Jean Paul Lascaris Castellar, Grand Master of the Order of Malta, 1636 - 1657

  • Under Lascaris's magistry, the Order's naval supremacy in the Mediterranean was undisputed.
  • Despite his successes, he was unpopular among the knights for his harsh discipline.
  • The Viceroy of Sicily imposed wheat sanctions on Malta to protest French knights taking up arms against Spain.
  • Lascaris descended from the ancient emperors of Constantinople through a maternal ancestor.

Jean Paul Lascaris Castellar was born in 1560 to a noble French family descending from the illustrious Counts of Vintimille and the ancient emperors of Constantinople through a maternal ancestor.

At the age of 76, he was unanimously elected by the Order and succeeded Fra’ Antonie de Paule as Grand Master.

One of his first concerns as Grand Master was the defense and provision of Malta, as the fear of a Turkish attack always haunted the inhabitants of the Maltese islands. Under his leadership, new fortifications were erected, and the Maltese countrymen were trained in the arms of war.

Under Lascaris's magistry, the Order's naval supremacy in the Mediterranean was undisputed, scoring astounding successes against the corsairs.

Most notable among the Order’s naval successes was the capture of a bountiful caravan on its way from Constantinople to Cairo in 1644.

However, Lascaris faced many hardships during his reign. A severe famine devastated Malta and, at the same time, war raged between France and Spain. Although the Grand Master officially preserved the neutrality of the Order, a number of French knights took up arms for the King of France. The Viceroy of Sicily protested and halted the exportation of wheat to Malta for a time. Luckily, Lascaris ensured that wheat was brought over from Naples until the sanctions were lifted.

Depiction of the Franco-Spanish War (1635–1659) by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau

Portrait of Jean Paul Lascaris Castellar

The Grand Master was rather unpopular among the knights owing to his severe methods of discipline. The knights also resented the influence that the Jesuits had over him.

During the Maltese Carnival in 1639, several knights disguised themselves as religious of St. Ignatius Loyola and were imprisoned for this on the request of the Jesuits. This harsh measure by the Grand Master sparked a revolt in the Convent by the younger knights which led to the expulsion of eleven Jesuits from the island.

Despite this, the following years of Lascaris’s reign saw a number of successful construction projects, including the Lazzaretto at Marsamxett and a hospital in Valletta for women suffering from incurable diseases.

The year 1645 witnessed the arrival of French military engineers, among them Blondel des Croisettes, who was to remain resident engineer of the Order for many years. On their advice, the Grand Master made several additions to the fortifications in Malta, including the beginning of the Margherita Lines around Bormla and the Red Tower near Mellieha in 1649.

Lascaris died on August 14, 1657, at the venerable age of 97 and was buried in the Chapel of Provence in St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta.

The Margherita Lines in their original form

The Red Tower near Mellieha, Malta (also known as Saint Agatha's Tower)