In this second part about the Order of the Knights of St. John Ms. Pietrzac talks about the history of the order in the 13th and 14th centuries.
From the period of the first settlement of the Order at Rhodes the war with the Turks, though desultory, had been continual. The Turkish empire, which, under its first Sultan Othma, already included many of the provinces of Asia Minor, extended itself into Europe in the reign of his son Orchan. Orchan’s son, Amurah, followed up his father’s victories with still greater success. Adrianople ( at no great distance from the walls of Constantinople) became the metropolis of the Ottoman dominion in Europe (a.d.1301) and the danger of the latter city became daily more and more imminent, for whilst, on the one side, Asia was in the hands of the infidels, they were on the other masters of all the Macedonian cities and provinces and from their position at Adrianople were able to attack and overrun the Bulgarian and Serbian principalities and thus the capital of the Greek emperors was gradually surrounded on all sides by the victorious Moslem. Two defences alone of any strength remained to the Christian arms on the shores of the Archipelago: they were the island of Rhodes and the devoted garrison of Smyrna. Christendom was divided after the death of Gregory XI, when a pope and an anti-pope claimed the obedience of the nations, which enabled a rapid extension of the Turkish conquests.
Regarding the Order of the Knights Hospitallers, the courageous Grand Master Heredia laid the Turkish governor dead at the siege of Patras.
At Corinth, he fell into an ambush and was taken prisoner and remained there for more than three years. Then Bajazet, the son of Amurath, began his extraordinary career. From Europe to Asia, he attacked Christian and infidel alike. In 1395 the fatal battle of Nicopolis was fought. Sigmund of Hungary found himself at the head of a hundred thousand men- the army of a new crusade which had at length been raised through the exertions of Pope Boniface IX, who proclaimed a plenary indulgence for all who should repair to the rescue of Hungary and the neighbouring kingdoms. It was composed of the forces of France, Venice, Greece, Hungary and the knights of St John. But the battle was lost with immense slaughter. Ten thousand Christian prisoners, among whom were three hundred of gentle birth were butchered in cold blood before the eyes of Bajazert himself, who sat at the entrance of his tent from daybreak to enjoy the horrid spectacle. This victory brought Bajazert to the walls of Constantinople. Athens was taken in 1397, and the Crescent, the symbol of the Ottoman Empire , shone over the ancient seat of learning and the arts. The Greek emperor had to recourse to Timour the Terrible, the khan of Tartary, whose jealousy of Bajazets’ successes induced him readily to listen to him. Therefore the Turks and Tartars met on the plains of Angora(a.d 1402), and after a bloody contest, the triumphs of Bajazet were terminated forever and he ended up in captivity. It followed as a matter of course, that the dominions of Bajazet were simply transferred into the hands of Timour, and with the single exception of the knights of Rhodes, all the princes of the East submitted to his yoke or acceded to his alliance.
In the next blog in this series we shall see the history of the nights in the 15th Century.