chapter  14
10 Pages

A culture of consensus: the Hospitallers at Rhodes in the fi fteenth century (1420–1480)


After their forced departure from Acre in 1291 and a few years spent in Cyprus, the Hospitallers conquered Byzantine Rhodes and several Dodecanese islands between 1306 and 1310 with the full backing of Pope Clement V. Master Foulques de Villaret convinced the pope that these islands would give the Roman Church a military base from which to confront the Turks of Anatolia as well as the Mamluks of Egypt, and ultimately to recover Jerusalem. The master and the convent then established their residence in Rhodes, very close to the coast of Southern Anatolia. The convent on Rhodes was not conceived of as a place where the Hospitallers were expected to lead a monastic type of religious life. 1 In fact the term ‘convent’ covered both the multinational community of brethren present in Rhodes and the brethren assigned to the Order’s galleys or to the nearby fortress of St Peter’s castle at Bodrum on the Turkish coast and to nearby islands like Cos and Nyssiros. The convent, in close association with the master, was also seen as the government centre of the entire Order with its two different functions, jurisdiction over its network of priories and commanderies, mostly located in Western Europe, and exercise of the full powers of an independent state in the Eastern Mediterranean, often described by historians as an Ordenstaat not dissimilar to that created in Prussia by the Teutonic Order. 2

What might be called a culture of consensus had prevailed before the conquest of Rhodes in the system of collective government of the Order as well as in the rules and customs regulating the relationship between brethren at the convent. As early as 1168, the master’s powers were shared with the community of brethren at the convent and the Order’s high offi cials meeting in the master’s chapter. 3 This situation was due in part to the confl icts between the convent’s offi cials and the Masters Gilbert d’Assailly and Alfonso of Portugal, both of whom were forced to resign in 1170 and 1206 respectively, following allegations of misuse of power. 4 At the chapter general at Margat ( c . 1204-1206), it was decreed that upon his election the master had to swear to observe the statutes and customs of the Hospital as well as to seek and follow the advice and consent of the convent in his conduct of the Order’s affairs. By 1303, the Usances allowed brethren to disobey the master if his orders infringed the rule or the statutes and customs of the Hospital. Their claims would then be referred to the Esgard, the Order’s court of arbitration. 5 From per-

were attended by brethren from the Levant and from the Western priories who took or confi rmed all major decisions concerning the Order and who exercised legislative authority by issuing statutes, ordinances and other regulations.