la Valette, Jean Parisot de
LA VALETTE, JEAN PARISOT DE
Grand Master of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (known also as knights of malta after 1523); b. Toulouse, 1494; d. Malta, Aug. 21, 1568. La Valette, member of a great French noble family, entered the Order of the Knights of St. John and fought the Muslims in North Africa and on the Sicilian coast. After his unanimous election as grand master of the order in 1557, he managed to restore its finances, and he cooperated with the viceroy of Sicily in an attempt to capture Tripoli. Mismanagement of the expedition by the viceroy resulted in disaster from which La Valette contrived to save some of the expeditionary force. He also built up the Maltese fleet and secured official representation for his order at the Council of Trent. The Turkish Sultan Suleiman II determined to destroy the measures taken for the strengthening of Malta. As a result of La Valette's indomitable leadership the cavaliers and mercenary soldiers on the island were brought to a high degree of readiness. The Turkish attack began on May 18, 1565, with the arrival of 159 vessels of war carrying at least 30,000 Janissaries and Spahis, with artillery and food supplies, to oppose the some 9,000 members of the island garrison. The invaders effectively laid siege to the fortress of San Elmo, but the Grand Master for a time defeated their efforts. La Valette invented a new weapon made up of wooden circles soaked in alcohol and oil, which were then covered with cotton, saltpeter, and gunpowder. These circles, lighted and flung amidst the attackers, burned them alive. Despite heroic resistance the fort fell on July 23. The Muslims then besieged San Angelo, the main citadel of the island. The Turkish commander mounted an attack on the island fortress of St. Michael where the cavaliers of the order had withdrawn; he lost thousands, and the fortress successfully resisted the attack. Finally, with the Sicilian viceroy as commander a substantial force came (September 1) to La Valette's assistance. The Turkish commander fled with the besieging army but changed his mind and returned. However, La Valette had acted promptly and in the interval had destroyed the siege machines and trenches the Muslims had constructed.
Pius IV offered La Valette a cardinal's hat, which he refused. Later, the Turks planned another invasion but ships from Malta destroyed the Turkish arsenal at Constantinople. La Valette rebuilt the fort of San Elmo and started the construction of a new city (modern Valletta). When contributions for this enterprise from western Europe failed, copper coins were struck to carry on the work so that there would be no delay; these coins appropriately carried the device non aes, sed fides. In his later years La Valette's vigorous administration was troubled by rebellion among the Spanish cavaliers on the island and by what he considered to be ingratitude on the part of Pope Pius V, who, instead of permitting La Valette to nominate his own candidate for the leadership of the order's grand priory in Rome, appointed a papal nephew to the post.
Bibliography: j. a. thou, Historiarum sui temporis (Paris 1604). j. p. e. jurien de la graviÈre, Les Chevaliers de Malte et la Marine de Philippe II, 2 v. (Paris 1887). r. a. vertot, Histoire des Chevaliers Hospitalíers de S. Jean de Jerusalem, 5 v. (Paris 1726). p. de bourdeille, seigneur de brantÔme, Grands capitaines françois, v.3–4 of Oeuvres complètes, 11 v. (Paris 1864–82). e. w. schermerhorn, Malta of the Knights (London 1929). e. d.s. bradford, The Great Siege (New York 1962). r. cohen, Knights of Malta 1523–1798 (New York 1920).
[s. j. t. miller]