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Emmanuel de Rohan, of the venerable language of France, Bailiff of Justice and General of the Galleys of the Order, was unanimously elected Grand Master, on the death of Ximenez on the 12th November 1775. The language of France had not since the death of Wignacourt, in 1697, had a member raised to this coveted post.
De Rohan’s first step on assuming the duties of his high office was to assemble a general chapter, a proceeding that had been allowed to lapse for a period of 155 years. All previous statutes were revised and several beneficial measures of reform were introduced, the whole being published in book form by order of this Grand Master. By his instructions a code of laws was also drawn up, which is still quoted in the Malta Courts as a model of jurisprudence.
Bent though he was on improving the internal affairs of the Order, de Rohan at the same time lost no opportunity of ameliorating its external relations. The ancient institution of the Order of St. Anthony was incorporated with that of St. John in 1781 and its entire property transferred to the Knights of Malta. An Anglo-Bavarian language was created in 1782 in place of the language of England, which had been lost to the Order since 1538. The Elector of Bavaria endowed this new language, which comprised twenty commanderies, with the yearly income of £15,000, derived from the forfeited estates of the Jesuits in that kingdom.
At this period the Order of Malta appears to have been in a most flourishing condition. Considerable augmentation to its resources had latterly been made through the negotiations of its beloved chief, who throughout his reign had secured the attachment of all classes. Following De Vilhena’s example, he established an extensive fort on Point Dragut, which protects the entrance of the harbour. This fort is still known as Fort Tigne’, being named after the Grand Prior of Champagne, who had borne a large portion of the expense involved in its erection.
The peaceful calm which the Order enjoyed at this time was but the forerunner of the dreadful storm which, commencing with the French Revolution. After ravaging the whole of Europe it was destined to sweep the Knights of Malta from their island home, which they had so proudly and gallantly held for nearly three centuries.
On the 19th September 1792 the deadly blow was struck, when the Directory decreed that the various commanderies of the Order existing in France should be broken up and all their property confiscated by the State.
This done, the Directory turned its attention to the expulsion of the Order from Malta, in the hope of attaching the island to French territory.
The seeds of sedition and rebellion were sown amongst the Knights by secret agents from France, and later on were destined to help to bring about the downfall of the Order.
In the midst of this dark period, which presaged the inevitable destruction of an institution in whose fidelity he had placed his pride and reliance, De Rohan had a stroke of apoplexy, from which he never recovered. He died on the 13th July 1797 to the untold grief of the fraternity and of the inhabitants of Malta, whom he had wisely governed with paternal solicit for a period of twenty-two years.