On September 1 Mustapha made his last effort, but all his threats and cajoleries had but little effect on his dispirited troops, who refused any longer to believe in the possibility of capturing those terrible fortresses. The feebleness of the attack was a great encouragement to the besieged, who now began to see hopes of deliverance. Mustapha’s perplexity and indecision were cut short by the news of the arrival of Sicilian reinforcements in Melleha Bay. Hastily evacuating his trenches, he embarked his army; but, on learning that the new troops numbered but some 8,000, was overcome by shame and put ashore to fight the reinforcements. It was all in vain, however, for his troops would not stand the fierce charge of the new-comers, and, helped by the determination of his rearguard, safely re-embarked and sailed away on September 3.
At the moment of departure the Order had left 600 men capable of bearing arms, but the losses of the Ottomans had been yet more fearful. The most reliable estimate puts the number of the Turkish army at its height at some 40,000 men, of which but 15,000 returned to Constantinople. It was a most inglorious ending to the reign of Solyman the Magnificent.
[Footnote 1: A reminiscence of the Syrian days of the Order.]
[Footnote 2: The name given to the different estates of the Hospitallers scattered throughout Europe: they were so called because they were each in charge of a “commander,” sometimes also named a “preceptor,” from his duty of receiving and training novices.]
[Footnote 3: Most historians make this event part of the attack of August 18. But Prescott (Philip II., vol. ii., p. 428) points out that Balbi, who is undoubtedly the best authority for the siege as he was one of the garrison, places it on August 7.]
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE ORDER OF ST. JOHN
Before proceeding to trace the history of the last two centuries of the Knights at Malta it will perhaps be advisable to examine the organisation of an Order which was the greatest and most long-lived of all the medieval Orders of Chivalry. The siege of 1565 was its last great struggle with its mortal foe; after that there is but little left for the historian but to trace its gradual decadence and fall. And, as might be expected in a decadent society, though outwardly the constitution changed but little in the last two centuries, yet gradually the Statutes of the Order and the actual facts became more and more divergent.