Post-classical history

Villiers de L'Isle Adam, Philippe (1464-1534)

Grand master of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (1521-1534).

Born in Beauvais in France, Villiers de L’Isle Adam occupied various posts in the order (captain-general of the galleys, seneschal of Rhodes, grand hospitaller, and grand prior of France) before being elected grand master on 22 January 1521. Less than sixteen months later, the second Ottoman siege of Rhodes (mod. Rodos, Greece) had begun. On 18 December the grand master surrendered to the Turks, and on 1 January 1523, along with the rest of the convent, the order’s archives, and a few thousand inhabitants of Rhodes, he was allowed to leave the island in safety, proceeding to Rome via Crete and Sicily. On the death of Pope Adrian VI (November 1523), he and his knights were entrusted with guarding the conclave that elected Clement VII. Established temporarily at Viterbo, they spent eight years without a home, experiencing plague, war, famine, religious schism, and near institutional collapse. On 23 March 1530, they were granted the islands of Malta and Gozo and the North African fortress city of Tripoli (mod. Tarābulus, Libya) by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain.

On Malta, Villiers de L’Isle Adam chose to reside in Fort St. Angelo, the medieval castle overlooking the Grand Harbour where the order’s fleet anchored for the next 268 years. He died on 21 August 1534. By then he had summoned a general chapter, in an endeavor to restore the order’s confidence, raise its morale, and reassess the value of its European estates. Through his initial legislation, he also set the tone and style of Hospitaller government for Malta.

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