From Black Beard to the exploits of Sir Francis Drake, the genius Dragut Reis and the great Dutch Admiral Peit Hein whose song praising the capture of the Spanish “silver fleet” written in 1844 is still sung by choirs and children at primary schools in the Netherlands, every Maritime Nation is proud of its Corsairs/Privateers & Pirates.
In Argentina, Juan Azzopardo is the deal. In Malta, we proudly dare say we have our own local sea dog who could very well match their level, a Maltese Privateer who would become the Founder of the Argentinian Navy. We know for a fact our fellow Argentinians would also proudly agree, because our heavyweight naval champion from Senglea, Juan Azzopardo is their National Hero. He is so respected almost everything in Argentina is named after him – schools (lots of them), streets, warships , nautical clubs , discotheques, you name it!!
Azzopardo Memorial in Senglea.. Respect to Argentina. Alas Malta, is in fact Azzopardo’s birthplace, although a good number of us are unfortunately clueless. ‘’Azzopardo whom?X’ghamel?’’. Yet mention the corsair Dragut, or Admiral Ball in Malta and one way or another for a number reasons everyone has heard their name. Fair enough, rightly deserved, …”Imma mbaghad Azzopardo taghna m’hemmx ghalfejn insemmuh lil Maltin.” Why?? Why, have we in a number of areas shamefully allowed our famed local sea dogs, who earned the respect of friend and foe alike all over the Mediterranean and the World, to chance or to luck (as is our personal case ). Why have we allowed them to become of secondary importance, rather than emulating them and giving them the respect they deserve as foreign countries have given theirs and informed their people from a young age?? With all the mainstream ‘’Zibel’’ we are subjected to on a daily basis, knowledge of our local naval heroes is a breath of fresh air and a source of inspiration in many ways.
Luckily throughout the years things have been changing, Maltese Corsairs and Maritime Culture are being given their fair share of the spotlight rightly deserved by numerous historians, authors, re-enactors & teachers, and much more is sure to follow. Furban Malti’s main goal is to further help accelerate this, and so without further delay we present our FIRST Furban of an upcoming series of Hardcore Maltese Furbani, some of which would make ‘’The Expendables’’ look like a bunch of sissies.
Michele ta’ Malta – forever immortalised by the Knights themselves. In an age before internet and friend requests, this Maltese’s reputation in 1465 as a badass Corsair was already enough to get the attention of the Knights of St John , who at the time were still based at Rhodes. At this stage, totally oblivious that one day their Corsairing party in Rhodes would be crashed thus forcing them to settle in ‘barren’ Malta. More importantly, none would have ever predicted the consequences of their decision in inviting this celebrity Maltese Furban Captain to join their party in Rhodes.
The island of Rhodes was a step away from the Ottoman Empire’s doorstep and so boredom was never an issue for the Knights. Naval battles and skirmishes with the Turks kept them busy. Therefore keen to augment their already growing nest of corsairs for their naval ‘’guerilla’’ war against the Turks, (something which the Knights would successfully replicate in Malta later on, with the Maltese Furban playing the major role as a paramilitary force causing mayhem, surprise surprise), they asked for Michele’s help to protect the seas around Rhodes. Michele being a Corsair for hire, with a keen eye for plunder and glory eagerly agreed to their request.
And they lived happily ever after… well not exactly, in fact this business relationship didn’t take long to sour. Two years later in 1467, Michele started breaking the rules of only attacking Turks and instead he started harassing practically anyone he came across consisting mostly of ‘’Christian merchantmen of Cyprus, Rhodes, and the neighbouring islands’’ becoming a nuisance to his employers and basically to anyone ‘lucky’ enough to catch his attention at sea. Nonetheless he still had an important admirer – the King of Cyprus, who basically told Michele ‘’Wet my beak’’ in exchange for shelter during these forays. There’s nothing like a little share of the booty to close an eye or two towards illegal acts… of corsairing.
The final straw for the Knights however came when Michele, likely now well satisfied from his side job, officially handed in his ‘’Termination of Employment Form’’ to the Knights with a big ‘’Mur Hudu …..’’ by attacking and seizing one of their own Galleots!!!
Brave, foolish, wicked sense of humor or that Maltese ‘’u x ’Ghala..… ’’ attitude , either way the man had balls the size of watermelons, as even at that time the Knights were already a Top Naval force not to be messed with. One can only imagine the faces of the Order’s command on hearing Michele’s latest piece of bravado. Their next course of action clearly summed up the atmosphere… the Knights assembled a Galley extra heavily armed for this occasion, manned by a ‘’SWAT’’ Team with the specific orders ‘’Hunt that Maltese down!’’. The chase along the Mediterranean had begun.
After some days they finally caught up with Michele on the high seas heading towards Malta loaded with booty also consisting of a number captives and of course.. the Knight’s stolen galleot. Also, along their galleot, was a captured Venetian vessel which also had the pleasure of encountering Captain Michele and his Maltese Corsairs, (or rather Pirates, at this stage)
The die was cast, there would be no compromises after the humiliation inflicted by Michele. The Knights greeted him with a cannonade. But this is Michele we are talking about, and he was no petty corsair. To their astonishment and dread, their actions only made him even bolder and eager to fight back. The result was a long drawn out fierce battle to the death. He is described (by the Knights themselves) as having defended himself with ‘’Great Valor’’ against their onslaught. This in itself speaks volumes about the battle at hand… After hours of carnage and bloody combat, his luck ran out and down he went fighting till his last breath. Defiant and proud till the end.
Michele Ta’ Malta .. defiant till the end…. design by Joseph Bugeja art, check out the ‘Corsair clothing Furban Malti’ Facebook page for more info!
Nonetheless, Michele ta’ Malta taught the Order a lesson that they better re-organize their corsairs. Michele also earned himself a spot in the Order’s Own History Book. (see below)
For good or for bad, this was far from being the last time a Maltese Furban earned himself a page or two in History books (or Tribunal Cases accused of illegal acts of Corsairing). Lastly, it would neither be the first nor last time that the Maltese, when needed to or suited them fought against the ‘’Giants’’ of their time till death or victory.