The Knights Hospitaller are, along with the Knights Templer, one of the best known medieval military outfits. The hospitallers were established in 1023, and in a somewhat dilluted form, still essentially exist.
The Christians, off on their early endeavours to persuade the locals to the delights of transubstantiation*, had a presence in the Holy Lands since the 500s. Those early Christian pilgrims knew what most modern holidaymakers know all too well. Local habits don’t always agree with you. So to deal with all those cases of Bethlehem-belly and 7th century balcony diving a hospital was set up in Jerusalem. Unfortunately the first hospital didn’t appear to meet Caliph Al Hakim’s architectural mojo and it, along with several thousand other buildings, was destroyed. Fortunately for the sickly pilgrims a new shiny model appeared in 1023, and so too did the hospitallers.
The monks had their order established after the First Crusade. They were a sort of multi-tasking nurses-come-monks-come-bodyguard service. Gradually the multi-tasking got a bit too much and they were divided between the fixers and the fighters.
When Islamic rulers decided that these interlopers should probably leave the knights of St John were sent, crosses between their legs off to the next nearest warm places. Which were Cyprus and Rhodes. European holiday destinations haven’t changed much in a thousand years it seems.
This is a later Siege of Rhodes…the painters were off when the first one was happening
The Templer Knights were officially dissolved by around 1321, though you can probably find several hundred books arguing several hundred other dates, including a number of rather ornate conspiracy theories. Either way the hospitallers took on a range of aquisitions, and sought to expand. They took full control of Rhodes and some of its neighbours. Their move to Rhodes was accompanied by increased millitarisation.
The Ottoman Empire wasn’t much struck on this bunch of power grabbing monks. Hey, this continent is only big enough for one group of power crazy people…And so on 23 May 1480 the Ottoman ships appeared, filled with seventy thousand men. Despite being massively outnumbered the Knights hospitaller were victorious.
The Sultan…who says you don’t get chance to stop and smell the roses when you’re a warmonger.
Which annoyed Sultan Mehmed II, and he planned a new attack. Unfortunately for him he died a year later.
The Knights continued to flourish and moved in the mid 1500s to Malta. which was a gift from King Charles V of Spain. The hospitallers kept their battles with the muslim barbary pirates going through their move to a new home. They kept a successful island until along came Napoleon in 1798. After being refused assylum he took umbridge, and then took the island.
A modern Knight, HRH Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, in St John of Jerusalem crosses
By the nineteenth century, thanks to everyone from the Ottomans and Henry VIII’s monastic dissolutions to France’s most famous petit homme, the knights were essentially no more. However, during the late nineteenth century in a rash of revivalism and love for all things medieval the order resurrged. Less as a war-going affair, and more an eltist social club. This resurrgence was responsible for their current descendents, the St John’s ambulance. The thirteenth century knights could scarcely have imagined their future was in standing around at football matches asking people who are old enough to know better whether they’d possibly had a touch too much to drink.
If you want some of your own hospitaller or templar knights we have from Fireforge the Templar and Teutonic Knights, and the Mounted Sergeants. Also there are the Italeri Templar Knights and Zvedza Livonian Knights who can act very nicely as hospitallers if neither of the first three take your fancy. Or even a D’Agostini Teutonic knight.
*The doctrine of the Catholic Church (and also the Orthodox Churches) that the Eucharist changes the wafer and wine into the body and blood of Christ.