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List of Grand Masters of the Knights Hospitaller
Jean Parisot de Valette
Early career and rise within the Order
De Valette’s armour at the Palace Armoury.
De Valette joined the Order when he was 20 years old in around 1514, and he never returned to France or his family estates from that day on. Jean de Valette was present during the Great Siege of Rhodes in 1522, and accompanied Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, after the Order’s expulsion from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
After the loss of Rhodes, the Order was granted the Maltese Islands and Tripoli by Emperor Charles V. In 1537 Valette became Governor of Tripoli, where he tried to restore order within the vulnerable city. In 1538 he was imprisoned in the Gozo prison for 4 months after attacking a man. In 1541 Valette was involved in a naval battle against Abd-ur-Rahman Kust Aly, in which he was wounded and his galley, the San Giovanni, was captured. De Valette was taken as a galley slave for a year by Barbary pirates under the command of Turgut Reis but was later freed during an exchange of prisoners.
In 1554 he was elected Captain General of the Order’s galleys. This was a great honour to the Langue of Provence, as throughout most of the Order’s history, the position of Grand Admiral was usually held by a Knight Grand Cross of the Italian Langue. In that capacity he won a name that stood conspicuous in that age of great sea captains, and was held in the same regard as the Chevalier Mathurin Romegas – one of the greatest Christian maritime commanders of the age. In fact both sides had extremely talented sailors. If Valette, Romegas and Juan de Austria could be considered the best commanders that the Christian forces could bring to the sea, the forces of Islam were able to call on the equally outstanding maritime and leadership skills of admirals such as Barbarossa and Dragut. De Valette was described by Abbe de Branthome as being a “very handsome man, speaking several languages fluently including Italian, Spanish, Greek, Arabic and Turkish.”
Coat of arms of de Valette as Grandmaster
In 1557, upon the death of Grand Master Claude de la Sengle, the Knights, mindful of the attack that was sure to come, elected Valette to be Grand Master. In 1560 he formed an alliance with the Habsburg Empire to reconquer Tripoli, but the expedition resulted in a Christian defeat at the Battle of Djerba. Despite this the Order’s galleys were able to rescue several other Christian vessels, and later on in his reign, De Valette greatly strengthened the Order’s navy.
Years of service 1514-1568
Rank Captain General of the Galleys (1554-1557)
Battles/wars Siege of Rhodes
Great Siege of Malta
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