The English in Malta 1530-1600, part 2


The second part looks at the not so virtuous activities of some of the English Knights in Malta.

Not all the knights led a virtuous life. In the Archives of the Knights of St. John (AOM) in the National Library of Malta (NLM) are records of actions taken against some of these knights.

The years 1530 to 1539

Philip Carew, Oswald Massingberd, and Christopher Myers were deprived of their habit for murder; Carew having killed his victim, Thomas Hall, in a duel; Massingberd murdered four fettered slaves and Myers for the “base and miserable” slaughter of a certain “foolish” woman in her own bedchamber.

Myers was imprisoned for a fight with David Gonson and Philip Babington in 1535 which was so serious that Gonson, who had “shed much blood”, had merited deprival of the habit.

Gonson, in 1536 he was sent to prison on Gozo for beating three seculars and in October 1539 was sentenced to another year there for striking one of his brethren in the face with a dagger.

David Gonson and Oswald Massingberd were sentenced to the septena (a beating followed by a week’s fasting) for having exchanged insults in 1539.

The years 1557 to 1558

A Scot, John James Sandilands, was twice imprisoned for brawling in 1557 and 1558, deprived of the habit for mistreating Oliver Starkey in 1564, and subsequently executed for theft from a church.

Divisions within the Langue

Most striking of the problems, however, came from divisions within the Langue and the lack of respect of its members for their own and the order’s officers.

In 1530, John Babington filed a complaint about the injurious deeds and sayings of certain English brothers.

In 1536, Sir Clement West petitioned the council to request action against members of the Langue for blasphemy and disrespectful conduct

Problems with the local community

The Jurats of the island’s ancient capital, Mdina, had been accustomed to organizing this duty before the order’s arrival, and the Hospitallers had sworn to uphold their privileges on taking over the island. However, there were intermittent clashes occurring over the watch into the 1550s, for which commissioners were appointed to investigate responsibility in November 1533.

There appears to have been no further serious disagreement until April 1547, when the Jurats complained of injuries they had suffered from the lieutenant turcopolier, Oswald Massingberd. The order’s council then appointed a commission to investigate these and to inquire whether certain men who claimed to be too old to keep watch.

In August 1552 the Jurats of Mdina once more complained of injuries they had suffered at his hands, and on the same day he was ordered confined to his house for two months for having carried off a slave girl and her daughter from the house of a Maltese nobleman, whom he had beaten in the process. Soon after his release he was again quarrelling with the captains of Mdina, this time over the coast guard duties. Despite the complaints the privileges and customs with the regard to the night-watch and coast guard were upheld as duties of the Knights disregarding the original agreement.