The headquarters of the Hospital of St. John moved to Rhodes in 1309. During the period covered in this project, the Hospitallers controlled Rhodes, which was a key center of Latin Christendom in the eastern Mediterranean, having strategic, religious, and commercial importance. The Hospital’s system of priories and langues gave Rhodes a fundamentally international culture during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Also of interest is the importance of the Hospital’s officers, particularly the Grand Master. The Hospital had strong connections with the papal court, especially while that court resided in Avignon. During the Great Schism the Hospital played a key role in negotiations, working first on behalf of the Avignon faction and later to resolve the Schism. The Grand Master Philibert de Naillac participated in both the Councils of Pisa and Constance, and Gautier le Gras helped elect Martin V as pope. When the papacy did return to Rome, the fleet carrying the papal court was under the naval command of the Hospitaller Juan Fernández de Heredia; he would later be the very prominent Grand Master of the Hospital.
The Hospital had complex relationships with the Turks. From the early fourteenth century through the end of our period, and later, the Hospital enjoyed good relations with the Mamluks. However, the papacy relied heavily on the Hospital for crusading efforts, and the Hospital was engaged in hostilities with the Ottoman Turks through the disastrous battle of Nicopolis in 1396. The Hospital also engaged in efforts to craft regional alliances in the face of the threat posed by Timur the Lame in the early fifteenth century.
Equally complex were the Hospital’s relations with Orthodox Christianity in Greece. The Hospital did not participate systematically in hostilities against their Orthodox neighbors. The Order did, though, desire to possess the Greek territory of Morea (Achaea, or the Peloponnese). The Hospital leased the territory from Queen Joanna of Naples, and Grand Master Heredia attempted to take the territory by force, though he failed in this attempt.
Juan Fernández (or Hernández) de Heredia was imposed on the Hospital as Grand Master by the pope in 1377, and he is the most important figure in the literary culture of the Hospital. He developed a “textual production team” responsible for creating an important corpus of translations and compilations in richly illuminated de luxe manuscripts. Heredia had strong ties to the Aragonese court, and his literary and cultural tastes influenced King Pedro and his heir Juan. Heredia’s correspondence with these figures, and his intellectual influences on them, helped shape an Aragonese court culture where interest in Greek literature and humanist thought flourished. Heredia introduced into Western vernacular languages previously inaccessible Greek texts, especially Plutarch’s Lives and works by Thucydides. Heredia was not only to an extent responsible for the development of humanist culture in the Aragonese court, but also for the development of Italian humanism; Collucio Salutati corresponded with Heredia and was quite interested in Heredia’s textual productions.
The output of Heredia’s “textual production team” bears witness to the strong connection between his textual interests and his political ambitions. Heredia had an affinity for historical writings, and two of the most important works associated with him are the Grant coronica de Espanya and the Grant coronica de los Conquiridores. Additionally, Heredia’s interest in acquiring Greek territory for the Hospital goes hand in hand with his interest in Greek history and culture, not only classical but also (much more unusually) Byzantine and medieval, as we see in the Libro de los emperadores que fueron en Grecia and Libro de los fechos et conquistas del principade de la Morea. Heredia also was attracted to conduct literature and works in the Mirror for Princes tradition, as his production of the Flor de las ystorias de Orient and Rams de flors make clear.
Among the appearances of the Hospital and Rhodes in literary works, perhaps the most famous is the story of the Grand Master Dieudonné de Gozon, who reportedly saved Rhodes from a dragon, an account that has been said to contribute to the “Arthurian aura” surrounding the Hospital and Rhodes in the later medieval period. And although it postdates our period, Tirant lo Blanc is perhaps the best known literary portrayal of a Hospitaller and of Rhodes.