Prof. Denis de Lucca has attempted to ar­gue that it is equally correct to refer to the hero of the Great Siege as Grand Master De Valette as it is to call him De la Valette. No it is not.

The Grand Master never referred to himself as La Valette or as De la Valette – he always called himself De Valette- Giovanni Bonello

A person’s correct name is what that person invariably calls himself – and what others who knew him invariably call him during his lifetime. There is no other ‘correct name’. Names are not options left to posterity to choose à la carte according to the whim of the mo­ment and of the diner. To bring evidence as to what a person’s great-nephews twice removed or the descendants of his fourth cousins were called many years after that person’s death, just adds plenty of nothing to a serious debate.

I have made two basic assertions, neither of which has anyone contradicted or disproved so far. One: that the Grand Master never re­ferred to himself as La Valette or as De la Valette – he always called himself De Valette. Two: that not one of his contemporaries ever ad­dressed him or referred to him as La Valette or De la Valette. Never. All his contemporaries always referred to him as De Valette or Valette.

Did Prof. de Lucca produce one single shred of evidence to contradict this? No he did not.

Did he manage to dig up one single morsel of proof that the Grand Master ever referred to himself as De la Valette? No he did not.

Did Prof. de Lucca produce one miserable bit of corroboration that any of the Grand Master’s contemporaries ever addressed him or referred to him as De la Valette during his lifetime? No he did not.

So, with all due respect, what is the point of wasting time and newsprint?

For the sake of convenience, let me recap the direct evidence (not the wishful thinking, not the hear­say, not the irrelevant references to fourth cousins and portraits painted centuries after the Grand Master’s death). Here is the hard, compelling evidence.

All the Grand Master’s signatures are consistently and invariably Jehan de Valette. Not a single one is De la Valette.

In all the coins the Grand Master minted during his lifetime (through 132 different issues, patterns and denominations) he always had his name engraved as De Valette/a.

Has Prof. De Lucca found a single coin with De la Valette on it? No he has not.

All the Grand Master’s portraits made during his lifetime have (de) Valette/a. Not a single one has De la Valette.

All the commemorative medals in gold, silver or bronze which he issued when he was alive (18 listed so far), he ordered should be minted with his name as De Valette/a. Did Prof. de Lucca find a single medal that has De la Valette? No he did not.

All the (thousands) of decrees, attestations, bulls, certificates, and so forth issued by him are in the name of Grand Master De Valette/a. Not a single one has De la Valette (see Libri Bullarum).

All the references by printed authors and historians contemporary or near-contemporary with the Grand Master (whether in French, Italian, Latin, German, Spanish or Dutch), refer to him as De Valette/a. Has Prof. de Lucca come across a single one that refers to him as De la Valette? No he has not.

All the manuscript references in the archives of the Order of Malta during Jehan de Valette’s lifetime – whether he was a simple knight, a high official or Grand Master of the Order – refer to him as De Valette/a. Not a single one refers to him as De la Valette.

All the deliberations (thousands) voted in the name of the Grand Master in Council refer to him as De Valette/a (see Libri Conciliarum). Did Prof. de Lucca discover one single deliberation that refers to him as De la Valette? No he did not.

All the marble and bronze inscriptions, including the one over his tomb, refer to the Grand Master as De Valette. Not a single one has De la Valette.

So, the De Valette evidence is re­morselessly one-sided. And where is the De la Valette evidence?

Notwithstanding all this, Prof. de Lucca feels he can still say that “it would seem there is nothing wrong in referring to the Grand Master as Jean de Valette or, alternatively, as Jean de la Valette”.

This is where he loses me. I am not in the habit of trying to please all and sundry, telling everyone they are a bit right, and that, anyway, there is nothing wrong in being totally wrong. But then, why let facts get in the way, when irrelevance can be so popular?

I would have thought that the right way of contradicting me would have been to find a few authentic instances which prove that the Grand Master sometimes called himself De la Valette, or that anyone ever addressed him or referred to him as De la Valette during his lifetime. But so far no one, repeat, no one, has come up with one single instance. Repeat, not one single instance, as against the many thousands I have presented.

It is old news that some other branches of the Valette family used De la Valette. The Valettes were a large and distinguished family that over the centuries had split into different branches. Some of these branches opted for De la Valette, others for De Valette. Our Grand Master came from one of the branches that, differently from some others, had adopted and insisted in identifying with the De Valette surname.

His father was De Valette (Guillot), and so was his grand­father De Valette (Bernard). Serious encyclopaedias of nobility, genealogy or heraldry will detail both the Grand Master’s De Valette (not De la Valette) ancestry and the separate branches of the extended family – some De Valette, others De la Valette (I can refer to them if requested).

The various “de Nogaret de la Valette” summoned in evidence by Prof. de Lucca, were from an entirely distinct (and distant) branch of the Valette family. And, if one were to be finicky, their correct designation was not de Nogaret de la Valette, but X de Nogaret, Seigneur de la Valette – which is not quite the same thing. But let’s not go down that road.

It is equally old news that some time after the Grand Master’s death his name began to be corrupted to De la Valette. But this process only started sometime after he died. During his lifetime he never called himself De la Valette, and no one dreamt of addressing him or referring to him as De la Valette.

Not one of the early French historians who in the seicento or before wrote about the Order and about the Grand Master, like Anne de Naberat, Pierre Gentil de Vandôme, Jean Baouduin and Mathieu de Goussancourt, refers to him as De la Valette or as La Valette. Not one dreamt of foisting on him a spurious charlatan name like De la Valette.

What goes for French authors applies equally to early Italian, Dutch, Spanish and German writers and those who wrote in Latin: not a single one of those I have consulted calls him De la Valette – All refer to the Great Siege hero as De Valette/a.

We also know why and when this innovation happened. A nephew of the Grand Master, Louis de Valette (died 1586) obtained a change of his family surname from De Valette to De la Valette. It is officially recorded that Louis de Valette “was the first of the noblemen of this branch who added ‘La’ to his surname” (see Recueil des Généalogies, Vol. XIII, Paris 1783, p. 333).

When Prof. de Lucca produces one tiny sliver of hard evidence that the Grand Master ever referred to himself as De la Valette, I will be grateful to invest some more time in this debate. If Prof. de Lucca digs up one mite of proof that during the Grand Master’s lifetime anyone addressed him or referred to him as De la Valette, it will then be worthwhile to revisit my conclusions.

But, frankly, I am not even meagrely interested in how the Grand Master’s fourth cousins styled themselves or what people started miscalling the Grand Master many years after he had been laid to rest – in a sarcophagus which spells his name as De Valette in indelible bronze characters, following an official ‘death certificate’ (obitus) that listed the deceased as De Valette.

Out of respect, I would never dare to spell the professor’s name as Denis de la Lucca. But then it’s perfectly permissible to pick and choose what Tom, Dick and Jesmond can nickname the hero of the Great Siege – “there is nothing wrong with that”. I find epically irrelevant what remote relatives of the Grand Master were supposed to be called. But not everyone seems to share the view that relevance can, maybe on special occasions, be relevant.

And, incidentally, all the portraits that so impressively illustrated Prof. de Lucca’s feature, mostly of people only very distantly related to the Grand Master, were painted or engraved many, many years after the Grand Master passed away. They add nothing valuable to this debate. (In fact, one of them is utterly misleading. The splendid portrait by El Greco now in the Kimbell Art Museum, Texas, is not that of the historian of the Order Giacomo Bosio as stated, but of Dr Francisco de Pisa, Professor of Holy Scripture and author of the first serious history of Toledo).

I will be publishing the full results of my research, exhaustively documented and illustrated, as part of a forthcoming book on several Maltese historical subjects.

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