Post-classical history

La Valette, Jean de (1495-1568)

Grand master of the Order of the Hospital (1557-1568).

Born in Quercy in Gascony on 4 February 1495, La Valette joined the langue (Hospitaller province) of Provence in 1515. Hardly anything else is known of his childhood or his early years within the order, except that he was on Rhodes during the Ottoman siege of 1522. In 1546 he was elected governor of Hospitaller Tripoli (mod. Tarābulus, Libya) in North Africa, serving until 1549. The style of his governorship here was a foretaste of his later magistracy, dictated by sound Christian moral values, a deep sense of commitment to hospitaller and military ideals, firm allegiance to orthodoxy, and an inborn enmity toward the infidel. In 1548, he convinced the Hospital’s chapter general of the advantages of transferring the convent to Tripoli. The project failed to materialize because the North African fortress fell to the Ottomans in August 1551.

Six years later La Valette was elected as forty-eighth grand master of the order (21 August 1557). Apparently reluctant to retain Malta, he repeatedly sought unsuccessfully a better place for the convent, first on Corsica and then again at Tripoli. It was the Ottoman siege of 1565, the major event of his magistracy, that ultimately made the order’s stay on Malta permanent and determined the building of the new fortress city, Valletta, which still bears his name today. He died on 21 August 1568.

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