1113 – 1187
1187 – 1291
1292 – 1311
1311 – 1523
1530 – 1798
|Russia||1798 – 1917
1917 – 1962
1917 – 1962
October 1, 1963
March 4, 1964
1962 – 2005
It is impossible to capture the enormous breadth and depth of the Order’s 965 year history in a few short paragraphs. The best that can be done is to highlight its major accomplishments, triumphs, setbacks and transitions. What follows is a very brief history of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller (Malta) following its historical pathway from Jerusalem (1113-1187) – Acre (1187-1291) – Cyprus (1292-1311) – Rhodes (1311-1523) – Malta (1530-1798) – Russia (1798-1917) – France ( 1917-1962) – America (1962-1990) – Malta (1990-to today. Readers who have the interest might explore the rich tapestry of the Order of St. John contained in a treasury of larger, more detailed, works presented in the notes that follow this section.
The Order traces its roots back to the 11th century. Around 1099, some merchants from Amalfi came to Jerusalem on business . When they saw the wretched conditions in which the vast majority of pilgrims found themselves ,they took pity on the latter and decided ir h with precious gifts, and subsequently gained his permission to purchase some land and build a Church on it . The Church was given the name Santa Maria quarters ) for pilgrims of every religious creed (one was for men, the other was for women).
Each had its own chapel, one was dedicated to the Greek Saint John Eleymon (His Latin name being St John The Almoner ) the female chapel was dedicated to Mary Magdalene.
Once the city was in possession of the Franks, the good Benedictine brothers went about treating and feeding the “Soldiers of Christ “ Once the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem had been founded, a Hospitale in the true sense of the word was set up . It was named after John the Baptist, since the Greek Saint , John the Almoner was practically unknown to Western European Christians . . Brother Gerardo de’ Sasso was appointed Rector (1108-1120), and managed to obtain other donations of land from a grateful Gottfried of Buglione .
These good works were recognized by the then Pope – Paschal II – who issued, on February 15, 1113, a Papal Bull “Piae postulatio voluntatis” confirming them as a Hospital for the faithful and placing it under the direct protection of the Holy See. The Order had its rights further extended by a Bull of Pope Calixtus II of 19 June 1120 “Ad hoc nos disponente domino”.
The Hospitaller Order continued to expand its work in The Holy Land until 1291. After the disastrous Fourth Crusade, any hopes of reconciling Eastern Powers and Western Christendom were shattered and the Order was forced to relocate to Acre for about three to four years. Following the total conquest of the Holy Land by Islamic forces, the Order abandoned Jerusalem and the knights relocated to the nearby island of Cyprus.
After the fall of Saint John of Acre and the loss of the Holy Land in 1291, the Hospitaller Order of St John transferred its headquarters and hospital to Limassol on the island of Cyprus, where it had an outpost since 1210. Thanks to financial concessions the Order received from important properties, privileges and commercial rights, it remained faithful to its Hospitaller mission and continued to build new hospitals and to benefit from the strategic position of the island. It was in Cyprus that the Order built its early naval fleet to protect pilgrims enroute to the Holy Land by sea. This travel also increased the number of new members in the Order who came from all over Europe.
This steady growth contributed to the strengthening of the Order’s structure as it acquired new possessions on the Mediterranean shore. Amongst these were the important port of Famagusta, the city of Nicosia, and the establishment of numerous Commanderies in these areas. Growth had its limits, however. The increasing political and military instability on Cyprus resulted in restricting the Order’s expansion on the island and the Hospitallers were forced to choose a more suitable base for the seat of the Order of St. John on the Island of Rhodes. With its relocation of its central administration to Rhodes, the Order did not entirely abandon Cyprus.
Lieutenants remained there to govern its more than 60 Priories and Commanderies and the knights remained in place for another century until the middle of the fifteen century, when they were recalled to the Order’s Conventual Seat in Rhodes beginning in 1309.
The Order completed its acquisition of the island by 1310 and took advantage of its strategic location and natural seaports. Under Grand Master Fra. Foulques de Villaret’s leadership the Order developed one of the finest naval fleets in the world and virtually ruled the Mediterranean. It can be said that it was during this period that the Order’s sovereignty was universally recognized as, by Pontifical deed, it had gained the right to maintain and deploy armies, appoint ambassadors and was granted other forms of international recognition. As a result of the tremendous influx of new knights who traveled to Rhodes from Europe, members of the Order were now housed and organized according to the native languages that they spoke.
In the beginning, there were seven “Langues” or tongues: Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon or Navarre, England (that included Scotland and Ireland) and Germany. Later on, Spain (Castile and Portugal) comprised the eighth Langue. The traditional structure of the Order’s hierarchy of units (Grand Priories, Priories, Bailiwicks and Commanderies) was imposed on the Langues and added administrative order to their increased numbers. The Order was governed by its Grand Master and senior members of each Langue were represented on the Order’s Council. Religious members of various nationalities formed the Seat of the Order, called the Convent. The Order began to mint its own currency and maintained diplomatic relations with other states. For the next 213 years on Rhodes, the Knights Hospitaller leveraged the stability of the region, its massive growth and simultaneously increased its renown for their hospitals and advanced medical treatment. However, the knights were soon forced to become a more militarized entity because the Islamic Empire was expanding. The Order was increasingly defending itself against the Ottomans on many fronts.
The knights heroically withstood two invasions in the 15th Century—one by the Sultan of Egypt in 1444 and, again in 1480, by the pitiless ruler of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of Turkey, whom the knights successfully repulsed after an 89-day bloody siege. After capturing Constantinople in 1463, Suleiman had made the knights a priority target for conquest. After his defeat in 1480, he unleashed his armies on the knights again in mid-July, 1522. After a six-month siege, on January 1, 1523, the Sultan’s force of 200,000 men finally drove the knights from their base on Rhodes. The surviving defeated knights were allowed an honorable departure, but between 1523 and 1530 the Order did not have a permanent home. After several years in various encampments around the Eastern Mediterranean in Candia, Messina, and Civitavecchia (then Viterbo), the knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller, eventually settled on Malta on October 26, 1530 and became commonly known as the Knights of Malta.
The new base for the knights was created by a land-lease fief granted to the Order by Emperor Charles V, dated March 23, 1530, and included the islands of Gozo, Comino, Cominotto and Filfla together with the City of Tripoli in Northern Africa. Two curious conditions of the knights’ lease was that the Order should remain neutral in any war between Christian nations and their annual lease payment was the payment of one falcon each year to Charles V—hence the origin of the term: Maltese Falcon. The knights, under the leadership of Grand Master Fra. Phillippe de Villiers de l’Isle Adam, took possession and over the next 268 years, grew in strength and wealth, transforming Malta into a flourishing island. The Order’s defences survived many Ottoman attacks, including the three-month battle in 1565 known as the “Great Siege of Malta”.
The Order became one of the great powers of Europe as it’s formidable navy cruised and protected the Mediterranean Sea from a new scourge—the Barbary Pirates. While hospitals were among the first projects built on Malta, the knights also constructed fortresses, watch towers and churches, many of which are still standing today, nearly 500 years later. The main hospital could accommodate 500 patients and was considered one of the finest in the world. Its medical faculty included anatomy, surgery and pharmacy. A particular specialty was ophthalmology. It was at the Malta hospital that medical practice specialization and certification was formally established. Valletta, the capital city, achieved high praise as a centre of art and culture. Architecture and construction flourished. Fortifications, public works, gardens and churches (including The Church of St. John the Baptist, completed in 1577 and where many of the knights are now buried) contain works by Caravaggio, Mattia Preti and others.
The Great Siege of Malta
The Great Siege of Malta in 1565 was a remarkable victory with the knights and their soldiery overcoming massive enemy forces both on land and sea. The siege was a clash of unimaginable brutality and one of the bloodiest battles ever fought. It was also an event that determined the course of history with the very survival of Christianity at stake. If vitally strategic Malta fell, the Muslim Ottoman Empire would soon dominate the entire Mediterranean. Even Rome was in peril. Sultan Suleiman controlled the greatest fighting force in the world and had an armada of 200 ships and an army of 40,000 troops when he launched his battle against the knights. He planned to wipe the Knights of St. John and Malta from the map. On May 18, Turkish artillery was unleashed followed by wave after wave of screaming scimitar wielding cavalry. Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette vowed that the fort would not be taken as long as one Christian lived on Malta. Six hundred knights, a few thousand local peasants and mercenaries, and a few thousand Maltese irregulars—6,000 and 9,000 men in total—withstood and eventually defeated a much larger, overwhelming enemy force. After more than 30,000 Turks were killed, the Ottomans withdrew and the knights celebrated victory on September 8. The feat has become an integral part of world military history as it is part of the heroic story of the courage and military supremacy of the Knights of St. John. In the three years following, Grand Master La Vallette planned and built the great port and fortress city of Valletta. He died in 1568 and never saw his great project completed. He is buried in the city that bears his name.
In 1775, the Order absorbed the ancient Hospitaller Order of St. Anthony of Vienne whose possessions lay mainly in France. Because of its increased wealth, the Order was becoming more visible—and desirable—to others, amongst them Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1798 after ruling the Maltese islands for more than 250 years, the knights were attacked by the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte on his way to the Egyptian campaign. Through treachery and deceit, Napoleon captured the fort, plundered Malta and displaced the knights as the sovereigns of the island.
The then Grand Master – Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim – left, with only a few knights , for Trieste, in Austria (now Italy) on June 18, 1798 thus ending that era’s involvement of the Order with the Island of Malta.
The members less courageous returned to their countries of origin, joining the existing independent institutions or forming new groups, seven Professed Knights of the Langue of Italy went to Sicily, under the Pope’s protection. The Council and the most enterprising found protection in Russia, where they joined their brothers who had fled from France after the Revolution and others from the former Grand Priory of Poland, in the Grand Priory of Russia.
On October 12th, 1798, in St. Petersburg.the Council of the Order, being independent and therefore not subject to kings or popes, decided to defrock the Grand Master of that time von Hompesch, guilty of high treason, and to proclaim Tsar Paul I the 70th Supreme Grand Master.
Pius VI, who at the time was segregated by the French in the monastery of Cassiano near Florence did not object, even though the Emperor was not a Catholic (he was not the first) and was married. Quite the contrary, on November 5, he sent his approval in a letter addressed to Count Litta, which arrived a few days before Paul I officially accepted the nomination.
At any rate, on November 13, 1798 Tsar Paul I accepted the appointment to Grand Master of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller also called Knights of Rhodes and later of Malta.
The solemn ceremony of handing over the crown and the decorations of the Grand Master took place on 29th November of that year in the Winter Palace.  On that occasion the flag of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem was hoisted on the flagpole of Admiralty Palace and the Tsar ordered that the imperial coat of arms, namely the double-headed crowned eagle with spread wings, be added to the Order’s emblem. That same day, the Emperor added to the existing Catholic Grand Priory of Russia (founded on the former Grand Priory of Catholic Poland, the Government of the Order of Malta Knights and all the European Knights who had reached St. Petersburg) a Grand Orthodox Priory with ten Commanderies, patronised by Russian nobility. Paul I also decreed that the title of Commander of the Order be inherited by the firstborn of those families and title of Protector by its descendants; this act, absolute and undisputable, would be the salvation of the Order.
Paul I’s legal position as Prince Grand Master was confirmed and accepted by most of the European states.
Some months later, on 6 July 1799, persuaded by Francis I of Hapsburg , from Trieste von Hompesch sent a formal act of abdication to the Sovereign Council of the Order, along with three letters to the two Emperors, in which he sent his best wishes to Paul I for a speedy and worthy resurgence of the Order under the Tsarist eagle. 
In 1798, John the Baptist’s right hand had been transferred to St. Petersburg, but the official handover of the Sacred Relics of the Religion, which were an Icon of the Virgin Mary, a piece of the “True Cross” and the Right Hand of John The Baptist, was set for October 12, 1799 in Gatcina Palace, on the occasion of the wedding between Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna and Prince Friedrich Ludwig von Mecklenburg- Schwerin.
The transfer of the sacred objects from Malta to Gatchina is celebrated every year, precisely on 12th October.
On 9th December, however, the sacred relics had already been transferred to the imperial family in St. Petersburg, in the Palace Cathedral. In 1800 the anniversary was celebrated in the Winter Palace.
Meanwhile Emperor Paul I bestowed the Order with the Count M.I. Vorontsov Palace, where in 1798-1800 the Maltese Chapel designed by the architect Giacomo Quarenghi was built. On the Island of Stone, a hospital for elderly and disabled Knights was founded and a cemetery was completed for members of the Order, with the church of San Giovanni attached. In the Tsar’s favourite residence in Gatchina, on the shores of the Black Lake, architect Nikolay Alexandrovich Lvov built the Priory Palace, known as Malta Palace, originally intended to house the French immigrant Prince of Conde, formerly Prior of the Order in France, who, during Paul’s previous visit to King Louis XVI, had treated him with honour.
With papal approval, the emperor reformed the statutes of the Order, bringing them up-to-date and making them responsive to the needs of the moment. In 1799 the two Russian Grand Priories counted 648 members, including Bailiffs, Grand Crosses, Commanders and Knights. The Orthodox Priory counted for two thirds of the members, among whom were 23 families of Hereditary Commanders and 5 Honorary (the five Golovkins), while the remaining third was the Catholic Grand Priory, and was composed of French, Italian, Irish, Poles and Germans, of whom 8 were hereditary Commanders.
Unfortunately, even though in a letter sent from Palermo and dated November 3, 1799, Admiral Nelson had acknowledged Paul I as Grand Master, a Sovereign Tsar in Malta meant handing over that important military base in the Mediterranean to the powerful Russian fleet and this was not acceptable for the great European powers, least of all England, still owner of the Maltese archipelago.
In addition to this Paul I did nothing to hide his liking toward Napoleon, to the point of pushing Russia to armed neutrality against Britain. An alliance between the two most powerful empires of the continent was not at all popular.
Paul I was murdered on the night of March 23, 1801 in his bedroom in Engineers Castle by a group of officers headed by General Bennigsen, a Hanoverian under Russian service. The Tsar was grabbed and dragged by the intruders to a table where they tried to make him sign an act of abdication, but when he refused , Paul I was struck with a sword and then strangled.
One of the conspirators, General Nicholas Zubov went to Alexander I, Paul’s son who had known about the conspiracy, to tell him he was now the new ruler.
Of course, the new Tsar was careful not to accept the title of Grand Master, but kept the one of Hereditary Protector and in his new role, declaring that he wanted to get the Order back to normal, on March 28th, 1801 he appointed Field Marshal of the Empire Bailiff Count Nicholas Soltykoff to the position of Lieutenant Grand Master. This Government of the Order, based in St. Petersburg, with Bailiff Soltykoff as Lieutenant Grand Master and Tsar Alexander I as imperial protector, was recognized by the main European powers as legitimate owner of the Maltese archipelago, and consequently as legitimate heir of the ancient Hospitaller Order in the Treaty of Amiens on 25 March 1802 and not the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), which did not yet exist.
The Brief Apostolic of February 9 th 1803 with which Pope Pius VII – solicited by Napoleon to elect as soon as possible a Grand Master that was not contrary to France – ignoring the original statute of the Order, it raised motu proprio the bailiff Giovanni Battista Tommasi of Cortona to Grand Master of the new Order of Malta of pontifical institution and exclusively Catholic – formed by the priory of Messina and that of Boemia – it determined a clean separation between the seat in Messina and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in St. Petersburg, condemning both to perpetuate him for a long period in a sort of limbo.
Such an arrogant deed, committed by the Pope, against age old statutory rules, was also rejected by the Knights of the Spanish Langue, who, without further ado, nominated King Charles IV (1788-1808) Grand Master. The king officially accepted the appointment on January 20, 1803 and on 17th April that year he issued a Royal Decree with which the langue of Spain of Jerusalem Knights was incorporated to the Crown with its new name: “Los Reales Caballeros Hospitalarios Espanoles de San Juan Bautista”.
Pope Pius X issued a Papal Bull, on July 8, 1854 defining new statutes for the SMOM but it was not until March 28, 1879 that a Grand Master – Giovanni Battista Ceschi a Sancta Croce – was appointed by Pope Leo XIII as head of a Religious Order exclusively because the Pontifical State had lost its territorial sovereignty from 1870 to 1929 with the fall of Rome and the unity of Italy. It was the government of Mussolini, Knight of Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion of the SMOM, to return a state to the Holy See with the “Patti Lateranensi” on February 11th 1929.
Similar St. John Orders were established or re-established in the 19th century in both the United Kingdom and Prussia and similarly in the early 20th century in The Netherlands and in Sweden by authority of their respective royal houses.
Much has been said – in error – that the Order in Russia was abolished by Ukase [royal court order] of Czar Alexander I in February 1810. A copy of that Ukase still exists and careful reading shows it is not an act of abolition but rather an act of sequestration of assets. A further Ukase in November 1811 reinforces this situation.  Historically one has to remember the financial and other pressures at that time on Russia with the advance of the armies of the Emperor Napoleon.
Members of the Order continuing in Russia were included in the Imperial Court Almanacs of 1829, 1835, 1847, 1853, 1856 and 1914. It is also interesting to note that the Crown of the Order was in evidence at the State Funeral of Czar Alexander II in St. Petersburg in March 1881.
In 1858 a book was published in England under the editorship of Sir Bernard Burke [Ulster King of Arms] – The Book of Orders of Knighthood – which listed, among many others – The Order of Saint John [in Russia] [page 233]. For an Order which had been “abolished” in 1811 the entry is rather surprising – “The two Russian Grand Priories still preserve the appearance of the old Constitution and form, under the protectorship and patronage o the Emperor [Czar Alexander II] who is head of the Chapter. Its connection with the Chapter at Rome is of a very looser character”. The section goes on to enumerate the Commanders and Grand Crosses of the ecumenical Grand Priory.
The Order continued operating in Russia under the Czars’ protection right up to the revolution in 1917. It is interesting to note that in an “abolished” Order Czar Nicholas II, on November 17, 1912, gave permission to Count Alexander d’Armfeldt to wear the insignia of the Sovereign Order and, on December 6, 1916, issued an Ukase conferring the dignity of Hereditary Commander on Charles Alfred Robert Marie Meunier-Surcouf, Prince of Spinfort.
But revolution had swept through Russia and brought about the murder of many of the Russian Royal Family and the dispersal abroad of the surviving members of the House of Romanov and of many of the nobility of Russia.
The Orthodox Order Flees Russia
The Dowager Czarina – Maria Dagmar – escaped to her native land of Denmark and it was there in 1919 that the Relics of the Order were delivered to her. After her death in 1928 these relics were delivered by the Grand Duchesses Olga & Xenia [ daughters of the late Dowager Czarina ] through King George II of Greece to King Alexander I of Yugoslavia. They were kept in the Royal Chapel of Dedinje until World War II and then the Relics were moved to the Monastery of Ostrog near Miksic in Montenegro for safety following on the German and Italian invasions. The Order had also extended out of Russia in the early years of the 20th century with the creation of an organisation in the United States of America brought about by, among others, a number of the Hereditary Commanders from Russian families. A charitable foundation was established and registered on January 18, 1911 in the State of New Jersey – as “The Knights of Malta”. [That name was formally changed on April 9, 1953 to the “Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem”. As an aside it is interesting to note that this was not the first time the Knights had ventured westwards across the Atlantic. In 1653 the Order purchased the Islands of St. Kitts, St. Croix [ and others ] as a base in the Western Hemisphere but, unfortunately, this venture only lasted until 1665.
The history of the Order – following on the end of World War II – sees the re-emergence of the Royal House of Yugoslavia within its structure. It must be remembered that King Peter II of Yugoslavia went into exile following on the invasion of his country but never abdicated from his throne – thus retaining the royal prerogatives.
In the early years of the 20th Century, the Order also organized outside of Russia with the creation of an organization in the United States of America brought about by, among others, a number of the Hereditary Commanders from Russian noble families. The Order was briefly headquartered in France from 1917-1962.
In 1961 in Monte Carlo, Monaco King Peter was admitted as a Knight in the Sovereign Order and took his formal vows. A copy of his assent documentation  exists from among the papers of the King’s brother, the late Prince Andrej of Yugoslavia, and it is interesting to note that the Order to which he was admitted was documented then as the “Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem“.
In April 1962 at a meeting of The Order’s Sovereign Council in Grandson Castle, Vaud, Switzerland King Peter was installed as Grand Protector of The Order. On October 1, 1963 King Peter issued what was termed a “Charter” and, therein, stated that The Order “is none the less sovereign in its dealings with other States and independent in its internal organisation, in its election of its leader and in the promulgation of its Constitution.” This document ended with an invitation to The Venerable Order, the Johanniter Order and the Roman Order of Malta to “unite with us in our cause”.
The Order had maintained its “fons honorum“ over the centuries and this was confirmed in the actions of King Peter through his Membership in The Order; issuing the Charter and in the presentation of a new Constitution.
King Peter became very involved in the future of the Order and presented on March 19, 1964 a revised Constitution for the Order . This soon came into full force and effect with formal approval by the Sovereign Council at a meeting in Zurich, Switzerland in March 1965. Also on January 30, 1965 King Peter had issued a Royal Proclamation  re-stating his position as Grand Protector of the Order and indicating that after due process he would be willing to accept the position of Grand Master. This he later did but then Grand Master Paul Granier de Cassagnac refused to be moved to emeritus status and thus another schism in the history of the Order came about. King Peter formally accepted the position of Grand Master, after required processes, as of St. John’s Day, 1965 by a Proclamation dated June 21 of that year.
King Peter died on November 3, 1970 and was succeeded by Prince Serge Troubetzkoy as Lieutenant Grand Master . Prince Andrej of Yugoslavia [ youngest brother of King Peter] was appointed Grand Master on October 1, 1977. He died some twelve years later on May 7, 1990.
He was succeeded by Prince Serge Troubetzkoy who became Lieutenant Grand Master of the Order. Prince Andrej of Yugoslavia, the youngest brother of King Peter, was subsequently elected 74th Grand Master on October 1, 1977. He died 12 years later on May 7, 1990.
The history of the Order has been plagued by splintering or schisms right up to the present day and so it might be useful to comment on the legitimacy question of a splintered branch. If a member of a family leaves his or her former home it does not mean that the genealogical chain is broken. The Order was formed some 900 years ago and its heritage continues through today with branches operating under many differing nomenclatures. In this branch of the Order we recognise as primary two important factors – the continuum of knighthood down through the ages and the governance basis of the 1964 Constitution. It should be recognised that King Peter gave a revised constitution to an Order which already existed and into which he had been invested and did not thereby create a new Order.
We however also recognise as our mission and vision the task of re-unifying all appropriate branches of the Order either in absolute re-union or in fuller co-operation scenarios with each other. The riven body of the Order must be healed in order that there might be better fulfilled the appointed task to serve – Pro Fide Pro Utilitate Hominum – to serve better the Lord’s poor and His sick.
One important happening in this task was the formal re-union of seven branches at a meeting [of the Sovereign Council of the Order] in the City of Valletta on the Island of Malta in April 2006. This re-union flowed from a Concordat of Confederation  which had been signed on October 14, 2005. They came together in the “Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller” which had been the Order based in Malta governing the Russian Grand Priory of Malta  since 1991.
This formal reunion flowed from a Concordat of Confederation previously signed on October 14, 2005. Through this formality, seven previously disparate branches of the Order came together within the “Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller” based in Malta since 1990. It is the sincere hope of the members that the task of reunification will be successful and that the Order of St. John of Jerusalem will, again, enjoy the satisfaction of having all of its brothers and sisters in St. John working together for the faith and for service to humanity.
The Royal Charter granted by His Late Majesty King Peter II of Yugoslavia, the Order’s 73rd Grand Master and Royal Protector is its fons honorum for granting the accolade of knighthood and a touchstone for the OSJ.
A Constitution is the foundation of any institution. As a nearl 1,000 year old Order of Chivalry and a Christian, ecumenical and democratice entity, the OSJ considers its Constitution, granted to it by King Peter II on March 4, 1964, as it’s operational cornerstone and guide. The original French and the English translations are among the treasures of the Order and continue to guide its members today.
In the late 1950s an Order of St John founded in 1908 by Hereditary Russian Commanders emerged in the United States of America. The driving force for this group was Charles Louis Thourot-Pichel.
In 1962 this group split into two, the schismatic half being led by the Lieutenant Grand Master, Colonel Paul de Granier de Cassagnac who was able to gain for his group the Royal Protection of King Peter II of Yugoslavia. In January 1965, King Peter came to oppose Cassagnac and with the help of Otto Schobert and a Maltese Professor, Gaston Tonna—Barthet created his own Order.
The supporters of King Peter, elected him as the 73rd Grand Master of the Order of which Cassagnac was the 72nd Grand Master. Cassagnac refused to stand down, and King Peter formally resigned from the Cassagnac Order in April 1965, to lead his own Order as Grand Master.
Malta, under the Prior Gaston Tonna Barthet, broke away from Cassagnac to join the King Peter’s organization in 1965. By the late 1960s a number of groups, including the group organised by Charles Pichel, joined with King Peter’s organization. King Peter by his leadership of an “Order” within the tradition of the Hospitallers of St. John, provided by his own fons honorum transformed the Order into a true knightly fraternity.
King Peter ll of Yugoslavia was indeed a Leader of an Order of St. John, known by the acronym of OSJ which via Russian Hereditary Knights in 1908 was a continuation of the Russian Grand Priory. In 1968, while remaining “High Protector”, King Peter turned over the Grand Magistery to Prince Serge Troubetzkoy, formerly “Prior of the Russian Langue” of the original Shickshinny group. Troubtezkoy was now the Lieutenant Grand Master of the Order.
King Peter’s death in 1970 placed the OSJ into turmoil and his Order – with a succession of Knights via the King’s own “fons honorum” — was orphaned and a year after began to fragment and since then, as illustrated below, has continued to produce offshoots.
1971 – A group, led by Formhals, broke away from Troubetzkoy, Prince Andrej of Yugoslavia, the younger brother of King Peter, became ‘High Protector‘ of this group to be known as the Formhals Order
1977 – Malta, under Grand Prior Gaston Tonna-Barthet breaks away from Troubetzkoy to elect Prince Andrej as the 74th Grand Master of the Order with its Seat and Head Quarters in Malta
1979 – Reconciliation of Troubetzkoy and Malta with Prince Andrej as Protector and Grand Master of the Order with its Seat and Headquarters in Malta.
1987 – Anthony Zammit, a member of the Council, sought to depose Prince Andrej, but only succeeded in forming yet another group, claiming to be the authentic OSJ as Constituted by King Peter. Zammit was fortunate enough to gain the backing of Prince Karl Vladimir Karageorgevitch – one of Prince Andrei‘s sons. This in their eyes enhanced their status as claiming to be the true continuation of King Peter’s OSJ.
1990 – Prince Andrej died and the OSJ elected a regency Council based in Belgium. At the same time the Sovereign Council of the OSJ sought to reconcile the Zammit faction to no avail. In August 1990 the Sovereign Council convening in Brussels moved that:
a) The Constitution given in custody to the ”Grand Priory of Malta” by the late King Peter ll of Yugoslavia and which was already deposited at the “National Notary Archives” in Valletta.
b) The capital accumulated by the late Grand Prior Prof. Gaston Tonna Barthet.
c) The World Headquarters in Valletta were to be moved away from Malta to be transferred to Brussels.
A stale-mate was reached and the Maltese representatives, Bailiff Bonello and Bailiff Xuereb ﬁnding no other alternative walked out of the meeting. The Grand Priory of Malta seceded under its Grand Prior, Bailiff Victor Captur who had succeeded Tonna Barthet, and became the centre of an Independent network of Priories in Europe and elsewhere. By 1999, Victor Xuereb had become Lieutenant Grand Master of our “Order”. Minutes of a Council Meeting, held at the HQ in Valletta, Malta reflect that this said Sovereign Council meeting held in Brussels was unlawfully convened since the two requirements set in the Constitution for the convening of a Sovereign Council had not been met with.
1991 – The Belgian based OSJ became Incorporated by way of a Royal Charter granted by the King of the Belgians (a standard method of Incorporation for top charities in Belgium).
1998 – A further split arose within the OSJ between the Headquarters in Belgium and the new Headquarters in Canada following the election of a Canadian Lieutenant Grand Master in 1994, which later operated under Grand Master Robert G. Brodie and now operates under Grand Master David Rolfe.
1999 – The OSJ under the Royal Belgic Charter, had ceased to identify itself as being part of the King Peter Order, and had joined the Russian Hereditary Commanders group by then headquartered in New York.
2001 – Alfred Kugler — alias “‘Prince ‘Alfred von Habsburg-Hohenberg” who had been a Prior under King Peter, created the “Ordo Sancti Joannis Hospitalis Hierasolymitani lnc.”
2003 – Upon taking his new post of Grand Commander, Bailiff Paul M Borg began talks with Priories that had in the past been within the fold of the OSJ (Malta) before their schism. These said Priories, being aware of the need of returning back to that Order of St. John of Jerusalem with its Seat in Malta, furthered their talks with Bailiff Borg and on the 14th October
2005 – Priories and Commanderies from various branches of other ’Orders’ of St. John of Jerusalem signed a concordat of confederation at the World Headquarters and Seat of the Order in Valletta, Malta.
- M. Savary “Mémoires du Duc de Rovigo” – Paris 1828
- Jurij Pjatnickij “L’icona della Madonna del Fileremo” – SMOM 1998
- Letter from the Grand Master at the Emperor Paul I, July 6, 1799
- Epistle of Pope Pius VI to Bailiff de Litta 5th November 1798
- A. F. Artaud “Storia di Pio VII” translated by Abbot Caesar Rovida – Milan 1838
- Ukase 24.134 – February 26th 1810 – The British Library Ref: SN142 – 1810 Ukase 24.88 November 20th 1811 – The British Library Ref: SN142 – 1811
- The “Gazzetta di Milano” of April 16, 1819, with approval of the Austrian imperial board of censors, reported on its front page that the Lieutenant Grand Master Di Giovanni y Centelles rules in Catania the leftovers of the Order, while independently by this the Order of St. John preserves the Grand Priory of Bohemia and two others in Russia.
- Baron Michel de Taube “L’Empereur Paul Ier de Russie – Grand Maître de l’Ordre de Malte” Paris 1982
- A copy of the Vow with the signature of His Majesty is in the possession of the Grand Marshal Roberto Volpe for courtesy of the Bailiff Emeritus Roger Lindsay
- A copy of this Constitution is formally lodged in the National Archives of Malta and a number of notorised copies are also known to exist.
- A copy of the Proclamation with the signature of His Majesty and bearing the Seal of the Order is in the possession of the Grand Marshal Roberto Volpe for courtesy of the Bailiff Emeritus Roger Lindsay
- Prince Sergei Petrovich Troubetzkoy was born in the Ukraine on December 21st 1914 and died in Paris on July 1st 1965.
- The Concordat of Confederation was signed in Valletta, Malta by the Grand Priories or Priories of Malta, The Low Countries, Austria, Deutschschweitz, Eastern Canada, Flanders & Nordic. A copy of this document is formally lodged in the National Archives of Malta
- The Order has its Seat [ centre of administration ] at 223 St. Paul Street, Valletta, Malta which building is also the offices of the Russian Grand Priory of Malta. This building was purchased in 1981 with significant contributions from the Priory in Switzerland. The origins, of the present organisation on Malta, date back to a formal establishment of the Commandery of Malta on February 16th 1963. The Commandery was raised to a Priory of the Order on March 8th 1964 and on February 22nd 1970 became the Grand Priory of Russia.