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The Grand Masters And Their Sex Lives

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The Knights of Malta swore vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. But these rules might not quite mean what you’d expect of them. Especially not to the makers of the rules, the Grand Masters.

A Glimpse into the Personal Lives of Malta’s Grand Masters

The poverty bit meant they had to leave most of their cash to the Order of St John when they died. And the obedience part was to the Pope, who was their boss. 

As for the chastity bit – well, they were pretty fluid about that. Many of the knights took lovers. Even the grand masters, the heads of the Order, often indulged in pleasurable affairs with all kinds of women. 

Grand Master Manuel Pinto never denied himself female company. He had a long-standing mistress Rosenda Paulichi. She came to Malta and ended up being a nun in the convent of the Magdalene sisters in Valletta. This made it very convenient for the two lovers to keep meeting up, often in the main box of the Manoel Theatre where they could enjoy performances together. 

Pinto outlived his main mistress – she isn’t thought to have been the only one – and died aged 91. According to Ovidio Doublet, a secretary of the Order who arrived in Malta a few months after his death, Pinto made his exit making love to his latest mistress. In a sense, he gave in to carnal desires until the very last.  

The eight points of the Maltese cross represent the duties and promises of the Knights, summarised by three monastic vows the Knights took of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Tales of Romance and Scandal in Malta’s History

The most famous Grand Master of them all, Jean de Valette, was a religious man who demanded pious behaviour from the knights under his command, particularly during the Great Siege of 1565.

But rules don’t apply to everyone, especially if you’re the guy in charge. De Valette is thought to have had two children by two different women, and quite possibly others too.

He’s only one of a long list of grand masters who fell for a woman’s charms. Grand Master Antoine de Paule was in his early seventies when he took on the Order’s top position. Around that time, he was also besotted by a woman called Flaminia Valenti. When on his death bed, he begged his confessor to be allowed to die in her arms. 

Grand Master Ramon de Perellos had a couple of mistresses. One of them was much younger than him. Yet, she came to live with him in the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta. 

His sexual indulgences eventually resulted in him contracting syphilis. The disease was treated with the standard treatment for the early 18th Century. Ironically, this ultimately killed him as he contracted mercury poisoning. 

Grandmaster Ramon famously had multiple affairs, one with a much younger mistress.

Love in the Grand Master’s Court: The Unconventional Affairs of Malta’s Highest Authority

Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan had an affair with and a daughter by the wife of a French surgeon.

The grand master later fell in love with his own niece, Marie Anne de Migniac Rohan. She was the daughter of his younger brother. The two had a relationship.

This was ironic, because under de Rohan’s legal code of conduct, published in 1784, all forms of extra-marital sex in Malta were severely punished. 

If a woman was deflowered outside of marriage, she had to perform a year of forced labour in the Order’s hospitals – but not if her uncle is a grand master, of course.  

De Rohan’s love affair has given life to a legend. It’s said that when Marie Anne died, many years after de Rohan, her relatives petitioned the British governor to allow her to be buried in the former grand master’s tomb in St John’s Co-Cathedral. 

If this legend is true, then she would be the only woman buried in that church, and a reminder that while the Knights of St John were passionate defenders of the Catholic faith, they were passionate in more earthly matters as well. 

To hear more quirky stories about Malta’s history, follow Dark Malta Tours on FacebookInstagram and TikTok and book a walking tour to learn tantalising tales from the island’s peculiar past. 

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