Alof de Wignacourt, Grand Master of the Order of Malta, 1601 - 1622

  • Grand Master de Wignacourt demonstrated the Order's maritime supremacy, expanding the navy to include a great galleon commissioned in Austria.
  • He built powerful fortifications along the coasts of Malta.
  • He successfully defended the Maltese islands against a Turkish raid of 60 vessels carrying 5,000 men.
  • He was famously painted by the Renaissance and Baroque artist, Carravagio.

Alof de Wignacourt, born in 1547 to a noble French family, was a distinguished Grand Master who left an enduring legacy during his magistracy from 1601 to 1622.

At 17 years old, de Wignacourt answered the call to arms from France to defend the Order and greater Christendom at the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. His prudence and courage earned him a nomination as Lieutenant of the new city of Valletta, only four years after joining the Order.

De Wignacourt's military and administrative skills were soon recognized, and he was appointed Grand Cross and head of the Langue of France. His outstanding merits and services rendered to the Order earned him the unanimous election to the Grand Magistry on February 10, 1601.

With his election as Grand Master, the Order experienced a naval and military power renaissance.

De Wignacourt demonstrated the Order's maritime supremacy in the Mediterranean, expanding the navy to include a great galleon commissioned by him in Austria at 60,000 gold scudi.

A painting showing Maltese galleys capturing an Ottoman vessel in the Malta Channel

Coat of arms of the Monte della Redenzione at Selmun Palace, Malta

He dispatched the galleys of the Order on an expedition against the corsairs of North Africa in 1602, seizing the town of Mahomet and expelling the corsairs. Two years later, the island of Lango (Kos) was taken, and then Corinth in 1611.

During his reign, de Wignacourt oversaw significant expansions and renovations to the fortifications and buildings of Malta, including the construction of the Wignacourt Aqueduct in 1616, which brought fresh water to the capital city of Valletta. De Wignacourt also began a program of building powerful forts along the coasts of Malta, including the Wignacourt Tower at St Paul's Bay and St Julian's Tower at Marsaxlokk.

During his reign, de Wignacourt oversaw significant expansions and renovations to the fortifications and buildings of Malta.

In 1615, some 60 Turkish vessels carrying 5,000 men landed on the coast of Malta but soon retreated after suffering heavy losses. The raid failed mainly due to the strategic forts constructed on the orders of the de Wignacourt.

Part of the Wignacourt Aqueduct at Birkirkara, Malta

Wignacourt Tower with St Paul's Bay, Malta

Due in large part to de Wignacourt's leadership, the Order reemerged as a formidable force, respected by the European states and feared by the Turks.

The Monte della Redenzione, set up to finance the ransoms of enslaved Christians by Turkish and Barbary pirates, was also founded by de Wignacourt.

Portrait of Alof de Wignacourt and his Page, Caravaggio 1608

During his magistracy, de Wignacourt was often occupied with defending the privileges of the Order and maintaining peace among the knights of the different Langues.

However, he is remembered mostly for his connection to the painter Caravaggio, who arrived in Malta in 1608 and painted the Grand Master himself. The superb portrait can still be seen at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

In August 1622, while he was out hunting, de Wignacourt suffered a stroke and died later the same year on September 14 at the age of 75. Like his predecessors, he is buried in the crypt of St. John's Conventual Cathedral.