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Tongues or langues were the geographic-cultural subgroupings of the members of the Knights of Rhodes/Maltese Knights from the 14th to the 18th century. Functionally they corresponded roughly to the Provinces of other religious orders.

The organization of the Order into tongues emerged in the early 14th century when the Knights Hospitaller took possession of Rhodes and was based on a decision of the Order's Chapter-General in 1301. The initial seven tongues were: Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon (with Navarre), England (with Scotland and Ireland) and Germany. In 1462 Castile and Portugal split off from Aragon and formed a tongue of their own. For a brief period in the 18th century there also was a separate tongue of Bavaria. In the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, some of the tongues, notably the English and German ones, were substantially weakened and could no longer adequately meet their obligations. This led a reorganization and a reduction in the number of tongues.

Despite the seeming link to language, this organization was not strictly aligned with linguistic boundaries, but tended to combine the Order's knights and possessions in several nations or states. The German tongue, for instance, included Scandinavia, Hungary, Poland and Bohemia. Each tongue covered at least one Grand Priory. The Grand Prior and the Chapter, which comprised representatives of all bailiwicks and commanderies, administered the individual tongues—including the Order's possessions, its charitable activities (hospitals etc.), parishes incorporated into the Order, and the financial contributions for the defence of Rhodes and later Malta and for the maintenance of the Order's naval forces in the Mediterranean.

At the centre, each tongue was represented in the Chapter-General by at least one knight, typically the Bailli who commanded the tongue's knights at the headquarters in Rhodes/Malta and administered its auberge (hostel) where the local members lodged and took their meals. Each tongue was responsible for the maintenance and defence of a specific portion of the fortress defences and had to man it with sufficient numbers of knights and soldiers.

Military Order[edit | edit source]

Militarily each tongue was headed by a Pilier (also known as Bailliffs or Baillis), who would also hold one of the high offices of the order, the Grand Commander, Marshal, Hospitallier, Admiral, Turcoplier, Drapier. Only the Treasurer was independent of the Tongues. The Piliers were answerable only to the Grand Master, the office each tongue was seeking to gain for one of its own.

In effect the tongues were also knightly brotherhoods built around the residences or Auberges that the tongues maintained. These brotherhoods were also political units within the Order, with langes competing over many matters, from the purity of the ancestry required to attain membership to more mundane matters such as the luxury of the Tongue's Auberge. The Auberge's of several tongues still exist, and are notable buildings in Valletta, and in the knights older capital at Birgu.

The division even extended to manning and command of the Knights fortifications, with each tongue responsible for the maintenance and defence of a specific portion of the fortress defences and responsible for manning it with sufficient numbers of knights and soldiers.

Administrative Organisation[edit | edit source]

Supporting the tongue as a military unit was an administrative organisation, made up of priories, which in turn were made up of commanderies, the estates and houses that provided the people and funds that supported the Orders activities.

Each tongue covered at least one Grand Priory. The Grand Prior and the Chapter, which comprised representatives of all bailiwicks and commanderies, administered the individual tongues—including the Order's possessions, its charitable activities (hospitals etc.) and parishes incorporated into the Order.

The tongues were expected to provide a number of knights to the Orders military headquarters, and financial contributions for the defence of Rhodes and later Malta and for the maintenance of the Order's naval forces in the Mediterranean.

By the time of the siege of Malta the tongue of England had been reduced to a single knight. Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries having also abolished the Langue in England and annexed the tongue of England's commanderies.

Structure after the Reorganization of 1301[edit | edit source]

  • Tongue of the Provence: southern France, with Grand Priories in Toulouse and Saint-Gilles
  • Tongue of the Auvergne: central France, with the Grand Priory in Bourganeuf
  • Tongue of France: northern France, with three Grand Priories
  • Tongue of Aragon: Iberian peninsula, with Grand Priories for Aragon, Catalonia, Castile and León, Navarre, and Portugal;
    • Reorganized in 1462:
      • Tongue of Aragon: Grand Priories of Aragon, Catalonia and Navarre
      • Tongue of Castile: Grand Priories of Castile-León and Portugal
  • Tongue of Italy: Grand Priories of Messina, Barletta, Capua, Rome, Pisa, Lombardy, and Venice
  • Tongue of England: covering the British Isles, with the Grand Priories of England (including Scotland) and Ireland
  • Tongue of Germany: Grand Priories of Bohemia, Upper Germany, Lower Germany, Dacia (= misspelling of 'Danica', i.e. covering Denmark, Sweden, Norway and modern day Finland), Poland, and Hungary

After the reorganisation in 1462[edit | edit source]

  • Tongue of the Provence: southern France, with Grand Priories in Toulouse and Saint-Gilles
  • Tongue of the Auvergne: central France, with the Grand Priory in Bourganeuf
  • Tongue of France: northern France, with three Grand Priories
  • Tongue of Aragon: Grand Priories of Aragon, Catalonia and Navarre
  • Tongue of Castile: Grand Priories of Castile-León and Portugal
  • Tongue of Italy: Grand Priories of Messina, Barletta, Capua, Rome, Pisa, Lombardy, and Venice
  • Tongue of England: covering the British Isles, with the Grand Priories of England (including Scotland) and Ireland
  • Tongue of Germany: Grand Priories of Bohemia, Upper Germany, Lower Germany, Dacia (= misspelling of 'Danica', i.e. covering Denmark, Sweden, Norway and modern day Finland), Poland, and Hungary

St John's Co-Cathedral[edit | edit source]

In 1604, each Tongue was given a chapel in the conventual church of St. John, Malta and the arms of the Langue appear in the decoration on the walls and ceiling:

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