Suleiman the Magnificent, sultan of the Ottoman Empire and the most powerful ruler in the world, was determined to conquer Europe. Only one thing stood in his way: a dot of an island in the Mediterranean called Malta, which was occupied by the Knights of Saint John, the cream of the warriors of the Holy Roman Empire. A clash of civilizations was shaping up, the likes of which had not been seen since Persia invaded Greece. Determined to capture Malta and use its port to launch operations against Europe, Suleiman sent an armada and an overwhelming army. A few thousand defenders in Fort Saint Elmo fought to the last man, enduring cruel hardships. When the Turks captured the fort, they took no prisoners and mutilated the defenders’ bodies. Grand Master La Vallette of the Knights reciprocated by decapitating his Turkish prisoners and using their heads to cannonade the enemy. Then the battle for Malta began in earnest: no quarter asked, none given.
The Great Siege is not merely a gripping tale of brutality, courage, and tenacity but the saga of two mighty civilizations struggling for domination of the known world.
Ernle Bradford (1922–1986) was a prominent British historian specializing in the Mediterranean world and naval history. He served in the Royal Navy for the duration of World War II and later traveled throughout the Mediterranean, living for a while on Malta. He was a BBC broadcaster and magazine editor, as well as the author of many acclaimed books, including biographies on Cleopatra, Hannibal, and Caesar.
©2012 Ernle Bradford (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Ernie Bradford did an excellent job researching and telling this story of the greatest siege in history. A small group of the order of the Knights of Saint John held 3 forts against the might of the Ottoman Empire. At this time the Ottoman's were ruled by their greatest leader Suleiman the Magnificent and wanted Malta so he could control the Mediterranean area. The battle was without quarter and both sides felt they were fighting for the religious beliefs. I have always wanted to visit Malta and stay long enough to see all the sights of historical sights. Bradford gave lots of back ground about the Knights, their armour, the fighting techniques of the time and also the tactics of fort defense. As well as information about the Grand Master La Vallette of the Knights of Saint John. Simon Vance did a great job reading this book. If you like history you will enjoy this book.
St. Louis, Missouri
Over the years my reading has given me an impression of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s as an era when the writing of well-crafted narrative history flourished. Not too scholarly and yet not popular either (in the sense of “facile”), these writers managed to create biographies and histories that balanced analysis and insight with good old-fashioned storytelling. To the names I’m familiar with—Lloyd Lewis, Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote, Richard M. Ketchum, Marquis James and Robert V. Remini—I now have to include Ernle Bradford.
According to Wikipedia, Bradford (1922-1986) was a noted and prolific historian, his main subject being the Mediterranean, where he served during World War II. His involvement in the siege of Malta during that conflict lead directly to the writing of this book, a lucky thing for those who like their history well-written, well-researched and yet with a novelist’s sense for detail and drama.
While I was listening to The Great Siege I was also reading Roger Crowley’s more recent Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto and the Contest for the Center of the World. This was fortunate for two reasons. First, Crowley’s book has an excellent (if somewhat small) map of the main harbor on Malta that the Knights of St. John used as their base. The peculiar shape of the harbor, the three peninsulas of Birgu and Senglea and Mount Sciberras, are simply too peculiar for Bradford’s prose, limpid as it is, to make clear.
Secondly, Crowley’s book provided an interesting counterpoint to Bradford. Whether because historical thought has evolved over the 47 years that separate these two works, or because no historian will simply echo another’s interpretation of events Crowley disagrees with Bradford on several key points. One example will suffice.
The Ottoman decision to concentrate first on St. Elmo, that hastily and poorly-built bastion of the tip of the Mount Sciberras peninsula, is the cardinal mistake of the siege according to Bradford, a mistake committed because Pyale, the admiral of the Turkish felt, demanded his ships be sheltered in the secure harbor that lay north of St. Elmo, within the range of the fort’s guns. But the place held out far longer than anyone—Ottoman or Christian—expected. By the time it fell much blood and ammunition had been expended by an Ottoman force 800 miles from any source of resupply.
But for Crowley, the reduction of St. Elmo was a natural first step; Pyale’s demand for safe harbor for his fleet—and the intense arguments that demand supposedly ignited in Ottoman counsels—were merely inventions of Christian chroniclers. Is Crowley being too skeptical, even too politically correct in assuming the Christian accounts would be skewed? Or is Bradford being too credulous, going for the details that make a good story without weighing his sources?
That’s what makes reading more than one book on the same historical subject such an adventure.
And Bradford’s is a rocking good story, full of daring, courage, heroism, brilliance, cowardice and treachery on both sides. His style is graceful, even elegant, and the reading by Simon Vance reflects and enhances that. Ultimately, what I found so refreshing was Bradford’s ability to write from an unvarnished Christian, Western perspective. There’s no post-modern roll of the eyes when he describes one wounded knight, refusing succor from his comrades, dragging himself to St. Elmo’s chapel and dying before the altar. Yet the death of the Muslim corsair Dragut, hit in the head by a stone fragment from a cannonball strike, is equally respectful. There was a time when the West could honor and respect the East—sometimes numbering Saladin among the Nine Worthies, for example—and yet still unapologetically prefer its own culture. Ernle Bradford belongs to that time.
By the way, though Crowley’s Empire of the Sea is available through Audible, the book might make for a difficult listening experience. While better written than his 1453, Empires is still prone to those occasional lapses of clarity that make the prose swim a bit before one’s eyes. For example, try this:
“News of his [Don Juan’s] progress swelled across Southern Europe, each landfall amplifying the sense of expectation and crusading zeal. A breathless communiqué to Rome captured the spectacular arrival of Christ’s General there on August 9th.”
If Don Juan had just arrived at Rome, why would anyone need to send a communiqué to Rome, breathless or not, describing his arrival there? Only when I looked 6 lines farther up the page did I realize that Don Juan had actually arrived in Genoa. It’s the sort of semantic tangle that’s easier to undo by flipping pages than hitting the rewind button on your iPod.
Suleiman the Magnificent, at the start of his reign, captured the island of Rhodes and allowed the Knights Hospitaller to leave in good order. They re-established themselves on the island of Malta, and their sea raids once again became a threat to Ottoman shipping. At the end of his reign, Suleiman launched a massive campaign to oust them again - and open up Sicily, Italy, and Southern Europe to attack.
The siege failed: Suleiman's generals and admirals failed to reckon with the grit and almost superhuman determination of Jean de Valette, the Grand Master of the Order of Saint John; or with the fanatical devotion of his men and the courage of the Maltese people themselves. The siege was supposed to last a few weeks; it lasted nearly four months, until the Ottomans, broken by disease and beginning to run short of ammunition and provisions - and facing the belated arrival of Christian reinforcements from Sicily - gave up and left.
You don't have to take sides in the struggle (though Ernle Bradford certainly does) to appreciate this stirring tale of human courage and endurance. Simon Vance narrates the story with his usual crystal clarity and deft pacing.
This older book bears comparison with the more recent "Empires of the Sea" by Roger Crowley, narrated by the equally fine John Lee. Bradford focuses entirely on Malta, and provides a more detailed look at some aspects of the siege; Crowley covers the larger story, from the time of the corsairs through the Battle of Lepanto that finally broke the Ottoman sea power for good.
If you had to pick one, I would go with Crowley's. But if you want to revisit the story of the Great Siege from a slightly different angle, this is an excellent choice.
The Great Siege - Malta 1565 is an awesome book - well written. I had no idea of the leadership, courage and determination that the defenders displayed during siege. The ruthlessness of the combatants was a reflection of the understanding of both sides that this was an all or nothing endeavor. No quarter was given or expected. Before reading this I did not appreciate the ramifications of the outcome - Europe undoubtedly would look a lot different had the siege succeeded. Simon Vance is one of the Aces of the Audion Book narrators and he does a wonderful job in this book. If you enjoy European History I highly recommend this book
I love most histories. ( I have also read two historical fictions about the siege of Malta) Before you read any historical fiction you should have knowledge of circumstances and background to what really had transpired. The Siege of Malta is one of the ugliest battles ever fought The descriptions of mutilations and violations against all human being by both sides can really turn your stomach. I am an atheist, and this only proves to me that religion is the chief causes of the most horrible wars that ever were. .
Thee were many but if you are familiar with the story, when the Knights started killing the Muslim hostages and used their heads as cannon balls to fire back at the enemy.
One of my favorite narrators, I have listened to him narrate at least 60 books and have never been disappointed.
If you want to continue with two great historical novels try "The Religion" and "Iron Fire, The Knights Of Malta" these two books are wonderfully written works of historical fiction about the siege of Malta. You come away feeling from both books that if there was no religion there most likely would be no wars. (except those who are just power crazy)
Phenomenal story! Brandford astutely presents facts and figures in a dramatic story, bringing history alive. Simon Vance' delivery is impeccable. This is a paradigm to be studied and emulated, but will never be eclipsed.
One of the less well-known episodes in a centuries' old struggle for mastery of the Mediterranean and Italy. Told with verve, detail, color, and appreciation for the mind-sets and virtues of the combatants.
The fall of Fort Saint Elmo.
Voice and diction.
Great material. At too little on this siege written. The writer didn't take too long to tell too little... And not least... Geat narrator
I stumbled on this book and thought I'd give it a shot... That was 3 days ago... I'm reading for the second time right now. Extraordinary!
A must for those who like the genre and also an interesting moment in European history
"Brings the story to life"
I can't say if it's better than the print version as I haven't read it.
The peasants around Mdina fooling the Turks
He kept my attention
Made me proud of the Maltese side of my family
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, really brought the story to life and am now going to Malta for my holidays to follow up and see the places mentioned.
"Tremendous story beautifully told."
This is a splendid recording, beautiful narration accompanying a well organised and informative narrative. As well as a detailed and exciting account of the siege itself, Ernle Bradford has a sailor's grasp of the complexities involved in the enormous logistical effort expended by the Ottoman's in transporting their army to Malta, an understanding which expands to explain the political complexities of the Mediterranean basin of the period. The great heroic figures of the siege are carefully drawn and the heroism and effort of both sides given full play in an exciting and stimulating audiobook.
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