The Knights Hospitallers, volume 4

The History of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, volume 4

by René-Aubert Vertot

Although ranging over a mere thirty-five years of the Order's history, this part of Vertot's History of the Knights of Malta covers in detail events which had a major impact across the known world of the mid-sixteenth century.

Under the guidance of successive Grand Masters, the Order fought with Barbarossa, with Dragut, with any corsairs they could find, and, sometimes, with each other.

They captured Tripoli, but failed to fortify it, left Gozo to fall to the Turks, and made a disastrous expedition to Zoara which cost almost every man. At the same time they were renowned for great courage and fortitude, and produced many outstanding commanders: Leone Strozzi, de Villegagnon, Romegas and la Valette, among others.

The book closes with the fall of the fort of St Elmo during the great siege of Malta in 1565.

There is a great detail of information about the warfare of the Knights and their enemies. The following extract shows the lengths they went to

... the grand master had himself invented [fire works] of a particular sort, proper to be used at an assault: they made hoops of very light wood, which were first dipped in brandy, or else rubbed over with boiling oil, then covered them with wool or cotton, which they steeped in other combustible liquors, mixed with salt-petre and gun-powder; after this preparation was grown cold, they repeated it, as above, three several times, and, when an assault was made, they set these hoops on fire, took them up with tongs, and threw them into the thickest of the enemy's battalions; when two or three soldiers, being hooked together in these burning hoops, they had no way to escape being burnt alive, but by plunging immediately into the water, and staying there till the fire was extinguished. The knights who defended the fort had the utmost need of all these different succours, to oppose such formidable enemies as they had to deal with.

[This takes me back to the mid 1980s and the ghastly practice of necklacing in South Africa — burning tyres used as a means of torture and execution.]

The History of the Knights Hospitallers, vol. 4: Amazon US / Amazon UK

The Dunnett connection:

It gives the background to much of books 3 and 4 in the Lymond series: Disorderly Knights and Pawn in Frankincense. Dorothy had clearly read it!