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Mallorca And the Maltese Falcons

Once upon a time, the islands of Malta used to be part of the Spanish Mediterranean empire. Spanish is not quite correct, as it was really the house of Catalunya-Aragón, a kingdom (1283-1530) that Mallorca was part of in those days.

Before the House of Aragón, the Byzantine empire had ruled Malta for a short period, then the Vandals took over, and eventually, the Moors (in 870 AD). The Moorish rule lasted until 1090, when the islands were taken by the Sicilian Normans, once more restoring Christianity in Malta. Subsequent rulers included the Anjouvines, the court of Hohenstaufen and, finally, the crown of Catalunya-Aragón.

The Iberians from Catalunya-Aragón ruled Malta until 1530, when King Carlos I decided to cede the islands to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in perpetual lease. A pledge was attached to this cession, but more of that in a minute.

Just in case you are interested, the Knights, a militant monastic order also known as the Knights of Malta, had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522. They withstood a full-blown siege by the Ottoman Turks in 1565, who, at that time, were considered to be the greatest non-European military power. After this, the Knights decided to increase the fortifications, particularly in the inner-harbour area, where the new city of Valletta, named after Jean Parisot de la Valette, had been built.

The reign of the Knights of the Order of Malta ended when the islands were captured by the French Emperor Napoleon in 1798, when Bonaparte was en route with his expedition to Egypt. As a ruse, Napoleon asked for a safe harbor to re-supply his ships, but, once safely inside Valetta, turned against his hosts. A crafty fox, him.

The occupying French forces were unpopular, however, due particularly to their negative attitude towards the local religion. The Maltese rebelled against them, and the French were forced behind the fortifications. Great Britain, along with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, sent ammunition and men. Britain also sent her navy, which instigated a blockade of the islands. The isolated French forces surrendered in 1800, and the islands became a British protectorate until, in 1964, Malta was given independence.

Now let me tell you what all of this has to do with Mallorca.

When Carlos I ceded Malta to the Order of St. John on that indefinite lease, it was agreed that as an annual tribute, one live falcon should be paid. At that time, Royals were hunting with birds of prey, and the best birds available were falcons. From 1284 on, the King of Aragón received one such bird each year from the Maltese Knights, until the conquest by Napoleon ridded them of their homelands, and thus, ended their obligation to make any further payments.

For logistical reasons, in those days the live bird was always dispatched by sea and to the Aragonese port nearest to the King’s palace, as seen from Malta, which was Palma de Mallorca.

After 1798, there were no more live falcons in Mallorca, not from Malta. Not for another 200 years or so, that is. One fine day in November of 2005, the Maltese suddenly remembered this old tradition, and hence, sent a delegation to Mallorca from Malta carrying with them five live falcons. Of course, the birds were then deemed for King Juan Carlos I, as the House of Aragón had long since gone.

Sad as it may be, since 2005 no more falcons arrived from Malta, as far as I am aware.

The photograph was reproduced from a newspaper clipping in 2005 which originally had appeared in the Diario de Mallorca.

Muchas gracias.

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