Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim

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His Most Eminent Highness, Fra
Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, O.S.I.
Fra Ferdinand von Hompesch G.M. Palace.jpg
Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller
In office
17 July 1797 6 July 1799
Preceded by Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc
Succeeded by Paul I of Russia (de facto)
Personal details
Born 9 November 1744
Bolheim, Electorate of Cologne, Holy Roman Empire
Died 12 May 1805(1805-05-12) (aged 60)
Montpellier, Hérault, First French Empire
Resting place Montpellier, Hérault, France
Nationality German
Military service
Allegiance Flag of the Order of St. John (various).svg Order of Saint John
Years of service 1761–1799
Rank Grandmaster
Battles/wars French invasion of Malta

Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, O.S.I. (9 November 1744 – 12 May 1805) was the 71st Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, formally the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, by then better known as the Knights of Malta. He was the first German elected to the office. It was under his rule that the Order lost the island of Malta to France, after ruling there since 1530. This effectively marked the end of their sovereignty over an independent state, dating from the time of the Crusades.

Grand Master (order) head of a knighthood

Grand Master is a title of the supreme head of various orders, including chivalric orders such as military orders and dynastic orders of knighthood.

Knights Hospitaller Western Christian military order

The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the Order of Saint John, Order of Hospitallers, Knights Hospitaller, Knights Hospitalier or Hospitallers, was a medieval and early modern Catholic military order. It was headquartered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the island of Rhodes, in Malta and St Petersburg.

Malta island republic in Europe

Malta, officially known as the Republic of Malta, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies 80 km (50 mi) south of Italy, 284 km (176 mi) east of Tunisia, and 333 km (207 mi) north of Libya. With a population of about 475,000 over an area of 316 km2 (122 sq mi), Malta is the world's tenth smallest and fifth most densely populated country. Its capital is Valletta, which is the smallest national capital in the European Union by area at 0.8 km.2 The official languages are Maltese and English, with Maltese officially recognised as the national language and the only Semitic language in the European Union.



Early career

Hompesch was born in the village of Bolheim, now part of the town of Zülpich in the Eifel region. He received the baptismal names of Ferdinand Joseph Antoine Herman Louis. He was admitted to the Knights Hospitaller on 10 July 1761, at the age of 14, for which he needed to obtain a dispensation from the Holy See, serving as a page to the Grand Master Manuel Pinto da Fonseca. [1] By 1768 he had been promoted to the rank of castellan, and in 1770 he had advanced to the rank of lieutenant, responsible for the inspection of ships and fortifications of the Order. In 1774 he was given responsibility for the island's munitions.

Zülpich Place in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

Zülpich is a town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany between Aachen and Bonn. It belongs to the district of Euskirchen.

Eifel low mountain range in Germany

The Eifel is a low mountain range in western Germany and eastern Belgium. It occupies parts of southwestern North Rhine-Westphalia, northwestern Rhineland-Palatinate and the south of the German-speaking Community of Belgium.

In the jurisprudence of canon law of the Catholic Church, a dispensation is the exemption from the immediate obligation of law in certain cases. Its object is to modify the hardship often arising from the rigorous application of general laws to particular cases, and its essence is to preserve the law by suspending its operation in such cases.

In late 1775 Hompesch was appointed as the Order's ambassador at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna, a post he held for the next 25 years. The following year, he was also raised to the rank of Knight Grand Cross, making him a member of the Standing Council of the Order. During this period, he made efforts to re-unite the Protestant Bailiwick of Brandenburg with the Order; these efforts were unsuccessful largely due to the opposition of the German knights. In the following years, he received charge of the commandery in Rothenburg (1777), followed by those in Herford (1783), Basel and Dorlisheim (1785), Sulz, Colmar and Mülhausen (1786) as well as Villingen, in the Black Forest (1796). [2] He was appointed Grand Bailiff of the German langue, based in Brandenburg, in 1796. [1]

The Holy Roman Emperor was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages and the early modern period. The title was, almost without interruption, held in conjunction with title of King of Germany throughout the 12th to 18th centuries.

Vienna Capital city and state in Austria

Vienna is the federal capital and largest city of Austria, and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million, and its cultural, economic, and political centre. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin. Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC. The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. These regions work together in a European Centrope border region. Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg)

The Bailiwick of Brandenburg of the Chivalric Order of Saint John of the Hospital at Jerusalem, commonly known as the Order of Saint John or the Johanniter Order, is the German Protestant branch of the Knights Hospitaller, the oldest surviving chivalric order, which generally is considered to have been founded in Jerusalem in the year 1099 AD.

Hompesch Gate in the city of Zabbar. Malta - Fgura-Zabbar - Hompesch Arch 06 ies.jpg
Hompesch Gate in the city of Żabbar.

On 17 July 1797 Hompesch was elected Grand Master, which made him a Prince of the Church. As Grand Master, he raised the towns of Żabbar, Żejtun and Siġġiewi to the status of cities.

Prince of the Church

The term Prince of the Church is today used nearly exclusively for Catholic cardinals. However, the term is historically more important as a generic term for clergymen whose offices hold the secular rank and privilege of a prince or are considered its equivalent. In the case of cardinals, they are always treated in protocol of Catholic countries as equivalents of royal princes.

Żabbar City and Local council in South Eastern Region, Malta

Żabbar, also known as Città Hompesch, is a city in the South Eastern Region of Malta. It is the sixth largest city in the country, with a population of 15,404 as of March 2014. Originally a part of Żejtun, Żabbar was granted the title of Città Hompesch by the last of the Grand Masters of the Order of St. John to reign in Malta, Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim.

Żejtun City and Local council in South Eastern Region, Malta

Żejtun is a city in the South Eastern Region of Malta, with a population of 11,218 at end 2016. Żejtun holds the title of Città Beland, which was conferred by the grandmaster of the Order of the Knights of Malta, Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim in 1797. Before that, the village was known as Casale Santa Caterina, named after its patron saint and parish titular.

Loss of Malta

In 1798 Hompesch was warned that the French fleet that was sailing to Egypt under Napoleon Bonaparte intended to attack Malta as well. He disregarded the warning and took no action to reinforce the island's defenses. [3] On 6 June 1798, the advance squadron of the French fleet reached Malta. One ship was permitted to enter the harbour for repairs. On 9 June the main fleet arrived. The French commander Napoleon had a force of 29,000 men against Hompesch's 7,000. Bonaparte demanded free entrance to the harbour for the entire fleet with the excuse to get water provisions. Hompesch replied that only two ships at a time could do so. Napoleon saw it as a provocation and ordered the invasion of the Maltese Islands.

Mediterranean campaign of 1798

The Mediterranean campaign of 1798 was a series of major naval operations surrounding a French expeditionary force sent to Egypt under Napoleon Bonaparte during the French Revolutionary Wars. The French Republic sought to capture Egypt as the first stage in an effort to threaten British India, and thus force Great Britain to make peace. Departing Toulon in May 1798 with over 40,000 troops and hundreds of ships, Bonaparte's fleet sailed southeastwards across the Mediterranean Sea. They were followed by a small British squadron under Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, later reinforced to 13 ships of the line, whose pursuit was hampered by a lack of scouting frigates and reliable information. Bonaparte's first target was the island of Malta, which was under the government of the Knights of St. John and theoretically granted its owner control of the Central Mediterranean. Bonaparte's forces landed on the island and rapidly overwhelmed the defenders, securing the port city of Valletta before continuing to Egypt. When Nelson learned of the French capture of the island, he guessed the French target to be Egypt and sailed for Alexandria, but passed the French during the night of 22 June without discovering them and arrived off Egypt first.

30 Tari coin of Ferdinand, dated 1798. Hompesch Tari 1798 2070482.jpg
30 Tarì coin of Ferdinand, dated 1798.

On 10 June the French fleet began disembarking. [4] The French forces were supported by a local insurrection of Maltese, many of whom wished to get rid of the Knights. [5] The rules of the Order prohibited fighting against fellow Christians and many of the French members of the Order did not want to fight against the French forces. Hompesch capitulated on 11 June. The following day a treaty was signed by which the Order handed over sovereignty of the island of Malta to the government of the French Directory. In return, the French Republic agreed to "employ all its credit at the Congress of Rastatt to procure a principality for the Grand Master, equivalent to the one he gives up". [6] Hompesch was also promised an annual pension.

French Directory Executive power of the French Constitution of 1795-1799

The Directory or Directorate was a five-member committee that governed France from 2 November 1795, when it replaced the Committee of Public Safety, until 9 November 1799, when it was overthrown by Napoleon Bonaparte in the Coup of 18 Brumaire, and replaced by the French Consulate. It gave its name to the final four years of the French Revolution.

Second Congress of Rastatt

The Second Congress of Rastatt, which began its deliberations in November 1797, was intended to negotiate a general peace between the French Republic and the Holy Roman Empire, and to draw up a compensation plan to compensate those princes whose lands on the left bank of the Rhine had been seized by France in the War of the First Coalition. Facing the French delegation was a 10-member Imperial delegation made up of delegates from the electorates of Mainz, Saxony, Bavaria, Hanover, as well as the secular territories of Austria, Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, the prince-bishopric of Würzburg, and the imperial cities of Augsburg and Frankfurt. The congress was interrupted when Austria and Russia resumed war against France in March 1799 at the start of the War of the Second Coalition, thus rendering the proceedings moot. Furthermore, as the French delegates attempted to return home, they were attacked by Austrian cavalrymen or possibly French royalists masquerading as such. Two diplomats were killed and a third seriously injured. The congress was held at Rastatt near Karlsruhe.

A pension is a fund into which a sum of money is added during an employee's employment years, and from which payments are drawn to support the person's retirement from work in the form of periodic payments. A pension may be a "defined benefit plan" where a fixed sum is paid regularly to a person, or a "defined contribution plan" under which a fixed sum is invested and then becomes available at retirement age. Pensions should not be confused with severance pay; the former is usually paid in regular installments for life after retirement, while the latter is typically paid as a fixed amount after involuntary termination of employment prior to retirement.

Final years

On 18 June 1798 Hompesch left Malta for Trieste, [7] where he established a new headquarters for the Order. On 12 October he addressed a letter to foreign governments in which he protested against the taking of Malta by the French. [8] He published a second manifesto from Trieste on 23 October. [9] On 6 July 1799 he sent two letters, one to the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, the other to Emperor Paul I of Russia, in which he abdicated as Grand Master. [10] He sent no letter of abdication to the pope as required by canon law, nor did the pope accept his abdication. He soon settled in Ljubljana. On 7 May 1801 and again on 20 September 1801 Hompesch declared that his 1799 letters of abdication had been written for him by the government of the Holy Roman Emperor, that he had been forced to sign them, and that therefore his abdication was invalid. [11] In 1804, he moved to Montpellier in France, where he died penniless one year later of asthma. [12] He is buried in the Church of Saint Eulalie in that city. [13]


  1. 1 2 Whitworth Porter, A History of the Knights of Malta (London: Longman, Brown, Green, 1858), v.2, 438.
  2. Galea, Michael (24 July 2011). "A hamlet called Hompesch". Times of Malta . Retrieved 11 October 2014.
  3. Porter, 443-444.
  4. Porter, 445.
  5. Porter, 447.
  6. Porter, 451.
  7. Porter, 457.
  8. Pierredon, I, 171.
  9. Pierredon, I, 238.
  10. The full text of each letter is re-printed in Pierredon, I, 240-241.
  11. Pierredon, I, 242.
  12. Porter, 460.
  13. "200° anniversary of the death of Grand Master von Hompesch". Order of Malta. 10 May 2005. Archived from the original on 20 October 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2014.

Further reading

Preceded by
Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc
Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller
Succeeded by
Paul I of Russia
de facto

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