23 June 2015

The Fall of Fort St. Elmo

On this the 450th anniversary of the fall of Fort St. Elmo I am re-posting an article from 2009.

What these few knights, soldiers and civilians withstood for a horrifying month is nothing short of miraculous. Below is an excerpt of a talk given by Michael Davies in 2002 that was part of a conference given at the Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute 2002 Summer Symposia entitled “The 1st Through 8th Crusades; Military Orders; Catharist Crusade; and the Siege of Malta.” The full article can be read here, it describes some of what they went through during that month.

Mustapha finally acknowledged that St. Elmo could not be taken within that day and ordered the recall. St. Angelo's suddenly heard a burst of cheering from their brothers in St. Elmo. They had lost 200 men in the battle, in comparison to 2,000 Turks. But they knew the end was near, for there would be no more reinforcements.

St. Elmo's men readied themselves for a fight to the death. The two chaplains who had stayed with the defenders throughout the siege confessed the remaining knights and soldiers. Determined that the Mohammedans would not have the opportunity to mock or desecrate their holy relics, the knights and the chaplains hid the precious objects of the Faith beneath the stone floors of the chapel, and dragged the tapestries, pictures and wooden furniture outside and set them on fire
. They then tolled the bell of the small chapel to announce to their brethren in the nearby forts that they were ready for the end.

In the gray pre-dawn light of the 23rd of June, Piali's ships closed in for the kill. The galleys, pointing their lean bows at the ruined fort, opened up their bow chasers in unison with the first charge made by the entire Turkish army. To the astonishment of Mustapha and his council, Fort St. Elmo held for over an hour. Less than 100 men remained after that first onslaught, yet the Ottoman army was forced to draw back and re-form. The knights who were too wounded to stand placed themselves in chairs in the breach with swords in their hands.

There was something about the next attack that told the garrisons looking on from Birgu and Senglea that all was over. The white-robed troops poured down the slopes, hesitated like a curling roller above the wall, and then burst across the fort, spreading like an ocean over St. Elmo. One by one the defenders perished, some quickly and mercifully, others dying of wounds among the bodies of their friends.

The Italian Knight Francisco Lanfreducci, acting on orders received before the battle began, crossed to the wall opposite Bighi Bay and lit the signal fire. As the smoke curled up and eddied in the clear blue sky, La Valette knew that the heroic garrison and the fort they had defended to the end were lost.

It was now that Mustapha Pasha impatiently strode to view his conquest. A standard-bearer carrying the banner of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent stepped through the breach into St. Elmo. Standing victorious on the ruins of St. Elmo's walls, with the flag of St. John in the dust at his feet, Mustapha gazed at the massive bulk of Fort St. Angelo on the horizon. “Allah!” he cried. “If so small a son has cost us so dear, what price shall we have to pay for so large a father?”

In an offensive act of cruelty, he ordered the bodies of the knights to be set apart from the common soldiers. Their heads were struck from their bodies and fixed on stakes overlooking Grand Harbor. The beheaded corpses were then stripped of their mail, nailed to crossbeams of wood in mockery of the crucifixion, and launched onto the waters of Grand Harbor that night.

It was the eve of the Feast of St. John, the patron saint of the Order. Despite the loss of St. Elmo, the Grand Master had given orders for the normal celebrations to take place. Bonfires were lit and church bells were rung throughout Birgu and Senglea. The next morning the headless bodies of the knights washed up at the base of Fort St. Angelo.

Image  THE CAPTURE OF FORT ST. ELMO by Mateo Perez d’Aleccio

22 June 2015

The Day Before the Fall of Fort St Elmo

From an account of the Great Siege of Malta from the Malta Heritage Site. On the day before the fall of Fort St. Elmo the remaining 100 defenders, without ammunition, their leaders dead and themselves half dead from exhaustion and their own wounds prepared themselves for the final battle.
As the hours passed and no relief came, the survivors in Fort St Elmo realized that no help was going to come to them. With this bitter recognition, they resigned themselves to their fate and they started to comfort each other through these agonizing moments. They were determined to die in the service of Jesus Christ and although they were half dead from fatigue, they never rested but worked to improve their defences.

This was surely a dreadful time for our men and to make things worse, the enemy spent the whole night bombarding them, sounding the alarm and skirmishing. Clearly, they did so in order to break down the defenders so that by morning, they would be completely worn out.

As their end seemed to get closer by the hour, the last defenders of Fort St Elmo confessed to each other and implored Our Lord to have mercy on their souls for the sake of the blood that He had shed for their redemption.

10 June 2015

Knights of Malta Introduce Fire Hoops in Combat During Great Siege

From the Heritage Malta's website commemorating the 450th Anniversary of the Great Siege is an account on what happened on this day during the siege.
On Sunday, June 10, Grand Master Jean de La Valette sent a quantity of ammunition to Fort St Elmo. Besides the usual supplies of powder, shot, and grenades, he also sent over a number of new incendiary devices which had never been put to use until then. The idea behind this invention is said to have been that of the knight Ramon Fortuyn. Basically, these weapons consisted of barrel hoops that were well covered with caulking tow and well steeped in a cauldron of boiling tar. During an assault, they were set on fire and hurled at the enemy, causing significant damage by their flame and smoke.

05 June 2015

The Torpichen Preceptory - Ancient HQ of the SMOM in Scotland

The Torpichen Preceptory was the headquarters for the Knights of Malta in Scotland. 
Here is a link to more pictures and historical information on the Torpichen Preceptory,
http://www.armadale.org.uk/preceptory.htm where the following information was taken.

Torphichen Preceptory, the former administrative headquarters, in Scotland, of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, is situated below the Torphichen Hills, in the village of Torphichen, West Lothian, twenty miles west of Edinburgh.  All that remains of the church and monastery (that: once owned vast swathes of land in Scotland; recruited knights and men to fight; organised the care of ill and wounded during their many military campaigns) is represented by a tall tower with singularly high transepts on both sides.
In 1132, David I invited the Order to Scotland.  By 1153, it had been granted a charter to build its Preceptory at Torphichen. The Preceptory became the Hospitallers' principal Scottish house, dependent on the Clerkenwell-based Hospitallers' Priory, which oversaw the British Isles.  Torphichen was significant not only as a sheltered, well-resourced community on a long-distance travellers’ route, but also for its site where a wooden church is thought to have been established by St Ninian. 

By 1168, King William IV decreed that the Chapel at Torphichen should rank as Parish Church and that it should recognise St Michael’s, Linlithgow, as its Mother Church. From the twelfth to the fifteenth century, the Preceptory was built, rebuilt and enlarged. A cruciform church was built with an aisleless nave, central tower, transepts, a choir, and, on the north side, around a cloistered courtyard, domestic buildings (housing the Preceptor’s private quarters, a refectory and kitchen, as well as a dormitory).  The Preceptory was dedicated to John the Baptist and one of its side altars was dedicated to St Ninian.  By 1500, the transepts had been rebuilt with new windows and vaulting, and a new stair-turret had been added to the tower.  The tower and transepts remain today, but the nave was demolished in 1761 to allow for the construction of Torphichen Kirk. 

By the late twelfth century, the Order had accumulated many minor holdings and Malcolm IV added to them by granting the Order one toft in all of his burghs.  This was particularly useful as, by 1300, the Order enjoyed a special category of exemption from secular service in its burgh properties. By 1226, the Hospitallers had continued expanding westward, securing the rights of teinds in nearby Ogilface to add to those they enjoyed in Torphichen.  
The Grand Master and the Pope were involved in the selection of the Preceptor, but the King of Scotland appointed him formally.  The Preceptor was responsible for the administration of ecclesiastical and secular property, as well as for giving spiritual guidance to the Order.  He had to secure the maximum returns from the Preceptory’s properties while paying for the maintenance of buildings in various places, including an Edinburgh townhouse, as well as meeting the cost of the administration of properties scattered over a wide area.  He was responsible for sending his responsions (payment) to the convent in Rhodes via the English Priory at Clerkenwell.

In 1291 and in 1296, Alexander de Welles, Master of Torphichen Preceptory, swore fealty to Edward I and the Order supported the English side during the Wars of Independence. During the period between the Battle of Stirling in September 1297 and the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298, William Wallace and his army camped at Torphichen, the Order probably removing itself to another location during their occupancy.  Before the Battle of Falkirk, Wallace was entertained at Torphichen by the Preceptor Alexander de Welles. The only surviving document signed by Wallace was prepared at the Preceptory during that period.  On 22 July 1298, during the battle, Alexander de Welles was killed.  Also at the battle were Adam de Welle(s) of Lincolnshire, and later of Yester Castle, Lothian, and Philip de Welle(s).  After the battle, the victorious Edward I came to the Preceptory for treatment to his horse-inflicted chest injury, which had happened at his Polmont camp before the battle.  After the success of the English campaign, the Order’s relationship with its Scottish neighbours was more strained, as shown by an English Priory petition to Edward I to allow the Torphichen Hospitallers to be received in Linlithgow Palace when the need arose.  As in the case of the Templars, the Hospitallers’ household was mainly English knights, and their main English house, the Priory, was at Clerkenwell, London.  Such ties with England appear to have made them unpopular in Scotland during subsequent centuries.

Since the arrival of the Knights Templar in Scotland in 1128, as a result of the efforts of their first master, Hugh de Paiens of Champagne, the Order had impressed David I greatly.  It provided the fighting men to defend the Holy Land and the Order was admirably rewarded for its Brother-Knights’ efforts.  Most Templars appear to have been English and they administered their Scottish lands as part of the English Priory.  Also, they served in the royal household from David I’s time and seem to have enjoyed a sound and influential relationship with the Crown, providing the required military presence in the Holy Land while also providing other services at home, such as an almoner to the Scottish throne and a banking service to the English King.

The power of the Order of the Knights Templar through its immense wealth was seen with increasing suspicion by many in Scotland, and so the accusations against the Order’s members, at their Holyrood trial in 1309, were not unexpected.
Three years after the trial, the Order of the Knights Templar was suppressed by Pope Clement V.  Its wealth in Scotland was half as much again as that of the Knights Hospitaller. Its extensive lands in Scotland, (five baronies, patronage of six kirks and sundry lands), which had been administered from its Temple monastery, were granted to the Knights Hospitaller, thereby markedly increasing the property administered by the Torphichen headquarters.  However, there is evidence that the Hospitallers struggled to gain possession of some Templar properties well into the fourteenth century. The re-distribution of estates encouraged dishonest practices, one of those accused of such conduct being Reginald More, a lay administrator at Torphichen. 

After 1312, the Hospitallers acquired most of their appropriated parish churches.  The Preceptor of the Order owned six baronies including Torphichen, each of which contributed towards the maintenance of the Order and his household, but problems arose as each of the baronies was isolated from the others, and so they had to be overseen remotely.  Although the work of the Hospitallers, as well as that of other crusading orders, was widely appreciated, many of the gifts were only small parts of the holdings of the benefactors, and so the geographically scattered gifts were often difficult to administer and unprofitable as assets, unless leased, or even sold.  As a result, Preceptors had to possess sound business skills to ensure the efficient administration of the Order’s holdings.  

By the fifteenth century, many of the properties had been let as a lease or feuferm, initially disapproved of, but accepted, eventually, by the Church. Land donations were given generously, especially by the King and his nobles, so that, by the early 1500s, the Order owned over 700 properties in Scotland, particularly in the Borders, Central Belt and along the east coast, but not in Argyll, Bute or Orkney.  

In 1314, after the Scots’ victory at Bannockburn, the Knights Hospitaller left Scotland, only returning after a reconciliation with Robert the Bruce.  In 1356, the Pope recommended the appointment of David de Mar, Procurator to the Hospital of St John of Rhodes, as Preceptor, but the subsequent appointment caused further controversy, and even his successor was unsuccessful in resolving the issue.  Eventually, it was agreed that all money should be funnelled through the London Priory and that Robert Grant should be appointed to exercise his singular administrative skills. 

Recruited novices were supposed to receive religious training, but this did not happen while their services were needed in the military campaigns of the Middle East.  Priest brothers received training at the monastery while elderly or infirm brothers lived their final years there, receiving care from the hospice.  However, there appears to have been no provision for the physical care of the population who lived outside the Preceptory in Torphichen.  
In the 1430s and 1440s, Andrew Meldrum, principal officer of the Hospitallers, carried out considerable building works.  The Preceptory was extended, the nave rebuilt, the transepts raised significantly, while a cloister on the north side, with surrounding ranges, was completed.  Meldrum’s name even appears on one of the ribs in the vault of the north transept.  Meanwhile, Preceptors and their recruits were involved in sea-battles involving Hospitallers at Rhodes.

In 1466,  the Grand Master awarded William Knollis a grant of the Preceptory, which was confirmed by the Pope a few months later.  Knollis was one of the longest serving Preceptors.  For six years, in the 1470s, he collected alms from visitors (who were then rewarded by indulgences), claiming that James III favoured the church whose ruinous state was clearly in need of help.  After the King’s downfall, Knollis benefited from an illustrious career as a diplomat as well as a public servant, overseeing Torphichen more as a secular barony while being careful to pay the English Priory its dues.  

In 1504, on a visit to Rhodes, George Dundas obtained to right to succeed as Preceptor. In 1508, there was a dispute over the right of the London Priory to appoint a Preceptor in Scotland. James IV, a frequent visitor to Torphichen, believed that the Order in Scotland should be independent. He did not believe Hospitallers born and living in Scotland should have to seek protection from the English Priory, a view he expressed by letters to the Grand Master in Rhodes in 1513. English - Scottish relations were only improved when the Order moved to Malta. 

In Scotland, Dundas succeeded Knollis and was firmly in position from 1518 until his death fourteen years later. Sir Walter Lindsay secured the right of succession after Dundas and he proved to be an effective administrator, as well as a well respected leader of the Scottish army.  He compiled a Rental of the Order’s ownership in Scotland, and, as shown by his Charter of 7 March 1542, he feued the Order’s remote lands, where revenue collection was difficult, to avoid further bloodshed.

On the 29 June 1550, Sir James Sandilands, second son of James Sandilands, Baron Calder, gained possession of the Preceptory, which he held for four years.  He was descended from a family that had owned extensive estates in the area since 1348. In April 1540, the Order in England was closed by an Act of Parliament. The Reformation brought an end to the Hospitallers' Order in Scotland as it was of the Roman Catholic faith, and it was suppressed in 1554.  On 22 January 1564, Sir James Sandilands, Lord St John, surrendered the Preceptory lands to Mary Queen of Scots, to whom he was related.  However, two days later, at the cost of 10,000 crowns of the sun, (gold coins minted in France weighing 50½ grains Troy), and an annual feu duty of 500 merks, he obtained a Royal Charter re-granting them to him as a hereditary barony, as well as the Lord Torphichen title, and these were added to his Barony of Calder, the Sandilands seat being at Calder House (originally Caldour Castle), a few miles from Torphichen.  He sold seven of the eight baronies, including most of Torphichen Barony, to pay his debts, but he retained the Preceptory and Torphichen Mains, thereby retaining his title.

After the Reformation, the Preceptory’s nave was used as Torphichen Parish Kirk, while the remainder of the buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair.  In 1756, Torphichen Parish Kirk was demolished and the remains were restyled to form the foundations of the new T-plan Parish Kirk on the west side of the Preceptory.  The domestic buildings on the north side of the church were demolished, their stone being used elsewhere in Torphichen.  The transepts and the tower became a courthouse of the Regality of Torphichen, but the tower fell into disuse and was only refurbished with a new roof in 1947, twenty years after restoration work was carried out on the Preceptory by the Ministry of Public Building and Works.

Defenders Repeat their Plea to Withdraw From St. Elmo

It has been a week since the bombardment of Fort St. Elmo began and nearly two weeks since Commander Eguaras sent the Spanish Captain Juan de la Cerda to inform La Vallette that the Fort could not be defended and seek his permission to withdraw. During this time the knights and the other defenders had fought bravely but the incessant bombardment that was only strengthening was having a demoralizing effect on them. Dracut's artillery was firing from multiple locations  in such a way to prevent the troops in Fort St. Elmo from having any safe place of refuge.

The men met in the piazza to discuss their plight and this time agreed to send Captain Medrano to the Grand Master to again inform him of the desperate situation they faced and the fact that it would be soon impossible to defend the Fort. The failure of relief troops to appear as promised and the determined efforts of the enemy meant that time was running out before a full scale invasion. La Vallette realized that this was only too true but knew also that each hour that the attention of the Ottomans was on Fort St. Elmo it gave the other defenses of the Knights the time to strengthen themselves. He was unwilling to give away the Fort and encouraged Medrano to remind the defenders of their duty and to continue battling as they had always done. He promised to send more relief and recalled Fra Giovanni Vagnone and a hundred of his men from Mdina to reinforce the troops at St. Elmo.

04 June 2015

Here is an excellent documentary video from the History Channel describing the Great Siege of Malta from a warriors perspective of the history, tactics, weapons used. One of the highlights was the description of the medical care of the wounded and how to treat specific injuries. Presented by US Army Special Forces Terry Scahppert.

Chapel of St. Anne in Fort St. Elmo

A short video on the Chapel of St. Anne in Fort St. Elmo where the last defenders of the Fort were slaughtered.

02 June 2015

The Arrival of Dragut at The Great Siege of Malta

On June 2nd, Admiral Dragut the legendary pirate and enemy of the Knights of St. John and all Christians in the Mediterranean arrived with his fleet at Malta. His appearance was undoubtedly a blow to the spirits of the knights who recognized the skill of their great adversary. As LaValette and Sir Oliver Starkey watched his arrival, Starkey muttered, "God help us." To which the Grand Master replied, "Yes, now the real battle begins."

Known as the "drawn sword of Islam" Dragut was to be equally feared on land and sea. A skilled tactician he immediately recognized the imprudent attack and siege of Fort St. Elmo but realized that once committed they could not change course. Until his arrival the knights had benefitted from the discord between the two Pasha's. Now they would regard his wisdom when making their tactical decisions for which the knights suffered grieviously.


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