Thursday, 4 February 2016

Book Review - The two sieges of Rhodes, 1480 - 1522 by Eric Brockman

The two sieges of Rhodes, 1480-1522 by Eric Brockman

London: John Murray, 1969             ISBN 0719518946

This is a very straightforward book about two moments in time that were significant in themselves, but have been overwhelmed by all that was going on around them.

The Knights Hospitallers were formed during the early Crusades and rapidly became, along with the Knights Templar and Teutonic Knights, one of the pre-eminent military formations that secured the Crusader States against the Saracens.

As the Holy Land fell back under the control of the Sultans, the order moved from Jerusalem, to Acre and finally out of the Holy Land altogether, to headquarter itself on the island of Rhodes. As the Ottomans gained in strength, took Constantinople and secured their Eastern frontiers, the existence of this thorn pricking their flanks became a problem that had to be acted upon.

At first Sultan Mehmet was open to coming to an agreement with the Knights, to live and let live. The problem with this approach was that the Knight's sole raison d'etre was to fight Islam, so there was never going to be detente with the Ottomans.

The siege of 1480 was a disaster for the Turks. The Knights held out, with little reinforcement from other Christian rulers, and the Turks, despite their superior numbers, could not find a way through the fortifications of the city. The Turks man-for-man were no match for the Knights who, with their plate armour and heavy swords, were well protected and dangerous adversaries.

Rhodes was given forty years breathing space owing to internal machinations of the Sultanate, but when Suleiman the Magnificent took the throne, he was determined to destroy Rhodes. After he had subdued Budapest, and the Knights had again refused to come to terms with the Ottoman, Suleiman gathered a huge army, and invested the Knights headquarters.

Unfortunately for the Hospitallers, 1522 was a bad year to be looking for help from the Christian world. The stirrings of the Reformation, and wars between many of the great Christian princes meant that there was not much interest in what was going on in Rhodes, or in what the Ottomans were doing.

The Knights had spent the 40 years since the last siege working hard on improving their defences, but the technology of firearms had also improved, and the Turks had many large cannon with which to batter the walls of the town. And batter them they did over the course of six months.

At the end of this time, not only were the Knights depleted militarily, but the normal citizens of Rhodes were rebellious. When the Sultan made it plain that if the town was to surrender lives would be spared, it was clear that despite what the commanders thought, the siege was over.

All the Knights who wished to were allowed to leave Rhodes unscathed, and the order continued in various places, until settling on Malta, which is another story. The order still claimed Rhodes as its own until very recently.

Brockman, a Knight of Malta himself, has written a breezy history of both sieges, with just enough connecting information so the "average reader" can make sense of it all. His liberal use of contemporary writings adds colour and gives some indication of the conditions that the battles were fought under, and the state of mind of the combatants.

This edition had useful maps, and some fine plates of contemporary paintings of some of the main actors and locations.

If you're into the Crusades, or the Knights, worth fishing out.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

No comments:

Post a Comment