The Knights Hospitallers
The rule of the Order of the Knights Hospitallers (Chevaliers de Saint Jean de Jerusalem or Hospitalarii) was in force as early as 1156 and had its roots to the equivalent rule of the Order of Saint Benedict. This Order was not strictly monastic, as for instance the Benedictines or the Cistercians, nor was it a secular brotherhood, like many among the small orders that offered hospital services during the Late Medieval period.
It belonged to a small but important group of orders of the Catholic Church with religious, military and social obligations and rights. Along with the Templars (Fratres templi) they were considered from the beginning of the 12th century the most important representative of the Crusaders’ ideology and fought with the sword the adversary Muslim ideology in the East. The Order belonged directly to the pope and not to the local bishops and ought to maintain in its seat a large hospital destined to hospitalize the defenders of faith and the seculars of the region.
A predominant characteristic of the constitution of the Order was the strict hierarchy, which consisted of three strata that reflected the tripartite division of the medieval West European society into nobles, clergy and people. The first class consisted of the knights (milites), who were noblemen, exercised power and assumed exclusively the high administrative and military offices. The second class consisted of the capellani, who were not nobles, but their parents ought not to be slaves and their duties concerned the performance of the religious rites of the Order. The third class consisted of the sergeants (servientes armorum), descendants of free men, who helped the knights at war, at the administration and the hospitalization of the sick, poor and unfortunate people.
The Hospitallers were an international organization whose members came from many countries of the West. The national groups of the Order made up the seven tongues or langues (lingua): Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon, England and Germany. The leader of each tongue (pillerius) belonged to the highest category of offices and was charged with certain state duties. Each tongue maintained its lodge in Rhodes. Its members gathered there and personalities from the West Europe were accommodated when they passed from the island.
The central administration of the Order was composed of:
a) The general council (Chapitre General), which consisted of all the members of the Order, was the supreme administrative body and had the absolute supervision of all the actions of the administrative and military state organizations.
b) The grand master (Grand Maitre), who was the head of public administration and of the army on land and sea.
c) The council (Conseil or Couvent), which was in charge of assisting the grand master in public and military administration.
The jurisdictions of all the above are not precisely determined. Moreover, it is certain that they have undergone gradual changes. During the period that Rhodes was governed by the Order, the offices of the council were granted as follows: Grand Precepteur or Grand Commandeur (leader of the tongue of Provence and second in hierarchy after the grand master), Marechal (leader of the tongue of Auvergne and responsible for the supplying of the army and navy), Hospitalier (leader of the tongue of France and head of the hospital), Drapier or Grand Conservateur (leader of the tongue of Aragon and responsible for the clothing of the Order), Tresorier or Grand Bailli (leader of the tongue of Germany and administrator of the estates of the Order), Amiral (leader of the tongue of Italy and leader of the fleet), Turcopliers (leader of the tongue of England and leader of the light cavalry), Grand Chancellier (from 1461 onwards, leader of the most recent tongue of Castile, head of the secretariat of the grand master). Lastly, justice was administered by judges, who came under the Bailli de Rhodes. The latter was appointed directly by the grand master.
Although offices such as that of the logothetes, the kaloi anthropoi and the council of the seniors were institutions with unclarified jurisdictions, they were an indication that a certain degree of self-government was left to the Greek element of the island. In extraordinary cases, mixed committees were constituted and convoked by Franks and Greeks for important issues to be determined.
It seems that originally the orthodox metropolitan of Rhodes was expelled from the island as a representative of the Byzantine ideology. The Order had obtained the privilege to appoint the Latin archbishop and the bishoprics of the neighbouring islands were subordinate to him.
The above situation changed from mid 15th century, when the procedures for the union of the Latin and the Orthodox Church got under way. The Rhodian church had accepted a peculiar Uniatism and by the end of the Latin occupation orthodox prelates were appointed in the church. They were selected by the grand master among 2-3 candidates presented to him by orthodox electors of Rhodes, clergymen and laymen. The approved prelate pledged faith to the grand master and to the Latin archbishop, who acted as the representative of the pope, and he was ordained by orthodox priests.
The Orthodox people were free to perform their religious ceremonies, whereas the trials of orthodox clerics and the marriages of Greeks came under the jurisdiction of the Latin archbishop and the Orthodox metropolitan. None of them could justify any act without the cooperation of the other. In civil cases the local customs were prevalent, whereas the grand master had authority over church property.