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3.3 Rhodes

Following King Henry, the survivors of the battle of Acre went to Cyprus where the order had a lot of properties. The Convent was officially installed at Limisso in 1292. The first problem facing the Hospitallers was to rebuilt the Order as only seven Knights survived the battle of Acre. In 1302 the Chapter general decided the number of knights and sergeants every country was to send to rebuilt the force of the Convent at 80 fighting men. It must be remembered that in precedence there were hundred of fighting personnel. The second problem was to find a strategic role for the Order after the loss of the Holy Land. It was soon obvious that they could only fight at sea in the future. A naval force was created and sent to help Armenia in 1293. With the help of the Templars several attacks against the Moslems were launched including an attempt to recover Tolosa but they all failed. After the conquest of Acre Egypt was the dominant factor in the East but this passed to the Ottoman Turkey in the 14th century. The Kingdom of Cyprus and the military orders could not do anything to change it. The kingdom of Cyprus was concerned with the presence of the Hospitallers and the Templars on its soil and limited their equipment and land. Soon it became obvious that Cyprus was not a permanent base for the Hospitallers and the Templars. They could have moved to Armenia still in Christian hands but they were not welcome there either and anyway, Europe was not interested in the defence of this country. They limited themselves to small attacks on Egypt. In the meantime Philip IV the Fair became King of France in 1285. He tried to impose his power on the Church and attacked the Pope Boniface VIII in Anagni. The pope died one month later. King Philip took this opportunity to remove the papal residence to Avignon. This lasted 70 years. The next move of the King was to destroy the Templars in order to get their wealth but also to reduce the power of the church. On 13 October 1307 every Templars in France was arrested. Propaganda, secret denunciations, interrogations by torture, and show trials were used to justify the cancellation of the Order. The Templars were accused of denying Christ, of idolatry and any other conceivable sins. The Pope from Avignon, in the hands of the French King, could do little about it. When the Pope gave the impression to bring some fairness in the trial, Philip had 54 Templars burned alive on the stake in Paris. In 1312 the Pope Clement V suppressed the Order of the Templars and two years later the Grand Master Jacques de Molay and the Preceptor of Normandy who retracted their confession were burnt at the stake. Both Clement V and Philip IV died in the same year. (j)

It has been suggested that King Philip the Fair wanted to treat the Hospitallers the same way as he did with the Templars but the Order took action to put itself outside the jurisdiction of any European King. In 1305 Foulques de Villaret was elected Master of the Hospitallers. He had already been Admiral of the Fleet. He took the opportunity of the struggle between Venice and Genoa to move the Order to Rhodes. Venice had seized a Genoan island between Crete and Rhodes and was threatening this last island too. With the help of buccaneer called Vignolo, the Hospitallers attacked Rhodes in June 1306 and took the capital, Filermo, by the end of the year. Rhodes fell in 1309. The Pope Clement V confirmed the Hospitallers’ possession of the island in 1307 a few weeks before the Templars arrest by Philip the Fair. The whole island was under their control by the end of 1310 and Villaret had become an independent sovereign. In Cyprus King Henry was deposed by his brother Amalric who was assassinated in 1310. Villaret was named by Henry to act in his name in Cyprus. As a result in 1312 the Hospitallers took over the Templar possessions in Cyprus with the agreement of Pope Clement V. Villaret imposed also a ban on trade of military equipment with the Moslems as imposed by the Pope. This went against the direct interest of his Genovese allies. They made allied with the Moslems but the Hospitallers fleet destroyed their ships in Amorgos and the Genovese had to make peace with the Order. After the death of Philip the Fair most of the Templars properties went to the Hospitallers who were again a very powerful force to deal with. Unfortunately Villaret behaved like a despot after climbing on the throne and in 1317 he had to flee from his capital. Eventually he had to resign in favour of Hélion de Villeneuve. Villeneuve had to face the important debt accumulated by the conquest of Rhodes, the difficulties met on transferring the Templar properties to the Hospital as well as the disrespect for the crusading brotherhood after the end of the Templars. Villeneuve was very good in managing these problems and the flag of St John was again the banner of Christian victory in the East, defending the Western interests in a very important region of the world. Villeneuve died in 1346 and was followed by Dieudonné de Gozon. The Hospitallers had in this way created a true kingdom in a fertile land. In a certain way it can be said that they had arrived home after the difficulties of the past especially in Jerusalem. (j)

The Hospitallers rebuilt the city of Rhodes as they wanted and as a way to show they wealth and strength. The Byzantine governor’s Palace became the residence of the Master. Churches and Hospitals were built as well as a dockyard. The Knights lived in small national residences. A decree of 1301 created seven “Tongues” which in order of priority were Provence, Auvergne, France, Spain, Italy, England and Germany. Each of them had its own house or Auberge. The head of each “Tongue” in the convent was called “Pillar” and was an important member of the Order. The Order of St John grew fast in the 14th century and there were around four hundred Hospitallers in Rhodes in the middle of the century. The local population was, of course, evicted to make room for the Knights. Once they had organised themselves in Rhodes they started to capture other islands from the Turks. They started with the island of Simie and the outpost of Castelrosso. By 1319 they controlled two hundred miles of the Turkish coast. For 20 years their main task consisted to defend Armenia until it fell to the Marmelukes in 1317. In the same year they recaptured the island of Lango. In 1344 a combined Venetian, Papal Hospitallers and Cypriote force took Smyrna from the Moslems. After Peter I became king of Cyprus in 1359, the idea of retaking the Holy Land took shape again. In 1365 a combined force of Cyprus, Venice and the Hospitallers took Alexandria. The city was easily taken by the Hospitallers and was plundered and destroyed. The Venetian did not agree because this threatened their trade with Egypt and they withdrew from the coalition. The hope of retaking the Holy land disappeared and even the remaining of Armenia fell to the Moslems. (j)

The creation of the “Tongues” in 1301 consecrated the predominance of the French in the Order. France had three priories -Saint-Gilles, Auvergne and France- and three Tongues while Italy and Germany with more priories had only one each. Germany and Italy were obviously under represented. But it must be said that close to 50% of the Knights and Sergeants were French. It we look a little closer we see that it is Provence that has a larger representation. This is due to the fact that they dominated the Order between 1206 and 1374 and elected all the Masters during this period. This only reflected the power of Provence at that time. During the 15th century the Hospitallers fortified very strongly the harbour of Rhodes. Naillac built a 150 foot high tower in 1421, a chain could be drawn to close the harbour and in 1464-67 the strong Tower of St Nicolas was erected. The Convent was improved all the time and a new Hospital replaced the old one. The Auberges were built in a way to attest the importance of the Knights who lived in them. There is no doubt that the Hospitallers brought a renewed prosperity to the island and the government of the island by the Knights was a good one. (j)

The first siege of Rhodes

Turkish raids against Rhodes were frequent in the 1450s. But the real war started only in the 1470s. Mahomet II from Turkey assembled an army of 70,000 men at the end of 1479 to attack Rhodes. They landed in Rhodes in 1480 with the strongest artillery of the time. The defence was in the hands of 600 Knights and Sergeants at arm, 1500 to 2000 soldiers and part of the local inhabitants. Their commander was the Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson. The Turkish commander, Mesic Pasha, tried to avoid the strongest defence by attacking from the North. After a 10 day bombing period, his troops assaulted the island but they were defeated and had to turn back after suffering many losses. Mesic Pasha bombarded then the south defence and tried his luck again on the north side but this second attack failed again. He bombarded again the city for six weeks before he saw an opportunity to strike on the eastern side and he attacked it in strength on July 27. Pierre d’Aubusson led personally the defence although he had been slightly wounded before. Once again the Turks were completely defeated and Mesic re-embarked his army after a 89 day siege. Pierre d’Aubusson was badly wounded but he managed to survive with the help of the physicians of his Hospital. All together 231 knights had died in the siege. In the mean time the Turk attacked Italy but their defeat in Rhodes induced them to withdraw from there too. Mahomet II died in 1481 while he was organising a second attack on Rhodes. Pierre d’Aubusson concentrated his activity on reconstructing Rhodes. He also annexed the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and all its properties that were immense. The Pope Innocent VIII made d’Aubusson a Cardinal and made the title Grand Master official in 1489 although it had been used before. Pierre d’Aubusson died in 1502 leaving Rhodes at the summit if its prosperity. (j)

The second siege of Rhodes

The Italian Grand Master Fabrizio del Carretto reinforced again the defence to take into consideration the increased power of the new guns. Rhodes was probably the strongest fort in existence at the time of Carretto’s death in 1521. His successor was Philip Villier de l’Isle Adam after a bitter fight with the Portuguese André do Amaral. A few months before Soliman the Magnificent rose to the Ottoman throne. Turkey had before captured Syria and Egypt and this left Rhodes surrounded by the Ottoman Empire. In July 1522 Soliman attacked again Rhodes with a stronger army that in 1480. The defenders had only 500 knights and sergeants, 1500 soldiers and the local inhabitants. Fortunately some further reinforcement came as the fight went on. Soliman did not attack from the sea but concentrated on a land siege. Soliman ordered to build some mines to reach the town but the Venetian Gabriel Tadini invented a subterranean listening device that allowed the Hospitallers to know where the mines were being dug. By digging transverse tunnels the Hospitallers were able to bury the attackers time and time again. But the Turks were very strong and they reached the defence walls many times. Amaral was accused of treason by giving information’s to the Turks and he was executed although there has always been doubt on his guilt. By December the small islands had surrendered, there were heavy casualties and the ammunitions were becoming scare and the Hospitallers had to surrender. Soliman let them leave the island and they did it on 1 January 1523. The Hospitallers sailed to Candia and then to Civitavecchia in the papal states. The Pope Clement VII gave the Convent a temporary residence in Viterbo. It remained there for four years. L’Isle d’Adam was looking for a new land for his Order but he did not get much help especially from Venice. However at the same period the king of Spain was also king of Hungary and this country was taken by Soliman. Spain had also to defend Vienna against the Turks. If only for this reason the king of Spain, Charles V, became the patron of the Order as they had the same enemy, Soliman. Charles V offered Malta to the Hospitallers but this decision was not accepted by the French and the knights were kept at rest for 7 years in Viterbo and Nice while the Turkish thread increased. In the meantime the rulers of England, Portugal and Savoy tried to take for themselves the wealth of the Orders. But the Grand Master, L’Isle d’Adam succeeded in keeping his treasures with the exception of those in Germany where the reform was taking place. In 1527 a majority of the chapter General assembled in Viterbo chose to accept Malta although the French langues continued to oppose the move due to the war between France and Spain. In the same year the Hospitallers had to leave Viterbo for reason of war and plague. They went to Nice in the country of the Duke of Savoy. In 1529 the Hospitallers moved to Sicily but the final journey to Malta was retarded until March 1530. (j)