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The Military Religious Orders of the Middle Ages

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The Military Religious Orders of the Middle Ages
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Author(s): F. C. Woodhouse
Date Published: 2010/10
Page Count: 252
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-277-2
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-278-9

Knights of the sword and Cross

The principal tenets of the chivalric code of the Christian Knights of the middle ages were to fear God, to protect the afflicted and to serve ones master faithfully. The foundation of these essential principles were inevitably fertile ground for the emergence of the military religious orders of the medieval period. All was in place but the organisational structure in which the individual could live out his vows and these were introduced in several organisations of varying size and influence. This book explains the creation, activities, campaigns and battles and the knights who lived and fought under the banner of Christ often in opposition to the forces of Islam in the Middle East of the Crusades period. Within its pages the reader will discover the Knights of St. John—the Hospitallers, the Knights Templars and many minor, but interesting orders—including the Order of Avis, the Order of the Holy Ghost and the Order of Our Lady of the Lily—which flourished in Britain and Europe during the period. This is an invaluable insight into the organisation of knights of the medieval period. Available in softcover and hardback with dust jacket.

Mustapha, finding his losses so great and his success so small, determined not to attempt another assault for some time, and turned his attention entirely to battering down the defences with incessant cannonading. He erected new batteries which poured a continual storm of iron and marble shot upon the fortifications, and into the town itself. Many non-combatants, including women, were thus killed in the streets; but this fresh danger seems to have roused a spirit of resistance which pervaded all classes. A corps of two hundred boys was organized who, armed with slings, hurled a shower of stones whenever there was seen a knot of the enemy. Women carried stones up to the ramparts, and prepared vessels and fires to boil water and oil, to be poured on the heads of those who attempted to scale the walls, or worked side by side with the men in repairing the breaches made in the walls.<br>
La Valette directed all. He seemed to be endowed with ubiquity. He was seen by one kneeling at prayer in the church; by another directing the construction of some defence; he was now in the council chamber; now upon the walls exposing himself without hesitation like a common soldier; presently he was at the bedside of some wounded or dying knight in the hospital, and last, not least, he was sending urgent messages to the Viceroy of Sicily, imploring him no longer to delay in sending the much-needed reinforcements.<br>
He never spared himself. He despatched his own nephew, to whom he was tenderly attached, to command a forlorn hope sent out to destroy a new work which the Turks were constructing, and the brave young knight was shot down as he was hewing away at some timber that formed part of the work.<br>
An attempt was at once made by the Turks to secure his body; for the pasha gave a reward for every knight’s head brought in; but his comrades who had retreated rushed out and carried the remains of their brother safely into their lines. When La Valette heard of the death of his nephew, he said, “All the knights are alike dear to me, I consider them all my children; the death of any is equally sad to me. After all, my nephew has but got the start of us for a few days; for, if the Sicilian succour does not come soon, we must die to a man, and be buried under the ruins of Malta.”<br>
On another occasion, being told through a deserter that Mustapha had sworn that, when he took the place, he would put every knight to death except the Grand Master, whom he should carry to the Sultan, he replied, “I shall take good care to prevent that, for, if it comes to the last extremity, rather than that a Grand Master of Malta should be taken in chains to Constantinople, I will dress myself like a common soldier, rush into the midst of the enemy, and die among my brethren unknown.”<br>
After a fortnight’s incessant cannonading, by which the walls were terribly shattered, and several yawning breaches were made, another general assault was commenced. Mustapha commanded in person, and all his officers freely exposed themselves in leading on their men.<br>
All day the fight continued; but still the Christians kept their enemies at bay, though with sad loss, and at the greatest sacrifices, having to contend incessantly with superior forces, fresh detachments of whom came on, as others were wearied or beaten.<br>
Night alone put an end to the unequal contest, and next day it was renewed. No one could leave the walls; provisions were carried there, and men ate and drank, sword in hand, and rushed back to the fray.<br>
This went on till August 7, when a mine was suddenly sprung under the bastion of Castile, and in a few moments the Turks were mounting the breach by hundreds, and their standards were upon the walls. But La Valette and his knights were soon on the spot, and a fierce and bloody hand to hand fight ensued. The church bells were rung, and every one rushed to defend the castle or to die; even the sick rose from their beds and tottered to the scene of the struggle. Inch by inch the ground was contested; but gradually the Christians advanced, the Turks fell back; and Malta was saved once more.<br>
But La Valette would not retire, believing that the attack would be renewed during the night. His anticipations proved correct. A sudden assault was made, favoured by darkness, and, after a fierce struggle, was successfully resisted.<br>
But this could not go on indefinitely. The fortifications were knocked to pieces; many of the best knights were slain; the garrison was growing smaller, and insufficient to man the walls; the hospitals were full of the sick and dying; the ammunition was coming to an end.<br>
And, while the besieged were thus crippled, the besiegers were also in a miserable condition. Their losses had been enormous. Disease was carrying off as many as the sword; provisions were becoming scarce; for the ships that should have brought fresh supplies had been intercepted and taken. Commanders and soldiers were dispirited, and were ready to give” up the attempt upon Malta as hopeless.<br>
One more desperate assault was made towards the end of August, but with the same result as the others. Bravery on both sides, slaughter, obstinate contests, attack renewed, met, resisted, baffled. At the end of the day the Christians still held the bloodstained and tottering walls.<br>
But the end had now come. At the beginning of September, the long-desired Sicilian fleet was seen steering for Malta. Diplomacy, selfishness, hesitation, had had their full sway in the counsels of the Viceroy; but a better mind had come at last, and when succour was despaired of, it came. Twenty-eight ships, with eleven thousand Spanish troops on board, among whom were two hundred knights of the Order from different countries, after suffering much from storms, anchored off the further side of the island.<br>
Mustapha at once saw that his only safety was flight. His wearied and diminished forces were no match for these fresh troops, whose numbers were magnified in the reports he received. St. Elmo was at once abandoned; even the cannon were left behind; and La Valette immediately caused the trenches to be filled up and the castle occupied by his troops, who speedily raised once more the banner of St. John upon the battered walls.<br>
Mustapha, however, fearing the wrath of his master, made yet one more effort to recover his position. He moved round to St. Paul’s Bay, and disembarked his army once more.<br>
No sooner did the newly-arrived troops hear of this than they clamoured to be led against the enemy.