HOSPITALLERS
Knights of Rhodes;
Knights of Malta

 

 

HOSPITALLERS (also Knights Hospitaller). At the end of the 11th cent. the headquarters of the order was a hospital at Jerusalem which became dedicated to St John the Baptist; hence its members were more fully described as ‘Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem’. After 1310 they were also known as the Knights of Rhodes, and from 1530 as the Knights of Malta.

The origins of the order are to be found in the establishment c.1080 of a hospice for pilgrims by the old Benedictine Abbey of S. Maria Latina in Jerusalem. Its first historical personage is Master Gerard, under whom, after the successes of the Crusaders in 1099, the order greatly developed and obtained Papal sanction. Its original concern was the care of the sick poor, and its ideal of treating the poor as ‘lords’ and the medical practices in its hospitals were to have significant influence in medieval Europe, but under its second Master, Raymond du Puy (1120–1158/60) it developed a wing of brother knights, probably in imitation of the Knights Templar (q.v.).

All members of the order were bound by the three religious vows, together with a fourth: to be serfs and slaves of their lords the sick. They were divided into three classes: brother knights, from whom the Master was always drawn, at least from the 13th cent.; brother sergeants, -at arms and -at service, who did not need to have the qualifications, by birth and arms, of knights; and brother priests. The great officer in charge of the hospital, the Hospitaller, was always a knight. Nursing was performed by the sergeants-at-service. The order employed surgeons and physicians. There were also sisters of St John, who lived in enclosed communities as canonesses regular. From the early 12th cent. the order was being granted properties in W. Europe. It developed a provincial structure of priories and subordinate commanderies to manage these and to transmit funds to the central convent in the East. The brothers shared both the successes and the defeats of the Crusaders; and after the fall of Acre (1291) they escaped to Cyprus and subsequently conquered Rhodes (1309), which became the centre of their activities for the next 200 years. Their power and wealth increased greatly after the suppression of the Templars (1312), whose possessions were assigned to the Hospitallers by the Pope. Their principal achievements during this period were their exploits against the Turks, notably the victorious defence of Rhodes by the Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson in 1480 and that of 1522 against Suleiman II which ended in honourable defeat. After being without a home for seven years the order received the island of Malta from Charles V in 1530. The knights continued fighting the Turks in many battles and in 1571 took part in the battle of Lepanto. The 17th and 18th cents. saw the decline of the order in morals and discipline, culminating in the surrender of Malta to Napoleon in 1798. It now devotes itself to the maintenance of hospitals and still has knights under obedience to a Grand Master. Its distinctive sign is the eightpointed Maltese cross. Since the Malta period the order has been treated by many states and in international law as a sovereign entity. In 1998 the Maltese government granted it a castle on the island.

There are four other recognized Orders of St John. Those in Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands descend from a province in N. Germany which maintained its existence as a Protestant order after the Reformation. In England the property of the Grand Priory was sequestered in 1540. Apart from a brief revival under Mary, the English Langue of the Hospitallers remained dormant with a series of non-resident titular priors, the last of whom held office from 1806 to 1815. In the 1820s, however, the French Knights of Malta, seeking money, men, and material for a scheme to reconquer an island in the E. Mediterranean in alliance with the Greeks who were in rebellion against their Turkish overlords, re-established an English branch on a mainly Anglican basis. A royal charter of 1888 constituted it an order of chivalry, with the sovereign as its head, and a charter of 1926 authorized the creation of priories and commanderies in other countries of the Commonwealth. The order was responsible for the foundation of the St John’s Ambulance Association in 1877, the St John Ophthalmic Hospital in Jerusalem in 1882, and the St John Ambulance Brigade in 1888.

The term ‘Hospitallers’ is sometimes used in a wider sense, e.g. to include the Brothers Hospitallers (q.v.) founded by St John of God.


J. Delaville Le Roulx (ed.), Cartulaire général de l’ordre de S. Jean de Jérusalem, 1100–1310 (4 vols., 1894–1906). Id., Les Hospitaliers en Terre Sainte et à Chypre, 1100–1310 (1904); id., Les Hospitaliers à Rhodes jusqu’à la mort de Philibert de Naillac, 1310–1421 (1913; repr., with introd. by A. T. Luttrell, London, 1974), and other works by the same author. E. J. King, The Rule, Statutes, and Customs of the Hospitallers 1099–1319 [in Eng. tr.] (1934). R. Hiestand (ed.), Papsturkunden für Templer und Johanniter (Abh. (Gött.), Dritte Folge, 77 and 135; 1972–84). M. Gervers (ed.), The Cartulary of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in England: Secunda Camera, Essex (Records of Social and Economic History, Ns 6 [1982]); Prima Camera, Essex (ibid., 23; 1996), with refs. to earlier edns. of records of English Hospitallers. H. J. A. Sire, The Knights of Malta (New Haven and London [1994]). J. Riley-Smith, Hospitallers: The History of the Order of St John (1999). Id., The Knights of St John in Jerusalem and Cyprus c. 1050–1310 (1967). H. Nicholson, The Knights Hospitaller (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2001). A. J. Forey, ‘Constitutional Conflict and Change in the Hospital of St John during the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries’, JEH 33 (1982), pp. 15–29; T. S. Miller, ‘The Knights of Saint John and the Hospitals of the Latin West’, Speculum 53 (1978), pp. 709–33. A. [T.] Luttrell, ‘The Hospitallers at Rhodes, 1306–1421’, in K. M. Setton (ed.), A History of the Crusades, 3 (Madison, Wis., 1975), pp. 278–313, repr. in Luttrell, The Hospitallers in Cyprus, Rhodes, Greece and the West 1291–1400 (1978), no. 1; id., Latin Greece, the Hospitallers and the Crusades 1291–1400 (1982), nos. 1–5; id., The Hospitaller State on Rhodes and its Western Provinces, 1306–1462 (Aldershot [1999]). R. Cavaliero, The Last of the Crusaders: The Knights of St John and Malta in the Eighteenth Century (1960). [H. T.] M. de Pierredon, Histoire politique de l’Ordre Souverain des Hospitaliers de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem, dit de Malte, depuis la chute de Malte jusqu’à nos jours (1926; much enlarged 2nd edn., Histoire politique de l’Ordre Souverain de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem … de 1798 à 1955, vols. 1–2 [to 1830], 1956–63). E. J. King, The Grand Priory of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in England (1924; 3rd edn., entitled The Knights of St John in the British Realm, by H. Luke, 1967).


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