History – 1534 – 1535 Pierino del Ponte

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Pierino del Ponte, Of the noble Italian family of Lombriaco, in the county of Asti, Piedmont, and Bailiff of St. Euphemia in Calabria, succeeded as Grand Master on the death of Villiers de L’Isle Adam on the 26th August 1534. Del Ponte was still in Calabria when the news of his election was conveyed to him by Monsignor Bosio, then Bishop of Malta, brother of the celebrated chronicler of the Order.

After having vainly protested his unworthiness to fill the high office of Grand Master, and protracted his stay for over two months in Calabria, Del Ponte finally consented to govern the Order in Malta, where he arrived on the 10th November 1534.

His reign, however, was a very short one, and the only event worthy of note during his Grand Mastership was the part that the Order took in an engagement with Charles V. against the piratical incursions of Barbarossa. This was the first instance on record in which Charles V. claimed the co-operation of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in his enterprises against the Turks. It was to test the gratitude of the fraternity for having given them complete independence over the islands of Malta that this appeal was made by the Emperor. In the name of the whole fraternity, Peter del Ponte at once responded by sending twenty-five galleys of the Order under the command of the celebrated Bottigella, and 2,000 Maltese soldiers under the orders of De Greola. The combined fleet of the Pope, the Emperor, and the Order, consisted of 300 galleys with 40,000 men. In the earlier part of June 1535 the whole armament left the port of Cagliari in Sardinia for the African shores, where, on disembarking, they soon disposed of the 6,000 Turks impeding their progress towards Tunis. Here the hordes of Barbarossa awaited the arrival of the Christians. No sooner had his men perceived the advance of the Christians, led by the Emperor himself, than they put down their arms and fled. This touched Barbarossa to the quick, and he vowed to wreak vengeance on the 20,000 Christian slaves he had captured during his piratical incursions. He would have undoubtedly carried his threat into execution had not the valour and the ingenuity of Paul Simeoni forestalled him. This young Knight who had so successfully defended the Isle of Leros, had been imprisoned by Barbarossa in the Castle of Tunis, where thousands of Christian slaves were also in duress. Having contrived to cut the irons which made him a captive, he also freed his companions, and forcing his way through the garrison he displayed on the walls of the castle the banner of the Order. On perceiving this, Barbarossa tried to rally and inspire new courage among the few followers who were still faithful to his cause, but in vain, as the over powering number of Christians soon quelled their fury, and Barbarossa had barely time to escape. Simeoni was warmly welcomed by the Emperor, who, whilst congratulating the gallant Knight on the valour he had displayed on that memorable day, thus concluded : “Sir Knight and friend, may blessings attend thee for the courageous resolution that led thee to break thy chains, to render more feasible my victory, and to increase the glory of thy Order”.

Peter del Ponte died very soon after the victory which Charles V., aided by the Pope and the Order, had achieved, closing his career on the 18th November 1535 to the great grief of the fraternity.

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