French military Engineers

Fort Tigne designed by Stephan de Tousard. Drawing by Dr. Stephen C. Spiteri (c)

In Malta during the 17th and 18th Centuries.

As a military Order accustomed to the dangers facing a small community living in virtual isolation first in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, then in the Island of Rhodes and finally in the Maltese archipelago, it is not unnatural that throughout its history, the Order of St. John was constantly preoccupied with matters concerning defence strategy and military fortification. The large number of military engineers and armaments experts that were brought over by the Order to Malta between 1530 and 1798 can be explained in terms of this  traditional preoccupation which was to a large measure intensified after the shock of the fall of Rhodes in 1522 and the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. Among other things, the last event had showed that strong fortifications were vital if Malta was to remain in the possession of the Order.

On the other hand, the weak design of the walls of St. Elmo, which had become explicit when this fort had been put to the test, indicated that strong fortifications necessitated the presence of competent military engineers who had to be conversant with the most recent developments in the complementary arts of attack and defence as were being interpreted by the main European field armies of the time. As the period interlying 1650 and 1750 was the period which marked the ascendancy of France in European politics and as France was a nation with which the Order of St John had close diplomatic and financial affiliations, it is not surprising that during the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, Malta witnessed the coming and going of a number of important French military engineers whose main contribution included the establishment of a tradition of coastal fortification, the perfectioning to a high
standard of specification of the existing harbour defences and the building of Fort Manoel, the design of which is closely related to the work of the great French military engineer Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707).

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D. De Lucca

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