The Knights of St. John

The Order of the Knights Hospitalers of St John of Jerusalem was founded in Jerusalem in 1113 by Brother Gerard, a Benedictine monk. The Order which was officially approved by Pope Paschall II was formed principally to take care of the sick and provide lodgings for pilgrims visiting the holy places of Jerusalem.

With the passage of time, the Orders role spread into providing armed escort for pilgrims and eventually into fighting the Muslims themselves when the order became a military order.

In 1187 Saladin captured Jerusalem and the Knights were forced to leave. From there they transferred their headquarters to Acre then on to Cyprus and finally to Rhodes which they conquered after a two year battle in 1308. They remained there for about 200 years.

 During their 200 year stay in Rhodes they were constantly harassed by the Turks. The Knights became expert seamen and pirates, and plied their trade against Turkish convoys and merchantmen operating in the vicinity of Rhodes. The Order rapidly developed into a great- sea-power in the Mediterranean.

While in Rhodes the Knights founded a hospital, built the auberges, which pertained to different langues, and fortified the island. The Turks could not ignore this Christian bastion on their doorstep and in 1480 the Turks besieged Rhodes but did not succeed in taking the island. It was at this time the the Order reorganized itself into the eight Langues.

Again the Turks attacked and following a 6-month siege by Soleyman's invasion force which consisted of 700 ships and 200,000 men, the knights were compelled to relinquish the island of Rhodes on the 1st of January, 1523.

The knights soon started their peregrinations in search of a new home. Provisionally they set up their Convent in Viterbo. Subsequently, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V of Spain, granted on fief the Maltese Islands together with Tripoli to the Order. The islands were granted to them for the token payment of one falcon a year (incidentally, this is where the legend of the Maltese Falcon began). Led by the aging Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L'Isle Adam, on board the carrack Sant Anna, they entered Malta's harbor, accompanied by 4,000 men of the Order on the 26th October 1530.  Malta's population was 12,000.

The Knights immediately began to fortify the island. From Malta, and with the aide of the all ready pirate employed Maltese, they continued to harass Turkish merchantmen. They were more effective from Malta, because they were able to control shipping between Africa and Turkey, as well as the East-West axis.

In August 1557, a Frenchman, Jean Parisot de la Vallette was elected Grand Master at the age of 67. In August of 1567 Sulieman the Magnificent, now an old man, decided to inflict a decisive blow on Malta and the Knights, his mortal enemies. On receiving the news, La Vallette continued to extend the islands fortifications and recalled Knights from all over Europa, as well as began stockpiling adequate supplies for the inevitable battle to come.

The siege began on the 18 of May 1565. It ended four months later in September when the utterly defeated Turkish force withdrew back to Turkey.

The Order and the Maltese enjoyed a "Golden Age" as the island prospered under the Orders influence. The island was fortified even further, and its capital, Valletta was considered an impregnable fortress. Each successive Grand Master continued to build and add to the fortifications even further. A long period of peace was enjoyed and the only "true" military action the Knights took during this time (they continued their piracy) was at Lepanto, where the Order contributed seven galleys to the battle.

By the eighteenth century, however, the importance of the Order was greatly weakened. During the French revolution in 1798 the Order suffered another heavy blow when the wealth of the Order in France was confiscated by the revolutionary government. The orders income was reduced to 1/6 of what it was.

In 1798, while Napoleon was on his way to campaign in Egypt he landed in Malta under the pretext of obtaining water and supplies. He then marched on to Valletta and presented an ultimatum to the Knights demanding Grand Master Hompsech surrender. Hompsech faced by a corrupt an unprepared Knighthood and insurrection from the Maltese decided to surrender Valletta to Napoleon. What was considered Europa's best fortress was conquered without a shot being fired. Napoleon pensioned off the Grand Master and within four days the Knights had left the islands.

After Napoleon was defeated in Egypt, the Maltese with the aide of the British successfully besieged the French garrison in Valletta. Under the Treaty of Amiens, 1802, Malta was to be returned to the Order. But pro-British demonstrations took place and Malta eventually (voluntarily) joined the British Empire

The order had effectively ceased to exist.  After 900 years the Order of St. John was no longer a Knighthood in the true sense of the word. The Order still exists today in a symbolic capacity, and has 300 members world wide. They also maintain an embassy at their last and most glorious home - Valletta, Malta. The Knights of St John are the worlds oldest Knighthood and the worlds third oldest religious order.




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