Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

deserter from the garrison, whom he took for a spy, and one or two unfortunate Christian prisoners. In the hope of discouraging this barbarity, D’Aubusson retaliated, in full sight of the besieging camp, upon two Turkish prisoners for each Christian so massacred.

The last attempt, made by the Basha to inveigle D'Aubusson into a composition, is given by the historians at some length. Knowing from experience that the storming of the city would at any rate cost many of his soldiers' lives, he sent a Aag of truce with a proposal for a conference upon better terms than he had hitherto offered. Whether he would have observed them if accepted, is perhaps questionable. The Grand Master agreed to the conference, as the gaining even a day was desirable, for the repose of the garrison, and for the additional chance of some succour from the west. An interview took place accordingly between an envoy from the Basha, and Messire Anthony Gualtier, governor of the castle, on behalf of the Order. The wall and ditch separated them while loquentes simul,' as the superscription of the woodcut hath it: so that the conversation was carried on in a loud voice. The Turkish ambassador assumed the tone of the stronger party, anxious to spare the weaker from the horrors of a sack, which if they were obstinate must fall upon them sooner or later; expressed the Basha's wonder at the bravery of the defence, but asked how they could reasonably expect to resist a sovereign who had already conquered so many cities and kingdoms; promised the best terms that could be imagined, the free and honourable possession of the island, on their consenting to become allies of the Grand Seignior; and concluded by again exhorting them to take pity on themselves and those of the town, and not persist in incurring such cruel sufferings as the Basha was wont to inflict upon all cities which resisted him to the last. Gualtier the governor answers that

we on our part must receive with surprise and distrust such • offers of peace, mingled with such threats, from the mouths of • enemies so savage and so mighty as they represent themselves

to be. If they wish for peace, let them withdraw their fleet • and army, and then send to treat upon equal terms; if they * want the town, let them try to take it by force of arms, and they shall be answered in kind.' • We are all one in courage, and believe firmly in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is very God, • and for whom we are all prest and apparelled to fight and die, * rather than join ourselves to your Mahound, which is a false ' and evil faith that you hold; and ours is good and true, and ' with all our power we will keep it. Since you are come in great strength, finish what you have begun; and by the grace

[ocr errors]

• of Jesus Christ we will answer you so well, and with such 'good courage, that you shall know you have not to do with

Asiatics, or cowards; and tell your Basha, as he is so bold ' and so busy for the profit of the Turk his master, not to

waste his time in firing bombards and mortars, but to come on with all his force; and any two gates of the city he chooses shall be thrown wide open for him to do the best he can.'

So bold a defiance enraged the Basha beyond measure. He swore by his Mahound' and proclaimed by a herald to those within the walls, that the city should be sacked, and (except children of tender years, who would be sold into slavery) every living soul put to the sword or impaled :— ' et fit faire (says Mary Dupuis) quatre cens paulx tous propres'-(Caoursin says 8,000)

continued to batter the Jewish quarter more furiously than ever, and ostentatiously paraded scaling ladders on every side, to induce the defenders to scatter their forces at a distance from the breach which he intended to storm. The wall was now such a mass of ruins, and the ditch so fully filled up, that he might have ridden on horseback through the breach into the town. The Grand Master as usual aniinates all the garrison by his example, and does not leave the pomerium' night or day; nor are the • magnanimous bailiffs, priors, preceptors, or brothers of the

Order,' backward in their duty, nor the Greeks, citizens, and merchants. The spirit of both sides is kept up by martial music. At rise and set of sun the Turks approach the ditch with a noise of drum and fife, chanting songs of triumph over the victory they have yet to win. They are answered by the defiant notes of the Christian trumpets within — nostri in * pomerio tubarum clangore jubilant.' The Turks are observed to perform various preparatory ceremonies, solemn lavations, prayers, and lustrations. They provide themselves with sacks to hold their plunder, and ropes to bind their captives. During the whole of the 26th of July and the following night an incessant fire was kept up against the whole of the Jews' quarter, aimed high, so as to prevent the knights from remaining upon or near the walls. Under cover of this fire storming parties were brought up during the night close to the ditch, unobserved by those in the town. About an hour after sunrise, at a signal given by the firing of a mortar, with a sudden rush from their ambush they crossed the ditch, planted the standard of Mahomet on a tower, and occupied the wall, to the number of 2,500, before the besieged had time to come up from the terreplein below. Notwithstanding the divine instinct of their Grand Master, the knights bad been taken by surprise. Their own batteries were in the hands of the enemy, and might be turned

[ocr errors]

6

against themselves in a moment. They were obliged to mount their own walls by steep stairs and ladders, fighting desperately for each step in succession with the enemy who were already pouring down into the Jewish quarter. • Then might you have

seen,' says Dupuis, ' faire de belles armes'— for they fought, as their Vice-Chancellor tells us, like the glorious Maccabees, or like Roman nobles, well deserving to be called PATRES PATRIE. The Grand Master was the first man to mount one of the stairs He received five wounds, one of which was at first feared to be mortal, and was thrown down twice or thrice off the stair. At last, he and his followers regained the parapet, in spite of blows, darts, showers of stones and arrows, and there maintained the combat upon more equal terms. By this time the enemy had poured in through the breach in such numbers as to embarrass and disable themselves from sheer want of room. Not an inch of ground could be seen on the wall, ditch, or glacis, so thick was the crowd: the number of which was afterwards estimated at 40,000. After two hours of the hottest fighting the Turks gave way, seized (as is asserted) with a panic at the very moment of the Grand Master's displaying his banner, on which was painted the Crucifixion, with Our Lady on the one side the Cross, and St. John on the other. A report (“fama satis constans') was subsequently gathered from the deserters, that on the unfolding of this ensign, there appeared to the whole Turkish army a vision in the air of a golden cross shining, a glorious virgin armed with shield and spear, and a man, clothed in a poor garment, but attended by crowds in glittering attire. Once seized with a panic, they allowed themselves to be slaughtered like swine, without offering any defence. Many were thrown headlong into the Jewish quarter, and killed to a man.

Those that were trying to enter by the breach met the terror-stricken fugitives from the walls, and struck at them as if they were dogs. Such a butchery (si grant tuerie) then took place, that it was a wonder to see. In the first surprise one of the Knightly standards had been captured; which was all the gain (says Dupuis) the Turks had, and that, too, very dearly paid for, in kind as well as in lives; for the great red silken standard of the Basha, with all the others which had been planted on the walls, was left in the rout as a trophy for the victors.

The defeat of this day appears absolutely to have crushed the spirit of the besieging army. They retreated on all sides from the immediate vicinity of the walls, withdrew their artillery, and kept close within their camp, serrés comme brebis' in the extremity of fear. It was indeed a repulse severe enough to destroy the morale of the bravest soldiery. After battering till

6

[ocr errors]

the breach was practicable for a man to ride through it from the glacis into the town; after keeping the garrison under arms almost night and day for two months; after actually surprising them at last, and gaining the walls without resistance; they had failed, and in the most ignominious manner. When, and under what conditions, could they hope to succeed? Whatever authenticity might be supposed to attach to the reported vision of the blazing cross, there was enough seen that day of the great ensign of the Order to create a very strong impression of superhuman power fighting on that side.

on that side. The eight-pointed cross of pure white, gleaming over the cuirass of every one of their knightly opponents, and most conspicuously over the well-known gilt armour of the terrible Grand Master in front of all, pressed them backwards step by step up the inner stairs, cleared the parapet, pursued them over the ditch, and struck them down by thousands. The facts might well justify, on this day as on others, to the minds of both parties the legend of EN TOTTA NIKA.

Even the Basha, with the fear of the bowstring before his eyes, and the thought of an angry master sure to ask, if not • where are my legions?' at any rate where are the keys of the 'town you promised to conquer ?' felt that it was useless to maintain the siege any longer. He attempted no fresh offensive operations against the town. Some fifteen days afterwards two ships, sent by the King of Naples with reinforcements, both of men and material, appeared in the offing, and after a severe engagement with the Turkish gallies, under the fire, moreover, of the land batteries, succeeded in breaking the blockade and landing their cargo. The Rhodians were truly joyous and

recomforted by the vivers and refreshments'thus received; and the friendly faces were · les très bien venus et receus de ceulx • de la ville. Besides actual succour, these ships conveyed the assurance of moral support and the promise of material assistance from the Powers of Christendom, a paternal admonition by Pontifical letters from the Holy See, and the report of an approaching expedition, aimed at the entire destruction of the enemy's fleet. Caoursin hints that this ruinour spread to the camp of the Basha, and quickened his departure. At all events, his want of power to maintain an effective blockade showed him that his position might become dangerous as well as useless during the ensuing winter. After ravaging the island, carrying off all the cattle he could lay bands on, and destroying the gardens and vineyards, he set sail with his whole fleet for the harbour of Physco, on the 15th of August, the day of the Assumption of the Virgin. On that very day, 170 years before, the Hospitallers VOL. CI. NO. CCV.

L

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

6

of St. John had stormed the city of Rhodes after a siege of four years, and won the proud title of which the Infidels were so anxious to deprive them. And you must know,' says our French chronicler, that in their retreating the Turks made not * that great cheer, nor sounded their drums or trumpets, nor ' made the great noise that they did at the laying of the siege, • but retired as coyly as they could for the fear that they had • of those of the town; and so they went off to their great dis• honour. And let us pray God devoutly that they may all (* en • tel lieu ') become good Christians, and uphold the Catholic faith, 6 * or otherwise may God of his grace be pleased to destroy them • altogether, that they may never harm good Christians any (more. Amen.' So perorates, as in Catholic duty bound, the rough and ready soldier, ' rude and gross of sense and under

standing, but painstaking inquirer, and strong and picturesque narrator, Mary Dupuis.

We said above that the Cross struck down its adversaries by thousands on the day of the storming. As was usual in the mêlées of those times, the great carnage took place more in the pursuit than in the actual contest. The loss on the part of the Knights was about forty killed (of whom fifteen were among their best officers) and more than 500 wounded. Of the enemy's picked troops there were found after the fight, within the walls, 133, dead or alive; the finest men, says Dupuis, that were ever looked on.

These were all thrown into the sea. In the ditch and the approaches, where the Turks were slaughtered like

swine' in their panic, there were counted 3,500 corpses, or more; exclusive of the wounded who regained the camp, where they died in great numbers, as was proved by the size of the cemeteries. The corpses that fell into the possession of the Knights when the siege was raised, were burnt (to avoid a pestilence) upon huge funeral piles made of the timber used in the Turkish works and approaches. For nine days, as in the plains of Troy, πυραι νεκύων καίοντο 9αμειαί-while the good wives of Rhodes (pardon our chronicler for this touch of nature), who • saw the Turks frying in their own grease, cursed them, and

said they were so fat with the figs and other fruits which they · had devoured in the citizens' gardens.'

Palæologus Basha escaped the bowstring after all. Undoubtedly he ran great risk of it, after so ignominious a failure in the enterprise which he had done so much to instigate. Mahomet was contented, however, with banishing him to Gallipoli; and, like that general, whose presence in the field was estimated by his greatest antagonist as equivalent to forty thousand men, consoled himself for the defeat of his lieutenant

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »