Descendants of the Grand Master who commissioned the building of Valletta are insisting that his name is consistently being misspelt.
During his lifetime, he never once called himself and nobody referred to him as de la Valette- Giovanni Bonello
On her third trip to Malta, Désireé von la Valette Saint Georges insisted the family of Jean Parisot has always carried the name as “de la Valette”, and not “de Valette”.
The Grand Master himself was brought up in La Valette du Var, a city in southern France, she added.
A French nobleman and Grand Master of the Order of Malta from 1557 to 1568, the Knight Hospitaller fought with distinction against the Turks in Rhodes and as Grand Master commanded the resistance against the Ottomans at the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, emerging victorious.
He went on to commission the construction of the new city of Valletta in 1566, laying the first stone with his own hands.
The controversy of the correct spelling of the 49th Grand Master of the Order of Malta was brought up again last week, during the unveiling of a 2.5-metre statue of the Knight Hospitaller in Valletta.
During a speech, former European Court of Human Rights judge and researcher Giovanni Bonello sought to settle the matter once and for all. He stressed the name was Jean De Valette and not “De La Valette” as he was commonly referred to in error.
When contacted yesterday Dr Bonello invited “anyone to find one single reference during the Grand Master’s lifetime when he referred to himself, or was referred to, as de la Valette or as La Valetta. If someone does, I will apologise. It’s very easy to prove me wrong – just find one instance.
“During his lifetime, he never once called himself and nobody referred to him as la Valette whatever language was used. There isn’t one single coin, medal, letter, seal, inscription, signature, description, minute, reference in contemporary history books or archives when he was alive in which he is referred to as ‘De la Valette’ or as ‘La Valette’. It is invariably Valette or de Valette. All serious historians refer to him as de Valette,” he stressed.
But his descendants have always referred to their “family hero” as Jean Parisot de la Valette, according to Ms von la Valette, who told The Times that she was one of the descendants of the Grand Master. The family, however, could not pinpoint the exact generation.
Ms von la Valette and her niece Nastassja were present for the unveiling of the bronze-silicon statue of the man who started a new chapter in Malta’s history.
The effigy stands tall in the new Pjazza de Valette, a few metres away from where he had laid the foundation stone in 1566.
The Grand Master did not live to see the completion of the city that adopted his name but his descendants are enchanted by the walled citadel.
“I had read about it, been brought up surrounded with documents and maps of the city, and heard stories of this hero, but to be here and experience it in person... it keeps impressing me no matter how many times I visit the island.
“It’s a million times better than the maps and I keep marvelling at the resilience of our ancestors,” Ms von la Valette, 50, says.
She was brought up in a 14th-century castle called Schloss Auel, close to Cologne, where the family has documents about the Great Siege against the Ottomans and a family tree.
The castle served as a hospital for the French during World War II and an elderly care home afterwards. Nowadays, it is a boutique hotel and one of Ms von la Valette’s sisters, Tatiana, still lives there.
“Every la Valette in existence” will be visiting Malta next year, as around 15 family members will head to the island to celebrate Tatiana’s 50th birthday.
Ms von la Valette speaks of the Grand Master as “a hero” who joined the Order at 20, when he left home and never returned.
He was strict and the only time he uttered “words of discouragement” was when one of his nephews, Henri, was killed during the siege. “He was strict with himself and the Order’s brothers – adhering to the rules himself while reinforcing them – and he was not popular for that,” she adds.
Ms von la Valette’s interest in her ancestor has also led her to the Louvre in Paris, where she saw “La Valette’s dagger”, adding that like the Maltese, she hoped it could be returned to the island.
Her interest drew her to visit in 1995 and she describes Valletta as “not only physically beautifully but incredibly restored”. She remains fascinated by the “warm light that magnifies the colours of the limestone.”
Ms von la Valette is on a mission to preserve her family’s heritage.
The ancestral mansion where the Grand Master was brought up remains almost forgotten in La Valette du Var, but the memory of her family hero is alive in the city that carries his name.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us