The Siege of Malta, 1565

11 Jan, 2018 940 History of Europe

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the event of which Voltaire, two hundred years later, said ‘nothing was more well known’. In 1565, Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman leader, sent a great fleet west to lay siege to Malta and capture it for his empire. Victory would mean control of trade across the Mediterranean and a base for attacks on Spain, Sicily and southern Italy, even Rome. It would also mean elimination of Malta’s defenders, the Knights Hospitaller, driven by the Ottomans from their base in Rhodes in 1522 and whose raids on his shipping had long been a thorn in his side. News of the Great Siege of Malta spread fear throughout Europe, though that turned to elation when, after four months of horrific fighting, the Ottomans withdrew, undermined by infighting between their leaders and the death of the highly-valued admiral, Dragut. The Knights Hospitaller had shown that Suleiman’s forces could be contained, and their own order was reinvigorated.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Helen Nicholson 2 episodes
    Professor of Medieval History at Cardiff University
  • Diarmaid MacCulloch 11 episodes
    Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford
  • Kate Fleet 2 episodes
    Director of the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies and Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge

Reading list

  • The Siege of Malta 1565
    Francisco Balbi di Correggio (trans. Ernle Bradford) (Boydell and Brewer, 2011) Google Books →
  • The Great Siege: Malta 1565
    Ernle Bradford (Open Road Media, 2014) Google Books →
  • Ottoman Seapower and Levantine Diplomacy in the Age of Discovery
    Palmira Brummett (State University of New York Press, 1993) Google Books →
  • Nobility, Faith and Masculinity: The Hospitaller Knights of Malta, c.1580 - c.1700
    Emanuel Buttigieg (Continuum, 2011) Google Books →
  • The Cambridge History of Turkey, vol. II The Ottoman Empire as a World Power, 1453-1603
    Suraiya N. Faroqhi and Kate Fleet (eds.) Google Books →
  • Encyclopaedia of Islam Three
    Kate Fleet, Gudrun Kramer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas and Everett Rowson (eds.) (Brill, forthcoming) Google Books →
  • The Ottoman Empire and Early Modern Europe
    Daniel Goffman (Cambridge University Press, 2002) Google Books →
  • Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean
    Molly Greene (Princeton University Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • The Forgotten Frontier: A History of the Sixteenth-Century Ibero-African Frontier
    Andrew C. Hess (The University of Chicago Press, 2011) Google Books →
  • Agents of Empire: Knights, Corsairs, Jesuits and Spies in the Sixteenth Century Mediterranean World
    Noel Malcolm (Penguin, 2016) Google Books →
  • The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923
    Justin McCarthy (Routledge, 1997) Google Books →
  • Knight Hospitaller (2), 1306-1565
    David Nicolle (Osprey Publishing, 2001) Google Books →
  • Knights Hospitaller
    Helen Nicholson (Boydell Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • Malta 1565: Last Battle of the Crusades
    Tim Pickles (Osprey Publishing, 1998) Google Books →
  • Hospitallers: The History of the Order of St John
    Jonathan Riley-Smith (Hambledon Continuum, 1999) Google Books →
  • The Papacy and the Levant, 1204-1571, volume IV: The Sixteenth Century from Julius III to Pius V
    Kenneth M. Setton (The American Philosophical Society, 1976) Google Books →
  • Empire and Holy War in the Mediterranean: The Galley and Maritime Conflict Between the Habsburgs and Ottomans
    Philip Williams (I.B. Tauris, 2015) Google Books →

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Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, in 1565 Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman leader, sent a great fleet west to lay siege to Malta and capture it for his empire.