The Langues of the Order of St John

The clarion call of the First Crusade fired the religious zeal of Christian Europe and young men from all nationalities were flocking to join the Order. By the mid 12th century, the rich endowments made to the Order led to a mushrooming of Priories and Commanderies all over Europe who sent their members to render service at the Hospital in Jerusalem.

Possibly as early as the Grandmagistry of Raymond du Puy, this huge influx of different nationalities into Jerusalem was grouped for administrative purposes into Tongues or Langues, each representing a nation and each headed by a Pilier (later Bailiff).

In 1301 an important administrative step was taken in Cyprus. Up to that time all the knights irrespective of nationality lived together in one Inn or Auberge. The Chapter that year decreed that the seven Langues would each have its own Auberge, headed by its Pilier, to house the members of that Langue. In order of precedence, the Langues were Provence, Auvergne, France, Spain, Italy, England and Germany.

For most of the Rhodes period the Langue of Provence, geographically split by the River Rhone, was divided into two Auberges, probably accommodating its two great Priories of Toulouse and St Gilles ; Greater  Provence being reserved for the members from the more western Toulouse and Lesser Provence for the eastern St Gilles. Spain, which already had a separate hospice for the Catalonian knights, was later to be divided into the two separate Langues of Aragon and Castile. Later still in 1782, the then defunct English Langue was revived under the name of the Anglo-Bavarian Langue.

Each Pilier was also responsible for a particular area within the administration and government of the Order and was assigned a distinct office. The original five offices of Grand Commander, Marshal, Hospitaller, Treasurer and Drapier (later Conservator) had been augmented by that of Admiral and Turcopolier in 1301 with the later additions in Rhodes of Grand Bailiff and Chancellor.

At the height of the Order's power in Malta, the following arrangement was in place:

Provence - Grand Commander
Auvergne - Grand Marshal
France - Grand Hospitaller
Aragon - Grand Conservator
Italy - Grand Admiral
England - Turcopolier
Castile - Grand Chancellor
Germany - Grand Bailiff

The Grand Commander took over temporarily during the absence or demise of the Grandmaster. He was also in charge of the finances, being President of the Treasury, Controller of Audits, Superintendent of Customs, Governor of the Docks and Master of Ordnance.
The Grand Marshal was the supreme commander of all the armed forces. In direct combat the Admiral took command of the fleet and the Turcopolier of the cavalry in order to enable the Marshal to head the militia.
The Grand Hospitaller was in charge of the Hospital.
The Grand Conservator took charge of all the provisions of the Hospital and troops.
The Grand Admiral had overall command of the naval forces.
The Turcopolier headed the cavalry. He also controlled the coastal defences of Rhodes and Malta,
The Grand Chancellor was responsible for the seal and ordinances of the Order as well as foreign affairs
The Grand Bailiff supervised the fortifications.