FOR THE ORDER OF MALTA
Precious diplomatic corpus of the 6 acts which made it possible to institute this Grand Priory of Russia, 3 signed by Paul I and 3 by his plenipotentiaries.
The first attempts at rapprochement between the Russian Empire and the Order of Malta date back to the 17th century. The Grand Master of the Order had addressed Catherine II several times hoping to obtain financial support and protection from Russia. Discussions got bogged down. The Grand Master found the Empress too demanding; Catherine II saw in Malta the possibility of setting up the Russian fleet in the middle of the Mediterranean in order to strengthen her position in Europe. Catherine II did not wish to finance the Order of Malta without this counterpart. The negotiations began again at the very beginning of the reign of her son Paul I, with whom the rapprochement took on a new dimension.
After the French Revolution, the Order of Malta found itself in a very complex situation. In 1792, the revolutionaries confiscated the French property of the Hospitallers, like those of all other religious orders. The Grand Priory of France was dissolved that same year and the Order lost three quarters of its income on French territory. The Republic tried to organise a coup d'état in Malta in 1793. The young Bonaparte was increasingly interested in the port in the middle of the Mediterranean. Moreover, after the third partition of the Kingdom of Poland in 1795, where the last priory of the Order of Malta was located outside the island, the situation became more complicated. A large part of Poland and the territories of the Ostozhesk Priory came under Russian domination and the priory ceased to finance the Order. A new attempt at rapprochement with the Russian Empire appears to be a last chance for the Order of Malta.
Paul I, a great enthusiast of orders of chivalry since childhood, found himself at the beginning of his reign in full division of the kingdom of Poland, with the result that the Polish Catholic population of the Empire was very large. The management of Catholic territories was no small task for a czar of an Orthodox country. The subject worries him and the idea of a merger of the Churches is spreading at the Court of Paul I. At the same time, Bonaparte's influence in Europe became a cause for concern for Russia, while the Empire had a lot to do in the south with Turkey and the Caucasus. At the end of the 1790s, Paul I was faced with political choices. When the Grand Master of the Order of Malta discussed the fate of the Polish Priory, the interests of the Russian Empire and Malta converged: for the first time in the history of the Order, religious differences were put aside and, a year later, an Orthodox Tsar became the Grand Master.
Hostile to the French Revolution, Paul I decided to organise and financially support the Grand Priory of the Order of Malta in Russia in order to establish himself as protector of the European nobility and to integrate the Polish Knights of Malta. In 1797, the two states signed a convention.
The Tsar appoints his negotiators as plenipotentiaries.
- PAUL I. Act signed, countersigned by Count Ivan Andreevich OSTERMAN as Chancellor and by Count and future Prince BEZBORODKO (to be appointed Prince in April 1797) as Foreign Minister; in Russian. St. Petersburg, 2 January 1797. 3 pp. large in-folio on a laid paper bifeuillet with mourning edging (Catherine II had just died a few weeks earlier), with armoured wax seal under paper.
Letters of credence from Count and future Prince Bezborodko and Prince Alexander Kurakin as plenipotentiaries to the Order of Malta for the purpose of negotiating an agreement to strengthen and extend the establishment of the Order in the Russian Empire. "We hereby announce that, wishing to give a clear proof of Our benevolence and consideration to the illustrious Order of Malta, by strengthening and extending in Our Empire the establishment of this Order, which exists in Poland and particularly in the provinces that have been united to Our Sovereignty, and with the intention of giving it consequently all its strength, value and execution, We have appointed and instituted (...) Count Alexander Besborodko, current privy councillor (...) and Prince Alexander Kourakine, Our Vice-Chancellor (...) to whom we empower, for ourselves and our name, not only to enter into negotiations and talks with Jules Réné Bailli, Count of Litta, Minister Plenipotentiary of the illustrious Order of Malthe (...) who is equally and sufficiently endowed with full powers on the part of the sub said Order (...) but also to draw up, conclude and sign with him on this subject an agreement and separate articles relating thereto (...)".
Among the plenaries