London: volume 2

Knight, Charles.


XXXIV.-St. John's Gate.

XXXIV.-St. John's Gate.




When Samuel Johnson saw Gate he

beheld it with reverence,

as he subsequently told his amusing biographer, Boswell. But Boswell gives his own interpretation of the cause of this reverence. Gate, he says, was the place where the

Gentleman's Magazine

was originally printed: and he adds,

I suppose, indeed, that every young author has had the same kind of feeling for the magazine or periodical publication which has


entertained him.

He continues, with happy ,

I myself recollect such impressions from the

Scot's Magazine.

Mr. Croker, in his valuable notes to Boswell's


has a very rational doubt of the correctness of this explanation:

If, as Mr. Boswell supposes, Johnson looked at

St. John's

Gate as the printing-office of Cave, surely a less emphatical term than


would have been more just. The

Gentleman's Magazine

had been, at this time, but


years before the public, and its contents were, until Johnson himself contributed to improve it, entitled to anything rather than


; but it is more probable that Johnson's


was excited by the recollections connected with the ancient gate itself, the last relic of the once extensive and magnificent priory of the

heroic knights of the order of St. John of Jerusalem, suppressed at the dissolution, and destroyed by successive dilapidations.

A century is passed away since Johnson, from whatever motive, beheld with reverence the old gate of the hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. There it still remains, in a quarter of the town little visited, with scarcely another relic of antiquity immediately about it. Extensive improvements are going forward in its neighbourhood; and it may probably be day swept away with as ruthless a hand as that of the Protector Somerset, who blew up the stately buildings of the hospital to procure materials for his own palace in . May it be preserved from the most complete of all destroyers--the building speculator! It has to us a double interest. It is the representative of the days of chivalrous enthusiasm on the hand, and of popular improvement on the other. The order, which dates from the days of Godfrey of Bouillon, has perished, even in our own time--an anomaly in the age up to which it had survived. The general desire for knowledge, which gave birth to the

Gentleman's Magazine,

is an increasing power, and which depends upon no splendid endowments and no stately mansions for its maintenance and ornament. Cave, the printer, was the accidental successor of the Prior of the Hospital of St. John. But, representing the freedom of public opinion, he was the natural successor of the despotic power of a secret society. At any rate, the accident invests Gate with an interest which would not otherwise belong to it; and in its double character we may not be ashamed to behold it

with reverence.

Before we carry ourselves and our readers into the past, we must, however, request their companionship while we examine what Gate now is. At the head of this paper they have a representation of its present external appearance: but a peep into the interior may furnish some amusing contrasts with the days of the Edwards and Henries.

Turning out of Street to enter Lane--a narrow street which runs obliquely from that wide thoroughfare--the Gate presents itself to our view, completely closing the road, and leaving a passage into only through the archway. The large masses of stone of which the Gate is composed are much decayed; but the groined arch has recently been restored. This restoration, which appears to have proceeded from a desire to preserve this monument as public property, seems out of character with the purposes to which the Gateway is devoted. A huge board which surmounts the archway informs us that we may here solace ourselves with the hospitalities of the Jerusalem Tavern; and, that we may understand that the entertainment which may be set before us will not be subjected to any of the original notions of abstinence which a pilgrim might once have been expected to bring within these walls, a window of a house or bulk, on the eastern side of the Gateway, displays all the attractions of bottles with golden labels of

Cordial Gin,

Pineapple Rum,


Real Cognac.

We pass under the arch, and perceive that the modern runs through the eastern side of the Gateway, and connects with premises at either end. We are here invited

To the Parlour;

and we enter. A comfortable room is that parlour, with its tables checkered with many a liquorstain; and genius has here its due honours, for Dr. Johnson's favourite seat is


carefully pointed out. But the tavern has higher attractions than its parlour fireside with Dr. Johnson's corner; it has a

Grand Hall,

where the

Knights of Jerusalem

still assemble in solemn conclave every Monday evening. It was long before we ventured to ask whether any uninitiated eyes might see that Grand Hall; but we did take courage, and most obligingly were we conducted to it. We ascended the eastern turret by a broad staircase (but certainly not of the date of the original building), and we were soon in the central room of the Gateway. It is a fine lofty room, and, if there be few remains of ancient magnificence-no elaborate carvings, no quaint inscriptions, nor

storied windows,

--the spirit of the past has been evoked from the ruins of the great military order, to confer dignities and splendours on the peaceful burghers who are now wont here to congregate. Banners, gaudy with gold and vermilion, float upon the walls; and, if the actual

armoury of the invincible knights

be wanting, there are or cuirasses which look as grim and awful as any

Bruised arms hung up for monuments.

Nor are the fine arts absent from the decoration of this apartment. Sculpture has here given us a coloured effigy of some redoubted Hospitaller; and painting has lovingly united under the same ceiling the stern countenance of Prior Dockwra, the builder of the Gate, and the sleek and benign likenesses of the worshipful founders of the modern Order. Their names may day have a European fame, like those of Fulk de Villaret and Pierre d«Aubusson; but in the mean while history records not their exploits, and we shall be silent as to their names. They are quiet lawgivers, and not rampaging warriors. They have done the wise thing which poetry abhors-changed

swords for ledgers.

Instead of secret oaths and terrible mysteries, they invite all men to enter their community at the small price of twopence each night. Instead of vain covenants to drink nothing but water, and rejoice in a crust of mouldy bread, the visitor may call for anything for which he has the means of payment, even to the delicacies of kidneys, tripe, and Welsh rabbits. The edicts of this happy brotherhood are inscribed in letters of gold for all men to read; and the virtuous regard which they display for the morals of their community presents a striking contrast to the reputed excesses of the military Orders. The code has only articles, and of them is especially directed against the singing of improper songs. Here then is mirth without licentiousness, ambition without violence, power without oppression. When the Grand Master ascends the throne which is here erected as the best eminence to which a Knight of Jerusalem may now aspire, wearing his robes of state, and surrounded by his great commanders, also in their

weeds of peace,

no clangour of trumpets rends the air; but the mahogany tables are drummed upon by a ungauntleted hands, and a gentle cloud of incense arises from the pipes which send forth their perfume from every mouth. Would we had partaken of that inspiration! After the hour the dimensions of the

Grand Hall

of the Jerusalem Tavern would have expanded into the form and proportions of the

Great Hall

of the Priory of St. John. The smoke-coloured ceiling would have lifted itself up into a groined roof, glorious with the heraldry of many a Crusader or Knight of Rhodes. The drowsy echoes of

tol de rol


derry down

would have melted into solemn strains of impassioned


devotion: and the story times told, how Jenkins beat his wife and was taken to the police-station, would have slided into a soft tale of a Troubadour discovering his lady-love who had followed him through Palestine as a pretty page. Slowly, but surely, the green coats and the blue, the butcher's frock and the grocer's apron, would have become shadowed into as many black robes; and in the very height of our ecstacy the white cross would have grown on every man's breast out of its symbolical red field. Then the

order, order

of the chairman would have become a battle-cry; the knock of his hammer would have been the sound of the distant culverin; the hiccups of the far-gone sipper of treble-X ale would have represented the groans of the wounded. We should have fallen asleep, and have dreamt a much more vivid picture of the ancient glories of the Priory of St. John of Jerusalem than we can hope to present with the aid of obscure chronicles and perishing fragments--the things which the antiquary digs up, and, when he has brought them to light in his erudite pages, has the satisfaction to be called


of those industrious who are only re-burying the dead.

[n.136.1]  In the century, when the ardour of pilgrimage was inflamed anew, there was a hospital within the walls of Jerusalem for the use of the Latin pilgrims, which had been erected by Italian traders, chiefly of Amalfi. Near this hospital, and within a stone's cast of the church of the Holy Sepulchre, they erected, with the permission of the Egyptian Khalif, a church dedicated to the Holy Virgin, which was usually called Sta. Maria de Latina. In this hospital abode an abbot and a good number of monks, who were of the Latin church, and followed the rule of St. Benedict. They devoted themselves to the reception and entertainment of pilgrims, and gave alms to those who were poor, or had been rifled by robbers, to enable them to pay the tax required by the Moslems for permission to visit the holy places. When the number of the pilgrims became so great that the hospital was incapable of receiving them all, the monks raised another close by their church, with a chapel dedicated to a canonized Patriarch of Alexandria, named St. John Eleemon, or the Compassionate. At the time when the army of the Crusaders appeared before the walls of Jerusalem the Hospital of St. John was presided over by Gerard, a native of Provence, a man of great uprightness and of exemplary piety. His benevolence was of a truly Christian character, and far transcended that of his age in general. When the city was taken, numbers of the wounded pilgrims were received, and their wounds tended, in the Hospital of St. John, and the pious Duke Godfrey, on visiting them some days afterwards, heard nothing but the praises of the good Gerard and his monks. Emboldened by the universal favour which they enjoyed, Gerard and his companions expressed their wish to separate themselves from the monastery of Sta. Maria de Latina, and pursue their works of charity alone and independently. Their desire met no opposition: they drew up a rule for themselves, to which they made a vow of obedience in presence of the Patriarch, and assumed as their dress a black mantle with a white cross on the breast. The humility of these Hospitallers was extreme. The finest flour went to compose the food which they gave to the sick and poor; what remained after they were satisfied, mingled with clay, was the repast of the monks. As long as the


brotherhood were poor, they continued in obedience to the Abbot of Sta. Maria de Latina, and also paid tithes to the Patriarch. But a tide of wealth soon began to flow in upon them. Duke Godfrey, enamoured of their virtue, bestowed on them his lordship of Montboire, in Brabant, with all its appurtenances; and his brother and successor, Baldwin, gave them a share of all the booty taken from the infidels. These examples were followed by other Christian princes; so that within the space of a very few years the Hospital of St. John was in possession of numerous manors both in the East and in Europe, which were placed under the management of members of their society.

It has been observed that

London, for some years before the Reformation, contained an extraordinary number of religious edifices and churches, which occupied nearly


-thirds of the entire area.

[n.137.1]  The writer of the article from which we quote makes an enumeration of the various Friaries, Abbeys, Priories, Nunneries, Colleges, Hospitals having resident Brotherhoods, Fraternities, and Episcopal residences, the mere catalogue of which is a very remarkable exhibition of the amazing wealth of the Church which was assembled within the compass of a few miles. Of these, the Priory of St. John of Jerusalem, in Clerkenwell, was amongst the most important. It was founded about the year by Jordan Briset, a baron of the kingdom, and Muriel, his wife. This was the period of the Crusade, when Godfrey of Bouillon had driven the infidels from the Holy Land, and was elected the Christian king of Jerusalem. But it was some years later that the servants of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem became a military order of monks, the body of men united by religious vows who wielded the temporal sword against the enemies of the faith. The Order, in process of time, became divided into classes, or languages--the Italian German, Arragonese, and English; with the great dialects of France, the Provençal, the Auvergne, and the common French. The sons of the noblest houses of Europe pressed for admission into its ranks. According to their vows, they were to be the servants of the poor and sick, to renounce all personal property, to preserve their chastity, to render implicit obedience to the superior placed over them. When the new brother was admitted he was thus addressed-

Receive the yoke of the Lord: it is easy and light, and you shall find rest for your soul. We promise you nothing but bread and water, a simple habit and of little worth. We give you, your parents, and relations, a share in the good works performed by our Order, and by our brethren, both now and hereafter, throughout the world.

Cowardice in the field involved the heaviest disgrace, expulsion from the Order:

We place this Cross on your breast, my brother,

says the ritual of admission,

that you may love it with all your heart; and may your right hand ever fight in its defence, and for its preservation! Should it ever happen that, in combating against the ,enemies of the faith, you should retreat, desert the standard of the Cross, and take to flight, you will be stripped of this truly holy sign, according to the statutes and customs of the Order, as having broken the vows you have just taken, and you will be cut off from our body as an unsound and corrupt member.

Cowardice was not the vice of the Knights of St. John. For centuries they maintained the reputation of the


most indomitable courage; and their heroic exploits, with which all Europe rang, were not so much the result of military skill as of personal bravery carried to the extreme of daring and endurance by religious enthusiasm. Their vices were the natural consequences of enormous wealth and power. Pride and luxury soon displayed themselves as their distinguishing characteristics. Their professions of self-denial came to be looked upon as mere formalities, when the richest domains in Christendom were poured into the lap of the Order by those who in becoming brethren renounced all personal property. In the century the Order is reputed to have possessed manors in various Christian lands. This was the period of their highest elevation. The century which succeeded the taking of Ascalon and Gaza in saw the Knights of St. John everywhere victorious against the infidels, and triumphant over the great rival Order of the Templars. But the jealousy of these Orders was of the chief causes of the decline of the Christian power in the Holy Land. Their mutual hatred was at the height, when the Hospitallers sustained their signal defeat from the Kharismian Mohammedans, about the middle of the century. The subsequent events, till the expulsion of the Christians from the Holy Land, have been briefly and graphically narrated in a periodical publication;[n.138.1]  and, with the permission of the author, we shall transfer the substance, and occasionally the words, of his narrative to these pages. The hatred between the rival Orders became so intense, that in , after many sanguinary skirmishes, they resolved to try their lances in a pitched and general engagement. The combat was more terrific than any that had been fought for many years with the Mohammedans. The Knights of St. John, who in the end were the victors, gave no quarter, and scarcely a Templar escaped to give an account of the affair to his Order. The thinned ranks of the Red Cross Knights were, however, gradually filled by the arrival of brethren from Europe, and the presence of a new common enemy, more ferocious than any they had hitherto contended with, obliged the Orders to suspend their hostilities and co-operate for mutual preservation. In the war that ensued, though obliged to give way in all directions before an immeasurable superiority of numbers, the Knights of St. John, and those of the Red Cross, fought with all their ancient valour. Hospitallers long defended the fortress of Azotus, and, when the Mamlukes of Bendocdar carried the place by assault, they walked over the dead bodies of the last of those gallant knights. Saphoury was defended by a small band of Templars who were equally brave, and also fell to a man. The conquering Mamlukes took Nazareth, Caesarea, Tyre, Jaffa, Antioch, and other places, and carried fire and sword to the very gates of Acre, the strongest fortress and the main stay of the Christians in the East. The progress of the Mohammedans was checked for a while by the arrival of fresh crusaders from Europe, and by the valour and skill of Prince Edward of England (afterwards Edward I.), who, after obtaining several victories over them, concluded a treaty in , which secured to the Christians a years' peace. But in the cloud of war again burst upon the few places that remained in the possession of the Europeans, and by the Sultan of Egypt was enabled to lay siege to Acre, the last of


their strongholds, which, however, did not fall until the military Orders of Knights were nearly exterminated, and many thousands of the Mamlukes had bitten the dust. At the moment of crisis, while the Mohammedans were rushing to the breaches, the Knights of St. John, headed by their Grand Master, secretly left the city, and, stealing to the enemy's rear, rushed into his camp. The Sultan, however, was not taken by surprise; a host of Mamlukes met the devoted band, who at that instant received the discouraging news that the Grand Master of the Templars had fallen, together with nearly all his Knights, and that Acre was in possession of the infidels. They then turned their steps towards the sea, fighting all the way, and on the shore they found a small boat into which they threw themselves. A large vessel was not requisite-only Knights remained alive. This sad remnant of a numerous body fled for refuge to Cyprus, which island was in the hands of a Christian prince; and, though a handful of Templars for a short time renewed the hopeless struggle, the Holy Land was lost with the fall of Acre and the departure of the Hospitallers. Soon after their arrival at Limisso, in Cyprus, the Grand Master sent to Europe to summon a general chapter of the Order, and the absent Knights of St. John, wherever they were scattered, hastily attended to the call and embarked for the East. But the crusading mania had worn itself out--the Knights were not seconded by troops and money from Europe,--an attack on Palestine was therefore out of the question, and, after more years had been spent, the greatest conquest the Hospitallers could aspire to was the island of Rhodes. They gained possession of that island in .

From the establishment of the Order of the Knights of St. John to their expulsion from the Holy Land, we have little worth recording in connexion with their great Priory at London. There is a register, amongst the Cotton Manuscripts in the , of the names of the Masters and Priors of the Hospital, from a very early period; and an imperfect list of the manors belonging to the Order in England has also been collected. Their possessions in the immediate neighbourhood of London appear to have been very considerable. But these documents would be uninteresting to our readers, belonging as they do only to the material things of the past, and disclosing very little of its mind. We shall therefore continue to trace the general career of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, now the Knights of Rhodes, from their occupation of that island to its conquest by the Turks, after the heroic Knights had held possession of it for centuries; availing ourselves of the narrative to which we have already referred.

The Knights found Rhodes in the possession of a set of Mohammedan pirates and Greek rebels, who had long set the falling government of the Eastern Emperors at defiance. The island itself was in a deplorable state, scarcely a vestige remaining of its ancient prosperity and splendour. Greeks and Turks, however, left off cutting another's throats, and, joining arms, made such a stand against the Christians of the West, that it took the Hospitallers years to reduce them. During this time many battles were fought; and so severe was the loss occasioned to the Latins, and so dim the prospect of final success, that the surviving crusaders and adventurers, band after band, returned to Europe, until


none were left but the troops of the Order, who were at that time laying siege to the strong capital of the island. At this juncture the Greek emperor, by an extraordinary effort, had thrown a considerable force upon the island, with the vain hope that, should he dispossess the Latins, the Greeks and Mohammedans would submit to his sway. Abandoned by their allies, and hemmed in by their enemies, who continued to increase their force, the Knights, from being besiegers, saw themselves besieged in the works they had erected for the purpose of taking the city of Rhodes. For some time they had been in want of money and provisions; but the energetic efforts of Fulk de Villaret, the Grand Master, in the mean time had been taking effect; loans contracted with the bankers of Florence, and sums supplied by the commanderies and estates of the Order in Europe, began to arrive, and, with gold in his hands, Fulk could procure food, men, and arms. He soon found himself in a condition to make a sortie, and, issuing from his intrenchments, he fell upon his beleaguerers. The movement led to a general engagement, in which the Grand Master was victorious, though not until he had lost the bravest of his Knights. The siege was then renewed; and, finally, on the Festival of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary (), the principal outworks being taken, the Knights advanced, at the head of the troops, to the assault,--succeeded in planting the Grand Master's standard on the walls, --and then Rhodes was carried with much slaughter. Shortly after these successes the Grand Master reduced the neighbouring islands of Telos, Syme, Nisyros, Cos, Calymna, and Leros, and established the authority of the Order in nearly every of that famous group called by the ancients the


and of which Rhodes may be considered the chief. After these conquests, which put him in possession of what might be called a little kingdom, the Grand Master returned in triumph to Rhodes, where he hoped to enjoy peace and repose ; but in looking forward he had not made a proper estimate of the power and ambition of the Turkish princes of the House of Osman, who had taken a large part of the neighbouring continent of Asia Minor from the Greeks, and who, shortly after his return, fell upon him at Rhodes. The Knights were hotly besieged within the walls and towers they had so recently taken, and which, from want of time, they had not put in sufficient repair. The Osmanlis, with the vigour and fierceness that distinguished their early career, made several assaults, but the Hospitallers repelled attack after attack, and eventually forced the Turks to raise the siege and embark for the main.

Fulk de Villaret, who had other and higher talents than the merely military, applied himself assiduously to the means of reviving commerce, and restoring Rhodes and its dependencies to their ancient flourishing state. He weighed the resources of these beautiful islands, and found them great. The Grand Master very wisely made the port of Rhodes free and open to all nations. Many of the Christians who, since the loss of Palestine, had been living scattered through Greece, flocked to Rhodes, to settle there and enjoy the protection of the standard of St. John. Trade brought others who wholly or partially established themselves, and kept up a communication with the coasts of Asia Minor, Syria, Greece, and Italy; and out of this medley of knights and burgesses, foreigners and inhabitants, both of the Greek and Roman church, there arose, as Vertot


observes, a new, warlike, and commercial state, that soon became as powerful by its riches as it was formidable by the courage and valour of its sovereign Knights. The fame of these conquests and solid establishments soon spread in Europe, where they produced effects most favourable to the Knights; and, soon after, a large portion of the property of the Templars, who had been suppressed in , was made over by the Pope and the European kings to the Order of St. John. This inheritance of the spoils of their old rivals and bitter enemies increased their pride even more than their wealth, which was now supplied by many streams.

Next to trade with friendly orthodox powers, the most enriching employment of the Knights was in privateering or cruising against Mohammedan vessels of all kinds, and against such ships or boats of the heterodox Greeks as were by them deemed to be piratical. Their vows bound them to perpetual war against the Turks, and the clearing the seas of pirates was a seemly addition to their holy duties, it unfortunately happened that, as they made their own admiralty court and laws, they not unfrequently seized and condemned Greek vessels which were not fair prizes. Every Knight was bound to make at least cruise in the course of the year: these cruises, in the language of the Order, were called


a term constantly occurring in the history of the Hospitallers. On the summit of a mountain in the island of Syme Fulk de Villaret had erected a lofty tower, whence ships could be discovered at a great distance. As soon as a strange sail was signalled, which was done by lighting fires at night, and making a dense smoke if by day, the pinks and light frigates of Syme, the row-boats and galleys of Rhodes, the feluccas and swift vessels of others of the islands, were got under weigh, and escape from so many pursuers became almost impossible. This mode of life was soon found to be altogether incompatible with the vows and discipline of the Order. Enriched by prize-money, and constantly excited by adventure and rapid change of associates and scenes, the Knights commanding the squadrons lost all semblance of a monastic body. On their return from successful caravans they gamed and drank, and indulged in other debaucheries, making the

religious city

of Rhodes look very like a profane Portsmouth or Plymouth in war-time. These excesses were followed by insubordination, jealousies, and dissensions. The Knights were in this state in , when the Osmanli prince Orchan endeavoured to drive them out of Rhodes and the rest of the Sporades. The best of their ships were absent on caravans; but, throwing themselves on board the galleys and merchant-vessels in port, and being aided by a small Genoese squadron, the Hospitallers, instead of awaiting the attack of the Turks on land, boldly put to sea with a very inferior force, and, anticipating the enemy, thoroughly defeated him. On this, as on many other occasions, the Knights of St. John merited the name of naval heroes. In the squadrons of the Order, which now scoured, as masters, the whole of the western coast of Asia Minor, took the fort and part of the town of Smyrna from the Turks. They retained this footing on the Asiatic continent for years, but did not extend their small territory there, which, however, was valuable as a trading mart, while it enabled them to put down the Turkish corsairs that used to infest the Gulf of Smyrna. When the Knights were dispossessed they had at least the honour of ceding to a great conqueror, for, it was Tamerlane who took their Castle of Smyrna by storm in . In


the period included between and the Hospitallers had performed many exploits, and entertained projects of a truly gigantic ambition. In they went into Lesser Armenia, to defend the Christian king of that country against the Mohammedans; and at time they are supposed to have contemplated the] re-establishment of the great kingdom of Armenia as an appanage to their Order. In they proposed the conquest of the Morea, and would have undertaken it but for the death of the Pope, who had gone into their views. years later they aimed at sovereignty in Egypt; and with Peter I., the Christian king of Cyprus, they actually took Alexandria, which city, however, they were obliged to abandon in a few days. In , when the Babylonish captivity of the Christian Church, as Petrarca called it, came to an end, and it was resolved that thenceforward the Popes should reside at Rome, and not at Avignon, the Grand Master, with the best of his galleys, had the honour of escorting Gregory XI. from the mouths of the Rhone to the mouth of the Tiber. During the same year, in conjunction with the Venetians, they took Patras, and in the year following, with the same allies, attempted the conquest of the whole of the Morea. There, however, they were very unsuccessful, and Juan Fernandez de Heredia was taken prisoner. In they joined the league of the Christian princes against Bajazet, and fought in the fatal battle of Nicopolis, where many of the Knights perished, and the Grand Master escaped with difficulty by throwing himself into a fishing-boat.

Some bold attempts to regain Palestine and maritime Syria seem to have failed through the Venetians, who played them false, and through the jealousies of the Christian powers generally. Retaining their maritime supremacy, the Knights continued to distress the Turks and Egyptians, until, at last, scarcely a vessel bearing a Mohammedan flag could put to sea without being seized and carried into Rhodes. times did the Mussulmans make prodigious efforts to dislodge the Knights from the Sporades, and times were they signally defeated by the intrepidity and superior skill of the Hospitallers. In of these expeditions the Egyptians succeeded in landing on Rhodes eighteen men, who, after a siege of days, were forced to re-embark. This was in ; but a far more memorable siege [was which the Order gallantly sustained for days in , when the conquering arms of Mohammed II. were foiled and covered with disgrace. The Turks, fleeing to their galleys with a host of wounded and dying, are said to have left dead before the strong and well-defended walls of Rhodes. During this siege the brave Master of the Order, Pierre d«Aubusson, received no fewer than wounds. But this was the last great achievement of the Knights during their possession of Rhodes. The Turks had become more and more formidable since their conquest of Constantinople, and in their Greek subjects, who hated the Knights with a constant hatred, they found plenty of able seamen to conduct their fleets. When Sultan Solyman IV., commonly called

The Magnificent,

succeeded to the Osmanli Empire, at the end of , he was a young man, vigorous and enterprising, and in the earliest days of his reign (a favourable omen in Turkish superstition) the conquest of Rhodes was determined upon, let it cost what blood it might. It was not, however, until , that Solyman's tremendous armament appeared before Rhodes, and then indeed began a series of losses and sacrifices,


which were followed by victory, but which rendered Rhodes the dearest conquest the Turks had ever made. Before beginning the siege Solyman summoned the Knights to surrender, and historians pretend to have preserved translations of the Sultan's letter:--

The continual robberies with which you molest our faithful subjects

(we quote from Vertot),

and the insolence you offer our majesty, oblige us to require you to deliver up to us immediately the island and fortress of Rhodes. If you do this readily, we swear by the God who made heaven and earth, by the



twenty thousand

prophets, and by our great prophet Mohammed, that you shall have full liberty to go out of the island, and the inhabitants to remain there, without any injury: but if you do not submit immediately to our commands, you shall all be cut to pieces with our terrible sword, and the towers, walls, and bastions of Rhodes shall be made level with the grass that grows at the foot of those fortifications.

To this summons the Knights would give no reply save such

as should be spoken by the mouths of their cannon.

The force of the Turks was undoubtedly great, but in Asiatic armies there are always numerous hordes that cannot be considered as soldiers, and the total of men was probably exaggerated by the Christians, who set down their own force at no more than Knights, regular troops, and some companies of militia raised on the island among both Greeks and Latins. But, in the course of centuries, the knights of St. John had rendered the town of Rhodes of the strongest places in the world. In the words of an old writer, it was

compassed with a most strong double wall and wide and deep trenches; it had


stately towers and


mighty bulwarks;

in addition to all which there were many natural advantages. When the Turks, after days of hesitation and inaction, began to fire upon the fortress, the Knights took up their positions according to their nations, or the


into which they were divided by the Order. Extending from the French tower stood the French, with the lilies of France in their banners,--thence to Gate lay the stout Germans, with the eagle in their ensigns,from the Gate of St. George frowned the English,--after them came the Spaniards and the Knights of Auvergne,--then the Italians, in valour not inferior to any of the rest; and L«Isle Adam, the aged but active and heroic Grand Master, quitting his palace, took post hard by the church of

St. Mary of Victory,

whence he could best succour any point that should be hard pressed by the infidels.

Nothing could be more unsuccessful than the operations of the besiegers. The Knights destroyed their works, overturned their artillery with the cannons on the walls, and then, by sudden sorties, cut many Turks to pieces in the trenches they were digging. The assailants were discouraged, the Pashas in command confused, and, but for the arrival of Sultan Solyman himself with a reinforcement, which is stated as high as men, the Turks, who had suffered tremendous losses, must have retired. Even after the arrival of the Sultan, who forced his men to the deadly breach, and threw away human life without calculation or compunction, the siege proceeded very slowly, and the most determined resistance was made by the Knights at every point. The bulwark blown up was the English, but successive times did the brave warriors who


defended it drive the Turks back from the breach, and tear down the Mussulman flag they had planted there. When the siege had lasted months, many persons within the town proposed that the Knights should capitulate; but old L«Isle Adam, who seemed determined to be buried under the falling walls, would not listen to them; and though neglected and abandoned by all Christendom, and left to his own limited resources, he actually made good his defence for months longer; and even then, when his gunpowder and provisions were alike exhausted, obtained an honourable capitulation, with permission to retire with his surviving Knights whithersoever he might choose. Between the killed and wounded, and those who died of fevers and contagious disorders, the Turks are said to have lost upwards of men during the months' siege of Rhodes.

There was a sort of barbaric grandeur, mixed with magnanimity, and now and then a gleam of gentle feeling, in Sultan Solyman. When he entered the city of Rhodes as a conqueror, he paid a respectful visit to the vanquished Grand Master, and, touched by his misfortunes, his resignation, and his age, he said to his officers on quitting L«Isle Adam,

It is not without pain that I force this Christian, at his time of life, to leave his dwelling.

During the century, and probably for some short period after their conquest of Rhodes, the Knights of St. John may have dwelt within their Priory of Clerkenwell, in the discharge of their vows of benevolence, employing their great possessions, according to the Bull of Pope Anastasius IV.,

for the maintenance of the poor.

They might have been seen, as the most favourable of their historians represent them to have been engaged, attending the sick, feeding the hungry, spending their own leisure in prayer and meditation, avoiding all idle pastimes-preserving the gravity becoming men dedicated to the service of the Cross. But it is unquestionable that before the end of the century they had incurred the hatred of the common people, and there is little doubt that they had deserved it by their tyranny and licentiousness. In the great rebellion of the Commons of Essex and Kent, in the reign of Richard II., their especial fury was directed against the houses and possessions of the Knights of St. John. The personal demeanour of the Prior of the Order might have somewhat provoked this rancour; for when the rebels had assembled on Blackheath, and demanded a conference with the King, Sir Robert Hales, who was not only the Prior of but Lord Treasurer of the kingdom, counselled only wrath and punishment. Their demands being reported

when this tale was told to the King, there were some that thought it best that he should go to them, and know what their meaning was; but Simon de Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury, that was Lord Chancellor, and also Sir Robert Hales, Lord of

St. John's

, and as then Lord Treasurer, spake earnestly against that advice, and would not by any means that the King should go to such a sort of bare-legged ribalds; but rather they wished that he should take some order to abate the pride of such vile rascals.

[n.144.1]  But the rebels of Essex had previously displayed their animosity towards the belligerent Prior.

At that same time the great Prior of St. John of Jerusalem, by London, having a goodly and delectable manor in Essex, wherein was ordained victuals

and other necessaries for the use of a Chapter General, and great abundance of fair stuff,--of wines, arras, clothes, and other provision for the Knights brethren, --the Commons entered this manor, ate up the victuals and provision of wine,


tun, and spoiled the manor and the ground with great damage.

[n.145.1]  This passage gives us some notion how far, in , the Knights had departed from the original rules of the Order, to eat nothing but bread and water, and wear none but the coarsest garments. The vengeance of the rebels was no doubt especially directed towards the Knights of St. John from the open display of their riches. Amongst their acts after they entered London, when they had set loose the prisoners of the Marshalsea, and spoiled the goods and destroyed the records of , was the destruction of another manor belonging to the great Prior.

The next day, being Thursday, and the feast of Corpus Christi, or the

thirteenth of June

, the Commons of Essex in the morning went to the manor of Highbury,


miles from London, north: this manor, belonging to the Prior of St. John of Jerusalem, they wholly consumed with fire.

[n.145.2]  After the suppression of the Order of the Templars their possessions in London were granted to the Knights of St. John; and in the reign of Edward III. the students of law became the occupiers of the Temple. But it would appear from the fury of the rebels in the reign of Richard II. that the property was still considered to belong to the obnoxious Order of St. John.

The Commons of Kent brake up the Fleet, and let the prisoners go where they would. They destroyed and burnt many houses, and defaced the beauty of

Fleet Street

. From thence they went to the Temple to destroy it, and plucked down the houses, took off the tiles of the other buildings left, went to the church, took out all the books and remembrances that were in hutches of the Prentices of the Law, carried them into the high street, and there burnt them. This house they spoiled for wrath they bare to the Prior of

St. John's

, unto whom it belonged.

But their vengeance was not yet satiated:

A number of them that burnt the Temple went from thence towards the Savoy, destroying all the houses that belonged to the Hospital of St. John.

The other Commons that were in the city went to the Hospital of St. John, and by the way burnt the house of Robert Legat, lately beheaded. They burnt all the houses belonging to

St. John's

; and then burnt the fair Priory of the Hospital of St. John, causing the same to burn the space of


days after. At what time, the King being in a turret of the Tower, and seeing the manors of Savoy, the Priory of

St. John's

Hospital, and other houses on fire, he demanded of his Council what was best to do in that extremity, but none of them could counsel in that case.


Froissart says that after the destruction of the Savoy the rebels

went strait to the fair hospital of the Rhodes, called

St. John's

, and there they brent house, hospital, minster, and all.

We may form some notion of the great extent of the buildings of the Hospital from the circumstances that they were days in being consumed, and that the affrighted young King saw the flames from his distant turret in the Tower. Sir Robert Hales, the Prior, perished under the axe of the rebels.

Thus, then, wide sweeping destruction, centuries and a half ago, removed every monument of the early magnificence of the Priory of St. John.


During the next century the work of re-edification went slowly forward. Successive Priors again raised a conventual church, whose bell-tower was of the glories of London; and the old site was again covered with buildings suited to the accommodation of a rich and powerful fraternity. But the perpetual attempts of the Turks to dispossess the Order of their stronghold at Rhodes demanded contributions from the brethren in all countries; and those of England were not slow in rendering efficient aid, both in treasure and knightly service. Stow, in his

Survey of London,

has preserved a letter of safe-conduct from Henry IV. to Walter Grendon, Prior of , who was about to join the brethren in Rhodes, to fight against the infidels. The original is in Latin; and is addressed in a style of considerable authority, demanding protection for this well-beloved Prior, noble in arms, profound in piety, from all kings, princes, dukes, and every other description of potentate. He is to have safe and free passage, with other persons and horses; and the gold and silver, the robes and vestments, which he carries with him, are especially protected. As the tenure of Rhodes became more and more precarious, the applications for assistance became more urgent; and the revenues of particular commanderies of the Order in England were anticipated, to furnish out gallant adventurers for the succour of the Christian knights. Malcolm prints an indenture between Thomas Dockwra, Prior of the Order, and Sir Thomas Newport, dated the , by which commanderies are granted to certain persons for years, in consideration of sterling, which the said Sir Thomas Newport hath anticipated of the said commanderies,

for to supply his expenses in his journey to Rhodes, and in Rhodes, in service of the religion and succour of the city of Rhodes; which city is at the point to be besieged by the great Turk named Selymis.

Prior Dockwra had need to anticipate the revenues of the Order; for he was a liberal dispenser of the funds of the brotherhood.[n.146.1]  He finished the Church at Clerkenwell, and he built the Gate. Hollar has engraved in Dugdale's


a representation of what remained of this magnificent Priory somewhat more than a century after Dockwra had completed its renovation.

But there arose a destroyer more ruthless even than Wat Tyler's mob, and whose power was far more abiding. When the heroic defenders of Rhodes quitted the island for ever, on the , they were driven from


place to place in search of a house of refuge, and finally took possession of Malta, by a grant from Charles V., in . They were once more busy upon the sea, and projecting expeditions against their ancient enemies. But they soon received a blow which diminished their importance even more than the conquest of Rhodes. Henry VIII. suppressed the Order in England; and it is said that this event broke the heart of poor old L«Isle Adam. The remaining history of the great Priory is quaintly told by Stow:

This House, at the suppression in the


Henry VIII., was valued to dispend in lands

3385l. 19s. 8d.

yearly. Sir William Weston, being then Lord Prior, died on the same

7th of May

on which the House was suppressed. So that, great yearly pensions being granted to the Knights by the King, and namely to the Lord Prior during his life


(but he never received penny), the King took into his hands all the lands that belonged to that House and that Order, wheresoever in England and Ireland, for the augmentation of his Crown. This Priory, Church, and House of St. John was preserved from spoil and down-pulling so long as King Henry VIII. reigned; and was employed as a store-house for the King's toils and tents for hunting, and for the wars, &c. But in the


of King Edward VI. the Church for the most part, to wit the body and side aisles, with the great bell-tower (a most curious piece of workmanship, graven, gilt, and enamelled, to the great beautifying of the city, and passing all other that I have seen), was undermined and blown up with gunpowder: the stone thereof was employed in building of the Lord Protector's house at

the Strand


An attempt was made to restore the fraternity and repair the buildings in the reign of Mary; but in the year of Elizabeth all that remained of the Order was consigned to neglect and ruin. The parochial Church of Clerkenwell was formed out of the remains of the choir, patched up with modern barbarism.

In the reign of James I. the Gate was granted to Sir Roger Wilbraham, who


made it his residence. For a century afterwards this part of the town was inhabited by people of condition. Bishop Burnet lived in Square-a place which, built upon the site of the old Priory, has still a solemn and monastic air.--Cave, we dare say, obtained the Gate-house at a cheap rate, when fashion was travelling westward, and commerce had not thrown its regards upon such an obscure nook. Here, occupying both sides of the Gate for his office and his dwelling, Johnson found him when he came to London poor and unknown; and here he ate the printer's dinner behind a screen because his coat was too shabby for him to sit at table. Here, too, Garrick exhibited his comic powers in the farce of

The Mock Doctor,

Cave's journeymen reading the other parts. Here, as we have before said, was printed for many years the

Gentleman's Magazine.

But that belongs to the History of London Periodical Literature-too large a subject to be now touched upon.


[n.136.1] Horace Walpole (of Gough) in a Letter to Cole, 1773.

[n.137.1] Retrospective Review, vol. xv, p. 169.

[n.138.1] History of the Knights of Malta, in the Penny Magazine for 1836.

[n.144.1] Holinshed.

[n.145.1] Stow's Annals.

[n.145.2] Ibid.

[n.145.3] Ibid.

[n.146.1] When the western basement of the Gate was converted into a watchhouse in 1813, some alterations were deemed necessary, in the course of which an old oak door was discovered, having on the spandrils the arms of the monastery and those of Sir J. Dockwra, the Lord Prior in 1504, when the Gate and Priory were rebuilt. Casts from these spandrils were taken at the time, and are still preserved with religious care by the landlord of the tavern, where they may be seen ornamenting the chimney-piece of the Grand Hall.