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‘Jehan De Valete’

There is, for historians, linguists and genealogists, an ongoing controversy about the true name of the 1565 Great Siege of Malta hero traditionally known as Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette.

For the second time – the first time was not noticed by any critics – I must point out that anyone visiting our National (formerly Public) Library or Biblioteca in Valletta will be surprised to come across manuscript documents signed by Valette himself. And his signature clearly reads: Jehan De Valete.

This is our protagonist’s own version of his own name. ‘Jehan’ is medieval and Renaissance French for Jean.

‘Valete’ appears to have been the original spelling of Valette in former times in France, when spelling had not yet been standardised. It may conceivably even be a spelling mistake, which was more acceptable in medieval times.

My personal view is that Jean de Valette stands for our hero, the man, the person. And La Valette or La Vallette or La Valletta stands for his City, The City of Valette becoming La Valletta in Italian.

This is even slightly confusing, because this city is not built in a ‘valley’, but on top of a hill or low mountain, Monte Sceberras, after the grand master. One wonders who actually chose the New City’s name, although a good guess could be made: the Order’s Grand Council.

I do not begrudge Giovanni Bonello for seeking correctness in Valette’s name, according to manuscript documents, as I have personally met in Valletta’s Biblioteca.

It is healthy to have a positively critical mind, since tradional versions are not always correct or faithfulto reality.

So ‘Jean de Valete’ is a valid version and consideration to bear in mind, as explained above.

For more information on Grand Master Jean Parisot de (La) Valette, I refer readers to a now rare biography published in the 1970s by Bridget Cassar Borg Olivier in Malta.

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