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Knights Hospitaller History

At the death of Raymond Du Puy, Anger de Balben, a French knight, was unanimously elected Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller. He led the Order for only two years, and died in 1163. He was succeeded by Arnaud de Comps, also a French knight.

Knight Hospitaller
Knight Hospitaller (of Rhodes), by Pinturicchio
The Grand Master Alphonse of Portugal initiated the reformation of the Order, focusing on the internal discipline. He tried to stop the growing tendency towards luxury, by imposing ascetic measures. Giving the example himself, he drastically reduced his expenses and household. Many knights refused to comply, and, in order to prevent an internal conflict, the Grand Master resigned. After the fall of Acre, in 1291, the Hospitallers moved to Limassol, in Cyprus.

Limassol was a defenseless town, and many of the knights were in favour of retiring to Italy. But the proximity to Palestine determined the establishment of the headquarters of the Order there. The town was rebuilt, the central Church and Convent of the Order were erected, and a Hospital was provided, in order to receive pilgrims and the sick. As the Mediterranean was raided by pirate ships, especially from Egypt, the Knights Hospitaller realized that the island will not be safe unless they established themselves as a sea power.

Under Grand Master Villaret, on August 15, 1310, the Knights Hospitaller took possession of Rhodes, and from then on they became known also as the "Knights of Rhodes." After the Order of the Knights Templar was dissolved, a part of their possessions was acquired by the Hospitallers, and the Knights of St. John became so wealthy that they had no rival among the Military Orders.

This wealth was not without risks for the Order, and the ascetic party of the Knights Hospitaller started to complain about the relaxation of the rules and luxury. Soon, an important number of knights demanded the resignation of Villaret, and nominated Maurice de Pagnac as Grand Master. As a result of this schism, the Order was divided between two Grand Masters, and the issue was laid for mediation before Pope John XXII. Following the death of Maurice de Pagnac and the resignation of Villaret, in 1323 the Pope appointed Helion de Villeneuve as Grand Master, ending the division.

Under Villeneuve, order was restored, and the Knights Hospitaller returned to the original rules and principles of the Order. The Order was divided into different Langues or nationalities, each with its own officers. Faced with the growing power of the Turks, the Order also strengthened its navy.

The Papal Schism induced a schism in the Order, with two Grand Masters, each of them supporting one of the rival Popes. At this time, the Sultan Baiazid I began a new era of conquest. A Crusade against the Turks was preached, and an allied army was formed, with troops from the Hungarian Kingdom, France, Knights Hospitaller, Venice, and Walachia (part of today’s Romania). In 1396, at the Battle of Nicopolis, the allies were defeated by the Turkish army under Baiazid. The Sultan did not have the chance to exploit the victory, as in 1402, at Ankara, he was defeated by Tamerlane, and taken prisoner. He died in captivity.

The Knights Hospitaller continued to develop their maritime power. There were constant encounters with the pirates and Turkish vessels. Expeditions were made against Turkish possessions, either by the knights alone or allied with the Venetians or the Genoese, the great naval powers of the time. With the election of Pope Martin V, the Papal Schism ended, and the knights of all Langues again recognized the same Grand Master.

Knights Of Rhodes

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