Letters from British Monarchs to the Order of St John

© John Cilia La Corte 2006

   The rupture between King Henry VIII and the Roman Catholic Church was very soon followed by the confiscation of the property of the Order of St John in England and ultimately the suppression of the Langue of England. Shortly before the break, Henry had written a number of very cordial and indeed enthusiastic letters to two of the Grandmasters, not least his last letter of November 1530 written after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn which brought matters to a head. No correspondence appears to have been conducted between succeeding monarchs and the Order until the letters written by Charles II to Nicholas Cottoner between 1667 and 1676, sometimes couched in diplomatic terms on occasion when some dispute arose, but  always expressing strong sentiments of friendship and respect.

   More letters were written by James II, Anne, George I and II, and also "The Old Pretender", James, son of James II, who claimed the throne as James III. Three further letters exist from King George II to Emanuel Pinto de Fonseca, but we do not possess the transcripts to date.

   Apart from the letters of the House of Stuart (James II, Anne and James the Pretender), which were written in French, the rest of the correspondence was conducted in Latin. The letters are reproduced below in their English translation.

King Henry VIII to Grandmaster Villiers de L'Isle Adam

1. supporting the grant of Malta by Emperor Charles V to the Order of St John
2. recommending Sir W. Weston, Turcoplerius
3. assuring the king's support for the Order
4. seeking the promotion of  his private secretary, Peter Vanes
5. rejoicing at the grant of Malta, Gozo and Tripoli to the Order by Emperor Charles V

King Henry VIII to Grandmaster Pierino del Ponte

6. on del Ponte's succession to the Grandmastership following the death of de L'Isle Adam

King Charles II to Grandmaster Nicholas Cotoner

7. introducing his Admiral Sir Thomas Allen and requesting permission for his ships to enter the Maltese harbours
8. claiming some substantial property belonging to Roger Fowke, the British consul in Cyprus, which had been seized by Maltese ships in a foray against the Turks
8a Reply of Grandmaster Nicholas Cotoner to the preceding suggesting a course of action to solve the dispute
9. acquiescing to his suggested course of action
10. seeking the Order's cooperation in having the wreckage of the "Sapphire" inspected 
11. informing him of the formation of an British Mediterranean fleet and problems arising
12. calling on the Order to treat the British fleet as an ally and seeking relevant facilities
13. thanking the Grandmaster for his generous welcome to the British fleet
14. informing the Grandmaster that he had instructed his admiral to accord the Grandmaster the same sign of friendship and goodwill as to the Spanish or French kings
15. expressing his satisfaction at the benign treatment accorded by the Order to the British fleet
16. acknowledging the Grandmaster's letter of appreciation for the benefits conferred by the British fleet
17. intimating that his admiral would seek to negotiate a treaty with the Algerians to liberate an enslaved knight of the Order

King James II to Grandmaster Gregorio Caraffa

18. thanking the Grandmaster for his letter of condolence on the death of Charles II

The following two letters were written in exile after James II had been deposed in 1688.  

18a. desiring that the dignity of Grand Prior of England might be conferred on his natural son, Stewart Fitz James
18b. expressing his pleasure in having his wish gratified. The letter was written from Ireland where James had landed in an attempt to recover his throne

Queen Anne to Grandmaster Ramón Perellos y Roccaful

19. thanking the Grandmaster for his support during the war (probably the War of the Spanish Succession)

King George I to Grandmaster Ramón Perellos y Roccaful

20. thanking the Grandmaster for his congratulations on succeeding to the throne of the United Kingdom

King George I to Grandmaster Antonio Manoel de Vilhena

21. congratulating the Grandmaster on his elevation to the Grandmastership

James the Pretender (son of King James II) to Grandmaster Antonio Manoel de Vilhena

22. on the question of the disposition of the British priories, requesting that he be treated with the same consideration as shown towards other princes


Source:

The letters were researched  and translated by William Winthrop and Dr Vella in the 1850's in the collection at the Record Office, now the Archives of the Order at the Malta National Library. The result was published in:

 Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, etc. [Bell & Dalby, 186 Fleet Street, London EC]

  1. Vol. 8, No 215, 10.12.1853, Page 557
  2. Vol. 8, No 215, 10.12.1853, Page 558
  3. ibid
  4. Vol. 8, No 215, 10.12.1853, Page 558, Vol. 9, No 223, 4.2.1854, Page 99
  5. Vol. 9, No 223, 4.2.1854, Page 99-100
  6. Vol. 9, No 223, 4.2.1854, Page 100-101
  7. Vol. 9, No 230, 25.3.1854, Page 263
  8. ibid                                                            8a. Vol. 9, No 230, 25.3.1854, Page 265-6
  9. Vol. 9, No 230, 25.3.1854, Page 266
  10. Vol. 9, No 230, 25.3.1854, Page 267
  11. Vol. 9, No 230, 25.3.1854, Page 442
  12. Vol. 9, No 230, 25.3.1854, Page 443
  13. ibid
  14. ibid
  15. Vol. 9, No 230, 25.3.1854, Page 444
  16. ibid
  17. ibid
  18. Vol. 9, No 230, 12.2.1854, Page 437        18a and 18b. Vol. 11, No 281 17.3.1855, Page 199-201
  19. Vol. 9, No 230, 12.2.1854, Page 438
  20. ibid
  21. Vol. 9, No 230, 12.2.1854, Page 439
  22. ibid

William WINTHROP was born in Boston, Mass., U.S.A. He had been a Director of an Insurance Company in Boston, Mass., before joining the Consular Service. He went to Malta and was appointed U.S. Consul in October 1834. His full name was William Winthrop Andrews, but on 24th June 1844 he applied to the President of the United States to allow him to shorten his name to William Winthrop by dropping the ‘Andrews’ and this was granted. An ancestor John Winthrop left England for America in 1630, and the town of Winthrop was named after him. On 7th September 1848 William married Emma Curtis, the daughter of the late Sir William Curtis at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta. He continued in the post of U.S. Consul until his death on 3rd July 1869, aged 61 years  [Malta Family History on http://website.lineone.net/~aldosliema/rw.htm]

    

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