in the history of the Order. He strove hard to settle the countless disputes which had arisen between the Convent and the Bishop of Malta, mostly about the extent of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the latter. The matter had to be finally submitted to the Pontiff for decision, and this eventually led to the appointment of a Grand Inquisitor in Malta, a proceeding which was greatly resented by the Order. Another dispute arose in 1575 with the Republic of Venice, anent the seizure of a Venetian galley laden with Jewish goods, which was captured by the Knights of Malta. 

La Cassiere died in Rome on the 21st December 1581 at the advanced age of seventy eight years and buried in Malta.

1582 -1595

Hugues de Loubens Verdalle of  the langue of  Provence, was elected Grand Master on the 12th January 1582.  In order to show the high regard in which he held Verdalle for his personal merits Pope Gregory XIII created him Cardinal of St. Mary in Portico,

Many monuments still remain to attest the piety and munificence of this Grand Master. A convent for the Ursoline Nuns was erected in the Bourg, and in 1588 the Capuchin Fathers were presented with the beautiful convent in Floriana which Verdalle had erected for this purpose. 

The continual dread of a Turkish invasion induced the Grand Master to strengthen the defences of the island, and several fortifications were constructed in Gozo. A country residence which Verdalle built at Notabile, and which ever afterwards was used by his successors, still bears his name. 

On the 10th February 1588 Cardinal Verdalle returned to Malta and resumed the active duties of his office until his death, which took place on the 4th May 1595, at the age of sixty-four years.

1595 -1601

Martin Garzes, Castellan of  the langue of  Aragon, was elected to succeed Cardinal Verdalle on the 8th May 1595. Gentle and mild in character and zealously devoted to his Order, he happily succeeded in bringing about a peaceful termination to the numerous dissension’s which during the reign of his two last predecessors had been the cause of great discord among the Knights. The external relations of the Government were also greatly improved under the auspices of this Grand Master 

Garzes had not long occupied his new position, when the news reached him that a strong Turkish fleet, under the command of the Pasha Cicala, had received orders to leave the harbour of Constantinople for the purpose of attempting a descent on Malta. On receipt of this intelligence preparations were at once made to resist an attack. On the 30th September 1597 the foe appeared off Gozo, where a disembarkation of 2,000 men was effected by the Turks on the following day. But the bravery and determination of the cavalry of the Order, under the gallant commandant Beauregard, inflicted such heavy slaughter among the Turkish lines that the remainder of the shattered force had to beat a hurried retreat and seek refuge on board their ships. Hastily setting sail, the fleet directed its course towards Algiers, which had been its real place of destination.

No events of importance marked the next few years of the rule of this Grand Master, who, on the 6th February 1601,closed his peaceful career to the grief of the whole fraternity. The third part of his personal estate he left to the Order with strict instructions to erect a fort at Gozo. Five years later the fort was built, and has ever since been known as Fort St. Martin

1601 - 1622

Alof de Wignacourt of  the langue of  France, was election as Grand Master of the Order on the 10th February 1601. The rule of Alof de Wignacourt witnessed several brilliant naval exploits against the Turks. Successful descents were made upon Patras, Lepanto in the Morea, Lango in Rhodes, Liazzo, and Corinth, and the amount of booty which the Order reaped from these expeditions was something enormous. Infuriated by these depredations, Mahomet III., then Sultan of Constantinople, determined at all costs to assume the offensive. Death, however, cut short Mahomet's project. In 1615 a descent on Malta was attempted during the reign of Achmet II, which resulted in the Turks being ignominiously defeated

Wignacourt constructed the magnificent aqueduct which carries water from Bengemma Hills, near Citta Vecchia, into all parts of Valletta, a distance of over nine miles. This fine aqueduct, at which over 600 men were employed for the space of five years, was completed in 1616, and cost 154,864 Maltese scudi of which 114,864 scudi were contributed by the Grand Master, and 40,000 scudi were voted by Council from the " granaries and bakery" revenue.

Whilst hunting in the grounds at Verdalle on the 27th August 1622 Wignacourt was seized with an attack of apoplexy, and lingered on to the 14th September of that year, when he died at the age of seventy-five,

1622 - 1623

Louis Mendez de Vasconcelles of  the langue of  Castille, Leon, Portugal, Bailiff of Acre was elected Grand Master on the 17th September 1622. . This Knight had greatly distinguished himself in several naval expeditions against the Turks, and his dauntless bravery had won for him the admiration of the fraternity. The prudence and skill which he manifested in several important missions for which he had been selected by his late chief greatly contributed to his election.

He survived his new honours only six months, and no events of importance are known to have taken place during his short rule. He died on the 7th March 1623.

1623 - 1636

Antoine de Paule, of the Lange of Provence and Grand Prior of St. Giles, was elected as Grand Master on the death of de Vasconcellos on the 10th March 1623. During this reign several naval engagements of more or less importance took place, which swelled the treasury of the Order and tended to increase the commercial prosperity of the island.

 A decree of this Grand Master, of the 7th August 1631, ordained that all gold and silver coins of the value of one scudo and over were to be weighed both by those paying and those receiving them, under penalty of confiscation of the coins. This order was caused by the discovery that, much of the gold and silver in circulation had been filed by unscrupulous persons for the sake of profit. .In order to replace the great quantity of deteriorated copper coins which were current at this time, the Grand Master, by an order of the 6th August 1628, caused 2,000 copper pieces, varying in value from the carlino to the picciolo, to be struck and placed in circulation in the islands*

After a severe illness, de Paule died on the 10th June 1636, at the advanced age of eighty-five, after a reign of thirteen years.

1636 - 1657 Jean-Paul de Lascaris-Castellar, of the Lange of Provence, Bailiff of Manosque, of the noble Genoese family of Vintimiglia, and a descendant of Theodore Lascaris, Emperor of Constantinople, was seventy six years of age at the time of his election on the 13th June 1636. He had joined the ranks of the fraternity in Malta under Cardinal Verdalle's rule.The first aim of Lascaris on assuming the reins of Government was to endeavor to pacify the offended Prince of Paterno, Viceroy of Sicily, who, during the fierce war which was raging at the time between France and Spain, had forbidden the exportation of grain to Malta. This step was taken by the Viceroy in revenge for the sympathies and support which the preponderating French element among the Knights of St. John had shown towards France during the conflict. As Malta had always looked to the neighboring island of Sicily for its supply of grain the Viceroy's edicts would have practically meant starvation, and it was mainly due to the tact and exertions of Lascaris that the prohibition was finally withdrawn.

Under the energetic rule of this Grand Master the navy of the Order was still further strengthened, and naval expeditions against the Turks were carried out on an even larger scale than formerly. In 1644 six galleys of the Order, under Boisboudrant, captured a large and powerful Turkish galleon whilst, cruising off Rhodes, after a fierce and sanguinary struggle with eight of the enemy's vessels. Over 600 Turks were killed in engagement, and the Order had to deplore the loss of 120 men including their gallant captain, Boisboudrant.

Among the captives was the young Basseba, Sultana of the Imperial harem of Ibrahim, with her infant son Osmal, on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Sultana died shortly after her arrival in Malta, and the child was educated and received into the Catholic Church. He subsequently joined the Dominican Order of Preachers, under the name of Father Ottoman. and died in Malta in 1676 while Prior of Porto Salvo.  On the 14th August 1657 Lascaris died at the venerable age of ninety seven years.

1357 -1660

Martin de Redin of the Lange of Aragon  To be completedOn the death of John Paul Lasearis the Convent found itself divided into two powerful factions, each of which sought by every means to secure the election of its own candidate. The first was fomented by the Prior of Navarre, Martin de Redin of the Langue of Aragon, then Viceroy of Sicily, and the other known as the faction of "the flying squadron," favoured a very powerful rival, the Grand Inquisitor Odi. The latter, in order to attain his purpose, had armed himself with a papal brief declaring that any Knight who was guilty of canvassing either directly or indirectly, or of employing promises or threats to secure his election, thereby rendered himself ineligible as Grand Master of the Order. This brief was presented with due formality to the Council by Odi's secretary, along with a declaration of the Grand Inquisitor accusing Martin de Redin of using malpractice’s to secure the post, and disqualifying him from competing. The exertions of Odi's party, however, were not crowned with success; De Redin was elected on the 17th August 1657, and as a last resource the Grand Inquisitor appealed to the Pontiff. The Grand Master elect, however, immediately submitted his election for the approval of the Court of Rome. Alexander VIII, then Pope, thinking well of this readiness to abide by the decision of the Holy See. And desirous of maintaining friendly relations with the King of Spain, who strongly favoured the cause of De Redin, confirmed the election, and furthermore directed the Grand Inquisitor to personally announce the fact to the venerable fraternity. As a mark of gratitude for the high favour shown him by the Pontiff, De Redin on assuming the contested dignity appointed the Pope's favourite nephew, the Prior de Bichi, to one of the richest Italian commanderies, and presented him with a diamond cross worth 1,200 Maltese scudi. During his short rule of two years De Redin achieved great popularity for his zeal in procuring provisions from all parts of Italy, while Malta was labouring under great difficulties, and his conciliating policy restored perfect tranquillity within the Convent. For the better protection of the island he constructed, at his own expense, fourteen lunettes and raised a standing regiment of 4,000 musketeers. He died on the 6th February 1660, at the age of sixty-nine.

1660 -1660

Annet de Clermont-Gessan of the Lange of Auvergne, of the illustrious Auvergne family of the Counts of Clermont, was seventy-six years of age at the time he was called upon to succeed De Redin as Grand Master on the 9th February 1660. The dauntless bravery, which Gessan had shown at the capture of Mahometta in Africa in 1606, had raised him high in the estimation of the fraternity. For a long time he held the important office of confidential adviser to the Prince De Vendome, Prior of Toulouse, and on his being called to Malta in 1645 he was made Grand Marshal and subsequently Bailiff of Lyons.

He had barely occupied the supreme dignity four months when the wound, which he had received at the capture of Mahometta, opened afresh and was the cause of his death, which occurred on the 2nd June 1660.

1660 - 1663

Raphael Cotoner, of the Lange of Aragon, Bailiff of Majorca, was raised to high dignity of Grand Master on the death of Annet de Clermont Gessan on the 5th June 1660. The established reputation for bravery, and the religious zeal with which he was imbued, were among the principal merits which secured for Cotoner the much coveted dignity to the detriment of La Hilliére, Prior of Toulouse, for whose election the party of the "flying squadron" had unsuccessfully directed itself.

Further reinforcements were, through his exertions, sent from Malta to assist the besieged Venetians in Candia, and the brilliant and glorious deeds of the Maltese contingent under the Knights of St. John increased the renown in which they were held throughout Europe. In token of gratitude for this continual help, and a mark of its appreciation of the valour displayed by the Knights throughout the siege of Candia. The Republic of Venice passed an unprecedented decree permitting members of the Order of the Knights of Malta to appear armed within the dominions of the Republic. A privilege never known to have been accorded to any of the subjects of the Republic themselves.

It was during the rule of this Grand Master that the magnificent painting of the roof of St. John's Church was begun by the celebrated artist Matthias Preti, known as the Calabrese, and as a recompense for his valuable services he was received into the ranks of the fraternity. He died on the 10th October 1663, at the age of sixty-three, after a short reign of three years.

1663 - 1680

Nicolas Cotoner, of the Lange of Aragon, Bailiff of Majorca, was by unanimous consent raised to the vacant dignity on his brother's death on the 23rd October 1663. Only once before in the history of the Order do we find two brothers appointed in succession as Grand Master. This was the case of the two Villarets, who followed each other as Grand Masters during the sway of the Order in Rhodes.

Naval expeditions similar in character to those attempted under preceding Grand Masters marked the reign of Nicholas Cotoner by a series of victories in which the names of Tremincourt, Creinville, and Hocquincourt had earned undying fame.  

Fearing that the Turks will once again  attack Malta he took steps to further ensure the security of the island. To this end he called  Count Valperga, a most talented Italian engineer in the service of the Duke of Savoy. Under the direction of this engineer the stupendous fortifications known as " the Cottonera Lines " were constructed. The Grand Master laying the first stone in the bastion of St. Nicholas on the 28th August 1670, with the same pomp and ceremony as had been used by La Vallette at the dedication of the City of Valletta in 1566.

The works at Cottonera were carried on with great vigour for a period of ten years, at the end of which time, however, they were unfortunately stopped owing to lack of resources. This great work was then neglected for some thirty years and was eventually completed in 1716 by Grand Master Roccaful. Several important additions were made to the existing fortifications of Floriana. Under the superintendence of the eminent Valperga, a new fort was erected at the entrance of the grand harbour, which is still known as Fort Ricasoli, after a Florentine Knight of that name who had contributed 30,000 Maltese scudi towards its construction.

After successfully governing the Order for sixteen years, Nicholas Cotoner died on the 29th April 1680 at the age of seventy-five, to the great grief of the fraternity and of the Maltese people, to whom he had endeared himself by his wise administration.

1680 - 1690

Gregoire Carafa, of the Lange of Italy was elected Grand Master on the 2nd May 1680. The newly elected Grand Master, desirous of emulating his predecessor, at once devoted himself to the completion of the fortifications of Floriana and of the Cottonera Lines. Colonel Don Carlos de Grunenburg, chief engineer to the King of Spain, was consulted on the subject. The principal works, which appear to have been carried out under his superintendence were the construction of four batteries at the foot of Fort St. Angelo for the better protection of the grand harbour, and the fortifications around St. Elmo.

Several successful naval expeditions in the Levant took place during Carafa's rule, and the Emperor Leopold, in 1683, addressed a very flattering letter to the Grand. Master, thanking him most warmly for his continued efforts to protect Christendom from the incessant ravages of the Ottoman fleet.

In 1687 eight galleys of the Order under the command of Count Heberstein, Grand Prior of Hungary, greatly contributed to the successful issue of the day at Castel Nuovo, and by this last victory of the allied fleets the Moslems were finally driven from the Adriatic.

Carafa was attacked by a fierce and most malignant fever. He died, on the 21st July 1690, at the age of seventy-three, after a successful reign of ten years, during which period we find the most perfect tranquillity reigning within the Convent, and Malta prospering under his fostering care.

1690 - 1697

Adrien de Wignacourt. of the Lange of France and nephew of the former Grand Master of that name, was Grand Treasurer of the Order at the time of his election, which was on the 24th July 1690. His first act on assuming the reins of government was to establish a relief fund for the widows and orphans of those among the Maltese soldiery who had fallen in the wars which the Order had been waging for so many years against the Turks.

In 1693 a terrible earthquake that lasted at intervals for three days, causing considerable damage and distress in the island visited Malta. The cathedral church at Notabile was completely laid in ruins, and other buildings suffered most severely. The effects of this earthquake were still more serious in Sicily, and the town of Agosta was utterly destroyed. No sooner had this sad intelligence been conveyed to the Grand Master than he, at once despatched plentiful supplies, to which the wealthier Knights contributed munificently, thus alleviating the misery and destitution of the unfortunate inhabitants.

It was through the exertions of Wignacourt and the good offices of Pope Innocent XII. that the dispute which since the days of Lasearis had raged between the Knights of Malta and the Republic of Genoa on the question of naval salutes was amicably settled, and as the result of this reconciliation the Genoese were once more admitted into the Order. After a successful reign of seven years Adrian de Wignaeo died on the 4th February 1697, at the age of seventy-nine.

1697 - 1720

Ramon Perellos y Roccaful, of the Lange of Aragon and Bailiff of Negropont, was sixty years of age when he was unanimously elected to assume the magisterial office on the death of Adrian de Wignacourt on the 7th February 1697.

The Knights throughout the reign of Roccaful continued the naval expeditions against the Turks, which had added so much to the prosperity of the island. Although a large Turkish man-of-war of eighty guns was captured, still the necessity of augmenting the navy with vessels of larger size was greatly felt in order to be able to cope with more advantage with the Turkish fleet, which of late years had been considerably increased.

To place the navy of the Order on a surer footing, Roccaful built at his own expense the " St. Raymond," and three more vessels of the same type were built at the expense of the treasury. The command of the new fleet was entrusted to the Knight St. Pierre. Under whose superintendence the ships had been built, and, as a result of his first cruise, he captured a Tunisian flag-ship of eighty guns, which was at once added to the navy of the Order, under the title of "Santa Croce." In 1707 this vessel, under the command of the Knight De Langon, fought its way through the midst of the powerful Algerine fleet, then blockading Oran, and was able to disembark a strong Maltese contingent, together with a large supply of ammunition, to assist the besieged Spaniards.

In the following year a descent on Gozo was attempted by the Turks, but overtaken by De Langon, they suffered the loss of two of their vessels, and over 400 men were taken prisoners, the famous Tripolitan commander Stamboli being amongst the captives.

After a long illness, Roccaful died on the 10th January 1720, at the advanced age of eighty-four, mourned by all classes which for a period of twenty-two years had experienced the effects of his wise and successful administration. 

1720 - 1722

Marc Antoine Zondadari, of the Lange of Italy, brother of the celebrated cardinal of that name, and nephew to Pope Alexander VIL, was elected to succeed Ramon Perellos y Roccafull as the Grand Master on the 13th January 1720. At a very early age he had joined the ranks of the fraternity at Naples, rising with great rapidity to the rank of General of the Galleys, and was eventually appointed Master of the Horse in the household of the late Grand Master. 

The first important event which took place during his brief rule was the gallant capture, made by the navy of the Order, of two Turkish men-of-war, and the flagship of the Algerine navy of 25 guns, with a crew of 500 men. This success was soon followed by the capture of another Algerine vessel of 40 guns, and a Christian galley was retaken from the enemy after an hour of sharp fighting. The fleet of the Order of the Knights of St. John had at this period attained such a degree of superiority that the Infidels no longer dared to ravage the Mediterranean as they had been wont to do.

He was the only Grand Master who earned for himself a reputation for literary ability, through his valuable work on the history of the Order. Although his tenure of office extended only a little over two years, he enjoyed great popularity within the Convent, and was much beloved by the inhabitants of Malta, who deeply mourned his death, which took place on the 15th June 1722. 

1722 - 1736

Antonio Manoel de Vilhena, of the langue of Castile, Leon and Portugal, was Bailiff of Acre at the time when he was called upon to assume the reins of government on the death of Marcantonio Zondadari on the 19th June 1722. At a comparatively early age he had joined the ranks of the fraternity, and had gradually risen to occupy the most important and trustworthy positions that were in the power of the Order to bestow.

A temporary cloud threatened to disturb the early part of De Vilhena's peaceful rule. Ali, a Turkish slave in Malta, having obtained his freedom by exchange, returned to Constantinople and persuaded the Sultan to despatch a fleet for the capture of Malta. Alleging that it was arranged for the slaves, who actually outnumbered the population of the island, to rise at the approach of the vessels and secure possession of the town. De Vilhena, who, in accordance with the practice of his predecessors, maintained spies in Constantinople, was not long in learning of the plot, and he instantly took means to place Malta in a state of defence. Fort Manoel was constructed upon an island in the Marsamuseetto harbour for the better protection of the harbour itself and of the fortifications on the town side. Every precaution was taken to secure the numerous slaves who had so confidently allied themselves to the treacherous designs of the Moslem Ali.

The hostile fleet appeared off Malta on the 28th June 1722. Finding his plans frustrated, the Turkish commander, Abdi Agà', contented himself with writing a threatening letter to the Grand Master demanding that he should give up all the slaves in his possession under pain of incurring the displeasure of the Sultan. The Grand Master showed his readiness to treat for the exchange of captives. The matter was placed in the hands of Monsieur de Bonnac, French Ambassador at Constantinople. Through these good offices the negotiations would have been brought to a successful close, had not the officers of the Turkish fleet, through their influence over the Sultan, frustrated all further attempts, and the subject was finally abandoned.

During the fourteen years through which De Vilhena's rule lasted he had rendered himself most deservedly popular, 'both by his wise administration of office as well as by the charitable zeal which he constantly displayed for the aged poor. He died on the 10th December 1736, leaving behind him, as his epitaph tells us, "monuments of his piety, munificence, foresight, and charity.

1736 - 1741

Ramon Despuig,  of the Lange of Aragon, Bailiff of Majorca and Seneschal to the Grand Master, was elected to fill the magisterial dignity on the death of de Vilhena on 16th December 1736. His rule of five years presents no event of importance beyond the capture of several vessels of the Algerine navy, made by the galleys of the Order.

Gentle and mild in character, and an earnest lover of peace, Despuig died on the 15th January 1741, at the age of seventy-one years. 

1741 -1773

Manuel Pinto de Fonseca, of the Lange of Castille, Leon, Portugal,  Bailiff of Acre, was unanimously elected, on the 18th January 1741, to fill the vacant position of Grand Master on the death of Ramon Despuig.

A plot of the most dangerous character, and one that threatened the direst disaster to the Christian inhabitants of the island, was, however, discovered on the 6th June 1749. At the head of this conspiracy was the Pascha Mustafa, Governor of Rhodes, then a prisoner of war in Malta. This dignitary, while on his way to Rhodes, had been captured by the Christian slaves who manned his galley. The mutineers, after having murdered their officers and become masters of the vessel, made for Malta, where they arrived on the 2nd February 1748. 

The Pascha, instead of being looked upon as an ordinary prisoner of war, was treated by the Order with every mark of respect. From the moment of his arrival Mustafa devised the detestable plot of massacring the whole Christian population of Malta with the assistance of the Turkish slaves in the island, who at the time numbered about 1,500, and then annexing Malta to the Ottoman Empire. Continual promises of support from Constantinople emboldened the conspirators, and the 29th June, the festival of St. Peter and St. Paul was selected as the date on which their atrocious designs were to be carried out. As on that day the city would be practically deserted the majority of the inhabitants being away at the festivities at Notabile. Had it not been for an accidental quarrel that led to the betrayal of the plot, a wholesale massacre would have most undoubtedly ensued. 

The quarrel originated in a tavern where two of the conspirators had gone to endeavour to enlist as a confederate a young Maltese soldier of Pinto's bodyguard. Enraged by his continual refusals to join their ranks, they attempted to stab him. He would have been torn to pieces had it not been for the timely interference of the innkeeper, who, on learning the motive of the quarrel, lost no time in revealing this dangerous plot to the Grand Master himself. Several of the conspirators were at once seized and subjected to torture, under the extreme agonies of which a complete confession was extorted and some sixty of the ringleaders were put to death. The honest innkeeper, Cohen, was handsomely rewarded, and the faithful young soldier, Cassar, for his unflinching devotedness to his colours, was promoted from the ranks and given the command of Pinto's bodyguard, known as the " Guardia Urbana." On the anniversary of the discovery of the plot, the Knights of Malta regularly held a thanksgiving service in the church of St. John in commemoration of this providential escape from massacre.

Pinto died on the 23rd January 1773, at the advanced age of ninety-two, after governing the Order for no less a period than thirty-two years. 

1773 -1775

Francisco Ximenes de Texada, of the Lange of Aragon,  Grand Prior of Navarre and Seneschal to Pinto, was elected to succeed his late chief on 28th January 1773. The brief rule of this Grand Master marked by a succession of disorders and by a general feeling of discontent, not only within the Convent, but also among the people. Although a man who had gained a high reputation for his bravery, he rendered himself most unpopular by the arrogance of his bearing and the obstinacy of his character. Before to long he became involved in so many disputes that the island was thrown into a state of the utmost confusion.

In addition to the unpopularity of the Grand Master, the restrictions imposed upon those indulging in field sports. The suppression of various important appointments in the University and the proposed taxation of bread, were among the many causes of dissatisfaction which unfortunately led to the revolt of the 1st September 1775. This rebellion would undoubtedly have had very serious results had not the Order besought the intervention of Monsignor Pellerano, then Bishop of Malta. Ever submissive to ecclesiastical authority, the insurgents, on the appeal of their pastor, laid down their arms and tranquillity once more restored.  Ximenez died on the 9th November 1775, at the age of seventy-two, after an unfortunate reign oftwo years.

1775 - 1797

Emmanuel Marie de Rohan-Polduc, of the Lange of France, Bailiff of Justice and General of the Galleys oOrder of Malta appears to have been in a most flourishing condition. Considerable augmentation to its resources had latterly been made through the negotiations of its beloved chief, who throughout his reign had secured the attachment of all classes. Following De Vilhena's example, he established an extensive fort on Point Dragut, which protects the entrance of the harbour. This fort is still known as Fort Tigne', being named after the Grand Prior of Champagne, who had borne a large portion of the expense involved in its erection.

The peaceful calm which the Order enjoyed at this time was but the forerunner of the dreadful storm which, commencing with the French Revolution. After ravaging the whole of Europe it was destined to sweep the Knights of Malta from their island home, which they had so proudly and gallantly held for nearly three centuries.

De Rohan's first step on assuming the duties of his high office was to assemble a general chapter, a proceeding that had been allowed to lapse for a period of 155 years. All previous statutes were revised and several beneficial measures of reform were introduced, the whole being published in book form by order of this Grand Master. By his instructions a code of laws was also drawn up, which is still quoted in the Malta Courts as a model of jurisprudence.

The ancient institution of the Order of St. Anthony was incorporated with that of St. John in 1781 and its entire property transferred to the Knights of Malta. An Anglo-Bavarian language was created in 1782 in place of the language of England, which had been lost to the Order since 1538. The Elector of Bavaria endowed this new language, which comprised twenty commanderies, with the yearly income of £15,000, derived from the forfeited estates of the Jesuits in that kingdom.

On the 19th September 1792 the deadly blow was struck, when the Directory decreed that the various commanderies of the Order existing in France should be broken up and all their property confiscated by the State.This done, the Directory turned its attention to the expulsion of the Order from Malta, in the hope of attaching the island to French territory. The seeds of sedition and rebellion were sown amongst the Knights by secret agents from France, and later on were destined to help to bring about the downfall of the Order.

In the midst of this dark period, which presaged the inevitable destruction of an institution in whose fidelity he had placed his pride and reliance, De Rohan had a stroke of apoplexy, from which he never recovered. He died on the 13th July 1797 to the untold grief of the fraternity and of the inhabitants of Malta, whom he had wisely governed with paternal solicit for a period of twenty-two years.


Ferdinand von Hompesch, of the Lange of Germany, Grand Bailiff of Brandenburg, was elected Grand Master on the death of De Rohan on the 17th July 1797. Born in 1744, of one of the noblest families of the Lower Rhine, Hompesch resided in Vienna as ambassador of the Order to that Court, after which period he was elected to fill the important post of Chief of the Anglo-Bavarian language, which had been established in 1782.

The rule of Hompesch opened brightly owing to the support which Paul 1, then Emperor of Russia, gave to the Order, of which he was an enthusiastic admirer. He created a Russian Priory, which he endowed with revenue of £7,500, and which was incorporated with the Anglo-Bavarian language. For this practical proof of his friendship towards the fraternity, Paul 1 was accorded the title of "Protector of the Order of Malta, and decorated with the identical Grand Cross which had been worn by the celebrated La Vallette.

The day, however, was drawing near when the Order was to be dispersed from the island-home which for nearly three centuries had witnessed scenes of its most glorious achievements, and over which its chiefs had ruled so wisely and beneficially.

Hompesch paid but scant attention to the continual warnings which he had received of the vast armament which Napoleon was preparing at Toulon, believing that the French Government had no intention of showing any hostility to the Order, and that the real destination of the fleet was Egypt. It was not long, however, before he discovered that he had lulled himself into a sense of false security.

On the 9th June 1798 the great armada appeared off Malta, comprising four hundred transports convoyed by fifteen ships of the line, fifteen frigates, seven corvettes and three armed vessels of smaller size, carrying a total strength of 54,000 men, under the command of the already celebrated General Bonaparte.

Napoleon at once sent an aide-de-camp to the Grand Master asking free entrance for his fleet into the Grand Harbour under pretence that his ships were short of water. Hompesch met this demand with a stern refusal, alleging that such an act would be a breach of neutrality, and that in virtue of the Treaty of 1798 it was only possible to admit four vessels at a time. This was the answer that Napoleon desired, as it gave the necessary pretext for a quarrel. As soon as Bonaparte received the message, he ordered the French Consul Caruson, whom he detained on board the " Orient," to write a threatening letter to the Grand Master. In which he was given to understand of Bonaparte's intention was to obtaining by force what should have been granted to him by the principles of hospitality, which he knew to be the basis of the Order of the Knights of Malta.

On Sunday, the 10th June, 15,000 men were landed at eleven different points, and in less than two hours the French occupied the whole outlying country. Meanwhile great confusion was everywhere. Rumours of treachery were rife, and the ingenuous populace in their blind fury committed many acts of violence against the Knights, for which the French emissaries of sedition were alone to be blamed. Several sorties were made in order to prevent the combined advance of the besieging army, but to no purpose, and at last negotiations were entered into with Bonaparte demanding a cessation of hostilities. This was granted on condition that it was only to treat for the surrender of the island. The agreement was signed on the 12th June, in virtue of which " the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem delivered " to the French Army the town and forts of Malta, renouncing " in favour of the French Republic the sovereign rights and property they possessed in the islands.

Such were, the principal terms of the capitulation, which handed over the islands of Malta to the French. Their sway, however, was only of a short duration. After two years of vicissitude the ultimate destination of the islands was determined on the 30th May 1814, in the seventh article of the Treaty of Paris, in the following terms "The Island of Malta with its dependencies will appertain in full authority and sovereignty to His Britannic Majesty   Hompesch Died on the 12th May 1805