1902 Encyclopedia > Knights of St John (Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem)

Knights of St John
(Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem)




(see KNIGHTHOOD). In the year 1023 certain merchants of Amalfi obtained permission from the caliph of Egypt to establish a hospital in Jerusalem for the use of "poor and sick Latin pilgrims." The hospice prospered far beyond the hopes of its founders,


its funds, while others voluntarily remained behind to assist actively in its pious purposes. With its increased utility organization became necessary, and in this organiza-tion is to be found the origin of the Order of Saint John. When Jerusalem was taken by Godfrey de Bouillon (see CRUSADES), his wounded soldiers were tended by Peter Gerard, rector of the Amain hospital of St John, and the more wealthy of the crusaders eagerly followed the example of their leader in endowing so useful and so practical an institution. Many of the Christian warriors sought per-mission to join the ranks of the fraternity. At the pro-posal of Gerard a regularly constituted religious body was formed; the patriarch of Jerusalem invested every approved candidate with a black robe bearing on the breast an eight-pointed white cross and received in return a vow of poverty, obedience, and chastity. In 1113 Pope Paschal II. formally sanctioned the establishment of the order by a bull. Five years later Gerard was succeeded by Raymond du Puy, and under his auspices the monastic knights took a fresh oath to become militant defenders of the cause of the Cross. During the first century of its existence the fraternity thus acquired a religious, republican, military, and aristocratic character. The rules introduced by Raymond du Puy became the basis of all subsequent regulations ; the lead-ing members of the hospital or master's assistants were formed into an all-powerful council, which divided the order into knights of justice, chaplains, and serving brethren. There was also an affiliation of religious ladies (dames) and of donats or honorary members. The income of the body corporate was derived from landed property in all parts of Europe. To facilitate the collection of rents, commanderies (first called preceptories) were formed. These gradually acquired the character of branch establishments where candidates were received and the same obser-vances practised as in the parent convent. Raymond du Puy twice repulsed the advancing Turks; and Hugh de Payens, fired by the successes of the Hospitallers, founded the sister order of the Temple. In 1160 Raymond du Puy died. The rule of his immediate successors was unevent-ful ; Gilbert d'Ascali greatly weakened the influence of the order by joining (1168) in an ill-fated expedition to Egypt. Roger Desmoulins, the eighth master, was killed fighting against Saladin before Jerusalem, while his suc-cessor, Gamier de Napoli, died of the wounds he received in the decisive battle of Tiberias, which led to the surrender of Jerusalem to the Moslems in 1187. The seat of the order was now transferred to Margat, a town which still remained in the possession of the Christians, and it becomes difficult to trace the frequent changes of the mastership. The dangerous enmity which arose between the Hospitallers and the Templars necessitated the energetic intervention of the pope. In 1216 Andrew, king of Hungary, was received into the order. The brief occupations of Jeru-salem by the emperor Frederick II. (1228) and by Richard of Cornwall (1240) had little appreciable effect on the waning fortunes of the Hospitallers. A savage horde from the borders of the Caspian advanced against the Christians, and in the final straggle with the Chorasmians the masters of both orders—united before the common enemy—fell with nearly the whole of their followers (1244). William de Chateauneuf, elected to the mastership by the few sur-vivors, repaired to Acre only to take part in the fruitless crusade of Louis of France. The truce between the rival orders was doomed to be of short duration. In 1259 their armies met in a general engagement, and victory rested with the Hospitallers. A brief period of success in 1281 was powerless to avert the fall of Margat, and in 1289 Acre alone remained in the hands of the Christians. John de Villiers, a man of singular ability, became at this criti-cal juncture master of the order. An overwhelming force was sent from Egypt to besiege Acre, which only fell after a desperate resistance. Under cover of the arrows of their archers the knights sailed for Cyprus (1291). Repeated acts of prowess by sea still served to remind the Moslem corsairs of the survival of their implacable foes. De Villiers died three years later and was succeeded by Odon de Pins, who tried ineffectually to restore the purely con-ventual character of the order. William de Villaret, (elected in 1300) shared the dangers of an expedition to Palestine and prepared for the conquest of Rhodes, which was effected in 1310 by his brother and successor. The. revenues of the Hospitallers were now augmented from, the confiscated estates of their old rivals the Templars.. Fulk de Villaret was attacked at Rhodes by Osman, ruler of Bithynia, but with the assistance of Amadeus of Savoy he defeated the invaders. A serious difference which arose between De Villaret and his subordinate knights enabled Pope John XXII. to appoint his nominee John de Villa-nova (1319). It was at this period that the order was divided into the seven langues of France, Provence, Au-vergne, Italy, Germany, England, and Aragon. In 1346 De Gozon became grand-master. His administration and that of his immediate successors are only remarkable for a perpetual straggle for supremacy with the papal court. In 1365 Raymond Beranger captured Alexandria in concert with the king of Cyprus, but the victors contented themselves with burning the city. Philibert de Naillac-had no sooner been elected grand-master than he was sum-moned to join the European crusade against the sultan Bajazet, and took part in the disastrous battle of Nicopolis. The Greek emperor unfortunately invoked the aid of Timur, who overthrew Bajazet, but followed up his success by an attack on Smyrna, the defence of which had been entrusted to the knights. Smyrna was taken and its brave garrison put to the sword. In 1440 and 1444 De Lastic defeated two expeditions sent against him from Egypt. Nine years later Constantinople fell at last into the hands of the Turks. It was evident to the knights that an attack on their sanctuary would follow the triumph of Islam, but it was not till 1480 that the long-dreaded descent on Rhodes took place. Fortunately for the order, Peter d'Aubusson was grand-master, and the skilfully planned attack of the three renegades was valorously repulsed. The heroic D'Aubusson recovered from his wounds, restored the shattered fortifications, and survived till 1503. Nearly twenty years passed away before the sultan Solyman de-termined to crush the knights, who had just elected LTsle d'Adam as their chief. After a glorious resistance, D'Adam capitulated and withdrew with all the honours of war to Candia (Crete). Charles V., when the news of the disaster reached him, exclaimed, " Nothing in the world has been so well lost as Rhodes," and five years later (1530), with the approval of the pope, ceded the island of Malta and the fortress of Tripoli in Africa to the homeless knights. Peter Dupont succeeded D'Adam in 1534, and in the^ following year took a prominent part in the emperor's, famous expedition against Tunis. The position in Tripoli was from the first precarious, and it was surrendered to. the corsair Dragut in 1551. In 1557 John La Valette was chosen grand-master. The construction of fresh forti-fications was hastened and every precaution taken against a surprise. On the 18th May 1565 the Turkish fleet under the redoubtable Dragut appeared in sight and one; of the most celebrated sieges in history began. It was finally raised on the 8th September after the death of Dragut and 25,000 of his followers.' The city of Valetta. afterwards rose on the scene of this desperate struggle. La Valette died in 1568, and no events of importance-mark the grand-masterships of De Monte (1568), De la Cassiere (1572), and Verdala (1581). During their term*


of office the cathedral, the auberges, the hospital, and many remarkable edifices were built. Another city gradu-ally arose on the opposite shores of the grand harbour, and the once barren island became almost imperceptibly the site of one of the strongest fortresses and most nourishing commercial communities in the Mediterranean. Verdala was succeeded by Martin Garces (1595), but it was reserved for Alof de Vignacourt to revive for a time the military reputation of the order. Vasconcellos, De Paula, and Lascaris were all aged men when, one after another, they were called to the supreme power, and their election (with a view to secure frequent vacancies) contributed to weaken the vitality of the fraternity. Lascaris lived till the age of ninety-seven, built the fortifications of Floriana, en-dowed Valetta with a public library, and resisted the grow-ing encroachments of the Jesuits. Martin de Redin and Raphael Cottoner ruled each for three years. Nicholas Cottoner was elected in 1663, and the knights of St John once again distinguished themselves in the siege of Candia. The losses which the order sustained in the repulse of the allies before Negropont (1689) was the indirect cause of the death of Caraffa, who was succeeded by Adrian de Vignacourt (1690), Raymond Perellos (1697), Zondodari 1720), De Vilhena (1722), Despuig (1736), and Pinto 1741). Emmanuel Pinto was a man of no mean ability and of considerable force of character. He steadily resisted all papal encroachments on his authority, expelled the Jesuits from Malta, and declined to hold a chapter-general. After the brief rule of Francis Ximines, Emmanuel de Rohan became grand-master (1775). He assembled a chapter-general, erected the Anglo-Bavarian langue, and sent his galleys to relieve the sufferers from the great earth-quake in Sicily. The order never perhaps seemed to all outward appearances more prosperous than when the storm of the French Revolution broke suddenly upon it. In 1792 the Directory decreed the abolition of the order in France and the forfeiture of its possessions. Five years afterwards De Rohan died. He had taken no pains to conceal his sympathy for the losing cause in France and his court had become an asylum and home for many French refugees. His successor Ferdinand Hompeschwas perhaps the weakest man ever elected to fill a responsible position in critical times. On the 12th April 1798 the French Government resolved on the forcible seizure of Malta. Warnings were sent to the grand-master in vain. Within two months from that date the island was in the hands of Bonaparte, and Hompesch was permitted to retire to Trieste with some of the most cherished relics of the order.
Subsequent to the departure of Hompesch a number of the knights who had taken refuge at St Petersburg elected the emperor Paul grand-master. Notwithstanding the patent illegality of the pro-ceeding the proffered honour was eagerly accepted and duly an-nounced to all the courts of Europe (October 1798). Hompesch was induced to resign in the following year. On the death of Paul an arrangement was arrived at which vested the actual nomination in the pope. From 1805 to 1879 only lieutenants of the order were appointed, who resided first at Catania, then at Ferrara, and finally at Rome. In 1879 Leo XIII. made Giovanni Battista Ceschi grand-master, and he actually rules over portions of the Italian and German langues and some other scattered groups of the ancient fraternity.
Two other associations also trace their origin from the same parent stock—the Brandenburg branch and the English langue. The former can claim an unbroken existence since its establishment in 1160. In 1853 the king of Prussia (in whom the right of nomina-tion had been vested since 1812) restored the original bailiwick of Brandenburg and the assembled commanders elected Prince Charles of Prussia Herrn Meistcr, who notified his election to the lieutenant of the grand-master at Rome. The " Johanniter " did good service in the German campaigns of 1866 and 1870. As regards the English langue, 1 Elizabeth c. 24 annexed to the crown all the property of the order in England. After the restoration of the Bourbons the French knights met once more in chapter-general and elected a permanent capitular commission, which was officially recognized by both Louis XVIII. and the pope. After certain negotiations, the three French langues, acting in accord with those of Aragon and Castile, agreed to the resuscitation of the dormant langue of England (1827-1831), and Sir Robert Peat was appointed lord prior, taking the customary oath de fideli administratione in the Court of King's Bench. During the past half century the good work done by the modern knights—now (1886) once more located in St John's Gate, Clerkenwell—can honourably compare with the memorable^ deeds of their predecessors. The establishment of the hospice at Jerusalem is due to the energy and zeal of Sir Edmund Lechmere, who has been mainly instrumental in collecting at St John's Gate the unrivalled historical literature of which the order can boast.
There are few subjects of study which present so rich and so varied materials,
as the annals of the knights of St John. The archives still preserved in Malta
are almost unique in their value and completeness, and each grand-master
patronized and encouraged the industrious historiographers who sought to
perpetuate the fame of the order to which they belonged. The work of Giacomo-
Bosio is an elaborate and generally trustworthy record of events from the time
of Gerard down to the year 1571. Bartolomeo del Pozzo treats with equal care
the period between 1571 and 1636. Editions of these volumes were published
in Rome, Naples, Verona, and Venice. The Abbe Vertot concludes his elaborate
history with the year 1726. His book enjoyed a considerable popularity, waB
published in English with the original plates in 172S, but can hardly claim the
confidence to which Bosio and Del Pozzo are both entitled. From the 16th
century down to the appearance of the famous Codice of De Rohan (1782) we
have a series of publications on the subject of the statutes of the order. A
fresh compilation seems generally to have followed each assembly of the chapter-
general. Before the time of De Rohan the best-known edition was that of
Borgofante (1676), but Bosio produced a translation from the Latin in 1589 when
residing at Rome as agent of the grand-master, and another was printed at th&
press of the order in Malta in 1718. The Memorie de' Gran Maestri by Bodoni
(Parma, 1780) may also be consulted with advantage. For information con-
cerning the archaeology of the order and the antiquities of Malta itself reference
should be made to Abela and Ciantar's Malta Illustrate, dedicated to Em.
Pinto in 1772 ; to Raphael Carnana's Collezione di monumenti e lapidi sepolcrali
di militi Gerosolimitani nelle chiesa di San Giovanni (Malta, 1838-40); to De Bois-
gelin's Malta (3 vols.) ; and to Les Monnmens des Grands Maltres, by Villeneuve-
Bargemont (Paris, 1829). The last-named writer has, however, drawn largely
on his own imagination for the earlier part of the informatiou he professes to
give. In English the most noteworthy treatises concerning the knights are
John Taaffe's History of the Order of Malta (London, 1852, 4 vols.) and General
Porter's History of the Knights of Malta of the Order of St John of Jerusalem
(London, 1883). The Rev. W. R. Bedford has recently published a valuable
account of the great hospital at Valetta. A useful guide to the contents of
the Malta Record Office is to be found in M. Delaville Le Roulx's Archives
de I'Ordre de St Jean de Jerusalem (Paris, 1883). (A. M. B.)







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