De Valette’s Battlesword
This Hospitaller sword is shrouded in mystery, but it is well known and it is, in any case, still in Malta. Information about its origins is very scarce and it merits attention because of its strong tradition in local collective memory. It is the presumed personal battle-sword of de Valette donated to the chapel of Our Lady of Damascus in Birgu (Vittoriosa) at the end of the siege of 1565. It currently lies within the same chapel which is now annexed to the church museum (previously the Oratory of St. Joseph) and is displayed with a hat traditionally also associated with the Grand Master. A search through the Order’s archives (specifically the Liber Conciliorum of 1565 to 1566) reveals nothing and even Bosio fails to mention it in his Historia. Other texts on the great siege such as Balbi di Correggio’s account also do not mention it. Many modern references to the sword seem to be based on tradition and are not backed by historical evidence, such as Schermerhorn’s Malta of the Knights.
The sword itself is a sixteenth-century battle sword (a form of early rapier, commonly referred to as a side-sword) and is similar to ones produced in Saxony. The width of the blade suggests it is made for battle rather than civilian use and the lack of decoration apart from a rosary engraved on the blade are highly suggestive that it could have belonged to a Hospitaller. The hat of the Grand Master is commonly seen in portraits and described in ceremonies as a symbol of the Magistracy and, like the stock and pilier, seems like a fitting combination to be given as a gift.
A visit to the site reveals a strong local pride connected to the two items and they form the centre piece of the museum with a lot of signage describing them as de Valette’s relics. The sword and hat are placed inside a cabinet in the chapel of Our Lady of Damascus and seem to lie in their original place, at least since 1779 when the chapel was restored by Grand Master de Rohan. This is proven by a marble plaque located directly under them dated 1779 describing the restoration of the chapel which had fallen into disrepair and it specifically describes it as the site in which de Valette ‘willingly and joyfully’ hung his sword and hat as thanksgiving to Our Lady for the victory in 1565. Although a search in the Liber Conciliorum Status of the years 1778 to 1780 for any mention of this restoration proved futile, the plaque itself, erected during the Order’s reign in Malta is very suggestive of their authenticity.