by John Carr
Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate Publishers, 2017. Pp. x, 218.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1473858887
The Wars of Knights of St. John
Founded nearly a thousand years ago to offer medical services for pilgrims in the Holy Land, and later adopting the mission of protecting the pilgrims and the holy places, the Knights of St. John have had a remarkable history. While their story had been told before, most notably in Ernle Bradford’s The Shield and the Sword (1972), journalist and historian Carr takes advantage of more recent scholarship to retell the Order’s military history.
Carr opens with some background on the Crusades, the founding of pilgrims’ hospitals in the Holy Land and elsewhere, and the origins of the Order, initially as a service order to assist pilgrims, which evolved into the mission of providing military protection for pilgrims and the holy places. He then traces the organization and spread of the Order across Europe and in the Holy Land.
Carr gives us a good account of the various campaigns in which the Knights were involved. He devotes several chapters to the role of the Order in the defense of the Christian states in the Holy Land, until their extinction in 1291. We then get a look at the Knights as they relocated to Cyprus and then Rhodes, which is treated in several chapters, concluding with their heroic but ultimately unsuccessful defense in 1522. Carr follows the Knights as the relocating, to Malta, covering the great Ottoman siege of 1565 well and the subsequent Battle of Lepanto in 1571. He then takes a look at the Order’s role in the protracted naval warfare between Christian and Moslem across the Mediterranean than continued down to the French conquest of Malta in 1798. He follows with several chapters that cover the Order’s relief mission, which still continues, more than two centuries after it abandoned its military duties.
Carr includes a good deal about the politics of the Order’s relations with the church and the many countries in which it operated, and even its internal political machinations. In the process of telling this story, Carr also gives us an overview of military practice and trends in the Mediterranean world from the Crusades through the age of Revolution.
This is a good read for anyone unfamiliar with the knights, marred unfortunately by a lack of maps, battle diagrams, or plans of some of the Order’s great castles.
Note: The Knights Hospitaller is also available in several e-editions