Crisis and revival: the convent of the Order of Malta during the Catholic Reformation (16th – 17th centuries)
On the fi rst of January 1523, chased by the fl eet of Suleiman the Magnifi cent, the Convent of the Knights Hospitaller permanently left the island of Rhodes, where it had been established since c .1309. Bereft of its overseas territories, the Order fi rst turned to its spiritual leader, the pope, for assistance, but it was eventually Emperor Charles V who offered them the Maltese islands as a fi efdom. In 1530, the Convent settled for the fi rst time of its history on the island of Malta, in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, far to the west of its earlier base on Rhodes. The geographical proximity of the Convent to a European continent torn apart by the Protestant Reformation partly explains the various religious transformations that the Order was to go through in the following years. In 1540, the English Langue was removed by King Henry VIII and subsequently most of the English Hospitallers left Malta. 1
The Order was infl uenced by new ideas at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and many brethren became sympathetic to humanist and Protestant views; there were sixteen trials on charges of heresy in the Convent between 1530 and 1559 (ten in 1530-1539, fi ve in 1540-1549 and one in 1550-1559). 2 Because of this, many confl icts within the English Langue arose after 1534, such as duels and frequent fi ghts between the brethren. 3 The eventual disappearance of the English Langue did not stop the religious disturbances in the Convent. Protestantism was spreading throughout Maltese society and in the Convent, affecting the few Germans on Malta but having a much stronger impact on the French who represented the majority there.