In 2005 British knight bachelor, Sir Ridley Scott, released his epic film Kingdom of Heaven. This movie was about a knight returning from the Crusades and looking for the son he never knew. In this version of the story, the knight is Godfrey (Liam Neeson) and his son is Balian (Orlando Bloom). Godfrey and his trusted companion, the Master of the Hospital, persuade Balian to return with them to Jerusalem. This film chronicles his journey to the Middle East his rise to power and his knightly mission to protect those unable to protect themselves.
Western chivalric orders rose to prominence in 1099, during the Crusades, which were started by Godfrey de Bouillon. By 1120, he had inaugurated a number of highly specialized military leadership groups. These groups were called Orders of Chivalry, the two most famous survived to become independent Western world powers in their own right: The Hospital, The Order of Knights Hospitaler., and, The Temple, The Order of Knights Templar.
In addition to the military protection of pilgrims provided by the Order, the knights established their famous hospital in Jerusalem. The devotion of their voluntary care of the pilgrims and of the sick added much to their growing fame. By 1259, Pope Alexander IV was moved to flatter the Hospitalers by such superlatives that he addressed them as ‘a princely race’ … “the immovable pillar of the Church for the defence of the Holy Land, of which you are the renowned and stalwart champions, and the chosen protectors … you are the elect people of God and a princely race”.
In 900 years of many great victories the siege of Rhodes was one of the Orders’ great defeats. The Grand Master of the Hospital was finally banished from Rhodes by his conqueror the great Sultan, Sulieman the Magnificent, who turned to his Vizier and said, “I cannot help being concerned that I force this Christian, at his age, to go out of his home”. Sulieman also proved himself to be as chivalrous as any knight and a merciful victor.
It was Voltaire who said, “Nothing is better known than the Siege of Malta!” What was it? Why was Voltaire so moved to such superlatives? Voltaire was recalling the event two hundred years earlier, in 1565, when the Knights Hospitaler achieved their greatest victory. Under the order’s most famous leader, Jean Parisot de La Valette, a French nobleman and the 49th Grand Master of the Hospital, the knights defeated the Ottoman Empire at Malta in one of military history’s most famous battles.
In the aftermath of the French Revolution economic ruin made it impossible for the Order to maintain its international navy and infrastructure. The Order’s sovereign, Prince Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch, felt he had no choice but to face the reality of the new world order that had emerged and he decided, in 1798, to dissolve his sovereign government and surrender Malta to Napoleon without a single shot being fired. The Hospitaler knights withdrew to the Port of Amalfi and then scattered throughout Europe, many returning to their home counties and kingdoms. Soon after, new replicant groups began to emerge. The most famous example was to become the new Russian Order which was formed when a high-ranking group of ex-Hospital members sought the protection of the Czar and moved to Russia. They established a new Russian Orthodox Order, in St. Petersburg, with Czar Paul I of Russia as their Sovereign Grand Master.
At one point in its history the ancient Order of the Hospital was also known as The Religion. As a European Order the Hospital’s religion was one version or another of the Christian religion. It was at first predominantly Roman Catholic and then later, as European history evolved, the Order reflected that history by diversifying into Protestant and Russian Orthodox variations. While the Order of the School greatly respects and honours the rich culture of the ancient Christian Tradition of brotherly love, from which it draws down its chivalric memes, today’s Order has no religious, ideological or political affiliations of its own whatsoever.
In today’s Order, the Skill of Life is: owning the knowledge, training and applied skill needed to save a human life. For example, the knowledge of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and the ability to perform the skill in an emergency to restart a human heart. This is a skill of life. There are two ranks in the School: Esquires and Knights. An Esquire has the knowledge and training to save a human life. A Knight has used the training and actually saved a human life.