Right here, right now.
Pierre d’Aubusson was the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John of Hospitaller of Jerusalem. He sat behind the grand desk of the Knights since 1476 when the pope sanctioned his move from Rome. He was also a Cardinal, by chance, and had risen to the highest station of his order through determination, piety, and a bribe here and there. Of course, he would be the last to admit this, but the Hospitallers were slowly decaying on their small island of Rhodes among the Ottoman thieves. Everyday he would glance through the balcony of his tower room and wonder when would be his time. He had thrown Mahomet II off the island twelve years ago. He wanted that chance again. The island of Rhodes had surrendered to Mahomet and his army besieged his extensive battlements. Mahomet wailed against the walls and starved while his fleet kept any chance of relief away. After six months of no gain Mahomet fled to his capital leaving 30,000 dead. Christianity had won that day.
D’Aubusson knew that day would come again. Little did he know it was not far off. It began in 1492; a visitor had come to see the Prince of Rhodes. He was a small man, but his intellect was well hidden beneath his bulky exterior. The Langue of Italy had admitted him to Rhodes, and had done so with the express knowledge that their piece of Rhodes was at stake. The island was divided into different districts, much like different nations because most of the inhabitants of that Langue came from their home country. Spain controlled two Langues, for Castile and Aragon. The Italians were feeling threatened by both the power and wealth the Spanish Langue afforded. They sent for the unnamed man from Venice to help with their troubles. The Lt. Grand Master of Italy (or the Admiral) petitioned d’Aubusson to see the man and follow his advice.
D’Aubusson would not have normally accepted such a visitor, especially one from outside the Order. But he felt compelled. The man advised D’Aubusson to reorganize and hire bailiffs. The Italian Langue could deal with the finances from such organization and donate this to the Order. He claimed bailiffs would improve his tax revenues from the common people of Rhodes and could benefit the treasury. He also advised D’Aubusson to openly declare war upon the Ottomans with the support of Venice. The Venetians had devised a battle plan to separate the Turkish fleet and destroy it. The Doge would send his fleet to meet the Knights at Corfu where they would intercept and destroy half the Turkish fleet headed for Cairo. The Doge’s informants said the Turks were transporting an army to Alexandria.
D’Aubusson heeded these jewels of knowledge. If he and the Doge could destroy half the Turkish fleet… The Knights would have free run of the Aegean again. He sent to all the commanderies. The fleet was to set sail immediately. But, when the fleet arrived at Corfu, there was no Italian fleet. The entire Turkish fleet was anchored around Corfu. D’Aubusson suspected the Sultan had discovered their plan and was besieging Corfu with the Army of Alexandria. But there were no troops, there was no blockade organized, the Doge had betrayed him. He sent his only galleon ahead to Rhodes to prepare for another siege. The Knights rammed one Turkish warship in an effort to escape. Only d’Aubusson’s “St. John” made it. But his fleet had put up a fantastic effort. Even the Turks Sultan, Bazajet, was impressed with the seamanship and bravery of these outnumbered knights. He captures numerous commanders, but only one was not executed. Philippe Villiers defied the Sultan openly and ordered to be released. The Sultan laughed in his face and sailed to Constantinople.
D’Abusson had lost his fleet. The knights had survived as a fighting force because of their fleet and now he had destroyed it with blind stupidity. He wanted that man. No, devil, he wanted that devil because no man could so deceitfully cheat Christianity. Rhodes was combed again and again. No sign of the man remained. He called the Lt. Grand Master of Italy and ordered him to renounce Venice as ally and send the new bailiffs to the English priory. D’Aubusson’s morning prayers extended into his afternoon exercise searching for an answer to problem.
Villiers arrived the next day to Rhodes. His release was a shock as a Turkish galley unloaded him from their merchant ship under a flag of truce. Villiers was sent to the Grand Master immediately carrying a gift from the Sultan. The hand of St. John the Baptist was lost to them for hundreds of years. Villiers presented the hand to the Grand Master as a present from the Sultan with a message. “He said the Doge had offered him the fleet of the Knights for a price of 150 ducats. The Doge felt the Knights were causing his fleets to look bad in the eyes of the Christian world. A defeat of the invincible Knights of St. John would give credence to a Turkish threat and help the Pope support the Venetians more.” D’Aubusson swore at the news and sent a message to the Pope asking for permission to repay the Venetians. It would be a year before the Grand Master received a reply. Meanwhile he strengthened his convents in Parma, Milan, Tuscany, and Genoa. The convents were to help those countries against raiding parties and any other small missions the Princes might request. The Grand Master sufficiently improved the relations with his allies and sat back to receive the word from the Pope.
In 1493 and 1494, D’Aubusson had raised a small fleet and created new cannon with iron imported from Spain. He intensively trained the Knights by ending their prayer hours an hour early. Villiers de L’Isle Adam was promoted to the Grand Commander for Langue of Provence with Emery D’Amboise as Grand Hospitaller. Piero Amante was made the Admiral for Italy’s Langue. Each of these new Lt. Grand Masters were given orders to plan for an impossible attack on Venice should the Pope grant their wish. In August 1494, the pope’s messenger returned with dismal news. He neither gave his blessing nor prevented them from their course. D’Aubusson was crushed. His reputation as a Cardinal could not be jeopardized due to the stigma of attacking Venice. He stood down his armies and retreated to his room for the night. But in the night, someone had retrieved a letter by Raymond of Toulouse and set it on the desk of the Grand Master. The next morning Pierre d’Aubusson sent a messenger to the Doge with a declaration of war. He told the Doge that by the time he received this letter Cyprus and Crete would be in the hands of the Knights of St. John of Hospitaller.