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The Siege of Valletta, 1798-1800

Christopher Hibbert describes how the people of Malta revolted against their Napoleonic garrison and, with British and Neapolitan aid, became a British Mediterranean dependency.

Troubled by a persistent cough and agonizing pain from the stitched wound in his forehead, Nelson was sailing for Naples after his great victory over the French at the battle of the Nile when his flagship, the Vanguard, was hailed off the coast of Sicily by a vessel from Malta.

Two delegates of the Maltese National Assembly were given permission to board the Vanguard where they had a dramatic story to tell. After a savage riot at Mdina, their fellow countrymen had risen in revolt against the French garrison which, at Napoleon’s command, had so recently replaced the Knights of St John.

The island was in uproar; help was urgently needed.

Two months before, a Maltese uprising had seemed scarcely conceivable. On July 14th, 1798, the union of the Maltese people with the French Republic had been celebrated with remarkable enthusiasm in the re-named streets of Valletta.

There had been marches and fireworks, races and games; French cockades had been distributed, patents of nobility had been burned, trees had been planted, and toasts had been drunk.

The people had been assured that they would enjoy a freedom and a prosperity unknown in the long years during which they had been subjected to the rule of the Grand Master of the Order from which Bonaparte had benevolently released them.

Yet the Maltese soon had cause to complain as bitterly about their new masters as ever they had had about the Knights.

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