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De Valette or de la Valette?

The recent inauguration of a new square in Valletta has once more triggered off controversy concerning the surname of the hero of the Great Siege and founder of the city-fortress of Valletta, known to many as Jean Parisot de la Valette, Grand Master of the Order of Malta from 1557 to 1568.

Given the variations in the full names of his grandfather and father it would seem that there is nothing wrong in referring to the Grand Master as Jean de Valette or, alternatively, as Jean de la Valette- Denis De Lucca

It is pertinent to point out – by way of introduction to this short contribution to the debate – that a contemporary of this famous Grand Master, Giacomo Bosio (1544-1627), an official historian of the Hospitaller Knights of St John, gives the following information in the third volume of his Dell’istoria della Sacra Religione, Giovanni di Santo dell’illustrissima milizia Gierosolimitano, first published in Italian in Rome in 1621:

“Questi sedici elettori adunque, dopo le solite osservanze, entrarono in Conclave; e havendo osservato la forma degli Stabilimenti, essendo stati quivi dentro per lo spatio quasi di cinque hore; n’uscirono poi, e per organo del Siniscalco Angest, Cavaliero dell’elettione, con la solita cerimonia pubblicarono alla Generale Assemblea, haver eletto Gran Maestro della Spedale di San Giovanni Gierosolimitano, e per Capo, e Superiore di Quest’Ordine, l’Illustrissimo, e Reverendissimo Fra Giovanni di Valletta, Priore di San Gilio, fin all’hora volgarmente chiamato Monsieur de Parisot. Ma dopo che fu fatto Gran Maestro, lasciando quell’Ag­nome, ch’era della Signoria di Suo Padre, ritenne solamente il cognome della familia sua di Valletta, nobilissima, e antichis­sima nel paese di Rouergue, la quale divenne poi, sua merce nel Mondo Celebre, e Immortale”.

It is clear from the above paragraph referring to the election of the Grand Master that the word Parisot was a nickname referring to his father’s fief of Parisot in the Tarn-et-Garonne district in the province of Quercy, situated in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. This explains why Bosio writes that the word Parisot was no longer used after the election of the Grand Master to the magistracy.

It is also clear that the word Valette refers to the Grand Master’s family name ‘Valletta’, which, according to Bosio, continued to be used by the Grand Master after his election. In addition, Bosio informs us that this family hailed from Rouergue.

According to other sources, the Grand Master’s family in Rouergue – a place which was closely associated with the fief of Parisot in the Quercy province – formed part of the main stem of the noble and ancient Valette family of Languedoc and Guyenne.

So was the full name of Bosio’s several subsequent Italian references to that illustrious ‘Gran Maestro Valletta’ Jean de Valette or Jean de la Valette? The following suggests that both versions are correct.

The Valette family – the name Valette seems to derive from the name of an ancient fortified chateau situated some 10 miles from Parisot which had been built and named Valette by the first Seigneur de Parisot, Fortuné de Valette (a seasoned warrior who had accompanied King Philip II of France on the Third Crusade of 1187-1192) – had been an important family in France for many generations, achieving great fame in the Middle Ages for producing brave warriors who often participated in the Crusades.

The Grand Master’s grandfather, referred to in documents as Bernard de Valette (but sometimes also as Bernard de la Valette), was a knight and a staunch supporter of the King of France, while his father, also referred to in documents as Guillot de Valette (but sometimes also as Guillot de la Valette) was a Chevalier de France who was born at Parisot in 1513 and died in 1548.

Given the documented above-mentioned variations of the full names of his grandfather and father, it would seem that there is nothing wrong in referring the Grand Master as Jean de Valette or, alternatively, as Jean de la Valette.

It can moreover be established that the Grand Master was a cousin (through their mutual ancestor Almaric, Seigneur de Parisot, who died in 1463) of the first Duke of Epernon, who was always referred to in contemporary documents as Jean Louis de Nogaret de la Valette (1552-1642).

It emerges that this Nogaret de la Valette had three sons – Henri, Louis and Bernard – who in the late 16th and early 17th century all bore their father’s surname de la Valette.

In this respect it may be of interest to point out that when carrying out archival research in Malta and France for my book Giovanni Battista Vertova: Diplomacy, Warfare and Military Engineering Practice in early 17th-century Malta, which was published in Malta in 2003, I recall that the ff. 6v-9v section in AOM Volume 257 – Osservationi del Cavaliere Vertova sopra la fortificatione Floriana con la relatione del suo viaggio – referred to Louis, as the Signor Cardinale Valletta just as Bosio had referred to the Grand Master as Gran Maestro Valletta.

The French sources I had consulted all referred to Louis and his two brothers as Louis de Nogaret de la Valette, Henri de Nogaret de la Valette and Bernard de Nogaret de la Valette. But who was this Signor Cardinale Valletta?

According to the Galeries Historiques du Palais de Versailles, published in Paris in 1840-1848, Louis de Nogaret de la Valette was born on February 8, 1593, developing at an early stage of his life a fascination for all things military. His father, Jean Louis de Nogaret de la Valette, the Duc d’Epernon, had however decided that his son’s career should be in the Church, and for this reason Louis had soon been appointed Abbot of the monastery of Saint Victor in Marseilles and subsequently Archbishop of Toulouse.

Pope Paul V (1605-1621) had been persuaded to make Louis de Nogaret de la Valette a cardinal in 1621 but it was then rumoured that this singular honour had not at all distracted Louis from his military ambitions. For this reason, the cardinal had abandoned his job at the Chateau de Blois where he was contributing to the upbringing of Queen Marie de’ Medici. He joined forces with Cardinal Richelieu who soon after appointed him governor of Anjou and Metz and also gave him a prestigious command post in Germany with the express task of assisting the Protestant Duke Bernard de Saxe-Weimar in his struggle against the Catholic league in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).

This military activity had been followed up by other postings in Alsace-Lorraine, Picardy and Italy, where he had served right up to his death, which occurred at Rivoli near Turin on September 28, 1639.

When introduced to Giovanni Battista Vertova in 1638 at the French military camp of Felizano, Louis had already made a name for himself as a ferocious warrior who had managed to draw upon himself the wrath of Pope Urban VIII for what was perceived as his infamous role in betraying the Catholic Church by furthering the cause of Protestantism in Germany.

The Pope had also frowned upon the perceived scandalous incompatibility of a number of exalted ecclesiastical positions that Louis had held during his lifetime (Abbot of Grand-Selve, Abbot of Saint-Vincent de Metz, Prior of Saint Martin des Champs and Abbot of Cluny) with his preference for leading a soldier’s life, participating in all the vices which were at the time normally associated with military campaigns.

Yet the tough Louis de Nogaret de la Valette, Cardinal of Saint Adrien, had been continuously protected by Richelieu, whose niece Marie du Cambout had in 1634 married his brother Bernard de Nogaret de la Valette, Duc d’Epernon, following the death in 1627 of his first wife Gabrielle-Angelique.

Louis’s brother, Henri de Nogaret de la Valette, Duke of Candale, was also a remarkable personality. The eldest son of Jean Louis de Nogaret de la Valette, Duc d’Epernon, and his wife Marquerite De Foix, Comtesse de Candale et d’Astarac, he was born in Angouleme in France in 1591 and subsequently appointed at a young age to serve as the military governor of Angoumois, Saintonge and Aunis and as his father’s representative in the Paris Parliament.

At the age of 20, the young Henri had been forced to marry Anne, the Duchesse d’Hallwin. As expected by many, the marriage had not worked out and the unhappy union had to be annulled in 1612. As a result, Anne went on to marry Marshal Charles de Schomberg while a disgruntled Henri left France after openly quarrelling with his father, who blamed his son as having caused all the trouble.

After having offered his services to the Emperor Matthias, Henri had decided to join a dangerous expedition which the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo II de’ Medici (1590-1620) was then organising against the Turks.

Embarking with his troops on a war galley at Civitavecchia on April 2, 1613, the Duke of Candale had proved his mettle when he had single-handedly stormed the Turkish stronghold of Aghman on the coast of Caramanlie and massacred its garrison, becoming the hero of a ferocious battle described in detail by Jullien de Courcelles in his Dictionnaire Universel de la noblesse de France, published in Paris in 1820-1822.

In 1614 Henri had returned to France to be nominated premier gentilhomme in the French court, but his involvement with a courtesan had greatly angered his father who, in reaction, had transferred the coveted title of Duc d’Epernon to his younger brother Bernard.

Faced with further family threats of disinheritance, Henri had impulsively decided to embarrass quite about everyone by joining the ranks of the Protestant Huguenots in the south of France, publicly declaring his conversion to the Protestant cause on January 10, 1616, in a memorable speech in which he had accused the Catholic Church of superstition, idolatry and false doctrinal teachings that distorted the true word of God, well explained in pages 358-360 in Haag’s La France Protestante, published in Paris in 1846-1859.

Having exercised great influence on the Huguenot assembly at Nimes, where in 1615 he had been appointed general of Cevennes, it is recorded that Henri had soon afterwards travelled to the Netherlands to fight for Maurice of Nassau, the soldier son of the famous Prince William of Orange, then engaged in a bitter struggle with the Catholic Spaniards.

Not only had the Duke of Candale led an entire infantry regiment through hostile territory to relieve the town of Berg-op-Zoom, which in 1622 was being besieged by General Ambrosio Spinola, but he had followed up this act of aggression by afterwards going to Venice, where such was his fame as a warrior and a leader of men that Doge Giovanni I Corner had immediately appointed him to lead his Venetian troops at Valtellina in 1625.

In his capacity as general of the Venetian army, Henri de Nogaret de la Valette in 1630 had also tried to relieve his campatriot and friend Duke Carlo de Nevers, who was then besieged in Mantua, but he had suffered an unexpected setback at Villabuona where his inexperienced Venetian infantry had been heavily defeated by the Spanish forces.

Returning to his native France in 1631, Henri, forced by his father to renounce the Huguenot cause, had been appointed Chevalier des Ordres du Roi, but once again he took offence at Richelieu’s refusal to recommend him for the post of Marechal de France, so that he abruptly left the country to take up the position of generalissimo of all Venetian land forces.

Members of the Valette family in 16th and 17th century France used both the ‘de’ and ‘de la’ preceding their surnames, thus implying that arguing about the famous Grand Master’s name is really unnecessary- Denis De Lucca

Through the good offices of his brothers Louis and Bernard, matters were rapidly patched up with Cardinal Richelieu so that on December 11, 1636, King Louis XIII finally appointed the Duke of Candale to the prestigious post of lieutenant-general of the French army in Guyenne, this giving Henri ample opportunity to prove his worth at the sieges of Maubeuge and Landrecies.

Having now firmly reconciled himself with the Catholic Church, Henri was appointed lieutenant-general of the French army of Picardy on April 9, 1637, and a year later, lieutenant-general of the French army in Italy, a post he held right up to his death at Casale in Montferrat on February 11, 1639.

It is clear from the above that members of the very influential Valette family in 16th and 17th century France used both the ‘de’ and ‘de la’ preceding their Valette surnames, thus implying that arguing about the famous Grand Master’s name is really unnecessary.

Incidentally, it is revealed in Girard’s 1659 book entitled The History of the Life of the Duke of Epernon (1554-1642) that Bernard de Nogaret de la Valette in 1639 was exiled to England where he married Antoinette (also known as Alice) Faudoas, an exiled French Huguenot residing in Wales, who became his third wife.

After Bernard returned from his political exile to France in 1643 shortly after his father’s death, Antoinette’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren – some of whom emigrated to America – used the surnames de Valette, de la Valette, de la Vallette or simply Vallette, sometimes also the peerage name of Epernon and even what seems to have been the anglicised version of that French peerage name, Epperson.

Members of the Valette family also feature repeatedly in countless old books concerning the French Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years War, both important landmarks in the history of the baroque world.

Prof. De Lucca is the director of the International Institute for Baroque Studies and head of the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of Malta. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

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