History – 1557 – 1568 Jean de la Vallete

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Jean de la Vallete Parisot, of the Laugue of Provence, Prior of St. Giles, was elected Grand Master, by the general assembly of the sixteen venerable electors, on the 21st August 1557. Knowing through his emissaries in Constantinople that the Sultan was preparing a vast armament to make a descent upon Malta, he at once took steps to resist an attack. The Bourg, Senglea, and Castle St. Elmo were greatly improved, ramparts were added and ditches completed. Whilst these additional defenses were being hurriedly pushed forward, a gun fired from the Castle St. Angelo on the 18th May 1565 announced that the professed enemy of Christianity was in sight of the island of Malta.

The Turkish fleet consisted of 130 galleys, 50 smaller vessels, and several transports laden with stores and ammunition, under Piali. The full military strength under the command of Mustafa Pacha consisted of 35,000 men, of whom 5,000 were janissaries. It had been the express wish of Soliman that Dragut should also take part in this expedition, to which this celebrated corsair added a further reinforcement of 1,500 Algerians. Fort St. Elmo was the first base of operations on the disembarkation of the Ottoman Army. Inch by inch did the worthy Knights dispute their ground, but, unable to withstand the overpowering strength brought to bear against them, they fell victims to the brutal rage of the Infidels. Great as was the loss sustained by the Order in the, siege of Fort St. Elmo, still greater was the slaughter wrought among the Turkish lines. For thirty four days did that fort hold out against the attacks of the Turkish Army, and it was on the 23rd June that it finally fell into their hands. Their victory was purchased at the high cost of 8,000 men, including the notorious Dragut.

During the siege of Fort St. Elmo the Order lost 200 men, mostly Maltese, and 122 Knights. Several assaults were next made by the Turks upon the Bourg and Forts St. Angelo and St. Michael, but all their attempts were fruitless, and their army repulsed with heavy losses. The invading army next turned its efforts against the city of Notabile, but the promptitude and vigor with which the Knights met the attack were such that the Turkish force was driven back with immense slaughter. Intelligence having been conveyed to the Pacha that a relieving army, sent by the Viceroy of Sicily, had landed in Malta and was advancing towards the Bourg, he immediately gave orders for his troops to embark and set sail for Constantinople. This order had no sooner been given, than information was received that the numbers of the relieving force had been greatly over estimated. He therefore decided to land 9,000 men, and at their head he marched against this new enemy. But such was the impetuosity with which this attack was repulsed, that, without striking a blow, the Turks turned and fled, unable to stand their ground. They embarked at last on their galleys on the 8th September and were soon out of sight.

Over 30,000 men, the flower of the Moslem army, perished during this memorable siege. Of the 9,000 heroes who had flocked under the banner of la Vallete, only 600 were left to share with their honored leader in the triumph that had attended his arms. Porter, the celebrated writer of ” Malta and its Knights,” speaking of the heroism displayed by the Maltese soldiers in this memorable siege, has in his valuable work transmitted to posterity the following words:-

The Order were, moreover, ably seconded in their efforts by the bravery and resolution of the Maltese. It must be borne in mind that the great bulk of the soldiery was composed of the native element. Had this failed, no amount of individual heroism on the part of the Knights could, in the long run, have been successful. The Maltese have, however, wherever they have been tested, proved themselves steady and resolute soldiers, and on this memorable occasion they were not found wanting. No single instance is recorded throughout the siege in which they failed in their duty, and on many occasions (notably when the Turks attempted to destroy the stockade formed at St. Michael’s) they proved themselves capable of the most devoted heroism. The history of the siege is indissoluble interwoven with that of the Maltese inhabitants, and they have just cause to remember to this hour, with pride and satisfaction, the noble deeds of their ancestors in 1565.”

To this the author adds a note which shows his impartiality when dealing with the subject :-

“It is necessary to draw attention to this fact because most of the histories of the siege, having been compiled by writers in the interests of the Order, everything has generally been sacrificed to the object of adding to the glory of the fraternity. It is only by a careful study of facts that the heroism of the Maltese appears in its true light.”

No sooner was la Vallete cleared of his deadliest foe than he resolved to carry out a plan which L’Isle Adam, owing to the exhausted treasury of the Order, had been unable to put into execution. This project was to found a city which was to occupy the, entire area of Mount Sceberras, and thus render the .island safe from the ever-brooding attacks of the enemy. To make up for the deficiency of pecuniary resources and carry out this gigantic scheme, la Vallete appealed to the munificence of the Christian Princes, a request which was promptly responded to. Charles IX., King of France, contributed the handsome sum of 140,000 livres, Philip Il. of Spain offered a subsidy of 90,000 livres, Dom Sebastian, King of Portugal, gave 30,000 crusadoes. The Holy Pontiff, Pius V., contributed very largely to the execution of the intended work, and, not content with subsidizing the Order most munificently, he even placed his chief engineer, Francesco Laparelli, at the disposal of the Grand Master.

On the 28th March 1566, amid the greatest enthusiasm and rejoicing, the honored hand of la Vallete laid the first stone of the new city, which, after its founder, is still called Valletta.

“Several gold, silver and -bronze medals were deposited beneath the newly-laid stone, all bearing on the obverse the bust of la Vallete, and on the reverse of some the inscription ‘IMMOTAM COLI DEDIT’; on others, ‘MELITA RENASCENS.’ Other medals bore the inscription, ‘ DEI PROPVGNATORIS SEQVENDÆ VICTORLÆ; and others represented David in the act of killing Goliath.”

On the 21st August 1568, whilst the work of the new city was being carried on, Jean de la Vallete died, to the untold grief of the fraternity and of the inhabitants of the island of Malta, by whom he was held in the greatest esteem and affection

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