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Lot 741

Estimate: 500 CHF   |   Starting price: 500 CHF Price realized: 650 CHF
The Knights of St. John in Malta. Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, 71st Grand Master, 1797-1799. 30 Tari, 1798 (struck during the French occupation 1798-1799). AR 29.67 g. F FERDINANDVS - HOMPESCH M.M. Bare-headed, cuirassed bust l., below, pellet. Rev. HOSPITAL.-ET - S.-SEP.HIER. - 17 - 98 Crowned double eagle, holding a cross in the beak, on its breast shield bearing the arms of the Grand Master and those of the Order, value T. - 30 to l. and r. of the crown. Azzopardi, Malta 957; Dav. 1611; Restelli-Sammut 205, 8 and pl.LXXXVII, 5; Schembri 188, 3 and pl. 25, 4.
Scarce variant. Extremely fine with nice patina
Provenance: Auction Galerie des Monnaies SA, Geneva March 28/29, 1968, 1030.
Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch, 1797-1798.
There is really little to be said about Hompesch except that he was undoubtedly the worst Grand Master the Order ever had. The situation of Malta vis-à-vis events in Europe had become steadily more ominous over the previous decade (Rohan had ordered the building of Fort Tigné – see the preceding lot – as yet another part of the protective ring around Valletta) and it was certain that Revolutionary France had its eye on the island. In addition a rather small number of French Knights clearly sympathized with the new regime and worked against the interests of the Order (it should be noted that the vast majority, however, were the most valiant defenders of the Island – in the final siege the Spanish Knights actually remained neutral because Spain was then allied to France). Hompesch, elected because of his diplomatic skills, absolutely refused to believe in a French attack and made no preparations to meet it (even though he was given very reliable reports that one was coming – he preferred to believe it was sailing straight to Egypt). With a motivated force of defenders, ample supplies and a strategy of holding the impregnable city of Valletta while leaving the rest of the island to the French invaders, Napoleon’s forces would have found themselves in severe trouble. The fortifications of Valletta were surely the most formidable of Europe – fully equipped with some 1400 cannon they would have been extremely difficult for the French army to overwhelm. In addition, Malta only had to hold out for a relatively short time because the British fleet under Admiral Nelson was actively hunting for Napoleon’s expeditionary force. The French forces had appeared off Malta on 9 June 1798, began landing on the 10th and, on the 12th, after Hompesch’s inaction insured its success, accepted the surrender of the Grand Master. Had Valletta held out just a few weeks the situation would have been entirely different: Napoleon was under orders not to risk the Egyptian Expedition if Malta resisted, and the possibility of his fleet being attacked by the British was an ever present danger. In fact, less than two months later, on 1 August, Nelson inflicted a crushing defeat on the French at the Battle of the Nile, sinking or capturing all but two of the French warships (including the huge French 100, L’Orient, which blew up taking all the great treasures Napoleon plundered from the Order to the bottom of Aboukir Bay). Had Nelson been able to do this earlier, while Napoleon was tied down attempting to take Valletta, he would have marooned Napoleon and his troops, thus changing European history. In any case, the French garrison on Malta did not last very long: the Maltese revolted in September 1799 and with British help the French surrendered a year later. The island remained a British possession until Malta became independent on 21 September 1964 (it became a republic on 13 December 1974).

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