The Later Middle Ages: Order-States and National Orders
At the beginning of the fourteenth century the formal status of the professed members of a military order of the Latin church had changed little since these organizations had originated in the twelfth century, despite the progressive codification of canon law and the passing of new statutes and other legislation within individual orders. It had become less likely that brethren would be motivated by spiritual enthusiasms or by the prospect of action directly concerned with the recovery of Jerusalem, but most military religious still took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, while all were supposed to live according to their order’s constitution. Each order had a rule which had been approved by the papacy, whose capacity to intervene in an order’s affairs, or even to dissolve it, was demonstrated dramatically when Clement V suppressed the Temple in 1312. Except in Prussia and Livonia, brethren were less likely to confront an infidel enemy and more apt to be seeking a relatively secure if often undistinguished position in local society; it was also increasingly improbable that they would experience a common liturgical life within a sizeable community of religious. The various military religious orders differed considerably from one another, but in general they received knights, sergeants, priests, and sisters, all devoted primarily to the prosecution of an armed struggle against the infidel. Their members were not technically permitted to take crusade vows, though naturally they participated in crusades fought against the infidel. By 1312 there was a growing distinction between the permanent holy war of the military orders, whose members were not supposed—except in certain specific situations—to fight fellow Christians, and the papally-proclaimed crusade, an occasional event directed against Latin and other Christians more often than against the infidel.
The psychological impact of the Templar affair must have been profound, but there was little immediate indication of any decline in recruitment to the other military orders. These orders’ very function had been the subject of widespread criticism and debate, with proposals for their union in a single order or even for the confiscation of all their lands. Furthermore, in 1310 the pope instigated a searching investigation into the gravest complaints against the Teutonic Order’s Livonian activities. In 1309 that order moved its principal convent or headquarters from Venice to Marienburg in Prussia, while in 1306 the Hospitallers initiated their conquest of Rhodes. This piratical invasion, probably not completed until 1309, preceded the attack on the Temple in 1307 and went far to preserve the Hospital from any similar assault. Though directed largely against Christian Greek schismatics, it gave the Hospitallers a variety of patently justifiable anti-infidel functions and an independence they had not enjoyed on Cyprus. The resulting prestige was cunningly exploited by the master, Foulques of Villaret, who visited the West and raised a papal-Hospitaller crusade which sailed from Italy in 1310 under the master’s command and made conquests against the Turks on the Anatolian mainland. After 1312 the Hospital was occupied throughout the West in an extended process of securing and absorbing the Templars’ enormous landed inheritance which the pope had transferred to it. The Hospital also faced a major financial crisis provoked by its expensive Rhodian campaign and by the extravagances of Foulques of Villaret which led to his deposition in 1317 and to the damaging internal disputes which ensued. The Iberian mon- archs were extremely reluctant to accept the fusion of Templar and Hospitaller wealth and strength, arguing persistently that the Temple had been endowed to sustain a peninsular rather than a Mediterranean reconquest; in Castile much Templar property was usurped by the nobility while new national military orders were created in Valencia and Portugal.
Pope Clement V failed to save the Temple, but he did keep most of its goods out of secular hands while defending the principle that lay powers should not judge or interfere in the affairs of military religious orders. The interests of individual orders frequently diverged from papal concerns, but from 1312 to 1378 the Avignon popes encouraged, chided, and sometimes threatened them, acting as a court of appeal for the brethren, settling internal disputes and repeatedly intervening throughout Latin Christendom to protect their interests and privileges. A number of minor orders, such as the English order of Saint Thomas which had a small establishment on Cyprus, abandoned any military pretensions during the fourteenth century. In north-eastern Europe the popes sought to balance the activities of the Teutonic Order, which were difficult to control at such a distance, against the interests of others who were also seeking to convert or persuade pagan Lithuanians and Livonians into Christianity; the brethren were often able to evade the pope’s commands as they quarrelled with the Franciscans, the archbishop of Riga, the king of Poland, and other lay rulers. In 1319 Pope John XXII resolved the constitutional quarrel within the Hospital through the choice of the efficient Hélion of Villeneuve as its new master. From Avignon successive popes pressed for action and reform as Rhodes was developed into a prominent anti-Turkish bulwark. The Avignon popes enormously expanded their curia’s interventions in all manner of ecclesiastical matters and occasionally they sought to influence appointments within the military orders, especially in Italy where they used a number of Hospitallers as rectors to govern the papal provinces. Yet popes were cautiously restrained with respect to the Hospital and the Teutonic Order, and only in 1377 did Gregory XI, who had earlier instituted a universal inquest into the Hospital’s western resources, provide a long-standing papal protégé, Juan Fernandez de Heredia, as master of Rhodes. The situation worsened thereafter for all but the Teutonic Order, as popes increasingly interfered in magistral or other elections and temporarily or even permanently alienated the orders’ lands through papal provisions or by way of grants made to favourites, kinsmen, or others.
In Spain, the Muslim frontier had by 1312 been pushed into the deepest south and activity against the Moors became sporadic. The military orders continued to settle and exploit their extensive properties, but the Hispanic monarchs were anxious to control, or even recover, lands, jurisdictions, and privileges they had earlier granted away to the orders. The Aragonese crown secured both Templar and Hospitaller lands in Valencia to found the new order of Montesa to defend the Muslim frontier in Murcia, and in 1317 it was agreed that the rulers of the Aragonese Hospital should do homage to the king in person before exercising their administration. The king, who was already able to prevent men and money leaving for Rhodes, thus acquired an element of control over appointments and so could deploy part of the Hospital’s incomes and manpower for his own purposes; the importance of that became strikingly evident during the great rebellions of 1347 to 1348, when all the orders stood by the king, and again after 1356 in the wars with Castile. Royal attempts to develop the minute order of San Jorge de Alfama, which was established on the Catalan coast, had little success; in 1378 the master and his sister were seized from Alfama by African pirates, and in 1400 the order was incorporated into that of Montesa. Two years later King Marti proposed that all the Aragonese orders, including the Hospital, be converted into maestrats or masterships under royal control and serve at sea against the infidel Africans; in 1451 Alfonso V of Aragon considered establishing Montesa, which lacked any genuine military function, on the island of Malta.
The Castilian orders of Santiago, Alcantara, and Calatrava maintained their original activity in the settlement and defence of their extensive Andalusian latifundia against the Moors, though the frontier had moved southwards away from much of their lands. Well into the fifteenth century they were still repopulating frontier villages abandoned by their Muslim farmers;
indeed such new foundations continued elsewhere, in fourteenth-century Hospitaller Languedoc for instance. The Castilian orders had other functions; Alcantara, for example, guarded the Portuguese frontier in Extremadura. In 1331 the pope rejected a belated request advanced by Alfonso XI for the creation of a new order from the lands of the Castilian Temple, and that refusal seemed justified when all the Hispanic orders participated in the Christian victory at the River Salado in 1340 which led to the capture of Algeciras in 1344. Soon after, however, the reconquest of the stubborn mountainous enclave of Granada became comparatively dormant, as Castile entered a prolonged period of civil war which further implicated all the orders in family intrigues and in bitter political conflicts and divisions. As with Montesa, it was only occasionally that the Castilian orders employed their resources against the infidel. In 1361 the three Castilian masters and the prior of the Hospital fought in a royal army which won a victory against the Moors but was then defeated outside Guadix, where the master of Calatrava was taken prisoner.
In Castile the orders faced an almost stationary frontier situation; of the 110 years from 1350 to 1460, all but twenty-five were years of official truce, interrupted only by minor skirmishings. In about 1389 the masters of Calatrava and Alcantara led a razzia to the gates of Granada, sacked the suburbs, and launched a challenge to the Muslim king. When in 1394 the master of Alcantara, Martin Yanez de la Barbuda, broke the truce and met his death in a reckless incursion inspired by a heightened sense of devotion to holy warfare, the king, having attempted to stop him, actually apologized to the Moors. The Reconquista in Castile was revived by the regent Fernando who took Antequera in 1410 with the help of the orders. These continued to garrison castles and campaign on the frontier where their masters frequently commanded royal armies, but often they were acting in a personal capacity as royal captains and were using troops who were not brethren of any order. However Calatrava, for example, took part in six border raids between 1455 and 1457 and its master captured Archidona in 1462. Brethren of all orders fought in the serious and bittercampaigns which finally ended with the conquest of Granada in 1492; the masters of Santiago and Calatrava were both killed at Loja in 1482 and the master of Montesa at Beza in 1488, for example. The orders furnished money, grain, and troops. Of some 10,000 horse assembled in Granada in 1491, Santiago provided 962 horse along with 1,915 foot, Alcantara 266 horse, and the Hospital sixty-two; Calatrava’s contingent was not reported but had in 1489 been 400.
The Castilian orders formed national corporations led by great magnates who campaigned for the crown in the Moorish crusade as well as in national and civil wars but who mostly did so with little concern for the religious aspect, their troops and resources often being integrated into national armies and serving at the royal initiative. Across Castile the three major orders, and to a lesser extent the Hospital, derived enormous incomes from great flocks of sheep and from their transhumance routes. Just as the Hospital became the largest single landholder in Aragon, so Alcantara held almost half of Extremadura and Santiago much of Castilla la Nueva. This wealth helped to support members drawn from the petty nobility who had little interest in holy war, though many knight-brethren were keen and competent fighting men. The orders functioned within a kingdom and, however extensive their power and independence, there was no chance of their creating an autonomous order-state such as that on Rhodes or in Prussia; instead their wealth and influence made it vital for the crown to control them. Kings could interfere in elections and persuade popes to provide to offices or to grant dispensations for the election of masters who were under age or of illegitimate birth; on occasion monarchs refused to accept homage from elected masters, compelled others to abdicate, or even murdered them. Despite repeated resistance and much litigation, kings and great nobles repeatedly secured masterships for their favourites and especially their sons, legitimate or otherwise; thus Fernando de Antequera manreuvred to secure the masterships of Alcantara and Santiago for his sons in 1409, promising to employ their revenues in the Granada war. There were exemplary brethren and there were serious but ineffective attempts at reform. These received little encouragement from the papacy, which repeatedly facilitated evasion of the rules. Married rulers could not hold masterships but they might be granted the administration of an order, as in 1456 when Pope Calixtus III named Enrique IV administrator and governor of both Santiago and Calatrava. The masters’ political involvements went far to pervert the orders’ proper function, embroiling the brethren in intrigue, schism, and violence in which they often fought one another. The Hospital and the Teutonic Order avoided such troubles by excluding most of the local nobility of their order-states from entry as knight-brethren.
Portugal no longer had an infidel frontier. The Portuguese branch of Santiago elected its own master and had become largely independent, while Avis was a national order as was that of Christ, which was founded with the Temple’s properties in 1319. The Portuguese orders, including the Hospital, fought the Moors at the River Salado in 1340, but for decades they were mainly absorbed in national politics and largely subservient to the crown which, much as in Castile, managed to impose royal princes and others as their masters. As for the Portuguese Hospitallers, in 1375 they had paid no responsions to Rhodes for nine years. In 1385 the regent, an illegitimate son of King Pedro I who had been brought up by the master of Christ and who had become master of Avis, headed the national opposition to Castilian invasion and became king as Joao I. The orders reverted briefly to holy warfare when the Portuguese reconquest was extended overseas, the master of Christ and the prior of the Hospital fighting in the seizure of Ceuta in Morocco in 1415. Pope Martin V appointed Prince Henrique governor of the Order of Christ in about 1418, and he was able to use its brethren and its wealth to finance his momentous voyages of discovery. In 1443 the pope gave the Order of Christ title to any lands it might in future capture in Morocco, the Atlantic isles, and elsewhere beyond the seas. That order received extensive material and spiritual privileges in the Atlantic islands, along the African coasts, and eventually in Asia, and in 1457 Henrique granted it a twentieth of the incomes of Guinea; its great overseas wealth was later displayed in its spectacular priory with its numerous cloisters at Tomar. Royal interference in the Portuguese orders, their involvement in secular politics, their internal dissensions, and the frequent appointment of royal princes to control the orders and their incomes continued, but their participation in the papally-sanctioned crusades against infidel Morocco was no more than occasional. The contingents of the three Portuguese orders fought in the unsuccessful attack on Tangier in 1437, and the Portuguese Hospitallers at Arzila in 1471. The three orders and the Portuguese Hospital all rejected papal proposals of 1456 for them to establish military outposts and maintain one third of their brethren in Ceuta, and in 1467 the papal curia even agreed that the Portuguese orders were not obliged to any offensive war, a decision which aroused protests in Portugal.
In the Baltic regions of Prussia and Livonia, which were separated by an endlessly contested strip of territory, the Germans had successfully been pursuing a very different, essentially continental, confrontation. This became less bitter than it had been in the thirteenth century, especially in the more peaceful western parts of Prussia, but was still perpetual, and often freezing and bloody. The Teutonic Order retained some Mediterranean possessions, notably in Sicily and Apulia, in addition to its extensive commanderies and recruiting grounds in Franconia and Thuringia, along the Rhine, and in other German lands. Though reliant on its German holdings for manpower, the order was not constrained within any kingdom as the Iberian orders were. Prussia and Livonia lay outside the empire and were held or protected, in ambiguous and debatable ways, from both emperor and pope. There was bitter dissension over the order’s proper purpose: the brethren in the Baltic called for the headquarters to be moved northwards to end the order’s double burden in Prussia and the East by concentrating on its new function of fighting the Lithuanians, while others wanted to continue the Jerusalem objective. Finally, in 1309, the master, Siegfried von Feuchtwangen, transferred the convent from Venice to Prussia without his brethren’s assent. His successor Karl von Trier was exiled to Germany in 1317, the same year in which the Hospitaller convent deposed its master. The next master, Werner von Orseln, was elected in Prussia in 1324, and thereafter the masters ruled over a grandiose court from the imposing riverside palace at Marienburg with its brick residence, chapter house, and chapel.
In 1310 the Teutonic Order faced extremely serious accusations of massacring Christians in Livonia, brutally despoiling the secular church, attacking the archbishop of Riga, trading with the heathen, impeding the task of conversion, and driving numerous converts into apostacy. The order was in grave danger of dissolution, and it became involved in tangled diplomacy with the Lithuanians whose clever pretences of conversion to Christianity embarrassed and discredited it. Yet it went on to make real progress, despite armed opposition from the Poles. Much territory was acquired. Danzig and eastern Pomerelia were seized in 1308 and Estonia, to the north of Livonia, was purchased from the Danes in 1346, but the stubborn and effective opposition of the pagan Lithuanians and the order’s need for both booty and conversions demanded frequent campaigns. Under Winrich von Kniprode, master from 1352 to 1382, the Lithuanians were brilliantly defeated with the help of western nobles attracted to the order’s prestigious expeditions or Reisen. In his youth John of Boucicaut, later marshal of France, served three times in Prussia and the future Henry IV of England went twice. There were often two Prussian expeditions a year and one in Livonia. They caused much death and destruction, while the brethren suffered losses in sustained warfare of a type and scale unknown on Rhodes or in Spain. Paradoxically, the Germans’ successes contributed to their downfall: in 1386 the powerful Lithuanians allied with the Poles and their formal conversion to Christianity in 1389 undermined the fundamental justification for the Teutonic holy war. By continuing its warfare the order emphasized that its motives were as much political and German as religious and Christian. As a result its enemies eventually combined in their determination to recover their lands, and in 1410 the Poles and a diversity of allies outnumbered and destroyed the Teutonic army at Tannenberg.
The Teutonic Order brought in German settlers and converted many indigenous pagans to Christianity in a major colonization process which was much more extensive than that conducted by the Castilian orders in Andalusia. It created a model of administrative efficiency and uniform bureaucracy, the Ordensstaat par excellence. While Prussia, with a population of perhaps 350,000, did not require money from its commanderies in Germany, its recruitment depended on a continual flow of brethren from Germany. The Prussian commanderies paid no regular dues comparable to the Hospital’s responsions and the German houses sent almost no money, but in Prussia itself the order received incomes from trade, from land rents and booty, and from levies on the brethren’s frequent changes of office; in the fifteenth century it also taxed its population. Incomes from different sources were allotted to specific funds, as with Montesa and the Castilian orders. Some knight-brethren paid their entry fee, were received into a house in Germany, and simply remained there; others were refused admission in Germany and travelled to Prussia or Livonia with their arms, three horses, and sixty florins. Those who went to Prussia, many of them from Franconia, seldom returned. Priests and serving-brethren were recruited largely among the German settlers in Prussia.
There were perhaps 100 brethren at the centre of command at Marienburg and hundreds more in the commanderies; some houses had fewer than ten brethren but others had eighty or more. Chapters general became increasingly infrequent and there was no equivalent to the Hospital’s conventual seal, but the senior officials enjoyed wide administrative experience and they could, like the Hospitaller oligarchy, restrain their master. He was compelled to consult his senior officers and commanders; he could be threatened or deposed, and one master was murdered. Some senior officials resided at Marienburg where, for example, they controlled the treasury, but others had their own territorial seats, such as that of the marshal at Königsberg, and resided in them. The most numerous class of brethren, the knights, constituted a largely aristocratic military caste, but that served to alienate their German settler subjects, who could normally enter the order only as priests or serving-brethren and who lacked representation in their country’s government. The Teutonic Order had no real navy but its army was excellently armed, after about 1380 with cannon, and its fortresses were well constructed. After 1410, however, the need to hire expensive mercenaries provoked increasingly intolerable financial strains.
Further north, the Teutonic brethren waged a quite distinct holy war in Livonia, where their order developed a quasi-independent regime which had some of the characteristics of a separate Ordensstaat with its own organization and policies. There was a separate Livonian master who was confirmed by the high master or Hochmeister in Prussia from two candidates chosen in Livonia; after 1438 the Livonian brethren effectively chose their own master. Livonia did not form a unitary state like Prussia, since three bishops controlled extensive territories and in Estonia the knightly class exercized a degree of secular government. The Livonian knight-brethren came especially from northern Germany and the Rhineland, with some priests and serving-brethren being recruited in Livonia. Conditions of service were more drastic than in Prussia, and attrition eastwards involved unending forest raids and devastations, truces, and shifting alliances. The element of exploitation was more pronounced in Livonia where there was little intermarriage between the German settler minority and the indigenous population. The Livonian brethren, scarcely touched by the disaster at Tannenberg in 1410 in which they played no part, retained a more explicit and aggressive anti-pagan role and repeatedly fought the schismatic Russians. However, as in Prussia, there were serious internal quarrels which centred especially on individual control of wealth. In 1471 the Livonian brethren deposed their master, Johann Wolthuss, who was accused of numerous corruptions, of preparing a war against the Russians contrary to all advice, and of personally annexing a number of commanderies and their wealth. The Russian wars continued; in 1501, for example, the Russians ravaged eastern Livonia but were defeated in the following year by the master Wolter von Plettenberg, who did much to stabilize the Livonian situation.
Far away on Rhodes, the Hospitallers procured themselves a double function in the policing and protection of Latin shipping and in opposing first the Turkish emirs of the Anatolian coast- lands opposite Rhodes and later the power of the rapidly expanding Ottoman regime to the north. The Teutonic and Iberian orders were essentially national, but the Hospital was a truly international organization able to survive attacks made upon it within single kingdoms. The Hospital’s struggle was much less concentrated than that of the Teutonic Order and its military action less continuous and intense, but it was not necessarily a weaker body. The fortunate formula of an island order-state permitted its survival for many centuries, while its constitution restricted a master who enjoyed extensive powers on Rhodes but whose authority within his order was quite effectively limited and moderated by his multinational conventual oligarchy of senior officers, by periodic chapters general, and by statutory limitations such as those governing the employment of his seals. Other arrangements, such as the institution of langues (tongues), or national groupings, and auberges, or residential houses for the langues, though they constituted a source of endless friction at one level, actually served to distribute offices and to regulate tensions between brethren of differing origins.
Rhodes was comparatively small and its resources limited, but it could be fortified in stone and defended with minimum manpower; armed conflict was not perpetual while shipping and mercenaries were hired only when necessary. The number of Hospitaller brethren on Rhodes probably varied considerably between about 250 and 450; unlike Prussia, Rhodes needed not men, whose arrival was sometimes positively discouraged, but money, especially to pay for essential food imports. Some funds were generated through the development of the port and of the island economy; much of the rest came from the western priories, whose retention had to be justified by some display of holy warfare. The island order-state demanded the establishment of a naval tradition and the arrangement of the local economy and government in ways which would support defensive measures. The harbour brought shipping, pilgrims, pirates, trade, and taxes; the island was populated to produce foodstuffs and auxiliary forces; its forests furnished timber for shipbuilding; the inhabitants constructed and manned towers and castles or served as galley oarsmen. Rhodes had been acquired as the result of a capitulation made on agreed terms and the Greeks, perhaps 20,000 by 1522, were reasonably fed, protected, and represented, while as uniates who recognized the Roman pope they kept their Greek liturgy; on the whole the population felt reasonably well treated and was prepared to collaborate.
In moving from Cyprus to Rhodes the Hospital turned its back on the old Jerusalem-oriented crusade, though it continued to give occasional assistance to the Christians of Cilician Armenia and it retained its sugar-rich Cypriot commandery. Its achievement after 1306 was to bottle up the naval aggression from the Turks of Menteshe and to push the centre of Turkish expansion northwards to Aydin and its naval base at Smyrna. The Hospital participated in Latin naval leagues against the great Umur of Aydin, notably in 1334. The order’s finances had by then been restored, yet proposals for crusading action in 1335 and 1336 were suppressed by Pope Benedict XII, probably to prevent the order removing its considerable credits from the pope’s own Florentine bankers; as a result, between 1343 and 1345 the Hospital lost the enormous sum of over 360,000 florins when the Bardi, Acciaiuoli, and Peruzzi went bankrupt. Thereafter the Anglo-French and other wars, the great plague which arrived in 1347, and general economic and demographic decline in the West drastically limited recruitment, resources, and military activity. The Hospitallers’ effectiveness depended on their efficiency and experience as much as on their resources. The one or two galleys which guarded Rhodes together with 50 or 100 brethren and their auxiliary troops could play an important role. The Hospital collaborated in the crusade which captured Smyrna in 1344 and in its defence thereafter; from 1374 until its loss in 1402 the Hospital held sole responsibility for Smyrna. Fifty Hospitallers fought against the Ottomans at Lampsakos in the Dardanelles in 1359, and Hospitaller forces served against other Turks on the Anatolian shores facing Cyprus between 1361 and 1367. Some 100 brethren with four galleys under their admiral, Ferlino d’Airasca, took part in the major crusade which sacked Alexandria in 1365. By 1373 the Hospital was virtually the sole military force available to the papacy for the defence of Byzantium. Yet a Byzantine proposal of 1374 for the Hospital to defend Thessalonica and another Byzantine city, probably Gallipoli, came to nought. The passag- ium inspired by Pope Gregory XI which sailed to Vonitza in Epiros in 1378 was pathetically small; it was crushed by the Christian Albanians of Arta who captured the master, Juan Fernandez de Heredia, and held him to ransom.
The next master, Philibert of Naillac, and a few other Hospitallers fought in the Nicopolis crusade of 1396 and were responsible for saving King Sigismund of Hungary after the defeat. There was apparently a party at Avignon and at Rhodes which from about 1356 onwards insistently sought a broader economic basis and more prestigious opportunities of opposing Ottoman advances by transferring the Hospital to southern Greece, almost as a Hospitaller equivalent of Teutonic Livonia. The order took a five-year lease on the Latin principality of Achaea in about 1377 but had to abandon it following the débâcle near Vonitza, yet between about 1383 and 1389 there were renewed attempts to establish the Hospital in the Peloponnese, and after the Nicopolis disaster the Hospitallers leased the Byzantine despotate in the eastern Peloponnese for several years, defending the isthmus at Corinth against Ottoman invasions of the peninsula. Though severely limited by the general western failure to resist the infidel Turks, the Hospital was an effective element in the defence of Christian Europe, whether acting independently or as part of a general crusade.
The Papal Schism of 1378 split the Hospital into two obediences and thus increased opportunities for indiscipline and the non-payment of dues owed to Rhodes, where the French-dominated convent held firmly to the Avignon allegiance. The English crown supported the Roman pope but allowed English men and money to travel to Rhodes, which in 1398 was allegedly being supported by only nine out of twenty-one western priories. In 1410 a chapter general at Aix-en-Provence showed a remarkable solidarity within the order by ending its own schism some seven years before that in the papacy. Unfortunately, the financial pressures on rival popes forced them into a greater exploitation of profitable provisions to benefices, and that deprived brethren of the prospect of promotion which supposedly rewarded the seniority they had acquired by service at Rhodes. When in 1413 it emerged that Pope John XXIII had sold the rich commandery of Cyprus to the 5-year-old son of King Janus, the conventual brethren threatened to leave Rhodes. The Papal Schism was ended in 1417 by the council held at Constance where the Hospitaller master acted as guardian of the conclave. This council witnessed the bitter debate in which the Teutonic Order claimed that the Lithuanians were not Christians and that the Poles were allied to them, while the Poles asserted that the brethren had failed even to convert the Prussians.
Occasional Hospitaller participation in campaigns away from Rhodes continued but eventually the island itself came under direct attack. Smyrna was lost to Tamerlane in 1402 and the Morea was evacuated very soon after. A bridgehead providing direct confrontation with the Turks on land was a political necessity, and in 1407 or 1408 Smyrna was replaced with a mainland castle at Bodrum opposite Cos; this brought prestige, indulgences, and tax exemptions which probably made the newly built fortress a profitable investment rather than a strategic advantage. The great new hospital begun at Rhodes in 1440, which much impressed pilgrims, was another successful propaganda initiative. There was a series of truces with occasional ruptures and hostilities. Invasions from Mamluk Egypt were successfully resisted between 1440 and 1444, but not until 1480 was there a full-scale Ottoman assault; the master Pierre d’Aubusson, later created a cardinal, led an epic defence of the city with skill and determination. After that, massive gunpowder fortifications were built to counter ever heavier Turkish cannon, and the Ottomans were cleverly kept in check through the Hospital’s possession after 1482 of the sultan’s brother Jem. Though increasingly isolated as the Ottomans advanced further into the Balkans, Rhodes flourished as a secure bulwark for Latin trade and piracy in the Levant. Especially important was the Hospitallers’ own lucrative ‘corso’. In essence a profitable form of publicly licensed quasi-private piracy, the corso was justified as a type of holy warfare which irritated Mamluks, Ottomans, and Venetians alike. Dependent on trade with the Turkish mainland and with a very limited naval force, the Hospital was restricted to small-scale operations but it did inflict a major defeat on the Mamluk fleet in 1510. After the Ottoman conquest of Egypt, Rhodes’s position across Turkish communications with Egypt led to another heroic siege during which the Venetians on Crete and the other Latin powers sent little significant aid. The Hospitallers, having failed to mobilize an anti-Ottoman coalition, finally capitulated and sailed away from Rhodes in January 1523.
The Structure of the Military Orders
All military orders required revenues. These they derived principally from farming and stock-raising on their estates either by direct cultivation and herding or through leasings; jurisdictions, justice, seigneurial rights, urban rents, sales of pensions, capital investments, papal indulgences, commerce, and other activities supplemented these incomes. The Teutonic brethren outside Germany lived off their Prussian and Livonian states, but in general the houses of the military orders differed from those of other religious in that their brethren had not only to support themselves but also to produce a cash surplus to maintain their central convent and their brethren in active service. The orders traditionally organized their possessions into priories or provinces each composed of many commanderies, also known as preceptories, domus, encomiendas, and so on. The commanders managed their houses or increasingly rented them out, and they paid dues or responsions to their prior or provincial, or sometimes to a receiver, and these officials transferred a total sum to the conventual treasury; often the incomes of certain houses were reserved for priors and masters. After 1319 the order of Montesa used a system based not on resident communities paying responsions but on allotting the incomes of individual houses, which mostly consisted of tenths and income taxes, to a variety of officials for different purposes; thus certain monies went to the master and other incomes to the defence of the Muslim frontier. Similarly the three Castilian orders and the Teutonic Order allotted the revenues from particular areas or commanderies directly to their masters, who had their own mensa or private purse. The Hospitaller master received much of the revenues of the island of Rhodes or, after 1530, of Malta.
Despite extensive systems of local accounting and visitation, the orders’ ruling bodies had only imprecise and incomplete notions of their total incomes and manpower and of what proportion of those resources could be mobilized by their central command. Their statistics were inevitably approximate and incomplete. In some cases there were very few knights, some of them too old to fight; elsewhere there were few or no sergeants, and sometimes there was a preponderance of priests. In the year 1374/5 the Hospital’s western priories produced about 46,000 florins for the Rhodian receiver; in about 1478 the convent on Rhodes was receiving 80,500 florins of Rhodes from the West and 11,550 in the East for a total of 92,000 florins of Rhodes; most of this went to support allegedly as many as 450 brethren and a number of paid troops at Rhodes and Bodrum, with 7.000 florins of Rhodes allotted to the medical hospital. In 1519 the Hospital was said to be dependent on the corso to provide 47,000 ducats a year. As already mentioned, the number of Hospitallers in the East during the fifteenth century fluctuated between about 250 and 450, most of them knights, while in Prussia alone there were some 700 Teutonic brethren in 1379, 400 in 1450, 160 in 1513, and fifty-five in 1525; a dramatic fall partly due to much loss of territory, particularly after 1466. The Prussian incomes continued to rise until 1410; they then declined, but remained stable from about 1435 to 1450. About 540 Hospitaller knights and sergeants defended Malta in 1565, and in 1631 the entire order counted 1,755 knights, 148 chaplains, and 155 sergeants, totalling 2,058 of which the three French provinces provided 995 or almost half; 226 brethren were then on Malta. The Hispanic orders had large memberships and incomes; Calatrava alone had an income of 61,000 ducats in about 1500, roughly one-twelfth of the Castilian crown’s ordinary annual income, and just over half the order’s total income went to the master. However, little of such wealthwas utilized for military purposes. In modern times the Hospital’s economy far outweighed those of the other orders. By 1776 Malta’s cotton crop was bringing more money into the island than the order; the highest annual export figure was 2,816,610 scudi in 1787/8. The master received some 200,000 scudi a year from the island, while the income of the conventual treasury stood at 1,315,000 scudi, mostly from abroad, and individual brethren were estimated to import almost 1,000,000 scudi a year for their own personal expenditures. The Hospital’s metropolis in Valletta was dependent for funds on its colonies, the western priories.
The commanderies did more than produce men and money. They were important as centres of recruitment and training, as retirement homes, as residences for the orders’ many priests, and as points of vital contact with the public. All brethren were fully professed religious and one of their functions was prayer, the spiritual value of which was important even if it could not be measured and which certainly brought in wealth through donations and funds for commemorative masses. The women members apart, many brethren were priests who might in certain areas and houses constitute a clear majority of the membership and who could rule and manage commanderies. Even where an order was not the local seigneur, it might possess hospices, hospitals and cemeteries, parishes and schools, and many dependent churches and chapels. The orders built and maintained churches and other buildings which, as the centuries passed, tended to become increasingly grand and sumptuous. They had their own liturgies, patron saints, paintings, and relics, which helped to maintain their esprit de corps and to attract public support. The Teutonic Order employed special lectors to read aloud in the vernacular to the brethren, some of whom were illiterate, during meals. Some orders had their own saints, and in the sixteenth century the Hospital at least was publicizing, and in some cases inventing, a range of saintly brethren. The orders naturally maintained extensive administrative archives which also facilitated the writing of their own histories, itself a useful propaganda activity.
In most cases, the orders had always contained a military component, some of the fighting brethren being sergeants of comparatively humble social origin rather than knights. Though there was great regional variation, in the fourteenth century many knights were in fact of bourgeois, gentry, or petty noble origin even if there were always high aristocratic exceptions. As the profound economic crisis of the fourteenth century reduced the real value of the orders’ incomes the competition for their wealth increased. In the Hospital at least it became common for commanders to hold two or more houses simultaneously and it was natural for the élite to define the conditions of entry so as to exclude competition, a process which in any case followed a general trend in western society. The rules concerning entry to the orders were gradually applied more strictly and evidence of nobility was required for knights; by 1427 the Catalan Hospitallers were demanding an inquiry with sworn witnesses and written certificates. In the Teutonic and other orders formal proofs of nobility started well before 1500 by which time they were becoming standard, and everywhere aristocratic interest was reinforcing its position against the bourgeoisie and the gentry; in Castile the proofs were used to avoid the ‘taint’ of Jewish blood. Except in the Teutonic Order which largely avoided personal seals and burial monuments before the late fifteenth century, professions of poverty and regulations limiting personal property were being infringed by growing practices of private foundations, personal tombs, seals with individual arms, and other manifestations of a concern with family and social origin.
The attack on the Temple intensified the debate about the orders, criticism of which figured in many crusading treatises of the post-1291 decades. Some writers favoured a single united order, many argued for national solutions, and others proposed that Jerusalem should be governed as an order-state by a new military order. The Christian victims of the Teutonic Order repeatedly protested against its practices, but otherwise there was surprisingly little theoretical discussion of the orders as such. Writing before 1389, Philip of Mézières, a former chancellor of Cyprus and a doctrinaire crusading fanatic who was full of praise for the Teutonic brethren, criticized the Hospitallers for their decay, but his remark that they served at Rhodes only to secure a good western benefice ignored the mechanism of their promotion system. Philip of Mezieres’s own scheme for a new order, finally revised in 1396, was still couched in terms of a noble brotherhood destined to recover Jerusalem and to defend it with a monarchical military order-state whose brethren were all to remain in the East while reliable secular administrators would manage their western properties and incomes. He proposed that, as in Santiago, the knights should be permitted to marry and constrained to conjugal chastity. Curiously, widows of deceased brethren being received into Santiago had to indicate whether they wished to remarry.
There were many proposals, internal and external, for piecemeal reform of abuses within individual orders and repeated legislation over such matters as liturgical practice, payment of dues, non-residence on commanderies, and failure to serve in convent, but few men of spiritual or intellectual calibre were attracted to the late-medieval military orders, none of which underwent a sustained fundamental reform movement such as those experienced by the Franciscans or the Augustinians. From the fourteenth century the rigidity of the brethren’s vows was steadily being eroded, though less extensively in the Hospital and the Teutonic Order. Values and discipline tended to decline as the evasion of armed service, private rooms, the expansion of personal property, opportunities for financial advantage, and other exemptions from austere discipline all reduced the moral content of brethren’s curriculum; the renting of commanderies and the sale of pensions to laymen reflected a growing emphasis on material and money matters, as also, in the Teutonic Order for example, did entry payments and the establishment of life-rents to be enjoyed by individual brethren. Increasingly reception into an order could offer access to a sinecure within a privileged aristocratic corporation providing a comfortable benefice for life. In 1449 the local nobility protested to the Teutonic commander of Altenbiesen ‘why does one need the order any more if it is not to be a hospice and abode for the nobility?’
The Early-Modern Military Orders: Towards National Control
Between 1487 and 1499 the Castilian military orders were in effect nationalized by the crown; in 1523 the Hospital was expelled from Rhodes; and in 1525 the Prussian branch of the Teutonic Order was secularized. The German brethren had operated ruthlessly in comparatively brutal circumstances. Their extensive territorial possessions and incomes, together with their famous organization and communications, made them incomparably more efficient than the Hospital, yet the conversion of the Lithuanians, the decay of the Reisen after 1410, the diplomatic combinations which opposed the order, and the expense of mercenaries all militated against prosperity. The very efficiency of the Ordensstaat worked to undermine it in various ways. The richer elements in Prussian society, largely excluded from membership and from government, increasingly resisted the order, which no longer needed their military service and which attempted to replace them with a peasantry from which it could draw rents and taxes to sustain its armies. In 1410 the order raised a large army for the Tannenberg campaign, and even after losing possibly 300 brethren there it was able to hold out at Marienburg under the autocratic Heinrich von Plauen, who was then elected master but was deposed in 1413. Thereafter persistent warfare depopulated and destroyed villages; there was some recovery between 1437 and 1454 but the number of brethren in Prussia had deliberately to be kept low. Some Teutonic brethren did occasionally fight the Turks, as between 1429 and 1434, but nothing of lasting significance came from repeated proposals by the Emperor Sigismund and others that the order should establish a new role by opposing the infidel on the Ottoman Balkan frontiers, in effect as a land- based complement to the Hospital; in 1418 there was even a project to move the order to Rhodes or Cyprus. In Prussia a league of nobles, formed in 1440, brought civil war and Polish intervention; by 1454 the Teutonic brethren were fighting their own subjects. When the Poles were able to purchase Marienburg from the order’s mercenaries in 1457 the convent moved to Königsberg, and by the peace of 1466 the brethren lost further territories and supposedly bound themselves to give military service to the Polish crown. The order never did find a satisfactory solution to its Polish problem. It had too obviously been oppressing fellow Christians and it could scarcely claim to be defending Europe.
The mission of settlement and conversion in the Baltic region offered little future. Within the order there were repeated quarrels between the Prussian, German, and Livonian masters and among informal clans of brethren originating in Franconia, the Rhineland, and elsewhere; in Livonia by about 1450 almost all brethren came either from Westphalia, about 60 per cent, or from the Rhineland, about 30 per cent. There was vague talk of Zungen or tongues and there was some agreement on the sharing of offices, but the Zungen were really little more than recruitment areas and did not function, as the langues at Rhodes did, to establish seniority or to settle conflicts over the distribution of offices and incomes. The brethren themselves quite blatantly became more exclusively aristocratic and corrupt, and in Prussia they constituted a powerful oligarchy able after 1466 to determine a master’s policies. Their development virtually into an estate of their own proved dangerous, facilitating the eventual secularization of the order-state. The Hospitallers’ state was very much smaller but it could be defended with much less expense; their order was more flexible and its wider options allowed it to maintain a military role long after the Teutonic Order had almost entirely abandoned any true holy war. In 1523 Martin Luther published a booklet entitled An die Herrn Deutschs Ordens, and in 1525 the last Prussian master, Albrecht of Brandenburg-Ansbach, simply converted to Lutheranism, doing homage to the Polish king and ruling Prussia as a hereditary secular duchy. Of the fifty-five brethren left in Prussia very few remained Catholic. The Ordensstaat in Prussia had become political rather than religious, devoted merely to the survival of its own self-perpetuating foreign oligarchy, lacking any firm moral base and unable to compete with neighbouring secular states. The Teutonic Order lost its Hochmeister and its central territorial core, but the German branch survived as, until 1561, did the Livonian. The Reformation also struck the Hospital whose priories were dissolved or secularized by Protestant rulers: in Sweden in 1527, Norway in 1532, Denmark in 1536, and England in 1540.
The progressive nationalization of the Iberian orders began well before the Reconquista ended in 1492. After the conquest of Granada the Castilian crown was in a strong position and anxious to end the anarchic disputes over the masterships. Between 1489 and 1494 King Fernando received the administration of the three Castilian orders. The brethren scarcely resisted as a royal council was set up to a control them, but chapters, elections, and an element of commandery life continued; Calatrava, Montesa, and Avis retained their affiliation to the Cistercian order. In 1523 Pope Adrian VI formally incorporated the three Castilian orders in perpetuity, assuring the crown their masterships and their enormous magistral incomes, which were estimated at 110,000 ducats a year, or roughly half the orders’ total receipts; the crown’s share was assigned to the Fugger bankers in 1525. Montesa in its turn was incorporated into the crown of Aragon in 1587. Control of the Portuguese orders, which all refused involvement overseas, also passed to the crown which used some of their commanderies to reward personal service in infidel Africa and Asia. The three orders abandoned their military character but some brethren did campaign as individuals; thus at least twenty-eight were killed or captured at Alcazar in the Morocco crusade of 1578.
Across the years other papal bulls progressively freed the Hispanic brethren from restrictions concerning marriage, property, fasting, residence, and prayer. As the crown farmed out their commanderies, many brethren became rentiers who valued their membership for motives of honour, nobility, and career. The creation of a permanent royal army deprived the orders of their special value as standing military forces and they became largely a source of royal patronage, brethren being admitted even while in childhood. In 1536 Charles V began to dismember the orders’ properties to finance his defence of Christianity, selling 14 of the 51 commanderies of Calatrava, 13 of the 98 of Santiago and 3 of the 38 of Alcantara in order to raise some 1.700.000 ducats. The crown could sell the orders’ habits; these memberships gave prestige not wealth, but a commandery, with its rents, brought an income. The administration of the orders’ latifundia by commanders who were often absentee and who made no investment in their commanderies proved economically inefficient, indeed parasitic.
The crown naturally justified its take-over of the Castilian orders with the old arguments that their resources would thus continue to contribute to conversion and to the holy war, and also that North Africa was, like Granada, on the route to Jerusalem. In 1506 King Fernando held a chapter of Santiago which agreed to set up a convent at Oran, and schemes to take Calatrava and Alcantara to Bougie and Tripoli followed. Though still being aired during the seventeenth century, these African projects, much like the Teutonic plans to fight in the Balkans, were never really fulfilled; Charles V’s establishment of the Hospital at Tripoli and Malta in 1530 followed a similar logic with more effect. Individual Castilian brethren frequently held military posts, but the orders as such were largely inactive. Between 1518 and 1598, out of 1,291 known knight-brethren of Santiago, only fifty or sixty performed significant service against the infidel. At least eight Santiago brethren took part in the Tunis expedition of 1535, and in 1565 others helped defend Malta where one of them, Melchior de Robles, served and died with great distinction. From 1552 Santiago expended some 14.000 ducats a year on three or four galleys which were active in the Mediterranean, after 1561 as part of the royal fleet; the order’s statutes demanded, ineffectually, six months service at sea as a condition of entry. The value of these galleys was partly symbolic yet, under Luis de Requesens, commendador mayor of Castile, they played a useful part at Lepanto in 1571. Corrupt ways did not always lead to inactivity; for example, Luis de Requesens had entered Santiago when aged 11, while Alvaro Bazan, whose brilliant naval career included Malta and Lepanto, had been received at the age of 2 in 1528. After 1571 Spanish efforts were concentrated more in northern Europe and that diminished the orders’ scope for holy warfare. In any case, many brethren simply ignored their duties; thus the poet Luis de Gongora was notoriously criticized when he disobeyed royal orders to serve at Marmora in Africa in 1614.
While the Iberian and Teutonic Orders underwent fundamental change and were losing any convincing sense of mission, the Hospitallers fought on. Few single rulers could abolish them and the pope and emperor continued to give encouragement; in fact Pope Clement VII, elected in 1523 with the master of the Hospital as guardian of the conclave, had himself been a Hospitaller. For eight demoralizing years after 1523 Philippe Villiers de l’Isle Adam and his surviving convent trailed from Crete to Messina, Civitavecchia, Viterbo, Villefranche, Nice, and Siracusa, keeping alive their institutional continuities and seeking a new base. The Hospitallers were predominantly French but it was the Spanish Emperor Charles V who eventually established them on the tiny barren island of Malta which was, with nearby Gozo, to be held in fief from the Sicilian crown with obligations to defend a new mainland bridgehead at Tripoli in Africa, taken by the Spaniards in 1510. Still hoping for a return to Rhodes or conquests in Greece, the reluctant brethren, accompanied by some of their Latin and Greek subjects from Rhodes, occupied the sea-castle and its suburb of Birgu in 1530; they had little alternative. Given the French entente with the Turks, the initial move to Malta was essentially a Spanish development in Hospitaller history; indeed the master from 1536 to 1553 was the Aragonese, Juan de Homedes.
The Hospital, known henceforth as the Order of Malta, carried forward amphibious campaigns in Greece, where Modon was sacked in 1531, and in Africa at Tunis in 1535, Jerba in 1559, and so on. Malta and its excellent harbour offered the essential independence; lying between Spanish Sicily and Ottoman Africa, it provided a base from which the order could continue its aggressive naval warfare against infidel armadas and pirates. The Hospitallers negotiated tax-free grain imports from Sicily and constructed minimal fortifications in the Grand Harbour. Arriving with some of their relics and parts of their archives, they demonstrated an extraordinary adaptability in transferring the corporate continuities of their order-state from one island to another and showing yet again that the survival of a military order need not depend on a particular territorial base. In 1551 Tripoli, inadequately fortified and defended, was lost and Gozo was drastically devastated. The sea-castle of Saint Angelo, the new town of Isola or Senglea nearby, and the fort of Saint Elmo at the harbour mouth had been considerably strengthened by the time the Ottomans attacked in 1565. The Turkish tactics were clumsy. The Hospitallers’ master, Jean de la Valette, a veteran of the final 1522 siege of Rhodes, resisted with determination and tactical sagacity, helped by the Maltese population; the strategic judgement displayed in the management of the relief expedition by Garda de Toledo, viceroy at Palermo and himself a commander of Santiago, probably proved decisive. The Hospital won enormous prestige in clinging so tenaciously to a technically indefensible position, and the Ottomans were excluded from a potentially dangerous strategic forward base.
Six years later, when the Turks were defeated at Lepanto, five galleys and 100 knights were provided by a new military order dedicated to St Stephen (Santo Stefano) which had been founded in 1562 by Cosimo I de Medici, duke of Tuscany, who became its hereditary grand master. He transformed part of the feeble Tuscan fleet into a permanent standing navy modelled on that of Malta and designed both to protect his shores and shipping and also to consolidate his non-Florentine subjects around his regime through the creation and definition of a new nobility. In certain towns opposed to Florence, such as Siena and Lucca, the nobility largely remained faithful to Malta, but elsewhere Santo Stefano attracted many families away from the Hospital, even though its nobility lacked the prestige of Malta. Its knights could enter the order and secure noble status by endowing a new commandery in jus patronatus or family patronage and they could be married, as in Santiago; they were bound to give three years’ military service, partly at sea. Married commanders’ sons were able to inherit commanderies in family patronage, and defects in their mother’s nobility could be remedied by a supplementary payment or augmentation; furthermore, a rapid succession of renunciations by live commanders could enable a number of members of the same family to ennoble themselves quite quickly. All this differed sharply from Maltese practice with regard to celibacy and nobility, yet it too provided an efficient naval contribution to the holy war.
Santo Stefano, with its own naval academy and with its convent and conventual church at Pisa designed by Giorgio Vasari, soon had hundreds of knights, some from outside Tuscany; no less than 695 commanderies were founded between 1563 and 1737. From its base at Livorno its well-organized fleet defended Tuscany’s commerce and shores, and fought the infidel further afield, often sailing alongside the ships of the Hospital; it contributed two galleys to the relief of Malta in 1565. The Tuscan galleys, sometimes ten or more at a time, raided aggressively off the African coasts, throughout the Aegean, and around Cyprus, most notably under their greatest admiral Jacopo Inghirami. They cruised as a squadron which took and divided spoil and ransoms but, unlike the Hospital, Santo Stefano had no semi-private individual corso. After 1584 the order shifted the weight of its Christian piracy from the western Mediterranean to the rewarding hunting grounds of the Levant. In the eight years from 1610 Santo Stefano took twenty-four Barbary vessels and 1,409 slaves in the West, and it pillaged several towns and took forty-nine Turkish and Greek vessels and 1,114 slaves in the Levant. Like the Hospital and very briefly the Teutonic Order, Santo Stefano fought with the Venetians during their Cretan war from 1645 to 1669, but thereafter it saw increasingly little action. The office of admiral was abolished in 1737 and the order was suppressed by Napoleon in 1809. In the same year Napoleon fundamentally disrupted the history of the Teutonic Order, which lost its German lands. It headquarters were moved to Vienna, but its military characteristics and all aspiration to an order-state were gone.
In 1568 Cosimo de Medici attempted to incorporate the hospitaller order of St Lazarus into Santo Stefano, but instead the pope united part of it in 1572 to the Order of St Maurice, with Emanuele Filiberto, duke of Savoy, and his successors as perpetual grand masters and with an obligation to maintain two galleys; two did in fact serve at Tunis in 1574, but that order’s military activity ceased after 1583. New military orders continued to be created. Pope Pius II founded the order of Bethlehem in 1459, using the goods of various suppressed minor orders. Its few brethren under their master, Daimberto de Amorosa, planned to defend the Aegean island of Lemnos, but it fell to the Turks and the brethren moved to Syros and built a hospice there in 1464. Following the Venetian reconquest of Lemnos in the same year they returned there, but the Turks regained the island in 1479 and the order practically disappeared. Much later, in 1619, Charles of Gonzaga, duke of Mantua and Nevers, helped to found a papal order of knights, the Ordre de la Milice Chrétienne, as part of elaborate French schemes to fight the Turks and the German Protestants. In 1623 Pope Urban VIII transformed it into a full military order with vows of conjugal chastity. Italian and German groups adhered, money was contributed, and a fleet constructed, but no action followed.
The Modern Period: The Survival of an Order-State
After 1561 only the Order of Malta remained an effective and independent military body. It was managed by tough warriors who knew their business; the master Jean de la Valette had been captured in 1540 and held as a Muslim prisoner for over a year. The 1565 siege gave the Hospitallers new purpose and confidence; they at once began the construction of the new conventual city of Valletta, beautified by Girolamo Cassar, and of an immense system of fortifications spread around the Grand Harbour. The island was transformed into a powerful deterrent which threatened the strategic communications between Istanbul and Alexandria on which the Islamic front from Egypt to Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco partly depended. The Hospitallers stood as a key bulwark against this menace, their propaganda emphasizing Muslim solidarity in order to keep the fear of the infidel alive and to justify their own position and the holy war upon which, ideologically, they relied. Because Malta’s massive stone defences were never seriously attacked, itself a proof of their effectiveness, they gave the impression of a regime obsessed with invasion phobia. Some element of danger always remained and these fortifications, constantly held to be in need of updating, were eventually extended over much of the island; the last major construction in this almost continuous building programme was Fort Tigné, completed as late as 1794. The fortifications required much financial investment and local taxation but they provided the islanders with protection and employment. Dockyards and arsenals supported major naval campaigns, and the economy was diversified as the port and the new towns, the hospital and quarantine service, and the well- located tradingentrepôt all expanded rapidly. The population of Malta and Gozo nearly doubled in a hundred years, from some 49,500 in 1680 to 91,000 in 1788, and while there was some dissatisfaction with the government, as there was throughout western Europe, the Maltese, like the Rhodians before them, were comparatively well treated and content. These achievements were safeguarded by ceaseless diplomatic intervention in the papal, French, Venetian, and other courts, where indeed Hospitallers were frequently present in secular service. Valletta became an outstanding academy for naval commanders, some of whom became officers in the French fleet, but by the eighteenth century the war at sea, along with the Ottoman threat itself, was in decline.
Malta’s military achievement was founded on countless significant minor episodes, as the Hospitallers effectively policed the seas from Tunis to Calabria with their objective not so much to sink or to kill as to secure booty, ransoms, and slaves. Fortunes fluctuated and the Hospital took its losses; for example, three of its galleys were taken in 1570, which reduced the order’s presence at Lepanto in the year following to a mere three galleys. After that battle the great powers never again mounted vast galley fleets, which had become too expensive. Instead there was a balance of Mediterranean seapower which Malta did much to maintain. Lepanto had not destroyed Ottoman strength; in fact, the Turks had conquered Cyprus in 1571 and in 1574 they retook Tunis. The Hospitallers sustained their aggression. In 1611, for example, they attacked both Corinth in Greece and Kerkenna off the Tunisian coast; on the other hand, there was a small Turkish landing on Malta in 1614. There was collaboration with Venice in defence of Crete from 1645 to 1669, during a war provoked by a Hospitaller attack on an Egyptian convoy. Maltese and Tuscan galleys continued to sail against the Ottomans, but the Turkish war which ended in 1718 saw their last major campaign in Levantine waters. In 1705 the Hospitallers had introduced heavy sailing vessels known as ships-of-the-line to supplement their oared galleys. Special foundations financed these warships, on which the knights were supposed to complete four six-month periods of service before securing advancement. The war at sea declined and the Hospital could claim much credit for that, but hostilities never entirely ceased; in 1749, for example, there was an attack on Oran. The Russians demolished Ottoman seapower in 1770, yet dangers remained; at the very end, when a Tunisian vessel was taken near Gozo in April 1798, the Hospital’s fleet still consisted of four galleys, two ships-of-the-line, and two frigates.
As at Rhodes, the corso contributed to the island’s employment and economy. The Maltese corso was not crude piracy; nor was it the standard privateering licensed by a public authority under legally valid rules but without religious distinctions. It was rather a form of holy warfare limited, in theory though frequently not in practice, to attacks on infidel shipping. Authorized by the master, who received ten per cent of the booty, and strictly regulated by a special tribunal, it permitted Hospitallers and others to invest in piratical expeditions by arming a ship and dividing profits made from booty and ransoms. There was great spoil in the Aegean and the Levant, as operations moved from Tripoli to the Peloponnese, to Rhodes, and to Cyprus. Attacks on Venetian shipping in particular repeatedly led to diplomatic confrontations and to the sequestration of the Hospital’s incomes in its priory of Venice. The Hospital took part in many major sixteenth-century campaigns and in the Veneto-Turkish wars between 1645 and 1718, but after 1580 the emphasis shifted to the corso. Like its North African counterparts, Malta became a corsair state whose vessels were active along the Maghrib coasts where they confronted a Barbary counter-corso in conflicts which occasionally extended into Atlantic waters. Maltese sailors and investors participated fully in the corso, while Hospitaller brethren not only financed the vessels but served on them; of 483 known eighteenth-century ventures some 183, or 38 per cent, were under Hospitaller command. The growing predominance of the French, with their Turkish entente, constrained the Hospitallers to reduce their Levant operations and diminished their prizes. Down to 1675 there were still some twenty to thirty active corsairs, but from then until 1740 the number fell to between ten and twenty; and thereafter there were even fewer, with no licences being issued for the Levant. Only after the crisis of 1792 was the corso briefly revived. By then the Hospital was, with considerable success, policing and pacifying the seas rather than conducting a morally justified religious war, but the order was still performing a useful activity which fostered western commerce, particularly as it forced Ottoman subjects to seek safety by sailing on Christian shipping.
The Hospital’s institutions remained static. Its field of administration, which extended far beyond the island order-state, depended predominantly on the master. Between 1526 and 1612 the chapter general met, on average, every six years, but from 1631 until 1776, when a financial crisis finally proved compelling, it was never summoned. The Hospital, never seriously reformed, became ever more autocratic, its masters even seeking forms of sovereignty. The southern French monopoly of the mastership had been broken in 1374, and subsequently there were Iberian and Italian as well as French masters; in the eighteenth century two Portuguese, Antonio Manoel de Vilhena and Manoel Pinto de Fonseca, ruled between them for some forty-six years, Pinto for thirty-two of them. The election of a ruler for life ensured continuity, stability, and an absence of child or female successions, but the seniority system encouraged longevity and produced a gerontocracy throughout the upper echelons of the administration. The master’s extensive incomes and patronage enabled him to win influence, to pack committees, or to elect knights through his own magistral grace, and he could therefore become unduly autocratic. Such behaviour led to the deposition in 1581 of the master, Jean l’Évêque de la Cassière, who had sought clumsily to restrain lawless behaviour among the brethren; he was only reinstated after a major upheaval and a visit to Rome.
The French, with three of the Hospital’s seven provinces, clung instinctively to the lands, commanderies, and incomes on which their survival depended. There was scandalous, but irresistible, royal interference in the priory of France, and in general the system of promotions developed into a complicated bureaucratic competition permitting pluralism, absenteeism, and other abuses. Widespread intervention, especially in appointments, by popes who failed to withstand pressures from rulers and other individuals played a significant part in undermining the morale of all the military orders. Nepotism was inevitable; in an extreme case, the great-nephew of the Hospitaller master Adrien de Wignacourt received the com- mandery of Lagny-le-Sec at the age of 3 in 1692 and still held it on his death eighty-two years later. Manoel Pinto de Fonseca was received at the age of 2 and died, as master, aged 92. Yet the Hospital was by no means decadent. It remained strong in Aragon and Bohemia, in parts of Germany, and in Italy, especially in Naples and Sicily. By 1583 when of some 2,000 brethren there were only 150 sergeants and 150 priests, the knights had become decidedly predominant. In 1700 there were still about 560 commanderies in France, the Iberian peninsula, Italy, and the empire.
Almost everywhere the habit of Malta with its eight-starred cross conferred the highest degree of nobility. In Italy, with its political fragmentation, the Hospital helped to preserve a panItalian caste of nobles who shared a background of birth and manners and a common educational experience in the Maltese convent. These men knew each other as members of an extended multinational club, access to which they limited through the device of family control of the commandery in jus patronatus and by an ever more rigid system of proofs of nobility. The gradual shift from horse to galley, the general proletarianization of the arts of war, and the emergence of non-aristocratic service bureaucracies at court all tended to marginalize the older nobility whose honour and chivalric ideals had been displayed through the outdated sword. While lively debates redefined and modified concepts of nobility, the European aristocracy not only utilized the military orders to define and defend its own status, seeking to exclude newer nobilities or patriciates from entry into the orders and thus from their commanderies and benefices. In the Teutonic Order and the Hospital this noble corporatism functioned in the priories and provinces outside their order-states, but on Malta, as earlier in Prussia and Rhodes, the closed oligarchic caste, which originated outside the order-state, largely refused entry to the indigenous Maltese élite lest it develop into a disruptive dynastic element within the order’s government.
Hospitallers enjoyed considerable prestige in the West and many of them had close and influential family and political contacts with rulers and courts in their home provinces. Papal jurisdiction was no mere theoretical bond; indeed support, and sometimes damaging interference, from Rome continued to influence Hospitaller policy. Eighteenth-century accusations of high-living, immorality, and inactivity were not always unjustified but they were strikingly similar to criticisms repeatedly heard in the fourteenth century and indeed earlier. Despite its real institutional defects, the Hospital did not embody a decayed medieval ideal being lived out in a state of terminal anachronism. The number of brethren actually rose from 1,715 in 1635 to 2,240 in 1740. The early-modern nobility was often well educated, and the Hospital attracted entrants with a remarkable and vigorous range of thoroughly up-to-date military, diplomatic, scientific, and artistic interests and talents, men who were well-read and active throughout western Europe and as far afield as Russia and the Americas. The library in Valletta reflected the breadth of this culture which was both practical and theoretical. An early example was the humanist Sabba di Castiglione, who collected classical sculptures while stationed on Rhodes, was sent as ambassador to Rome, and retired to his commandery in Faenza where he founded a school for poor children.
As in all the orders, the Hospitallers’ vows were being interpreted more loosely and the common liturgical life of the com- mandery had increasingly been abandoned. Commanders were often absentee, farming out their commandery as a predominantly economic unit; they could build up considerable personal wealth and leave part of it outside the order on their death. Hospitaller representatives attended the great reforming council at Trent where, however, the issue for them was not their own internal reform but the successful defence of the exemptions of the brethren and, above all, of their non-professed dependants from episcopal jurisdiction. Yet there were strong devotional concerns among Hospitallers which developed, especially in seventeenth-century France, in collaboration with the Jesuits and other modern movements unleashed at Trent. Some Hospitallers were actively engaged in charity, welfare, and missions, in the redemption of Christian captives in Muslim hands, and in contemporary pious and spiritual works; they sought paths by which the non-priestly religious could pursue a Hospitaller vocation that was both sanctified and military. All this overlapped with the maintenance of the knightly function on Malta, where there was a symbiotic exchange between priory and convent which ensured that Malta was in close touch with contemporary thought.
The corollary of this interchange was that the arrival of the enlightenment, and even of freemasonry, among the knight- brethren on Malta increased disaffection with the ancien régime. Masters frequently quarrelled with bishops, papal inquisitors, and representatives of the Maltese people and clergy. The three French provinces, with their often well-managed estates and forests, produced about half the order’s foreign incomes and ensured the French a major share in office. As its military function evaporated and its incomes dwindled, the order dabbled in somewhat desperate schemes such as those involving Russian, British, and American alliances, the foundation of an Ethiopian company, the creation of a Polish priory, the purchase of estates in Canada, and the acquisition of Corsica; the Hospital purchased three Caribbean islands in 1651 but had to sell them in 1665. In 1792 the National Assembly confiscated the Hospitallers’ goods throughout France, with potentially disastrous financial consequences; in 1798 Napoleon met little resistance and drove the vacillating German master, Ferdinand von Hompesch, and his brethren from a supposedly impregnable Malta. Roughly 200 of the 330 brethren on the island were French and, despite the background of demoralization and unpreparedness, many of the French were ready to resist. Firm leadership and better tactics might have saved Malta, but defeatist and alarmist groups worked for surrender. The few Spanish Hospitallers refused to fight. There had recently been indications of popular discontent with the order; some Maltese troops failed to fight, there was panic and confusion in Valletta and isolated incidents of mutiny and sabotage. A group of Maltese nobles pressed for negotiations and the master seems, mistakenly perhaps, to have feared an uprising of the order-state’s populace.
France and Spain, the order’s greatest supporters, had turned against it, and aid was available only from the two nonCatholic powers of Russia and Britain. It was scarcely in the French interest to remove the Hospital and lose control of the island to an enemy, as in fact occurred. The French had benefited commercially from the Hospitallers’ policing of the central Mediterranean and from the use of Malta’s port, but some French brethren were too royalist and some revolutionaries in Paris too dogmatic. The confiscations of 1792, which soon extended to Switzerland, Italy, and elsewhere, were probably decisive. The order was effectively protecting the Mediterranean, and even after 1798 it might have found a function in the armed conflict waged in North Africa for several decades by the European powers and even by the United States of America. Yet for many observers a sometimes arrogant society of aristocratic religious had come to appear largely irrelevant in an age of revolution, not so much because Malta was ungovernable or indefensible but because the underlying basis of the order-state, its enjoyment of extensive lands and privileges in the West, was no longer acceptable.
The Modern Period: The Decline of the Military Function
The Teutonic Order actually maintained a minimal military function after the fall of Malta in 1798. It had lost Prussia in 1525 but it kept properties and incomes in many Catholic, and even some Protestant, parts of Germany proper. After 1525 the German master’s headquarters was at Mergentheim in Franconia where for several centuries a combined Hochund Deutschmeister ruled over a petty baroque court with the status of a German prince. Meanwhile Livonia, where the order still controlled many towns and fortresses, turned largely Lutheran, but the Catholic brethren fought on, particularly in opposition to the Orthodox Russians but also against resistance from the Livonian populace. In 1558 Ivan the Terrible launched renewed Russian invasions of Livonia and the brethren lost Fellin two years later. Then in 1561 the last Livonian master, Gotthard Ketteler, also turned Protestant and secularized the order-state; parts of Livonia went to Poland and the ex-master became hereditary secular duke of Curland and Semigallen. By 1577 the whole Teutonic Order was reduced to 171 brethren.
Mergentheim was no Ordensstaat but it enjoyed the independence of a German principality under masters, notably Maximilian of Habsburg from 1595, who were often members of the Austrian ruling house. The Teutonic Order maintained the old machineries of chapters general and strict proofs of nobility. There was much discussion of territorial claims, even in Prussia, and compromises with the Protestants who had taken many commanderies; great emphasis was laid on ancient tradition and German aristocracy. Shamed perhaps by the example of noble German colleagues who were active on Malta, the Teutonic knights repeatedly advanced schemes to defend a fortress or even to move the whole order and to fight the infidel on the Hungarian frontier, as they had occasionally done in the fifteenth century. Some brethren invoked the old medieval tradition of the Baumburg ‘tree castle’ of Torun where the brethren supposedly crossed the Vistula and, having no buildings of their own, fortified themselves against the pagan Prussians in a great tree; yet, when from 1595 Maximilian of Habsburg succeeded in sending a few individuals against the Turks, they were really serving as members of the imperial court rather than of a military order. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Teutonic knights required thirty-two quarterings of nobility and maintained the vow of celibacy. After 1606 all Teutonic knight- brethren were supposed to perform a three-year period of military service, but in reality they could devote themselves to the management of the commanderies, to administration in the Mergentheim bureaucracy, or to a career in a standing army. From 1648 Lutherans and Calvinists had equal rights in what became a uniquely triconfessional order.
In 1658 there was a scheme for joint action with Venice and Malta, and another in 1662 for a Teutonic galley fleet on the Danube. In 1664 the master, Johann Kaspar von Ampringen, led a contingent against the Turks in Hungary and in 1668 he took a small and unsuccessful expedition to fight them in Crete. Some brethren fulfilled their exercitium militare in garrison towns on the Ottoman border, and a few lost their lives in the Turkish wars. From 1696 the master financed a regiment in which the brethren, who were paid both from their commanderies and as Austrian officers, served as a unit of the imperial army; in 1740 they fought in the Austro-Prussian war, but as representatives of a German princely state and not as members of a religious order. The Teutonic brethren’s military activities had become a very minor matter. In 1699 there were only ninety-four knights and fifty-eight priests; in the 192 years between 1618 and 1809, of 717 known knight-brethren, 184 of them from Franconia, at least 362 or about half were at some point serving army officers, eighty-nine of whom became generals. The order survived at Mergentheim until 1809 and then transferred its existence to Austrian territory at Vienna. Though to a lesser extent than Santo Stefano and the Spanish orders, it too had been absorbed into an essentially secular army, but its German base, with resources and manpower outside Austria, had ensured it a certain degree of independence.
The Spanish orders became much less active militarily. In 1625 the three orders still totalled 1,452 brethren, 949 or nearly two- thirds of whom belonged to Santiago. Between 1637 and 1645 Felipe IV, faced with a French war, repeatedly convoked the brethren to fulfil their military obligations, but the nobility had abandoned its warlike habits and the crown, having granted memberships to totally unsuitable candidates, met widespread evasions, protests, and excuses. In 1640, 1,543 combatants assembled to form a battalion of the military orders including Montesa, but only 169, or 11 per cent, of them were professed knights; the rest of the brethren were too young, too old, too ill, or unwilling to fight in defence of their own country. They sent substitutes at their own expense, paid fines, or simply evaded conscription. In the end, the battalion was sent to fight rebel Catalans within the Spanish borders. Thereafter the duty to serve was largely commuted into a payment. The service of the orders’ battalion was not really that of a group of corporate religious; rather, as with the Teutonic knights who fought against the Christian enemies of the house of Austria, it was an obligation to defend its secular ruler’s domains. In 1775 the three regiments maintained by Alcantara, Santiago, and Montesa provided a miserly 468 men for the siege of Algiers. The Castilian orders survived as an important source of income and patronage, which provided a livelihood for a number of royal servants and which served, as elsewhere, to define a noble caste in institutional form, the Royal Council of the Orders continuing to defend a certain monopoly of birth and honour through the system of rigorous entry proofs. The Spanish orders became archaic; their structure no longer corresponded to any useful function. The Portuguese orders were extinguished between 1820 and 1834, and the property of all three Castilian orders was eventually confiscated in 1835.
The contribution of the military orders to the holy war between 1312 and 1798 depended on the quality and efficiency of their performance rather than on the quantity of their brethren. For example, they provided only a few of the 208 Christian galleys at Lepanto in 1571. Yet the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II wrote in about 1409: ‘Let no one assume by looking at their few galleys stationed at Rhodes that the strength of the Hospitallers is weak and feeble; when they wish to do so, a great number of them can assemble from all over the world where they are scattered.’ There were naturally those who were reluctant to serve. When in 1411 six Hospitallers of the priory of Venice met at Treviso to choose four names from which their prior was to select one to be sent to Rhodes, Angelo Rossi sought to excuse himself on the multiple grounds that he had already served the prior for ten years in Rome, that he was involved in a lengthy lawsuit which would harm the order should it be lost on account of his absence, that his brother had a large family which needed his protection, and that he himself was too poor to go. If the orders’ participation in occasional crusading expeditions and in the Spanish Reconquista was limited in scope, and if the successes of the Teutonic Order, important as they were in colonizing and Christianizing the German East, eventually evaporated, the defence of Rhodes and Malta, and their resistance to the Turks, were major achievements. National interests had always tended to override crusading ideals, and in the more modern world the military orders survived only where they could secure and maintain a territorial base of their own as curious semi-secular theocracies, and when they could find the military justifications which permitted them to retain the estates elsewhere which ultimately supported them. Towards the end that was the case only for the Hospital and, to a very minor extent, for the Teutonic Order.
After the sixteenth century the Hospital alone maintained a positive military strategy determined by its own ruling body, though Santo Stefano showed how a regional order could, with intelligent and firm direction, successfully exploit crusading tradition and aristocratic sensibilities for military and naval ends. Only the Hospital could claim that it underwent no essential change between 1312 and 1798. The other orders made minor or indirect contributions to the activities of the local rulers who controlled them. For the rest they were mostly concerned with their own survival as aristocratic corporations which continued to exist largely for their own sake. Purely national orders, and some national priories or other local sections of multinational orders, were absorbed and overwhelmed by the lay state, though the Teutonic brethren and the Spanish and Portuguese orders continued to make limited contributions through their participation in national armies and fleets. The Hospitaller solution, a naval one based on an island order-state, proved the most successful, but it still depended on its western priories. That had been clear in 1413, when the brethren threatened to abandon Rhodes unless they received financial support and changed their minds only upon the fortunate arrival of the English responsions, and it was again evident following the terminal confiscations which began in 1792.
The military orders were part of an ancien régime condemned to extinction and their military existence disappeared with it. Though Malta in particular still had some attraction to the warlike, the orders were scarcely channelling the aggressive instincts of a military class into a religious form of warfare. Except very marginally within the Habsburg empire, the confiscations and suppressions imposed after 1792 by the revolution and by Napoleon virtually brought an end to the orders as military bodies. The orders’ priests and their female convents sometimes survived and there were countless schemes for restorations and revivals, sometimes merely as aristocratic fraternities, sometimes in bogus form or as masonic and esoteric groups pretending to a Templar succession. The military orders had done something to maintain a corporate ideal of Christian holy warfare, and the Hospital was well ahead of its time in its activities both as a supranational police force drawn from different states and as a cosmopolitan medical organization. After 1798 the orders lived on in non-military ways through their buildings and works of art, through their archives and chronicles, and above all through their welfare and medical activities.