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"Napoleon never pillaged Malta" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse12 Sep 2018 9:37 p.m. PST

"The French plunder of Malta in the late 18th century was a lie told by Maltese aristocrats and clerics to justify a bloody uprising, according to a new book on the era.

Broadcaster and Francophile Charles Xuereb's book France in the Maltese Collective Memory, claims that the looting of Maltese churches, widely accepted as the impetus behind the 1798 uprising, was little more than a ruse by the upper classes to maintain political control of the island.

"We have this notion of French soldiers pillaging churches across the island. This didn't happen. Dioceses for instance were barely touched and whatever silver was taken was definitely not stolen," Dr Xuereb said…"
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Green Tiger13 Sep 2018 2:14 a.m. PST

It seems very unlikely – they pillaged everywhere else they went – including France…

Roderick Robertson Fezian13 Sep 2018 8:23 a.m. PST

"whatever silver was taken was definitely not stolen"

Hmm, yeah, it was graciously given by the churches to the quiet, studious, reverent, apologetic soldiers.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2018 9:10 a.m. PST

they pillaged everywhere else they went – including France…

That depended on who the commander was and at what level. Napoleon did not hold with pillaging, nor did Davout and other French commanders.

Another sweeping statement…

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2018 11:55 a.m. PST

A moment of reality here. If Napoleon really didn't hold with pillaging, could someone identify ANY measures he initiated to put an end to it? (And does anyone have an explanation for all the Italian artwork still in the Louvre?)

The "voluntary contributions" and the "local democracy" bear a depressing resemblance to how the French government dealt with the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and much of Germany--and with how the Soviet Union liberated central Europe. (I'm even starting to have my doubts about the Delian League.) If someone wants to claim the "gifts" weren't coerced, and the local officials had real authority--well, I'm going to need to see a small mountain of evidence. As far as I can see, only the Battle of the Nile saved the Maltese from being the Principality of Malta under some Bonaparte in law or cousin, and 16 year old Maltese from freezing to death in the retreat from Moscow.

Green Tiger14 Sep 2018 1:24 a.m. PST

That depended on who the commander was and at what level. Napoleon did not hold with pillaging, nor did Davout and other French commanders….

Ha,ha,ha,ha,ha !!

von Winterfeldt14 Sep 2018 1:56 a.m. PST

go and visit churches in Verona, a lot of copies of art paintings, the originals robbed by Boney.

He did not even care about graves – didn't he take the sword and hat of Frederick the Great away from Potsdam, the money he paid his Armée d'Italie – kindly donated by free heart from the Italians?

Wasn't he know – rightly so – as thieve of Europe?

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2018 9:03 a.m. PST

To quote Kevin

nor did Davout and other French commanders

Davout and St. Cyr were not into plundering. As to some of the others, we'll start with the defeat at Bailen where the army was loaded down with plunder. Then I remembered Soult and I started laughing to hard at Kevin's statement that I can't finish this sen…..

ConnaughtRanger14 Sep 2018 9:45 a.m. PST

PLEASE can we not go round this yet again. I thought it had long been established in this Forum that no-one in the French Army stole so much as a brass sou from anyone in any country at any time during the subject period. The British were the ones who stole everything and were generally beastly to Johnny Foreigner.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse14 Sep 2018 12:16 p.m. PST

(big smile)


MaggieC70 Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2018 3:37 p.m. PST

I have often wondered what exactly was the Big Deal about looting and pillaging and stealing and appropriating back in the day? Why should we care, we who are not products of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, nor ascribe to the mores and customs of that time?

Guys, it's what armies did. Everybody's army. Looted the family cow, stole the sheep, made off with reliquaries from the local church, pilfered eggs and the farmer's daughter, and sent the really valuable big stuff home to a museum.

To the victor belong the spoils, yes? Rock on, looters, and steal something for me. The rest of you stop being so bloody sanctimonious.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse15 Sep 2018 11:51 a.m. PST

I'm with you MaggieC70!!….


Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP15 Sep 2018 2:11 p.m. PST

Very well said Maggie. Keep up the good work.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP15 Sep 2018 5:05 p.m. PST

The 'culprit(s)' for the looting in Northern Italy were the agents of the Directory.

Napoleon attempted, too many times unsuccessfully, to curb their looting.

There is convincing evidence of this in The Road to Rivoli by Boycott-Brown.

Jpnorth28 Sep 2018 6:04 a.m. PST

There was plenty of pillaging. Most valuable was the treasure of Saint John, Niello-Sargy stating: "estimated to value three million. Monsieur Bertollet, the army's quartermaster, was tasked with seizing the gold, the silver and any precious stones from the church and any other property belonging to the order as well as that of the Grand Master. The next day, 14 June, the gold was melted down into ingots for ease of transport." Niello-Sargy on some more pillaging: "after having emptied the storehouses and magazines, we pillaged the treasury and made off with the archives of the Order, we left a garrison of 4,000 men under General Vaubois, and rushed back to our boats."

The troops pillaged too. Quartermaster Charles François saw some of the treasure that his men had found: "an enormous lump of silver, a bell some three feet high and in the same metal, and a rather rare Chinese carpet".

Smaller examples included the 400 sheep loaded onboard the fleet. And the Grand Master's Chinese porcelain sent to Paris but captured by the Sea Horse.

HairiYetie29 Sep 2018 11:41 p.m. PST

A distinction needs to be made, here, between the removal of valuables which belonged to the Church and Knights of St John and pillaging from the Maltese.
There certainly was much of the former and it is documented in detail, but as far as I can recall I have never come across any references to "pillaging" from the Maltese population until after the uprising.
The removal of the property of the Knights which included public buildings, some of which were auctioned off to raise funds, was seen as a normal outcome of displacing the Knights by force of arms.
What the French authorities failed to understand was that the Church and the population were bonded by centuries of tradition and a desperate devotion of the common people. Most of the local wealth of the church had been willingly donated by the common populace which did not take kindly to the newcomers laying claim to it.
The French were intent on improving education among the common people and removing the loving stranglehold that the Church had on the Maltese. But the Maltese themselves had other ideas.
With regard to the 400 sheep mentioned above by Jpnorth, it may well be that the French administration paid for them fair and square … from the spoils derived from the Knights and Church!
Once the insurrection flared up and the French shut themselves off in Valletta, they taxed the Maltese still living in the city heavily. But this was nothing like wanton pillage; it was systematic and administered under rule of law in the event of necessity imposed by siege.
There is no doubt that the French were despotic in their manner of administering the Islands and making sweeping changes. They also had little respect for the individual Maltese peasant who they viewed as uneducated, superstitious and submissive to a "corrupt" Church. But all indications are that the French authority had plans for the "betterment" of Maltese society, by their definition. It may well be that if the uprising did not take place and that if war did not rage throughout Europe, the Maltese may have been better off under French rule than under the Knights of St John.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse30 Sep 2018 3:29 p.m. PST

Good point my friend!.


von Winterfeldt01 Oct 2018 6:24 a.m. PST

Please reflect

Niello-Sargy on some more pillaging: "after having emptied the storehouses and magazines, we pillaged the treasury and made off with the archives of the Order, we left a garrison of 4,000 men under General Vaubois, and rushed back to our boats."

this was before Vaubois took over, who very ill managed his despotic rule – for more – one could read for a change the Maltese point of view – like Testa – The French in Malta.

I can see no country which was better off under Boney's rule – instead to their own rule.

HairiYetie01 Oct 2018 12:29 p.m. PST

In those days Malta was never going to be self ruling. My comparison was French against Order rule. And French might have been better if it had been given a fair chance.

I have Testa's book … signed by the author.

Your quote speaks about removing the wealth of the previous administration, not pillaging the population. I commented on that in my first post.

von Winterfeldt01 Oct 2018 1:59 p.m. PST

I cannot follow your logic, stealing valuable church painting in Italy in 1796 – after all – according to you is just stealing from a church and not the population, in the end the population is deploring that they cannot see their cherished pictures any longer.
In the end stealing wealth from a rich man, in the end is not stealing from the population at all.

The French rule had a fair change, they just botched it.

By the way do you have any evidence that the French did pay for the 400 sheep?

HairiYetie02 Oct 2018 1:28 a.m. PST

Do You have any evidence that the French did not pay for them?

The word pillaging brings to mind desolation of town and villages where people are dispossessed of the valuables and the necessities of life at the hands of out of control troops or ones who were given a free hand. None of this happened in Malta as far as I can tell until perhaps the final stages of the siege but even then it appears that the besieged French kept things pretty much under control.

In contrast, the Knights and the Church were viewed as states which had taken a stand against the revolution. They were both seen as decadent and their wealth was forfeit by rule of French law. There was no wanton pillaging by roving bands of brigands in uniform.

And sure, French Law had been shaped by the revolution and the result was a massacre of tens of thousands under that new rule of law. But, have you read the articles of administration laid down by Napoleon before he left the island. They're detailed in Testa's book. Given the period and circumstances, those articles were an exercise in sensibility.

von Winterfeldt02 Oct 2018 4:33 a.m. PST

Three further orders issued by Napoleon gave rise to murmurs of discontent, wild rumours, and even words of open rebellion

Testa, page 156

This shabby treatment to a section of the Maltese population which was slowly dying of penury was one of the causes which did led to the uprising a few weeks later.

Testa, page 201

The churches and their embellishments are considered by Maltese as the common heritage of every village in Malta and Gozo (…)

Testa, page 210

HairiYetie02 Oct 2018 12:26 p.m. PST

Where's the pillaging?

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