History – 1741 – 1773 Emmanuel Pinto

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Emmanuel Pinto, of the noble Portuguese house of De Fonseca, the venerable language of Castile, Leon and Portugal, Bailiff of Acre, was unanimously elected, on the 18th January 1741, to fill the vacant position of Grand Master on the death of Ramon Despuig.

No events of importance occurred to disturb the peace and tranquillity, which marked the first years of the rule of this wise and energetic Prince. A plot of the most dangerous character, and one that threatened the direst disaster to the Christian inhabitants of the island, was, however, discovered on the 6th June 1749. At the head of this conspiracy was the Pascha Mustafa, Governor of Rhodes, then a prisoner of war in Malta. This dignitary, while on his way to Rhodes, had been captured by the Christian slaves who manned his galley. The mutineers, after having murdered their officers and become masters of the vessel, made for Malta, where they arrived on the 2nd February 1748. The Pascha, instead of being looked upon as an ordinary prisoner of war, was treated by the Order with every mark of respect. From the moment of his arrival Mustafa devised the detestable plot of massacring the whole Christian population of Malta with the assistance of the Turkish slaves in the island, who at the time numbered about 1,500, and then annexing Malta to the Ottoman Empire. Continual promises of support from Constantinople emboldened the conspirators, and the 29th June, the festival of St. Peter and St. Paul was selected as the date on which their atrocious designs were to be carried out. As on that day the city would be practically deserted the majority of the inhabitants being away at the festivities at Notabile. Had it not been for an accidental quarrel that led to the betrayal of the plot, a wholesale massacre would have most undoubtedly ensued. The quarrel originated in a tavern where two of the conspirators had gone to endeavour to enlist as a confederate a young Maltese soldier of Pinto’s bodyguard. Enraged by his continual refusals to join their ranks, they attempted to stab him. He would have been torn to pieces had it not been for the timely interference of the innkeeper, who, on learning the motive of the quarrel, lost no time in revealing this dangerous plot to the Grand Master himself. Several of the conspirators were at once seized and subjected to torture, under the extreme agonies of which a complete confession was extorted and some sixty of the ringleaders were put to death. The honest innkeeper, Cohen, was handsomely rewarded, and the faithful young soldier, Cassar, for his unflinching devotedness to his colours, was promoted from the ranks and given the command of Pinto’s bodyguard, known as the “Guardia Urbana.” On the anniversary of the discovery of the plot, the Knights of Malta regularly held a thanksgiving service in the church of St. John in commemoration of this providential escape from massacre.

Several naval engagements, of more or less importance, between the rival fleets, took place in Pinto’s reign. In 1760 the Christian slaves that manned it captured a large Turkish man-of-war of seventy-eight guns. They made their officers prisoners, and brought the vessel to Malta laden with booty. Irritated by the loss of one of the finest vessels in the Turkish navy, the Sultan threatened to despatch a hostile fleet to Malta, but through the good offices of Louis XV of France, the vessel was purchased by the French and restored once more to the Ottoman navy.

Pinto died on the 23rd January 1773, at the advanced age of ninety-two, after governing the Order for no less a period than thirty-two years. Full of enterprise and energy this Grand Master caused several notable additions to be made in the fortifications both of Malta and Gozo, and also erected the Law Courts and several other important public edifices. Pinto claimed for himself the title of “Most Eminent Highness,” and was the first Grand Master to make use of the Imperial crown. He demanded for his ambassadors at foreign Courts the prerogatives enjoyed by those representing royalty, which was granted to him by Pope Benedict XIV and a medal was ordered to be struck to commemorate the event. It is doubtful, however, whether this medal was ever really issued.

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