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
King Henry VIII to Grandmaster Pierino del Ponte
King Charles II to Grandmaster Nicholas Cotoner
7. introducing his Admiral Sir Thomas Allen and
requesting permission for his ships to enter the Maltese
King James II to Grandmaster Gregorio Caraffa
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
Queen Anne to Grandmaster Ramón Perellos y Roccaful
King George I to Grandmaster Ramón Perellos y Roccaful
King George I to Grandmaster Antonio Manoel de Vilhena
James the Pretender (son of King James II) to Grandmaster Antonio Manoel de Vilhena
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]
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 Pauls 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]