THE MALASPINAS AND THE ORDER OF SAINT JOHN OF JERUSALEM (ORDER OF MALTA)

Cross of the Hospitallers

 

Founded in the XIth century by merchants of Amalfi settled in Jerusalem, the Order of the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, later called Sovereign Order of Malta was established to give the Holy Land pilgrims assistance. It played a major role in the defence of Christendom in eastern Mediterranean, role even increased after the dissolution of the Order of the Temple, as it inherited its possessions as well as its military responsibilities.

From the XIVth to the XIXth century, about thirty Malaspinas were Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. A few of them held honourable positions: from the Malaspina family were appointed a  bailiff, a Prior, a Grand Prior and no less than three Admirals and four Commanders. Other Malaspinas, sometimes simple knights, also heroically won fame in famous episodes, in particular during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, which allowed them to be praised in the Chronicles of the Order.  

Many noble families contemplated their entering the Order of St John principally as a means of increasing their glory. They provided their contingent to the Order only when it obtained its statute as a sovereign power on Malta in 1530, granted by Charles V after the wandering years which followed his expulsion from Rhodes in 1527.

Such was not the case of the Malaspina House who, through their different branches, got linked to the Hospitaller Order at least from the beginning of the XIVth  century. The oldest Malaspinian profession of faith indeed dates back to 1317, a critical period in the history of the Order. Expelled from the Holy Land a few years earlier, the Hospitallers, recently settled in Rhodes, underwent repeated attacks from the Turks. They had to deal with the management of the Order of the Temple's possessions in Europe at the same time. The first Malaspinian supports must have been  intended essentially for military fame, linked with the defence of Christendom, rather than future sumptuary glory. In the course of the centuries, the essence of this support did not change: it was not a coincidence if the Malaspinas' involvement increased in the years following the Great Siege of Malta, an example of the glorious defences of the Christian positions in Eastern Mediterranean. The following centuries confirmed the Malaspinas' particular vocation in the Order: many of the Malaspina knights were appointed to sometimes glorious military responsibilities between the  XVIIth and the XIXth century.

Hospitaller Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem

If the Knights of Malta came from multiple branches of the Malaspina family, the joining of the Order was sometimes part of a family tradition, in close relation to the vocation for the arms inherent to the noble family for more than a thousand years.

 

Branch of the marquesses of Ascoli
This Malaspinian branch, the first one to leave their homeland of Lunigiane to settle in the March region, provided several knights. At first, two brothers, Giacomo Emilio and Carlo, who took their vows together on July 18th, 1658. Later, in 1696, Ridolfo joined the Order and became a Captain of the Pontifical Galleys.


Branch of the marquesses of Chivasso

A descendant of the Malaspinas of Chivasso, market town situated on the Francigene road in Turin county, Carlo Malaspina joined the Order in 1563. He was one of the glorious fighters who repelled the Ottoman armies during the Great Siege of Malta.

Siège de Malte

 

Branch of the Malaspinas of Florence
During the XVIIth century, this branch supplied the Order with two knights in the course of a few decades: at first Federico Malaspina, who took his vows in 1634, then Scipione Andrea Malaspina in 1693.

Branch of the marquesses of Fosdinovo
Even if the Malaspinas of Fosdinovo provided the Order of St John of Jerusalem with several knights during the XVIth and the XVIIth centuries, the most famous of them is obviously Ippolito, who took his vows on July 13th, 1556 at the age of 16. Elder son of Giuseppe Malaspina, marquess of Fosdinovo, and of Luigia Doria, descendant of the family of the Genoese Princes, he passed his rights to his brother Andrea when he joined the Order of Jerusalem. He quickly became the bailiff of Naples of the Order, and eventually Counsellor of the Grand Master. In 1560, leading an infantry column, he joined a famous assault against the Barbary corsairs at Djerba. In 1565, he was among the officers taking part to the Grand Secours sent by the king of Spain in order to help Malta on September 8th. He was then elected Admiral of the Order in 1601, and eventually accepted the commanding of the pontifical fleet offered by Pope Clement VIII two years later . In 1605, after witnessing the election of Paul V, he decided to withdraw in a Maltese monastery. In spite of the Pope's repeated promptings, he always refused to resume the commanding of the pontifical fleet.
Paradoxically, this retreat made Ippolito indefinitely famous. He was indeed the one who handled the transfer of Caravaggio to Malta. He had met him in Rome when the artist was wanted for killing a man during a duel. His exile  was organised with the blessing of the Grand Master of the Order, Alof of Wignacourt and, in 1607, Caravaggio stayed at Malaspina castle in San Salvatore Fort, in  Valletta. He probably painted the famous St Jerome Writing painting on his guest's prompting and gave the saint his host's features. At the bottom left-hand corner of the painting, Caravaggio added the Malaspinas of Fosdinovo's coat-of-arms.

St Jerome Writing by Caravaggio

 

Stolen in the middle of the 1980, the painting is back at the museum of St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, where one can also see Ippolito Malaspina's burial place, decorated with a sumptuous plate, in St. Catherine of Italy Church. Ippolito Malaspina died in 1625, after bequeathing all his belongings to charities: hospitals, widows, crippled sailors, orphans.

Ippolito Malaspina's burial plate (St. John's Co-Cathedral, La Valette)

 

In a filmed biography of Caravaggio recently produced by the RAI, an actor features Ippolito Malaspina.

After Ippolito, two other Malaspinas joined the Order: Alderano, who took his vows in 1588, and later, in 1632, another Ippolito.

Branch of the marquesses of Monti and Suvero

This branch of the Malaspinas was honourably represented by the Order through Ricordano Malaspina, who took the religious name of Fra Francesco when he took his vows in 1840. Grand Squire, in charge of the matters of the Order by the Court of Italy (then Lombard-Venetian Kingdom), he was also Commandeur of the First Commandry of Parma, decorated with the Grand Ducal Military Order of St. Stephen of Tuscany.

Branch of the marquesses of Mulazzo

The most famous Malaspina of this branch, Alessandro the navigator, began sailing as a knight in the service of the Order. He sailed in western Mediterranean for one year, joining the fight led by the Order against the pirates. A short while after his father's death, he left Malta to follow his uncle to Spain.

Even more than the famous navigator, another Malaspina of Mulazzo, Giovanni, held an important position in the memory of the Order. He was indeed the last knight to be killed during the Great Siege of Malta. While observing from a parapet the withdrawal of the Turkish troops after several months of fierce battle, he is said to have been hit by an arquebus shot by the Ottoman camp while reciting the In Te, Domine, Speravi psalm. Even though we lack for details about his genealogy, the different histories of the Order guarantee that he was indeed a descendant of the marquesses of Mulazzo.

Branch of the Malaspinas of Murello

Though little known, this Malaspinian branch from Cuneo county (Piedmont) originated the most ancient knight we could retrace through history: Federico Malaspina, hospitaller knight who took his vows in 1317. About ten years later, he was a Collector (Commander) of the Commandry of Murello, where the Order owned a castle which they got after the dissolution of the Order of the Temple at the beginning of the century. In 1334, Fra Federico Malaspina became Hospitaller Prior of Messina.  He was the first Italian who held this position, previously reserved to French people, and later to the Aragonese.

Branch of the marquesses of Podenzana

The Malaspinas of Podenzana gave the Order one of their most glorious figures, Vespasiano Malaspina, son of Leonardo Malaspina, marquess of Monte di Vaj and Podenzana. Even if few things are known about Vespasiano's life, his death is very famous on the contrary and it remains an emblem of the martyrdom some knights went through during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. After being injured during the siege of Fort St. Elmo, he was killed on July 15th, 1565 while he was defending Fort St Michael. Together with other knights, he was beheaded by the Turks and crucified on planks. A deep-rooted legend makes him the last casualty of the Great Siege, an honour  in fact due to another Malaspina, Giovanni, one of the marquesses of Mulazzo. The effigy of Vespasiano Malaspina, martyr, adorns today the Chapel of the Italian Language in St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta (Malta).

Chapel of the Italian Language (St. John's Co-Cathedral, La Valette)

 

Vespasiano's glorious death must have explained the vocation of his nephew Niccolò, son of his brother Alessandro Malaspina, who joined the Order in 1605.

In the XVIIIth century, another Malaspina of Podenzana, Leonardo Giorgio, joined the Order on December 26th, 1742. He lived in Tuscany, where he was a Captain of the Regiment of the Crown Prince.

Branch of the marquesses of Ponzano

A descendant of a branch whose fief had been sold to San Giorgio Bank in 1540, Alessandro Malaspina took his vows in 1569. Even though his genealogy is still not ascertained, he must have been a descendant of Iacopo Ambrogio Malaspina, lord of Aulla at the end of the XVth century, from
Conrad the Elder's lineage.

Branch of the marquesses of Sannazzaro

In the course of the XVIth century, this branch provided the Order with two knights: first Galeazzo Malaspina, who took his vows in 1566, maybe stimulated by the Maltese army's glorious victory the year before. He was one of the six children of Ottaviano Malaspina, descendant of the marquesses of Fosdinovo and Massa. Through his lineage, Galeazzo was also related to the famous Pico della Mirandola family, previous owners of Scaldasole Castle, which passed to the Malaspinas when the daughter of the Count of Concordia, Taddea Pico della Mirandola, married Giacomo Malaspina, marquess of Fosdinovo and Massa.

As requested upon joining the Order, Galeazzo let his share of the family belongings to his brother Giulio Cesare. Anyway, from the 1580s', he took advantage of the benefits of Saint-Pierre-le-Vif, a French Benedictine abbey (at Sens), passed to him by René Le Birague, a Milanese who became Chancellor of France in 1573.

In 1599, another Malaspina of Sannazzaro, Francesco, joined the Order and took advantage of several special concessions granted by Pope Paul V.

Branch of the marquesses of Suvero

In the XVIth century, this branch provided the Order with three knights, probably blood brothers: Ascanio, who took his vows in 1574, then Fabio and Leonido, who joined the Order in a few months span in 1577. They were apparently the sons of Rinaldo Malaspina, marquess of Suvero, and of Lavinia Malaspina. The three of them were attached to the Priory of the Order in Venice.

Branch of the Malaspinas of Tortona

In the XVIIIth century,  this branch provided the Order with a knight, Ercole Francesco Malaspina,
who took his vows in September, 1737.

Cybo-Malaspina family

The prestigious Cybo-Malaspina family provided the Order with a few knights between the XVIth and the  XVIIIth centuries.

In 1577, Francesco Cybo de Massa took his vows, followed in 1596 by Alessandro, from the marquesses of Massa and Carrare. Later, in 1633, Lorenzo Cybo-Malaspina, son of the Prince of Massa, joined the Order.

Francesco Malaspina, son of Carlo I Cybo-Malaspina, General of the King of Spain's Galleys, took his vows in 1625. His nephew Ottavio, Alderano Cybo-Malaspina's son, later followed his path as Knight Profès, until his death in 1701.

Camillo Cybo-Malaspina, Alderano Cybo-Malaspina's grand-nephew, was made Cardinal by Benedict XIII in 1729. The date of his joining the Order remains unknown, but he was a prestigious member, as he was Grand Prior of Rome until 1730.

Other Malaspinas

Other Malaspinas are known to have served the Order, but their origins cannot be traced precisely.

In the XIVth century, a Giovanni Malaspina, who took his vows in 1347, was a Commandeur of the Hospitaller Commandry of Versato.

In 1422, a Federico Malaspina took his vows and he later became a Commandeur of Candiolo, in Turin county, fief of the Savoies until the XIVth century, when  it passed into the hands of the Order.

In the XVth century, two Malaspinas were in the register of the Italian Admirals: Ferlino, who occupied this position in 1417 and Federico, from 1427 to 1428.


In the  XVIth century, a Cursio Malaspina joined the Grand Secours fleet to defend Malta in 1565, before being made a knight on September 28th, after the end of the Great Siege.