THE LAST ENGLISH, SCOTTISH AND IRISH KNIGHTS
OF THE ENGLISH LANGUE OF
THE ORDER OF ST JOHN OF JERUSALEM
© John Cilia La Corte 2006
In the 1850s William Winthrop had carried out extensive research on the English Langue in the Archives of the Order of St John in what was then known as the Record Office. With the aid of Dr L. Vella, possibly the Principal of that office, he compiled a list of the surviving knights of the English Langue at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII three centuries previously.
The English Langue was made up of the priories of England, Scotland and Ireland, with thirty-two different Commanderies. Its property, which was seized by Henry VIII in 1534, was afterwards restored by Queen Mary, and finally and effectually confiscated by Elizabeth in the first year of her reign. Queen Elizabeths order for the seizure of the Irish estates was dated 3rd of June, 1559, and addressed to William Fitzwilliam.
The Conventual Bailiff or Pilier of the Venerable Langue of England enjoyed the title of Turcopolier, which high honour the English knights won for themselves by their gallantry in the Holy Land and it remained with their Langue in remembrance thereafter. The Turcopolier was the third dignity in the Convent, and the last knight who enjoyed it was Sir Richard Shelley, Prior of England. On his decease the Grandmaster assumed the title for himself.
It might be of interest to note with regard to the following list that a knight could not become a commander before he had made four cruises in the galleys or served five years in the Convent in Malta. He had also to remain a commander for three years before he could claim a pension. Those knights who are known to have been in Malta are marked #.
|#Aylmer, Sir George
Commander of Holstone
Bailiff of Aquila, Commander of Dalby
Commander of Dynmore
Turcopolier, killed at the siege of Rhodes.
Commander of Mount St John
Prioress of Buckland in 1524
Commander of Corbroke
|Cave, Sir Ambrose||1525|
|Chambers, Sir James||1533|
Commander of Temple Bruer
Prior of the English Tongue.
Commander of Turfichin in Scotland
Commander of Temple Combe
This knight suffered martyrdom and was canonised.
|#Gerard, Sir Henry||English||1541|
Commander of Bodisford
|#Gonson, Sir David (also Genson or Jensey)
The last lieutenant of the Turcopolier at Malta
Prior of Scotland
Commander of Beverley
|Leighton (Layton), Cuthbert||English||1528|
Prior of Ireland, Turcopolier
|Massingberd, Sir Thomas||English||c.1527|
Capellano, and Chancellor, of the Provincial Chapter
of the English Language.
Commander of Willington
Bailiff of Aquila and Commander of Newland, Turcopolier
On the 16th of March, 1533, he knight obtained permission to return to England.
Commander of Mount St John
Commander of Mount St John
|Ransom, John (Senior)
Prior of Ireland
|#Ransom, John (Junior)
Governor of the city and Captain of the forces.
|#Sandilands, John James||English||c.1530|
Commander of Beverley
|#Shelley, Sir Richard
Prior of England, and last Turcopolier of his language.
Confidential secretary of La Valette and buried in St John’s Church, at the foot of his tomb.
|#Stuart, Fitz James
Natural son of King James II. Although he obtained the high dignities of Grand Cross and of Honorary Grand Prior of England, he was never professed.
|Weston, Sir William||English||1525|
Nominally Prior of England in 1598
|Wyatt, Sir Rowland||1528|
Babington, John, Commander of Dalby and Rothely, Bailiff of Aquila, and Grand Prior of England. He was the second son of Thomas Babington of Dethic, in the county of Derby and of Editha, daughter of Ralph Fitz-Herbert of Norbury in the same county. He died about 1535.
Babington, Philip, third son of John Babington of Ottery St Mary’s in the county of Devon by Elizabeth his wife, daughter of Holcombe of Branscombe in the same county. About 1460 another knight of the family of Babington was at the head of the English Langue. In a letter written by an English brother, dated “Temple of Sion in England,” he is called Master Thomas Babington, Master and Sovereign of our Order.”
Bellingham, Edward, second son of Edward Bellingham of Erringham, county of Sussex, and of Jane his wife, daughter of John Shelley of Michaelgrove in the same county, was one of the three commanders appointed to inquire into the conduct of the Turcopolier, Clement West (the other two being Aurelis Bottigella of the Italian Langue and Baptiste Villaragut of the Langue of Aragon), he being at the time locum tenens of the dignity of Turcopolier, a rank in the Order which he obtained later. In 1547 he was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland, where he proceeded against the Irishry, in a martial course, by beating and breaking the Moores and Connors, two rebellious septs.” He also surprised and made prisoner the Earl of Desmond. He was recalled after two years to answer some charges preferred against him by his enemies at court, “but he cleared himself as fast as his adversaries charged him, recovering the king’s favour in so high a degree, that he had been sent back deputy again, save that he excused himself by indisposition of body, and died not long after.”
Broke, Richard, was second son of Thomas Broke of Leighton, in the county of Cheshire. Returning to England he purchased the Abbey and Manor of Norton in Cheshire, from the king in 1543, and served as sheriff for that county in 1563. Retiring from the Order of St John, he married a daughter of John Carew of Haccombe in Devonshire and founded the extant family of Broke of Norton, created baronets 12 Dec 1662. Sir Richard died in 1569.
Buck, John, said to be of the family of Haneby Grange, in the county of Lincoln, was Turcopolier at the famous siege of Rhodes of 1522 Serving as one of the commanders of quarters, he was slain at the third and most desperate attack on the bastion of England.
Cave, Ambrose, was the fourth son of Richard Cave of Stamford, county of Northampton by his wife Margaret, daughter of John Saxby in the same county. He served as sheriff and M.P. for Warwickshire, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and one of the Queen’s Privy Council. Sir Ambrose was buried in Stamford Church.
Dingley, Thomas, son of John Dingley, Esq. and Mabel, daughter of. Edmund Weston of Boston, Lincolnshire, sister of Sir William Weston, Grand Prior of England. There was a complaint made against Thomas Dingley for improperly holding the Commandery of Schingey.
Docra, Thomas, or Docura, second son of Richard Docra of Bradsville in the county of York and his wife Alice, daughter of Thomas Greene of Gressingham in the same county, was Grand Prior of England in 1504. He was much distinguished as a diplomatist, having represented the Order at most of the Courts of Europe. It is said that L’Isle Adam gained his election to the Grandmastership by a majority of only three votes over Sir Thomas Docra, his near relative.
Docra, Lancelot, second son of Robert Docra of Docra Hall, Westmoreland, and his wife Janetta, daughter of Sir John Lamplugh of Lamplugh in Cumberland, was a Knight of St John at the same period as the preceding. These two distinguished kinsmen were buried in the Priory (in prioratu Sancti Johannis Jerusalem).
Dudley, George. On the 12th October 1557, George Dudley, an English Knight, who some years before (1545) had been received into the Venerable Langue of England as a military brother and who, in the schism and division stirred up by Henry VIII King of England against the Catholic Church, had followed the king, taken a wife, adhered to the said schism and had abandoned his habit, being penitent, came in the Convent and. having asked pardon of the Order for his previous conduct, the same was granted by the Right Rev. Lord the Grandmaster and his Venerable Council. But it was to be understood that the great favour had not been granted without it having first been satisfactorily proved that the said George Dudley had become, through his humiliation and prayers, absolved from his apostasy and other crimes by him committed, and reconciled and restored to the bosom of the holy mother church. He was therefore pardoned and re-admitted into the fellowship of the Order and of the brothers thereof.
On the 11th of May, 1558, it was decided by the Right Rev. Lord the Grandmaster and the Venerable Council, that on account of the poverty of the brother George Dudley, at present the only English brother of the Venerable Langue of England, permission should be granted for him to sue for, exact, and recover, all the revenues and rents of houses belonging to the said Langue, existing in the New Town of Valetta, from any and all of the tenants, and to give receipts for the same so long as the Venerable Langue be congregated and exist in the Convent. Vide Latin Manuscripts of the Order, 1557, 1558.
Fairfax, Nicholas, was fifth son of Richard Fairfax of Walton, Yorkshire and his wife Eustacia, daughter and heiress of John Carthorp. His elder brother was ancestor of the Viscounts Fairfax, extinct in 1772; and from his third brother Guy descended the Lords Fairfax of Cameron, known to be still extant and domiciled in the United States of America.
Fortescue, Adrian. This brave knight perished on the scaffold in England at the time of the Reformation, was enrolled among the Saints; and his portrait, with a sprig of palm in the hand as an emblem of his martyrdom, is now to be seen in one of the chapels of St John’s Cathedral in Valletta. The 8th of July is the day now observed in commemoration of his sufferings and of those who suffered with him.
Fortescue, Nicholas. Of the same family as the preceding, he was received in the Order on his own urgent application with the hope that, by his assistance, the English Langue would be restored.
Irvine, James, fifth son of Alexander Irvine, Younger, of Drum in the county of Aberdeen (who was slain at the battle of Pinkie in the lifetime of his father) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Ogilvie of Findlater, was ordained by the Grand Master, Prior of Scotland.
Solely by the strenuous exertions of this knight it was decided, in a general chapter held in 1569 that the Scots should enjoy the same dignities and emoluments which had been previously granted to the English and Irish knights.
Leighton, Cuthbert, second son of John Leighton of Stretton, Shropshire and Anchoret, daughter and co-heir of Sir John Burgh of Wallesborough, in the same county. This knight, at the dissolution of the religions houses, had a particular pension allowed him by act of parliament.
Massingberd, Oswald, second son of Sir Thomas Massingberd of Sutton, county of Lincoln and his wife Joan, daughter and heiress of John Braytoft of Braytoft, in the same county. He was appointed Prior of Ireland at the recommendation of Cardinal Pole and afterwards Turcopolier of the Order in succession to Sir Nicholas Upton.
While Massingberd was residing in Malta he appears to have been in continual trouble, either with the Grand Master or his brother knights, the Capitano della Verga, Jurats of the island or people. The accusations under different periods, which are now to be found recorded against him, were for murder, theft, oppression, and other unjustifiable acts.
On the 13th April, 1534, an accusation was made against him to the effect that he had unwarrantably drawn his sword and killed four galley slaves; and being convicted of the crime on the 18th of May of the same year, he was asked why judgment should not be given against him. Massingberd thus replied, “In killing the four slaves I did well, but in not having at the same time killed our old and imbecile Grand Master I did badly.” This plea not being considered satisfactory, he was deprived of his habit; but two days afterwards, that is, on the 20th May, 1534, he was reinstated in the Order, though for a time not permitted to enjoy his former dignity of a commander.
His unprincipled character in other respects will be seen by referring to the official Latin Manuscripts of the Order of St John, now in the Archives of the Order.
Under date of the 30th of August, 1552, there is a record of which the following is a correct translation. The Right Reverend Lord, the Grandmaster, and Venerable Council, having heard the report of the commanders deputed to inquire into the complaint preferred by the Noble Paolo Fiteni against the Lord Lieutenant of the Turcopolier, Brother Oswald de Massingberd, for having forcibly entered his house and violently taken therefrom a certain female slave, with her daughter, whom he had re cently purchased from the Order, and for having struck him with his fist; and also having heard the said De Massingberd in contradiction, who pretended that the abovementioned Paul could in no way have purchased the female slave, as she had previously been branded with certain marks in his name, as is customary and usual on similar occasions, and that therefore the preference in the purchase of the said slave appertained to him, De Massingberd, do now, after mature deliberation, condemn the said De Massingberd to restore the above-mentioned female slave with her daughter to Fiteni, and order that they shall be restored accordingly.
In continuation, as regards the force and violence used, they furthermore decree that he shall remain and be kept for two months within his own residence, and that for this period he shall not be permitted to leave it.
It was very fortunate for the complainant in this case that he was a nobleman: had it been otherwise, it is very possible he would not have obtained such ample satisfaction for the temporary loss of his slaves and indignity of receiving a blow.
Massingberd, Sir Thomas, father of the above named, became, on the decease of his wife, a Knight of St John, during the reign of Henry VIII. He died 25th May 1552.
Newdigate Silvester, Newdigate Dunstan, second and third sons of John Newdigate of Harefield in the county of Middlesex by Amphilicia his wife, daughter of John Neville of Sutton in Lincolnshire. Their fourth brother, Sebastian, from being a courtier, became on the death of his wife, in 1524, a Carthusian monk, and suffered death on the scaffold, 18th June, 1527, for denying and opposing the supremacy of Henry VIII.
Newport, Thomas, of a distinguished Shropshire family, was Turcopolier in 1500. Being anxious to reach Rhodes at the time of the siege, with considerable reinforcements under his command, he insisted on embarking during a violent tempest, against all advice, and was lost at sea on the coast of Kent with his entire equipage.
Roberts, Nicholas. There is a letter extant from this knight addressed to the Earl of Sussex, giving an account of the siege of Rhodes.
Rogers, Anthony, was third son of Sir John Rogers of Brianstone, in the county of Dorset by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Courtenay of Powderham in the county of Devon. His elder brother, Sir John Rogers, married Catherine, niece of Sir William Weston, the Grand Prior.
Sandilands, James, second son of Sir James Sandilands of Calder and Mariota, daughter of Archibald Forrester of Corstorphine, was recommended to the Grandmaster by Sir Walter Lyndsay as a person well qualified to succeed him in the dignity of Preceptor of Torphicen, and on the death of Sir Walter he succeeded to the title accordingly. He was often employed in negotiations of importance with England and conformed to the Protestant religion in 1553. Having been sent to France in 1560 by the Congregation Parliament to lay their proceedings before Francis and Mary, the Cardinal of Lorrain loaded him with reproaches, accusing him of violating his obligations as a knight of a holy order; and notwithstanding all his efforts to soothe the prelate and the most assiduous endeavours to recommend himself to the queen, he was dismissed without an answer. He resigned the property of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem into the hands of the Queen of England, who on the 24th January, 1563-4, was pleased, in consideration of his merits and services, to create him Lord of St John, giving him the lands and baronies of Torphicen, and Listoun, Balintrodo, Thankertoun, Denny, Maryculter, Stanhouse, Galtna, &c. (all the plunder of the Order), on payment of 10,000 crowns and an annual duty of five hundred marks, erecting the same into the temporal lordship of Torphicen. James Sandilands married Janet, daughter of Murray of Polonaise, but had no issue, and dying on 29th November, 1596, his title of Lord Torphicen and plundered possessions devolved on his grand nephew, James Sandilands of Calder, and still continue in his name and blood.
Sandilands, John James. It is uncertain whether he was related to the above named.
On the 16th of July, 1564, a commission was appointed to examine Sandilands, and even if necessary to put him to the torture, for the purpose of discovering if he bad been guilty of sacrilege in stealing a chalice and crucifix from the altar of the church of St Anthony. This crime having been proved against him, he was, on the 31st of July, 1564, deprived of his habit and passed over to the criminal court of the island for trial.
Shelley, James, was the third son of Sir William and Alice Belknap. On the 29th May, 1573, the Right Reverend Lord the Grandmaster, and the Venerable Council, taking into consideration the need and poverty of the Lord and Brother, James Shelley, a native of England, who had abandoned his country to assist the Order, decreed that each year he should have and receive, besides his table money and pay, fifty scudi from the common treasury.
Shelley, Richard, second son of Sir William Shelley of Michaelgrove in Sussex and his wife Alice, daughter and co heiress of Sir Henry Belknap of Knowle in the county of Warwick was, during the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth, the last Turcopolier of England. Shortly after the accession of the last-named queen, Sir Richard retired to Spain, but while in that country he refused to be called Prior d’Ingalterra, stating he was Turcopolier of the English nation, being Dominus natus, and having a seat in the House of Peers., his position being next to that of the Abbot of Westminster, and above all lay Barons. In 1561 Sir Richard obtained permission from the king of Spain to leave his kingdom and go to the relief of Malta, then threatened by the Turks; but he had scarcely reached Genoa when travelling for this purpose, before he received a command from the Grandmaster La Valette, requiring him to take up the title of his Priory, and assume its duties. How long this distinguished knight may have remained in England after receiving this order, is not known but it is stated in a MS., that on the 14th day of August, 1566, the Venerable the Grand Prior of England, the Lord brother Richard Shelley, presented himself in council, and took with his seat the usual oaths. Not long had Sir Richard been in Malta, before a serious difficulty arose between him and the Grand Prior of Messina, as to their pre-eminence in council.
The prudent and politic manner in which the same was arranged, is clearly shown by the following literal translation from one of the Latin documents written by Sir Oliver Starkey, Latin secretary to Grandmaster LaValette, bearing on the question:
On occasion of the dispute and controversy which arose between the Most Illustrious and Very Reverend the Priors of England and Messina, concerning their pre-eminence, namely, which of the two should take precedence of the other at the meetings of council, at public assemblies, and other solemn congregations of this Order; the Very Reverend and Most Illustrious the Grand Master, with his venerable council, appointed a commission consisting of the Very Reverend Fra Antonio Cressini, Prior of the Church, Fra Pietro, Marshal, and Don Fernando del Arcon, Lieutenant to the High Chancellor, in order that they, having inquired into the pretensions and allegations of both parties, and having consulted and examined the documents which they should respectively produce from the registry, might make a just and unbiased report to the council, who having executed the orders which were given to them, reported to the said Very Reverend Grand Master and his council, that having heard all the Priors and their procurators had alleged in defence and in favour of their own cause, and having carefully considered the statements contained in the documents from the registry, produced by them, they (the commissioners) discovered that the Priors of England, both in the general chapters and in the ordinary assemblies of this Order had been accustomed to take precedence not only of the said Priors of Messina, but also of the Castellani d’Emposta, who precede the said Priors of Messina, and who take precedence of several other members of the Order. Whence it came to pass, that the Very Reverend the Grand Master, and his venerable council, having heard in profound silence the report of the said commissioners, and having discussed the contents of the documents produced, as to whether they were or were not explicit on the point in question, unanimously agreed that the said Priors of England should take precedence of the Priors of Messina.
Moreover, to remove all cause of dispute, which it was foreseen might in many ways arise, if any decree should be published regarding this precedence, it was resolved that no sentence should be recorded, the more so, as in contesting the right of pre-eminence it was generally acknowledged that the documents produced by authority from the registry, in conformity with the regulations and ancient custom of this convent, form in themselves the most equitable and most dispassionate sentence that could possibly have been anticipated.
It therefore seemed proper to the whole council, that the Most Illustrious and Very Reverend the Grand Master, in order to intimate this right of pre-eminence, should proceed as follows: namely, that after summoning the contending parties into his presence, and that of his council, the Very Reverend the Grand Master should assign to each his place without the use of any words, and should allot by gesture the place of greater pre-eminence to the Prior of England, and the place of less eminence to the Prior of Messina, without, however, in any way prejudicing any claims which he should at any future time lawfully make and support in favour of his pretensions. Which command the Most Illustrious the Grand Master carried into execution; and having summoned the said Priors into his presence, and that of the council, said unto them: “Sir Knights, we having listened attentively to the report of the commissioners and having subsequently discussed together all the arguments and reasons which each of you have respectively produced from the registry in favour of your pre-eminence, do ordain and require that you the Prior of England should sit in that place, you the Prior of Messina in that other place, without prejudice to any farther claims, pointing to the places with his finger where they were to be seated. The position assigned to the Prior of England was the more distinguished because it was immediately below the Marshal, who is second Bailiff of the convent; and that of the Prior of Messina was inferior from being below that of the Admiral, who is the fourth in rank amongst the bailiffs of the convent. In which decision the said Priors acquiesced, and having each kissed the cross held by the Grand Master in token of obedience, they occupied the seats allotted to them without making any reply. And when shortly after they were called upon to vote, concerning a matter that was being discussed by the council, the Prior of England spoke first, and after him the Prior of Messina.
When the proceedings of the council had been terminated in the manner above described, a considerable number of knights who were waiting outside, and were on this occasion more numerous than usual in consequence of the interest excited by the controversy, entered the hall on the door being opened, and found the councillors seated, and the Priors each in his appointed place. So that whilst the Vice-Chancellor was collecting the documents and memorials of the sitting, as is customary, it was publicly noticed that the Prior of England was the second from the left hand, and the Prior of Messina the third from the right hand of the Most Illustrious and Most Reverend the Grand Master; which scene, besides narrating as above, I thought proper to represent in painting, as well to preserve a memorial of so wise and prudent a decision, as that so excellent an example should be imitated whenever controversies arise respecting pre-eminence, which pre-eminence is so honourable to the reputation, and absolutely necessary for the peace of this convent.
Thus it is.
F. OLIVER STARKEY.
Starkey also states, that he was present at all the transactions related above, and was an eye-witness of the whole scene as he described. Sir Richard Shelley continued with the Grand Master Jean de la Valetta, until his decease; but on the appointment of his successor, he left Malta and went to reside in Venice. While at Venice he was employed to negotiate the revocation of certain new imposts levied on the Levant traders, and most probably died in that city as, in one of his letters dated August 24th, 1582, he describes his age to have been “three score years and eight,” and his health infirm. This truly noble, devout and Christian Knight was the last Grand Prior of England as he was the last Turcopolier of his language.
Starkey, Oliver, was the Latin secretary to the Grand Master La Valette and one of the few English Knights who was present throughout the famous siege of Malta by the Turks in 1565. Owing to his great destitution, he was granted a pension of one hundred scudi (£8.67) a year.
Sir Oliver wrote the classical inscription engraved on the monument of La Valette, at the foot of which, in the crypt under St John’s Cathedral, his remains were interred. His burial in such a place, as a simple knight, was a high honour paid to his memory.
Stewart, Fitz James was the natural son of King James II by Arabella Churchill, sister of the famous Duke of Marlborough. He afterwards was known as the celebrated Marshal, Duke of Berwick and progenitor of the families of the Dukes of Fitz James in France, and of Leria in Spain. Fitz James had been in Malta where he became a Knight of St John.
King James II, after his deposition and exile, wrote (Vide 18a) to the Grandmaster desiring the dignity of Grand Prior of England. The Grandmaster and his council commanded by a unanimous vote that the kings letter should be registered, and that His Majesty be thanked for the honour he had conferred on the Order, and for the affection he entertained towards it; assuring him that on receiving the attestation of which he wrote in favour of his natural son, it would be received with welcome.
Two days after this record was made, the Grand Master wrote a letter to James II, which brought the answer reproduced in 18b.
Although Stewart Fitz James obtained the high dignities of Grand Cross and of Honorary Grand Prior of England in the Order of St John of Jerusalem, he was never professed.
Upton, Nicholas was a Turcopolier and greatly distinguished when, at the head of thirty knights and four hundred mounted volunteers, he very gallantly repulsed Dragut’s attack on the island. Returning to the convent he died of his wounds. On the 20th of June, 1565, Dragut fell mortally wounded in the famous siege of Malta, and the point where he was killed still bears his name. Draguts scimitar is now to be seen in the Maltese Armoury.
West, Clement, was a Turcopolier. He never placed his signature to a document without writing immediately above it “As God wills.”
Weston, Sir William A brief historical description of Sir William Weston’s sufferings, decease and burial will be found in the second volume of Sutherland’s Knights of Malta, p. 115 which appears to be a correct translation from Vertot’s History of the Order.
Vide ” N. & Q.,” Vol. vii., p. 629.; and Vertot lib. 10.
Wise, Andrew Nominally Prior of England in 1598. Being reduced to the greatest extremity, the Roman Pontiff decreed that the language of Castile and Leon should allow him out of its revenue a thousand ducats a year. The Spanish knights objecting to pay this sum, there was a trial before the Grandmaster to enforce it; a report of which is now in the Archives. The Pope’s decree was confirmed.
Notes and Queries: A Medium of Inter-communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, etc. [Bell & Dalby, 186 Fleet Street, London EC]
27.8.1853 pp. 189-193; 6.5.1854 p. 418.; 2.9.1854 p.177; 9.9.1854 pp. 200-202
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