Jean Parisot de Valette

Jean Parisot de Valette
Grand Master of the Order of Saint John
In office
21 August 1557  21 August 1568
Monarch King Philip I
Preceded by Claude de la Sengle
Succeeded by Pierre de Monte
Governor of Tripoli
In office
Appointed by Juan de Homedes y Coscon
Preceded by George Schilling
Succeeded by Aurelio Bottigella
Personal details
Born 4 February 1495
Parisot, Rouergue, France
Died 21 August 1568 (1568-08-22) (aged 73)
Resting place St. John's Co-Cathedral (originally buried at the Church of Our Lady of Victories)
Nationality French
Domestic partner Catherine Grecque and other mistresses
Children Barthélemy de Valette
Isabella Guasconi
possibly other illegitimate children
Religion Roman Catholicism
Military service
Allegiance Sovereign Military Order of Malta Order of Saint John
Years of service 1514–1568
Rank Captain General of the Galleys (1554–1557)
Grand Master (1557–1568)
Battles/wars Siege of Rhodes
Great Siege of Malta

Fra' Jean Parisot de Valette[lower-alpha 1] (4 February 1495[?] in Parisot, Rouergue – 21 August 1568 in Malta) was a French nobleman and 49th Grand Master of the Order of Malta, from 21 August 1557 to his death in 1568. As a Knight Hospitaller, joining the order in the Langue de Provence, he fought with distinction against the Turks at Rhodes. As Grand Master, Valette became the Order's hero and most illustrious leader, commanding the resistance against the Ottomans at the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, sometimes regarded as one of the greatest sieges of all time.[1] Grandmaster La Valette did not live to see Valletta completed as he died at the age of 74 and was followed by Grandmaster Pietro De Monte. The foundation stone of Valletta was laid by Grandmaster La Valette in the year 1566

Early life

De Valette

He was born into the noble Valette family in Quercy, South-western France, which had been an important family in France for many generations, various members having participated in the Crusades. Jean Parisot's grandfather, Bernard de Valette, was a Knight and King's Orderly, and his father Guillot was a Chevalier de France. Jean Parisot was a distant cousin (through their mutual ancestor Almaric, Seigneur de Parisot) of Jean Louis de Nogaret de La Valette, first Duke of Épernon.[2]

Although his birth year is usually given as 1494, both chroniclers of the Great Siege of Malta, Francisco Balbi di Correggio and Hipolito Sans, say he was 67 at the time, thereby implying that he was born in 1498. In his history of the Order of St. John, the 18th-century historian Abbe Vertot (whose history is largely based on - but often confuses - the earlier one of Giacomo Bosio) indicates that Valette was indeed the same age as both Suleiman I and Lala Kara Mustafa Pasha (the commander of the Ottoman land forces), which would mean that he was actually 70 years old at the time of the siege.

Little else is known about de Valette's early life.

Early career and rise within the Order

De Valette's armour at the Palace Armoury.

De Valette joined the Order when he was 20 years old in around 1514, and he never returned to France or his family estates from that day on.[2] Jean de Valette was present during the Great Siege of Rhodes in 1522, and accompanied Grand Master Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, after the Order's expulsion from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

After the loss of Rhodes, the Order was granted the Maltese Islands and Tripoli by Emperor Charles V. In 1537 Valette became Governor of Tripoli, where he tried to restore order within the vulnerable city.[2] In 1538 he was imprisoned in the Gozo prison for 4 months after attacking a man.[3] In 1541 Valette was involved in a naval battle against Abd-ur-Rahman Kust Aly, in which he was wounded and his galley, the San Giovanni, was captured. De Valette was taken as a galley slave for a year by Barbary pirates under the command of Turgut Reis but was later freed during an exchange of prisoners.[4]

In 1554 he was elected Captain General of the Order's galleys. This was a great honour to the Langue of Provence, as throughout most of the Order's history, the position of Grand Admiral was usually held by a Knight Grand Cross of the Italian Langue. In that capacity he won a name that stood conspicuous in that age of great sea captains, and was held in the same regard as the Chevalier Mathurin Romegas - one of the greatest Christian maritime commanders of the age. In fact both sides had extremely talented sailors. If Valette, Romegas and Juan de Austria could be considered the best commanders that the Christian forces could bring to the sea, the forces of Islam were able to call on the equally outstanding maritime and leadership skills of admirals such as Barbarossa and Dragut. De Valette was described by Abbe de Branthome as being a "very handsome man, speaking several languages fluently including Italian, Spanish, Greek, Arabic and Turkish."[5]


Coat of arms of de Valette as Grandmaster

In 1557, upon the death of Grand Master Claude de la Sengle, the Knights, mindful of the attack that was sure to come, elected Valette to be Grand Master. In 1560 he formed an alliance with the Habsburg Empire to reconquer Tripoli, but the expedition resulted in a Christian defeat at the Battle of Djerba. Despite this the Order's galleys were able to rescue several other Christian vessels, and later on in his reign, De Valette greatly strengthened the Order's navy.[2]

Great Siege of Malta

He fought and successfully repulsed the Turks at the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, in which the vastly outnumbered Christians held out for over 3 months against an Ottoman force containing no less than 30,000 soldiers, including the Janissaries, as well as the Sultan's fleet of some 193 ships. The battle saw the fall of Fort St. Elmo after about a month of fierce fighting, but the Order managed to hold out in Birgu and Senglea until a relief force arrived and the Ottomans were defeated. As a result of the Order's victory he gained much prestige in Europe, but he declined the offer of a cardinal's hat in order to maintain independence from the papacy. This has been attributed to his sense of modesty and his humility as a warrior monk.

Building of Valletta and death

After the great siege, he commissioned the construction of the new city of Valletta in 1566, laying the first stone with his own hands. This took place on the slopes of Mount Sciberras, where the flower of the Turkish army had died whilst trying to storm Fort Saint Elmo, which the Turks thought would fall within three or four days, but which, due to the bravery of the defenders, held out for 30 days.

The city named after its founder - Humilissima Civitas Vallettae - became known as the most aristocratic and exclusive fortress in Europe - a city most often referred to as "Superbissima" - the "Most Proud". Valletta remains the Maltese capital to this day.

De Valette suffered a stroke while praying in a chapel and died soon after on 21 August 1568, exactly eleven years after he became Grandmaster. De Valette never saw the completed city of Valletta. His tomb (in the form of a sarcophagus) can be found in the Crypt of the Conventual Church of the Order (now St. John's Co-Cathedral), situated within the walls of Valletta.[5] The inscription on his tomb, which was composed by his Latin Secretary, Sir Oliver Starkey, the last Knight of the English Langue at the time of the Great Siege, states in Latin:

Here lies La Valette.
Worthy of eternal honour,
He who was once the scourge of Africa and Asia,
And the shield of Europe,
Whence he expelled the barbarians by his Holy Arms,
Is the first to be buried in this beloved city,
Whose founder he was.

Personal life

De Valette has been referred to as one who never broke his vows, but it has been claimed that he had a mistress while in Rhodes called Catherine nicknamed Greque (Greek), and that he had an illegitimate son from her who was called Barthélemy de Valette. Documentary evidence has been found by Bonello that proves Barthélemy was legitimatized in 1568 by a decree of King Charles IX of France.[6]

Claims have also been put forth that de Valette had at least another daughter, Isabella Guasconi, after a presumed affair with the wife of a Rhodiot nobleman of Florentine descent. Isabella later married a Florentine gentleman Stefano Buonaccorsi, but he murdered her on 31 July 1568, some time after their marriage. After the murder Buonaccorsi escaped the islands with Isabella's wealth and was never heard from again.[7]


Pjazza Jean de Valette, Valletta.

De Valette is well known for being the Grandmaster who won the Great Siege and founded Valletta. A street in the town of Naxxar as well as the flagship of Virtu Ferries MV Jean De La Valette are both named after him. De Valette was also featured on Maltese stamps, coins, banknotes and telecards a number of times.

Jean De Valette Square

In 2012, a square was inaugurated in Valletta named Pjazza Jean De Valette which also features a statue of the Grandmaster. The statue is 2.5m high and was cast in bronze by the local sculptor Joseph Chetcuti. In the statue De Valette is shown armour and holding Valletta's plan in one hand and a sword in the other.[8][9]

The new square in Valletta named after the Grandmaster uses the name de Valette instead of de La Valette

For many years, the widely accepted version of the Grandmaster's surname was de La Valette. However, during the unveiling of the statue at Pjazza Jean De Valette in November 2012, judge and historian Giovanni Bonello stated that the Grandmaster always signed his name as de Valette without the la. A week later, Désireé von la Valette Saint Georges, a descendant of the Grandmaster, stated that the family name was de la Valette not de Valette and since then, a dispute has started as to what his name actually was.[10]

Members of the various branches of the Valette family actually used both versions at the time, but the Grandmaster himself never used the La.[11][12] In fact, all 138 coins and 19 medals minted by the Order during De Valette's reign show the names de Valette, de Valetta or just Valette. Bonello additionally stated that the La possibly originated since the city of Valletta was commonly called La Valletta, so people started including the La and sometimes the double l in the Grandmaster's name.[13]

The name de Valette is now used in Malta, although many still refer to him as de La Valette due to the collective memory.[14] The Order's successor, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, call the Grandmaster Fra’ Jean de la Vallette-Parisot.[15]

In literature

Due to his key role in holding Malta during the siege of 1565, de Valette has appeared as a main and supporting character in several works of literature:

"The great siege" (1961) by Ernle Bradford, published by Hodder & Staughton is a historical account of the battle as drawn from historical records.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jean Parisot de Valette (GM 49).


  1. Hindley, Geoffrey (2009). Medieval Sieges & Siegecraft. Skyhorse Publishing. p. 158. ISBN 1602396337.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Jean Parisot de la Vallette". South African Relief Organisation of the Order of Malta. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  3. "Old Prison". Heritage Malta. Retrieved 26 September 2014.
  4. "Jean Parisot de la Valette". Knights of Malta. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  5. 1 2 "Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette (1557-1568)". St John's Co-Cathedral. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  6. Bonello, Giovanni (26 May 2013). "The love children of Grand Master Jean de Valette". Times of Malta. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  7. Bonello, Giovanni (2 June 2013). "Murder of Grand Master de Valette's love-daughter, Isabella Buonaccorsi". Times of Malta. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  8. "New de Valette Square inaugurated in Valletta". Times of Malta. 21 November 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  9. Rix, Juliet (2015). Malta and Gozo. Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 1784770256. ISBN 9781784770259. p. 118.
  10. Carabott, Sarah (27 November 2012). "Family of Grand Master say name is wrong". Times of Malta. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  11. De Lucca, Denis (13 January 2013). "De Valette or de la Valette?". Times of Malta. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  12. Zammit Ciantar, Joe (12 May 2013). "It is Grand Master Jean De la Valette". Times of Malta. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  13. Bonello, Giovanni (23 December 2012). "Is it La Valette or De Valette?". Times of Malta. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  14. Carabott, Sarah (10 December 2012). "The Grand Master we know". Times of Malta. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  15. "The 79 Grand Masters". Order of Malta. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
  16. Angels in Iron
  17. Ironfire by David Ball


  1. His official name was Jean de Valette, while Parisot was a commonly used nickname. He is often referred to as "Jean de La Valette" but he never actually used the "La" during his lifetime (although members of the Valette family used both versions at the time). See the here for more information.
Preceded by
George Schilling
Governor of Tripoli
Succeeded by
Aurelio Bottigella
Preceded by
Claude de la Sengle
Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller
Succeeded by
Pierre de Monte
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