Feudal Lords of Malta

Between 1194 and 1530 the Kingdom of Sicily ruled the Maltese islands and a process of full latinisation started in Malta.

In 1091, count Roger I of Sicily, made an initial attempt to establish Norman rule of Malta and was greeted by the few native Christians. In 1127, his son Roger II of Sicily succeeded. This marked the gradual change from an Arab cultural influence to a European one. In 1191, Tancred of Sicily appointed Margaritus of Brindisi the first Count of Malta. Until the 1224, however, there remained a strong Muslim segment of society.

After the Norman conquest the population of the Maltese islands kept growing mainly through immigration from the north (Sicily and Italy), with the exile to Malta of the entire male population of the town of Celano (Italy) in 1223, the stationing of a Norman and Sicilian garrison on Malta in 1240 and the settlement in Malta of noble families from Sicily between 1372 and 1450. As a consequence of a major academic study found that “the contemporary males of Malta most likely originated from Southern Italy, including Sicily and up to Calabria”.

Malta was an appendage of Sicily for nearly 440 years. During this period, Malta was sold and resold to various feudal lords and barons and was dominated successively by the rulers of Swabia, Anjou, the Crown of Aragon, the Crown of Castile, and Spain. Eventually the Crown of Aragon, which then ruled Malta, joined with Castile in 1479, and Malta became part of the Spanish Empire. Malta’s administration thus fell in the hands of local nobility who formed a governing body called the Università under the captaincy of a Capitano della Verga elected once a year on the feast of St John Baptist (24th June).

In the mid 14th century, Frederick’s IV Malta was a semi autonomous, Arabic speaking dependency of the Regno, where growing cotton was a major occupancy.

Castrum_MarisIt was the time when the family of Ciccio Gatto was appointed Castellan of Malta, but his family was pushed aside for the next two decades by the rise of a local strongman, Giacomo de Pellegrino a Messinese privateer who was related to the Counts of Malta through his marriage to ‘the royal kinswoman’ Margaret of Aragon. By 1356 he held the captaincy of the Maltese islands wielding power through his armed contingent.

In 1372 the king himself, at the head of a Genoese squadron of 10, led the siege of Pellegrino’s forces in the castrum – St. Angelo and Mdina. Apparently the royal involvement met with extensive local support which led to an exceptional show of force by an otherwise sovereign which was sealed by numerous grants of royal favours, posts and holdings to local inhabitants who, in one way or another, supported the Genoese-Sicilian intervention in the Maltese islands. Thirty-two concessions, issued in the six days between 8 and 14 November 1372 by Frederick IV in Malta, document the role played by various individuals in the reduction of the castle of Malta to royal obedience.

But peace prevailed only for a short period. Around 1375, Frederick IV found once more that the royal patrimony was dispersing in private hands, undermining the ability to pay the salaries of the castellan and servientes defending the castrum maris.

He appointed William of Aragon, Frederick’s illegitimate son and infante of Sicily, as Count of Malta. It was a return to feudal rule. Armed rebellions from the populance, supported by noble families followed. The crown read the situation as a direct challenge to its authority, and proceeded to dispossess the ringleaders, reinforcing the Maltese Castrum.

The rebellion spread around Malta and Gozo, causing regional repercussions. Meanwhile in his will, Frederick stated that Maria, his daughter was to be crowned queen of Sicily. After his death though the Islands were drawn more closely into the sphere of influence of the ambitious count of Modica, Manfred Chiaramonte. No heed was taken of the king’s wishes, Maria was placed under tutelage of Artale Alagona, the magnate based at Catania. The Regno was divided into the wardships of four different magnates. The queen was kidnapped and taken to Sardinia by Guglielmo Moncada, at the wish of King Peter IV of Aragon but he did not manage to conquer the island except symbolically. In 1377 Manfred Chiaramonte claimed his title of count of Malta. The feudal period led the islands to uncertainty and decline. Heavy fighting in different places, including Gozo and Mdina, marked the transfer from feudal to crown rule. The stronghold of this insurrection became the Castrum maris and this developed in a lengthy affair lasting months, with the crown needing all the support it could master. This benefitted the islanders no better.

acgThis led a highly vulnerable defensive situation which together with the crown’s financial needs were certainly two factors behind the pawning of the islands by the new king.

In January 1421 King Alfonso granted the islands and all the Maltese revenue to Don Antonio Cardona who was his viceroy in Sicily. He needed the pawned 30,000 Aragonese florins for his campaigns in the conquest of Naples.

Cardona pledged to fly the royal flag over the Maltese islands, and be committed towards Aragonese foreign policy. The Maltese swore their loyalty towards Cardona against pledge that their rights and privileges would be honoured. Four weeks later (7th March 1421), Cardona officially transferred all his rights to Don Gonsalvo Monroy a Castillian galley captain and trusted servant of King Alfonso.

In 1423 a Moorish force attacked the Maltese islands devastating the countryside and carried away a large number of inhabitants into captivity.  No direct effort was made to alleviate the serious food shortages faced by the population.

This was apparently one factor forcing the Gozitan population to revolt against their Feudal Lord who by 1425 had become admiral of Sicily and was numbering among the chief barons of the Regno.

Monroy could not bring the island to heel, and turned to the king for help. The Maltese town councillors sent their representations to the crown. They pointed out they were doing all within their power to prevent the insurrection from spreading to Malta; pointing several grievances. The crown was alarmed but dragged it’s feet; Monroy was inflexible. The rebellion spread to the larger island in 1426.

The dissatisfied Maltese were getting more restless and in 1426 with the backing of the Universita’ rebelled, pillaging Monroy’s house in Mdina and laid siege on the Castrum Maris at Birgu.

gonsalvo-monroyMonroy’s men, as well as his wife Lady Constance, were blockaded in the Castrum Maris. King Alfonso asked his viceroys in Sicily to appoint a governor for Malta. Upon Monroy’s return to Sicily the Maltese and Gozitan populations were outlawed.

By May 1427 forces were put together ready to set sail to subdue the revolt in the Maltese islands and liberate Monroy’s men, including the Maltese who were at the Castrum Maris and punish the perpetrators. Local representatives claimed their right to redeem the islands by paying Monroy his money.

For a brief period, the Maltese had complete control on their homeland. The Maltese were ready to pay 30,000 florins to redeem their islands.

The Maltese never paid the 30,000 florins before Monroy’s death. In his will he divided the sum that had been raised between his heirs, the king and the Maltese who had contributed. The king’s part was to be spent in repairing the fortifications.

Despite the poor options available, negotiations dragged on for many months during which time the Maltese held out against their King who had initially threatened them with extermination (no empty threat in 1427).

Monroy was in favour of the deal offered by the Maltese. It was about to fall apart when hostages were demanded pending payment and the release of Donna Costanza but was salvaged when negotiator Antonio Inguanez offered his two sons in her place.

An inscribed marble plaque inside one of Mdina’s gates records this extraordinary service to the king but also to Inguanez’s own people.

On 20 June 1428 King Alfonso V issued from Valencia an extraordinary royal charter in favour of the Maltese islands, which was to mark a political crown for the next one hundred years. The islands would always to form part of the royal domain. The resulting charter, granting the Maltese and the Gozitans a right to rebellion in perpetuity, granted rights to all Maltese and Gozitans and their descendants.

The Feudal Lords of Malta

1190 1197 Margaritone da Brindisi
1197 1204 Guglielmo da Brindisi
1204 1265 Enrico Piscatore
1265 1266 Nicola Piscatore (Count of Malta)

Malta forms part of the Angevin dominion 1266 – 1284

1285 1296 Ruggiero Flor
1299 1303c. Donna Lucina (wife of Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada, Kingdon of Aragon

Swappped Malta for Augusta 1320

1330 William (Duke) son of Frederick II
1342 1348 John fourth son of Frederick II
1348 1350 Frederick, son of John
1357 1360

Nicola Acciajoli

Manfredo Chiaramonte

1360 1362 Guido Ventimiglia

Malta reverted to the Crown


Guglielmo d’Aragona

Don Luigi, son of Frederick

1387 1391 Giacomo d’Aragona
1391 1394 Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada
1394 1397 Artale d’Aragona

Malta is annexed to the Royal domain

1420 1421 Don Antonio Cardona
1421 1427 Don Consalvo Monroy

Malta annexed again to the Royal Domain

An overview of the historical passage of the notional Sovereignty of the Maltese Islands from the earliest known period up to the Treaty of Paris 1814.


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