MALTA - Early seventeenth-century manuscript of the privileges granted to the island of Malta by the Kings of Aragon and Sicily and the Popes, mostly from 1350-1550, in Latin and Italian, transcripts, written in several hands in brown ink on recto and verso, annotations in the margins, 785 numbered pages, folio, blanks, bound with a modern printed title-page (Dei diversi Privilegi di Malta), 20th century vellum-backed boards (330x240mm).
The entries cover the period of the suzerainty of the kings of Aragon and Sicily from Ludovico (1342-1355) -- Charles II (Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, 1516-1556), including the period of the Viceroys from 1416, and from 1530 of the early years of the rule of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, beginning with the Grand Master of the order, Philip Villiers de Lisle-Adam (1464-1534). The volume includes a list of the militia on 31 October 1529.
The island of Malta was conquered by Roger II, Norman king of Sicily, in 1127, and in 1282 passed into the orbit of Aragon following the revolt of the Sicilian Vespers, and thus in 1516 to Charles II, soon to become the Emperor Charles V. During the early Aragonese period unrest was fomented by the practice of granting the island as a marquisate to great officers of state or illegitimate descendants of the titular sovereign. Large payments were made to the crown in return for charters covenanting that Malta should be administered under the royal exchequer without the intervention of these feudal lords, and an additional payment made in 1428 for a confirmation of privileges with a proviso entitling the islanders to resist by force any attempt to interpose an intermediate lord upon them (the confirmation of Alfonso V, page 47). Local affairs were administered by the Universitas, or municipal commonwealth empowered to elect its own officers including the Capitan de Verga, and the Jurats.
The Knights of St John -- The Knights Hospitaller -- having been expelled in 1522 by Sultan Suleiman II from Rhodes obtained the grant of Malta, Gozo and Tripoli in North Africa from Charles V in 1530, when Philip Villiers de Lisle-Adam pledged the Order to mantain the rights and freedoms of the Maltese. His decree ('bolla') dated 16 July 1539 confirms them (page 431), together with copies of letters issued at Brussels by the Emperor, addressed to the Jurats and Universitas. After the loss of Tripoli in 1551 the Knights fortified the island to make it impregnable against corsairs and the Turks.
The texts of the privileges would have been a necessary part of the library of the Universitas and the presence of later annotations (for example one dated 9 March 1655 referring to the registration of a 'bolla', page 723), confirms that the manuscript was used for official purposes. A similar manuscript of the Privileges is in the National Library of Malta (MS 737) and another in the library of the Vatican.