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"Adversus Infideles": Some Notes On the Cavalier's Tour, the Fleet of the Order of St. John, and the Maltese Corsairs

In: Journal of Early Modern History
Author:
Thomas Freller University of Malta

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Abstract

Originally a charitable monastic institution devoted to the care of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land, the Hospitallers of St. John became a military order during the twelfth century. The arrival of the Order of St. John in Malta in 1530 brought this island to the attention of European leaders and their subjects; indeed, the number of visitors who wrote about their sojourns on the island in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is remarkable. At this time private military tours to Malta came to be integrated into what was called the Cavalier's Tour. The famous caravans of the fleet of the Order of St. John played a special role in this development, since participation in the caravans-usually involving naval engagements against the infidel-was considered an integral part of a gentleman's education. The survival of the chivalric Order of St. John seems to testify to the spiritual and cultural continuity of the Crusades up through the period of the Counter Reformation. But closer examination of individual European travelers suggests a rather pragmatic and quite "tolerant" approach to the foreign world. This essay concentratcs on Northern European sources, as it was mainly the Northerners who made the Cavalier's Tour a regular ritual, often entailing the compilation of a detailed travel diary. The accounts of the travelers from Prussia, the Scandinavian countries and central and south Germany show that both Catholics and Protestants alike came to Malta, mainly for reasons of fame, career and the acquisition of military and nautical experience. By the middle of the eighteenth century the Order and its fleet had degenerated to an ornamental show. This decline coincided with the end of the phenomenon dealt with here. In the so-called "Grand Tour" of the second half of the eighteenth century-mostly undertaken by rich Englishmen-there was no space for a trip "adversus infideles." This new type of tour was meant for private pleasure and cultural education. The Ottoman empire was no longer seen as a threat. In contrast to the old emnity, there was a new vogue for things "oriental." The island of Malta and the state of the Knights became an object of curiosity and romantic chivalry.

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