On June 18, Von Hompesch, taking with him the three most venerable relics of the Order—all that the conqueror allowed him from the treasures at Valetta—left for Trieste, whence he withdrew to Montpellier, dying there in obscurity in 1805. Most of the homeless Knights proceeded to Russia, where, on October 27, 1798, Paul I. was elected Grand Master, though Von Hompesch still held the post.
But on the Tsar’s death in 1801 the Order lost the one man who might have been powerful enough to bring about a restoration, and the survival of some scattered relics could not conceal the fact that vanished for ever was the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem.
SOVEREIGNTY OF THE ORDER
There can be no doubt whatever that, after 1530, the Order was no longer independent and sovereign, and that L’Isle Adam, despite all his efforts, had become a feudatory, though the service demanded was very slight. The Act of Donation of Malta put them definitely into the position of feudal vassals of Charles V. as King of the two Sicilies. This is plain to everyone who examines the Charter itself (Vertot, III., p. 494, or Codice Diplomatico, ii., p. 194). The tenure on which the Knights held the island from the King of the Sicilies may be classed as a form of serjeanty—the annual payment of a falcon being the only feudal service demanded. There were other conditions in the Charter concerning the Bishop of Malta and the Grand Admiral of the Order, but they were not strictly feudal. The chroniclers of the Order were naturally reluctant to admit this, and as the feudal tie was very weak, they glossed it over. But the Sovereign of the island, strictly speaking, was the King of the two Sicilies, and the Knights were never more than tenants. When the Order had been expelled by Napoleon we can see this universally admitted. While the fate of the island was in doubt—that is, before the preliminary peace between England and France in 1801—both natives and English regarded the King of Naples as lord of the island (Hardman, 111, 142. Foreign Office Records, Sicily, 11). When the Maltese wanted to be put under the protection of England, either temporarily or, later, permanently (Hardman, 185, 193, 204), they applied to the King of the Sicilies, as their lawful Sovereign, to grant their request. Events soon made Malta a question of great importance in the relations between France and England, and the renewal of war, in 1803, left Great Britain in de facto possession of the island, until the treaty of May 30, 1814, gave England full right and sovereignty over Malta.
CONNECTION BETWEEN KNIGHTS OF MALTA AND THE MODERN ORDER OF ST. JOHN