Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bonaparte defeats Knights of St. John at Malta: Bourrienne

From a Gutenberg e-text of Bourrienne's biography of Napoleon Bonaparte (R.W. Phipps trans.), a brief account of Bonaparte's conquest of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem at the islands of Malta. Note that upon taking the capital of Valetta, Bonaparte freed the Muslim prisoners taken by the Knights during their piracy expeditions to North Africa. This move was part of his diplomacy and propaganda with the Muslim world, and the freed Muslims would be useful to him in Egypt..


We arrived off Malta on the 10th of June. We had lost two days in waiting for some convoys which joined us at Malta.

The intrigues throughout Europe had not succeeded in causing the ports of that island to be opened to us immediately on our arrival. Bonaparte expressed much displeasure against the persons sent from Europe to arrange measures for that purpose. One of them, however, M. Dolomieu, had cause to repent his mission, which occasioned him to be badly treated by the Sicilians. M. Poussielgue had done all he could in the way of seduction, but he had not completely succeeded. There was some misunderstanding, and, in consequence, some shots were interchanged. Bonaparte was very much pleased with General Baraguay d'Hilliers' services in Italy. He could not but praise his military and political conduct at Venice when, scarcely a year before, he had taken possession of that city by his orders. General Baraguay d'Hilliers joined us with his division,--which had embarked in the convoy that sailed from Genoa. The General-in-Chief ordered him to land and attack the western part of the island. He executed this order with equal prudence and ability, and highly to the satisfaction of the General-in-Chief. As every person in the secret knew that all this was a mere form, these hostile demonstrations produced no unpleasant consequences. We wished to save the honour of the knights--that was all; for no one who has seen Malta can imagine that an island surrounded with such formidable and perfect fortifications would have surrendered in two days to a fleet which was pursued by an enemy. The impregnable fortress of Malta is so secure against a 'coup de main' that General Caffarelli, after examining its fortifications, said to the General-in-Chief, in my presence, "Upon my word, General, it is luck: there is some one in the town to open the gates for us."

By comparing the observation of General Caffarelli with what has been previously stated respecting the project of the expedition to Egypt and Malta, an idea may be formed of the value of Bonaparte's assertion at St. Helena:

"The capture of Malta was not owing to private intrigues, but to the sagacity of the Commander-in-chief. I took Malta when I was in Mantua!"

It is not the less true, however, that I wrote, by his dictation, a mass of instructions for private intrigues. Napoleon also said to another noble companion of his exile at St Helena, "Malta certainly possessed vast physical means of resistance; but no moral means. The knights did nothing dishonourable nobody is obliged to do impossibilities. No; but they were sold; the capture of Malta was assured before we left Toulon."

The General-in-Chief proceeded to that part of the port where the Turks made prisoners by the knights were kept.

The disgusting galleys were emptied of their occupants: The same principles which, a few days after, formed the basis of Bonaparte's proclamation to the Egyptians, guided him in this act of reason and humanity.

He walked several times in the gardens of the grandmaster. They were in beautiful order, and filled with magnificent orange-trees. We regaled ourselves with their fruit, which the great heat rendered most delicious.

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