French occupation of Malta
Location of Malta in Europe.
|Languages||French, Italian, Maltese|
|Historical era||French Revolutionary Wars|
|-||Established||11 June 1798|
|-||Surrender of French forces to become a British Protectorate||4 September 1800|
|Currency||Maltese scudo, French franc|
Malta was under French occupation from 1798 to 1800. It was established when the Order of Saint John surrendered to Napoleon following the French landing on Malta in June 1798.
French invasion of Malta
On 19 May 1798, a French fleet sailed from Toulon, escorting an expeditionary force of over 30,000 men under General Napoleon Bonaparte. The force was destined for Egypt, Bonaparte seeking to expand French influence in Asia and force Britain to make peace in the French Revolutionary Wars, which had begun in 1792. Sailing southeast, the convoy collected additional transports from Italian ports and at 05:30 on 9 June arrived off Valletta. At this time, Malta and its neighbouring islands were ruled by the Knights of St. John, an old and influential feudal order weakened by the loss of most of their revenue during the French Revolution. The Grandmaster Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, refused Bonaparte's demand that his entire convoy be allowed to enter Valletta and take on supplies, insisting that Malta's neutrality meant that only two ships could enter at a time.
On receiving this reply, Bonaparte immediately ordered his fleet to bombard Valletta and on 11 June General Louis Baraguey d'Hilliers directed an amphibious operation in which several thousand soldiers landed at seven strategic sites around the island. The French Knights deserted the order, and the remaining Knights failed to mount a meaningful resistance. Approximately 2,000 native Maltese militia resisted for 24 hours, retreating to Valletta once the city of Mdina fell to General Claude-Henri Belgrand de Vaubois. Although Valletta was strong enough to hold out against a lengthy siege, Bonaparte negotiated a surrender with Hompesch, who agreed to turn Malta and all of its resources over to the French in exchange for estates and pensions in France for himself and his knights. Bonaparte then established a French garrison on the islands, leaving 4,000 men under Vaubois while he and the rest of the expeditionary force sailed eastwards for Alexandria on 19 June.
On Malta, the French had rapidly dismantled the institutions of the Knights of St. John, including the Roman Catholic Church. Church property was looted and seized to pay for the expedition to Egypt, an act that generated considerable anger among the deeply religious Maltese population. On 2 September, this anger erupted in a popular uprising during an auction of church property, and within days thousands of Maltese irregulars had driven the French garrison into Valletta. Valletta was surrounded by approximately 10,000 irregular Maltese soldiers led by Emmanuel Vitale and Canon Francesco Saverio Caruana, but the fortress was too strong for the irregulars to assault. However help from Britain arrived later in the year and in 1799 Captain Alexander Ball was appointed Civil Commissioner of Malta. The French garrison in Valletta finally capitulated to the British on 4 September 1800, and Malta became a British Protectorate.
On 28 October 1798, Ball successfully completed negotiations with the French garrison on the small island of Gozo, the 217 French soldiers there agreeing to surrender without a fight and transferring the island to the British. Although the island was formally claimed by King Ferdinand of Naples, it was administered by Archpriest Francesco Saverio Cassar and a number of British and Maltese representatives, whose first action was to distribute the captured food supplies to the island's 16,000 inhabitants. Gozo remained independent until the end of the French Occupation in 1800.