Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, Grand Master of the Order of Malta, 1797 - 1798

  • Grand Master Hompesch was unable to defend Malta against Napoleon's forces in 1798.
  • His surrender led to his abdication as Grand Master, seeking refuge in Trieste.
  • Russian Tsar Paul I provided crucial financial support to the Order during the financial crisis at this time.
  • He was popular among locals due to his fluency in the Maltese language.

Painting of Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim

Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim was born in Germany on November 9, 1744.

At the young age of 14, he joined the Order and moved to Malta, where he served as a page to Grand Master Pinto.

Hompesch climbed the ranks, eventually becoming Bailiff of Brandenburg. In 1796, he was appointed Grand Bailiff and Pillar of the Langue of Bavaria.

A skilled diplomat, he served as Plenipotentiary Ambassador to the Court of Vienna for 25 years.

Following the death of Grand Master de Rohan in 1797, Hompesch was elected as his successor, primarily due to Austrian support and his fluency in Maltese, which endeared him to the local population. The Knights were reluctant to elect a French Grand Master due to Napoleon Bonaparte’s increasing influence and conquest across Europe. They feared that such a decision could grant Napoleon unwanted influence over the Order, which was deemed too risky.

Hompesch was deeply grateful for Russian Tsar Paul I's support of the Order, particularly for his generous financial contributions during a time of severe economic hardship.

He eagerly accepted a treaty with Russia, signed in St. Petersburg in January 1797, and bestowed numerous honors upon Paul.

Hompesch chose not to defend Malta against Napoleon's forces in 1798.

Painting of the seaborne invasion of Malta in June 1798

Painting of Napoleon Bonaparte

Unaware of the impending danger from Napoleon’s France, Hompesch focused a large amount of his attention on serving the local Maltese population.

In June 1798, a French fleet of about 500 vessels, carrying 29,000 soldiers, entered Maltese waters.

Lacking military and naval experience, Hompesch was unable to defend the islands and left their defense to the Congregation of War, a council within the Order responsible for overseeing military matters.

Many members of the Congregation sympathized with the French, which caused a great deal of discord within the Order and inhibited their ability to set military plans, and ultimately undermined the defense of Malta.

He surrendered the islands without a fight and announced his abdication as Grand Master.

Attempting to appease Napoleon, Hompesch sought a compromise, but Napoleon demanded Malta's capitulation and entered Valletta on June 12. Hompesch surrendered the islands without a fight.

He was permitted to leave with only the relics of the Hand of St. John the Baptist and Our Lady of Philermos.

Engraving depicting Malta's capitulation to Napoleon

Hompesch sought refuge in Trieste, under Austrian control at the time, and penned numerous letters attempting to justify his actions.

In a letter to Tsar Paul I dated July 6, 1799, Hompesch announced his abdication from the Grand Magistry.

He eventually settled in Montpellier, France, where he passed away on May 12, 1805, at the age of 61.