Yesterday we celebrated Malta’s 59th birthday as an independent nation. Or is our nation older than that? There is a case that could be made that independent Malta is actually 223 years old. Today we explore a remarkable chapter in our history. A story of a tiny island that dared to defy a mighty empire. This is the story of Malta, a David that stood up to the Goliath of its time, the French Empire, and how the victory of the Maltese over the French laid the claims for an independent Malta.
In retracing the steps of our forefathers, we find ourselves in the year 1778. Napoleon, fresh from capturing Malta, sets his sights on Alexandria, leaving General Vabois to govern the island. Little did he anticipate the storm of resistance that was about to erupt. The French had swiftly wrested Malta from the Order of Saint John, asserting their legal dominance.
The subsequent French actions, however, seemed to disregard the rich Maltese heritage. The treasures left by the Knights, estimated to be worth a staggering €65 million in modern currency, were brazenly confiscated. The Maltese populace, already perturbed, was pushed to the brink with General Vabois’s exorbitant taxation policies, culminating in the audacious auction of the revered tapestry of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Mdina.
Such insensitivity to the Maltese culture and their Christian faith proved catastrophic for the French. A riot erupted in Rabat, its flames rapidly spreading across the island. In a show of indomitable spirit, the Maltese not only reclaimed Mdina within a day but also commenced a relentless blockade against the French in Valletta and Cottonera.
This blockade, which spanned two intense years, bore witness to unparalleled Maltese valor. Tales of Dun Mikiel Scerri’s conspiracy and subsequent tragic demise became the stuff of legends. The Maltese militia, conceived by the National Assembly, strategized extensively against the French. Their naval prowess was further bolstered by an alliance with the British, ensuring a watertight blockade that isolated the French garrison in Malta. The culmination? A resounding Maltese victory as the French conceded defeat.
Such triumphs not only carved out a sovereign space for Malta but also accentuated the Maltese’s commitment to their homeland. Their sacrifices made independently, highlighted their sovereign aspirations. As noted by English lawyer J. J. Dillon before the British Parliament, the British couldn’t lay claim to Malta based on conquest or naval supremacy. The Maltese had earned their sovereignty through resilience.
However, political winds rarely flow in the direction of the deserving. The 1814 Treaty of Paris saw the British Empire assert sovereignty over Malta, sidestepping the Maltese’s wishes of an Independent Malta. The resilient Maltese, who had envisioned the British as interim protectors, found their rights overshadowed yet again. This sentiment resonated with Lawyer Vincenzo Maria Pellegrini, who, during the 1950s independence negotiations, argued fervently for the Maltese’s inherent right to self-governance.
Under British rule, a subtle but unyielding Maltese resistance emerged. The colonial pressures to dilute their identity met with staunch opposition. The Maltese, fiercely protective of their heritage, laid the foundations of political parties, ignited uprisings, and ceaselessly championed their culture. Their undying spirit eventually bore fruit on the historic day of 21st September 1964, when we officially got an Independent Malta.
Bonnici, A., 1978. Il-Franċiżi waqt l-imblokk. Leħen is-Sewwa.
Bonnici, A., 1991. The French occupation period : the plot of January, 1799. The PSM magazine, 20(1), pp. 8-14.
Frendo, H., 1991. Party Politics in a Fortress Colony: The Maltese Experience. 2 ed. s.l.:Midsea Publications.
Giorgio, J., 1998. Il-Qawmien tal-Maltin kontra l-Franċiżi. Kumitat Festi Esterni Santa Venera.
Mason, N. J., 1998. The French Occupation of Malta, 1798. The Malta Year Book.Pellegrini, V. M., 1952. L-Effett kostituzzjonali tar-Rebħa Maltija tal-1800. s.l., Malta Rebbieħa – lt-Tieni Kommemorazzjoni tal-Vittoria Kontra il Franċiżi Organizzata mil-Kumitat Nazzjonali Malti.
Times of Malta – The Maltese revolt against the French in 1798 ‒ causes and ‘coincidences’