Here the Jesuitical attempt of Pope Nicholas IV. was made to subjugate the Order. Taking advantage of their miserable state, he proposed to unite the Hospitallers and Templars into one Order, whose common Grand Master, to prevent jealousy, should be elected by neither of them, but by himself, and likewise always for the future by the Holy See. This project was promptly rejected by both Orders.
At a Chapter-General held at Limisso, it was resolved to fortify the town, and erect it into a regular establishment of hospitality. Here also we have the beginning of the naval policy of the Order. It was resolved to use the ship which had conveyed them from Acre, in clearing the coasts from the continued attacks of Saracen pirates.
A navy in a single ship, not a great thing certainly, but nevertheless the beginning of a policy which afterwards won the Island of Rhodes. Pope Celstine V. praised the Hospitallers, and Pope Boniface VIII. imitated his predecessor in being kind to the Order. "This eminent Order of St. John of Jerusalem is bright with devotion," are the words of his brief to the King of Portugal, and to king Edward I. of England (1294). Here we have to record the death of Grand Master Villiers, who was succeeded by Otho de Pins (1298), who died on his voyage to Rome, where he intended to seek protection from the Pope. He was succeeded by William Villaret, Prior of St. Gilles (1300), who on his way to Cyprus, visited several houses of the Order in France, including that of the Hospitalleresses under his own sister. It may be interesting to note that the dress of those ladies was as near as possible in conformity with that of the sterner sex, it consisting of a robe of scarlet cloth, with a cross of white linen, the usual eight-pointed cross of the Order.
In the year 1299 the head of the Tartars sent to Pope Boniface VIII. to proclaim Jerusalem free, that the Tartars had liberated it from the Mahommedan yoke, and so the Christians might come back to re-people their lands. He also sent letters of the same tenour to the Grand Masters of the Hospitallers and Templars inviting them to return and enter into peaceful possession. With this object in view a body of Hospitallers was sent. These with the Tartars advanced all over Palestine, and had the comfort of entering Jerusalem (1301), where they found that everything in the shape of fortifications had been razed by the Saracens. Unfortunately the Tartars were soon compelled to return to their own country owing to civil war, and the Hospitallers evidently unable to withstand the Sultan of Cairo, who was advancing against them, had to retreat.
In the meantime Sir Theobold Gaudin, Grand Master of the Templars, went with the King of Cyprus to make a diversion on the Syrian coast and took Tortosa; but in 1302 it was won back by the Saracens with a loss of 120 Templars.
James de Molay succeeded Gaudin as Grand Master of the Templars, and about the end of 1304 the two Grand Masters had a consultation relating to the fusion of the two Orders, a matter which of itself was not considered a bad thing. It was the giving up of their independence for the benefit of a third party, i.e., the Pope, against which they had rebelled in 1288. After prolonged consideration they both agreed to abdicate and allow the united Order to elect themselves one chief, who so long as any of the existing Templars lived was to be of their Order, and after them things were to be as before. Although the two generous chiefs were thus agreed, not so their Knights and after all the ratification of the Knights was necessary, therefore the whole plan miscarried.
The Grand Master of the Hospitallers still anxious for a union of the forces, in answer to a proposition put forward by De Molay, replied----
"We have both our duties," answered De Molay, with pensive sadness, "and you must cleave to your knights, and I to mine. Yet all you say affects me. No doubt of wealth and honour; but what are they to produce? Farewell."
This event is a most important one in the history of our Order, since it is well known that the Knight Templars had previously had a kind of relationship with the Masonic body. This no doubt accounts for the same, or similar degrees being held and conferred by both Orders; and it no doubt gave us the degree of the Temple, or as we prefer to call it "The Master Builder" degree; a degree which tells its own story and proves its origin. It is unnecessary to prove such as have received it, that it is the ancient degree of the Knight Templar, and to attempt to prove it to such as have not received it would be foolish. We simply note the fact for the benefit of our own members. It may however be interesting to note that the name Master Builder is quite modern, in many of the documents at present entrusted to us, it is called the "New Blue" to distinguish it from the "Old (or Royal) Blue." In plain English the latter belongs to the Knights of St. John, the former belonged to the Knight Templars.
We now return to Grand Master Villaret who meanwhile had gone reconnoitering several of the neighbouring islands. On his return he found his Knights in ill-humour owing to the conduct of the Court of Cyprus toward them, and expressing their desire to be in a house of their own, where they might attend to their duties and have to render an account to none but their own superior, The Grand Master alone.
This certainly must have been pleasing to the Grand Master. Here were his knights expressing a desire for the very thing he had secretly been planning for them. In the circumstances he thought it best that he should go to Europe to organize a body of Crusaders to help in his projected invasion. This was especially necessary seeing he was not to have the assistance of the Templars, and that Rhodes, which had once been Genoese and was now Greek nominally, belonged in reality to Saracen pirates, a bold, fierce, and lawless race, whose resistance was sure to be desperate. Unfortunately he died before the voyage could be undertaken.
This was towards the end of 1306, and early in the following year Falk de Villaret was elected Grand Master, probably the brother previously referred to, certainly a kinsman, and one acquainted with the secret Sir William declared none knew but his brother. Immediately after his election he sailed in France. The financial means for the Crusade (for such it really was) were chiefly raised by a subscription by ladies, particularly those of Genoa, who are said to have sold their jewels for that purpose. Some of these Genoese Amazons took the Cross themselves. Their cuirasses, made small and with bulges to receive the breasts, were shown in the arsenal long after. Volunteers were so numerous that it became a matter of selecting the men he required. Many of the most illustrious men in Germany took the cross on this occasion.
His invasion succeeded, all the lesser islands, and part of Rhodes itself yielded almost without a struggle, but little by little difficulties presented themselves, the pirates who had been at sea returned, and the war became long and bloody. The Crusaders getting tired of the continuous warfare, returned home, going as it were one by one, until the Grand Master had few but his own Knights left to support him. The pirates had retired into the City where they offered a stubborn resistance. After three years fighting the City was taken (1309) and one shout of admiration resounded throughout Christendom of "Knights of Rhodes." Here again we have the raison d' ątre for a change of name.
After reviewing the various islets in company of Antony de Beck, Villaret returned to Rhodes to seek repose, but not to find it. The pirates who had escaped, being strengthened by their brethren in Asia Minor, returned to retake the island but were forced to retreat. Although the Hospitaller had not had time to repair the fortifications of the island, they showed that valiant hearts and willing hands are after all the best fortifications a city can have. The Grand Master accompanied by some of his Knights went to Avignow, and here we have the second and last Pontifical attempt to subjugate the Order. The Grand Master, who was receiving the plaudits of Christendom was deposed by the Pope (Clement V., 1319) and sentenced to accept a Priory, but free from the control of the Grand Master, and responsible only to the Holy See. Helion de Villannova was chosen by the Pope, as Grand Master, and to give the matter an appearance of legality a few Knights were summoned to Rome to elect him. The whole affair being carried through in the Papal Palace.
This certainly was a bold attempt to subjugate the Order, One Grand Master deposed and another appointed without consulting the body. Then the Order was divided against itself, the new Prior being independent. Thus the Order was deprived of the responses, i.e., the annual tax, from this particular priory, and to add insult to injury, they were compelled to pay the prior. Here we have, what we believe to be the beginning of, that infamous doctrine--Taxation without Representation--applied by the Pope, and be it noted the superior taxed for the upkeep of an inferior, while the inferior was free from the control of the superior. Pope Clement V. Certainly must be credited with a knowledge of diplomacy, but that kind of diplomacy which usually characterizes the doings of the Jesuit Order. He no doubt was zealous for the subjugation of the Knights of St. John, but his was zeal without discretion. He over-reached himself, and his diplomacy was doomed to failure. As usual the Pope's blessing was the precursor of disaster. Villannova entered into a league with France and Venice against the Turks, and the Venetians left him in the lurch. Dissentions amongst the Knights were numerous. War without the camp and dissentions within it, made the lot of the Pope-appointed Grand Master anything but a happy one. In the midst of such conflicts he died (1346), to the great grief of the Pope. No doubt his Holiness would be grieved, not so much perhaps on account of Villannova's death as at the miscarriage of his own diplomacy. Deodate de Gozon was then elected Grand Master by the Knights of the Order, without even consulting the Pope. During his short term of office he won a sea-fight against the Turks near Lemnos, taking a hundred and twenty of their small vessels, and putting to flight the thirty-two largest. He addressed a circular-letter to the Priors of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, lamenting that they had not paid any responses since the fall of Acre, although they could not but have heard that the Order was seated at Rhodes.
The evil influence of the Pope was not to be got rid of in a day and the Grand Master finding many of his commanderies so protected by the Pope, and the Kings of France, Castile, Arragon, Portugal, England and others, that he was unable to reduce them to obedience, he abdicated, whether in disgust, or to make room for a stronger-minded man, does not appear very clear. He died immediately after his abdication (December 1353), and was succeeded by Peter de Cornillan or Cornelian (1354), a man remarkable for the regularity of his life, and his austere and ancient manners. He governed the Order for little over a year and was succeeded by Roger de Pins (1355) who ruled the Order for ten years. He revised the Laws of the Order and had the revised edition sent to each of the Priories. He was succeeded by Raymond de Berenger (1365) who captured Alexandria in Egypt, and burned a piratical fleet there. He held a Chapter General at Rhodes (1366). He was succeeded by Robert de Juillac (1374) who ruled for three years, and was succeeded by Heredia Castellan d' Emposta (1377) who is stated to have been one of the best of Grand Masters. He was taken prisoner by the Turks and underwent the harshest slavery. He abdicated and was succeeded by Richard Caracciolo (1383) who never was at Rhodes. He was succeeded by Phillip de Naillac (1396). During his term of office, Timour the Tartar destroyed Smyrna (1399), thus alarming the Christian world. The Knights of St. John set about preparing against a threatened invasion.
The wise policy of Naillac is said to have prevented a civil war in Cyprus. He visited the great council at Pisa in Italy (1409), and extended his journey to England; after an absence of eleven years he returned to Rhodes. Two things stand out in bol relief as the result of his sojourning. First, The shadow (so to speak) of Pope Clement V. was still hovering over the Order. The difficulties which confronted Grand Master Deodate and led to his abdication had to be and were successfully overcome. Second, The Grand Master's determination to clear the atmosphere of even a lingering suspicion of papal authority. For this purpose he convened a Chapter General at Rhodes (1420), at which two regulations were adopted, which removes all doubt as to the object aimed at, but we will let the regulations speak for themselves. They are as follows:----
The Sultan was threatening an invasion from Cairo, and the Order mortgaged its possessions to build a fleet. Amongst the naval equipments cannon were included. At his death (26th October, 1437) Fluvian left the Order property valued at 200,000 gold crowns. At this period the number of Knights at Rhodes was about 1,000.
Fluvian was succeeded by John de Lastic (1437) under whom the threatened invasion became a reality. An Egyptian fleete attacked Rhodes (September 1440) but was easily repulsed. Cannon and musketry were used on both sides. This was the beginning of a long series of invasions extending over a period of eighty-two years and three months, during which the bravery displayed by the Knights put in the shade the daring deeds of the Crusaders of the earlier period. Two Chapters General were held at Rhodes (1445 and 1446) during De Lastic's term of office at which it has been stated many excellent laws were enacted. The capture of Constantinople by Mahomet II. (1451) alarmed Europe, and set the Knights of Rhodes to work with a vigour previously unknown; every possible preparation was made when De Lastic died (19th May, 1454). He was succeeded by James de Milly who held a Chapter General during the first year of his Grand Mastership (1454). Three years later the Turkish fleet destroyed a town in Rhodes (1457), but proceeded no further. Another Chapter General was held (1459) at which the statutes regulating hospitality were ordered to be hung up where the Knights could not fail to see them every day, so that that fundamental duty would be impressed on their minds. Death once more made a change of Grand Masters, De Milly died on the 17th August, 1461, and was succeeded by Peter Raymond Zacosta, who convened a Chapter General during the following year (1462), and on the succeeding year (23rd March 1463) he summoned all the Knights of the Order to Rhodes, and the Pope (on the friendly tack this time) threatened every recusant with excommunication. The next year (1464) saw the island of Rhodes infested by plagues, famine and war. Another Turkish invasion was repulsed; the Grand Master personally defended Lesbro with great gallantry. He died (1467) while on a visit to Rome, and was buried by the Pope's command, in St. Peter's Church, where his statute still remains, representing him as an old man whose beard reached to his girdle. He was succeeded by John Ornisi (1467) who repeated the summons of his predecessor, in order to present a sufficient front to the mances of Mahomet II. He had the fortifications of the island greatly strengthened and enlarged. He entered into an alliance with Persia and sent one hundred of his most expert gunners to discipline the Persian army. He held two Chapters General (1471 and 14750, at the latter it was decreed that no dignity can be conferred on a Knight who has not pad his debts to the last farthing. A monument to his memory in St. John's Church at Rhodes records the date of his death (8th June, 1476). He was succeeded by one to whom we are constrained to accord the honour of being the most brilliant and the most trusted of the long line of Grand Masters--Peter D'Aubusson--to whom alone was granted absolute power on all matters. He had been a soldier from his childhood, and all dread of Mahomet II. ceased when the news of his election went forth. He convened a Chapter General (1478) at which it was enacted that any Knight seeking place in the Order, who should obtain a letter of recommendation from a foreign Sovereign, should forfeit ten years of rank. This was striking with a vengeance at the root of outside interference. Had such a law been in force in 1319, the Pope-appointed Grand Master would have fared badly. It put an end, and that forever, to papal interference, and effectually barred the way to promotion, for such as still had a lingering suspicion of papal authority or influence.
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