The Web Surfers Guide to the Knights Hospitaller
This Web Site is not a Web Site run by any Hospitaller
The "Knights Hospitaller", began in the early 12th Century, and was the result of a transformed "Hospitaller" Order which initially began by providing hospitality for pilgrims who had arrived in Jerusalem. The Hostel run by Brother Gerard, circa 1070, was simply one in a series of initiatives in providing this care. Later traditions, used the earlier missions (dating to circa 600), to provide a pre-history for the Order. With the Latin conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, other properties belonging to the Eastern Church were taken over, such as the Monastery of St John the Baptist. Gerard's Hospital, hitherto dedicated toSt John the Almoner, on the acquisition of the new property, also took over the saintly patronage, quietly pensioned off the local "Almoner" for the more universal "Baptist". Having been a branch of the Benedictine Order, after the conquest of Jerusalem, the Hospital became an Order in its own rights under brother Gerard. Under a series of successors to Gerard the Order became increasingly military following the fashion set by the Knights Templar.
With the loss of the Holy Land, the Order relocated in 1291 at Cyprus and captured Rhodes where it became a truly sovereign Order in 1307. Rhodes was captured by Islamic forces in 1522, and the Knights took to wandering until the Island of Malta was granted to them, as a vassal State of Emperor Charles V of Spain in 1530.
After 250 years, of relative peace, the Knights of Malta came to a sad and quiet end, by being kicked out by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798, on his way to Egypt. The Russian Emperor Paul I sheltered a group of Knights, and was elected Grand Master, with others remaining loyal to the Grand Master - Ferdinand von Hompesch, who abdicated in 1799. Paul I was murdered in 1801, but not before creating his own Russian Order of St John. In 1803, the Roman Catholics revived the Order under a new Grand Master, and then under a series of Deputy Grand Masters.
In reality after 1798 the Order as it had existed in Rhodes and Malta had come to an end. After this such knights as formed the Order were being dictated to, first by the Russian Court, and then by the Papal Court. No revivals of the Order have been straight forward.
Pope Leo XIII provided more freedom for what had been no more than a papal revival and a Grand Master was restored to the "Sovereign Military Order of Malta", June 1888 (one month after Queen Victoria had raised the profile of the British Order by granting them a Royal Charter in May 1888!!!) In the 1950s, after some arguments, the Holy See (during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII) stated that the Order was a 'functional' sovereignty!?!, but not before the Order was barred from electing a Grand Master. Such was the reality of their "functional Sovereignty"! It was only under Pope John XXIII - and with his consent, that a Grand Master was restored again.
An independent German branch had been created in the 16th century, with the conversion of the Bailiwick of Brandenburg to the Lutheran Church - today known as the "JohhaniterOrden". However between 1810 and 1852 this Order had become a Prussian State Order.
The British Order, is a tale of rags to riches. In 1831, what was left of the French Knights, no longer part of the Roman Catholic or Papal Order, created a branch in England for Protestants (under a money raising exercise - to fund the Greeks in gaining their freedom - the reward would have been to regain Rhodes and put the French group back in favour with the Order!). The Franco-English group split into two in 1832, until 1837 when the group acknowledged by the French Knights came to an end with the loss of its leader who had returned to France. The schismatic part, eventually gained leading English nobility as members. This in its turn led to the patronage of Queen Victorian who in 1888 granted the Charity a Royal Charter of Incorporation (although not as a Chivalric Order of State) - "The Most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem in the British Realm". Claiming to be a revival of the English Langue, the reality was that it was an extension of the French group, who at the time were not part of the Roman Catholic Order.
The Russian Order is a tale of riches to rags! In 1810, Emperor Alexander, not sharing his father's passion to be The Knight of St John, stripped the Order in Russia of all its cash although he allowed them to continue (1810 Ukase - the Order can continue; 1811 Ukase - the Treasury will pay its expenses). Although arguments abound (not from those who claim to be Russian Knights - but from those who claim to be Knights of other St John/Malta Orders!) about how the Order came to an end in Russia, the fact remains, Russian Knights continued to be listed in the Court Almanacs up until the last edition in 1914! The other point to make is that in 1928 Noble Russian exiles gathered in Paris, with the support of the cousin of the successor to the throne, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovitch, and claimed to reconvene the activities of the Russian Grand Priory (founded by Emperor Paul I). This group continues via its Priory in Dacia and members in Paris.
If you think your history lesson has come to an end, it has not. I have saved the more interesting bits for the last.
According to a man called Crolian Edelen, a close
associate of his, Charles Louis Thourot-Pichel, began his own Order in the
1950s using the records of a defunct masonic type Order (derived from the
Orange Lodges) which existed in the early 1900s but came to an end in 1912.
Pichel had successfully revived the 1911 Incorporation of the previous group,
but gave it a new pedigree by claiming it was founded by Russian Hereditary
Commanders in 1908. Not content with just a slice of the action, the
Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller claimed
that it was the surviving Order, and that the Roman Catholic Order
was created in 1802, by the Roman Catholic Church establishing an exclusive
papal Order of an analogous nature, but separate and independent of the original
There are other groups which are in reality "self styled" Orders claiming by some ingenious route to be part of the Order, or even to be the Order itself, - again "buyer - beware".
Of course, with the latter two, or three groups (self-styled Orders), if you belong to what you consider to be a pukka Order (SMOM, The British Royal Order etc.) and feel aggrieved at the presence of the so-called self-styled Orders (some naughty folk call "false" or "fake"), it is no good shouting "shame, shame, on them, stone them! rack 'em!, torture 'em! - as they might actually be doing some good, and I guess those in desperate circumstances and in receipt of aid, not given by anyone else, will not be too worried about fancy notions of legitimacy, and will actually experience "knights errant" in practice. To quote the Holy Apostle "the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life" (for those with Bibles - rush to find 2 Corinthians, Chapter 3, verse 6. - in case you think I, Rusticus made it up).
Again having said that there may well be those who are collecting for their beer fund - or mine!
Links to other Web Guides on the Order
The Knights Hospitaller Ancient and
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta
Sovereign Military Order of Malta
The Russian Grand Priory
The Alliance Orders of St John
The King Peter Orders of St John
OSJ Priory of Victoria (Grand Priory of
Revivals of the Hospitaller Tradition
Self Styled Orders of St John
Continuity of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem