The Knights of Malta have left a tremendous inheritance on the Maltese islands. A heritage spanning an incredible 268 years. Malta was little known before then. Their presence changed all that. Thanks to their determination we have become what we are today.
It was the start of a long process of change which gave Malta importance due to the achievements and power of the knights.
Before the knights the island were under the influence of the feudal laws. The Maltese needed a change, as they were being robbed of their few belongings and taxed on the few crops they produced by the foreign lords.
When the knights arrived they started changing all this.
Initially the Knights of Rhodes (as they were called before they arrived in Malta) did not want to accept Malta. When the Grand Master sent representatives to survey the islands, they found that it was a barren land with few fortifications and lack of water which were inadequate to their needs.
However they had no choice but to accept as otherwise they would have been left without anywhere to settle. They had left Rhodes against their will, having been driven out by the Ottoman Turks in 1522. So after eight years without a home, they had nowhere to go.
The European nobility knew of the strength of the knights who were fantastic seamen. They had fought the Ottoman Empire in various battles with formidable results. So giving them Malta was a tactical decision. In time this proved right.
Although they had asked many European princes for a concession, only the Emperor Charles V of Sicily listened to their needs. In 1530 the Knights of Rhodes under the leadership of Frenchman Philippe de Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Grand Master of the Order, granted Malta under the perpetual lease for which they had to pay tribute of a Maltese Falcon.
On arrival they went to live in the three cities. The only fortifications of the time were Birgu and Mdina. They settled in Birgu and there they started constructing buildings and to house the different langue knights and their administration quarters. At the time Valletta was only a hill with Fort St. Elmo at the tip of the peninsula.
Immediatley they started to strengthen the existing fortifications apart from modernising them to more modern warfare. The threat of the Ottoman Empire was always very real and no time could be lost in strengthening their position after so many years without a home.
These dramatic developments placed
Malta on the European and international map for the first time.
Fort St. Angelo became the seat of the Grand Master, which included the refurbishing of the Castellan’s House and St. Anne’s Chapel.
During their stay the Knights started to be called the Knights of Malta.
The Order of Malta was and remains one of the few that was born in the middle ages and is still active in today’s society. It is a religious and sovereign order. It is difficult to find another order having these two functional aspects. As soon as the military power had diminished through time, the order itself lost its importance. The Order is still very active in today’s world.
All coming from noble families from all over Europe, the Knights of Malta represent a prestigious heritage of military, chivalrous and noble nature throughout their 960 years of existence.
We as Maltese feel proud of what they have given us throughout their 268 years in Malta. We are highlighting the names with which the order had been known throughout this time. It has evolved depending where they used to live according to the circumstances of the time.
They are still known as the Knights of St John since the patron saint is St. John the Baptist and through their presence in the Holy Land since their beginning.
The order was established in 1099. On the 15th February 1113, Pope Paschal II recognized the order with a papal bull of sovereignty named “Pie Postulatio Voluntatis" establishing its sovereign status. It became independent from any other religious or lay authority.
People used to call them the Knights Hospitalliers, or the Knights Hospitallier, as they used to care for the sick pilgrims who used to go to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Sepulchre of Jesus Christ. They used to operate through a hospital located in the old city of Jerusalem in the Christian quarter. They provided care for poor and sick pilgrims who used to travel from European countries to visit the Holy Land.
This can be explained by its nine centuries of eventful life and in particular because the Knights have often been forced to move from countries where they once played a leading role.
After conquering the island of Rhodes (today a Greek island) in 1310, they became the Knights of Rhodes. The Knights had to leave Rhodes in 1523 due to heavy fighting with the Turks where ultimately they surrendered the island to the Turks.
After several years without a home, in 1530, the Emperor Charles V surrendered the island of Malta to the Knights. They remained here from 1530 to 1798, during which time they were supreme rulers. Since that time the Order’s members are commonly referred to as the Knights of Malta.
The official name of the Order of Malta is Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta.