July 2012 Event: Ambivalence - Malta And The French Revolution

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MHA Event July 2012 2Guest speaker Jonathan HiliJonathan Hili was guest speaker at the monthly MHA activity in July. His talk was about the French Revolution that changed all Europe. Napoleon Bonaparte helped spread the change. Up to this day, we adopt some of the French Revolution's ideals, such as equality and liberty.

18th Century Malta had very strong links with France, not only diplomatic, but also cultural, economic and political. The Maltese nobility and middle class spoke French. Many of them were educated in France. They followed French fashion and depended on France for the wealth they enjoyed. So one should not be surprised to find Malta was shaken by the French Revolution. Some were optimistic that the changes offered hope, whilst other were wary.

The Maltese were considered citizens of France even under the Order of St John. In times of economic crises, Maltese depended heavily on the Knights and the Knights on France.

Pre-revolution, the clergy did not pay any taxes . However, after a few months of the revolution, the clergy and the nobles were stripped of power and land was confiscated. This was soon followed in Malta. This robbed the Knights of income – the Order lost half of its property. Ordinary Maltese were also hit hard . The blatant attack on the Church irked the conservative Maltese who declared themselves openly anti-revolution.

In the meantime, Malta tried to sign a pact both with England and the United States. It was hoped that Maltese people would emigrate to the States to alleviate the burden of unemployment. However, both pacts did not eventuate.

When Malta, being in a strategic position, decided to aid the anti-revolution coalition, the French Government made sure that the Order remained neutral.

But Malta was so weak, it could not oppose the revolution for another power, but it could surrender. There was a suggestion to give the Island to Spain to keep the English out.

On the death of Grandmaster De Rohan, a Frenchman, Ferdinand Hompesch, an Austrian, was elected Grandmaster. The French suspected that Austria had its eyes on Malta and thus become the power of the Mediterranean. This stirred the idea of an invasion of Malta. Hence Bonaparte was sent to oust the Order and take control. And take control he did! He plundered the churches and carried the loot off in his ship which was sunk in Alexandria (Egypt).

The Maltese were so oppressed and desperate that they too revolted against the French and won. Thus started British rule in Malta which lasted almost 200 years.

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