Source: Melita Historica : Journal of the Malta Historical Society. 4(1967)4(287-288)

VINCENT BORG, Fabio Chigi, Apostolic Delegate in Malta, 1634-1639 (“Studi e Testi, 219”; Città del Vaticano: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1967, pp. 528).

Despite of some notable editorial efforts, it still remains eminently true, that the historian of Malta cannot find enough published documents and still has to study most of his sources in their original manuscript form. Silvestri, followed by Giambruno and Genuardi, in the last century, Mgr. Mifsud, Prof. Laurenza and Prof. Valentini in the present, all have published selections of documents, mostly on the Middle Ages. Pauli and Delaville le Roulx between them published a large amount of material concerning the Order. H. Scicluna, Mgr. Mifsud, and Hardman have done the same for the French and early British periods. P. Piccolomini has also published several documents concerning the Inquisition in Malta during 1645-69. In general, however, it may be said that the Maltese historian cannot get very far, except for the most recent history, unless he has an expert’s knowledge of palaeography, diplomatics, chronology, and all the other ancillary disciplines. Can. Vincent Borg is therefore to be especially congratulated in presenting the local student of history with a complete edition of the correspondence between Fabio Chigi, Inquisitor of Malta (1634-39), latter Pope Alexander VII, and Cardinal Francesco Borromeo, his immediate superior in Rome.

The letters here edited number 556 altogether, filling some 385 pages of the book. The letters of a private or minor nature are given in summary [288] form, but those published in full exceed 200, and give us a lot of extremely valuable, if ex parte, information concerning Malta’s political, economic, social, and religious condition during Chigi’s tenure of office. One reads about the Turkish threat of 1635-36, and Floriani’s plans to extend the fortifications. Firenzuola’s mission on the same matter in 1638-39 is similarly recorded. Several letters refer to the threat of serious disturbances in the villages, especially at Zejtun, over the imposition of new taxation. There is also much about the endemic jurisdictional differences between the Bishop and the Grand Master. We learn of the mysterious mission of Antonio Sardo to the King of Spain with a protest, allegedly made on behalf of the people of Malta, against the Grand Master’s administration. Several later letters contain information about the rising against the Jesuits in 1639. Other lesser matters, receiving much space include: the Perdicomati and Ebejer affairs, the Mahnuq bequest, the visit of the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, the conferment of honours and dignities within the Order by the Papacy, and the provision of wheat from abroad.

On the more human level one meets with several interesting personal judgements. Grand Master de Paule is described as: not very pious, given over to sensuality, a double-dealer and seller of favours, who twisted justice to serve himself, who said that briefs and appeals were mere priests’ wares and thought little of ecclesiastical censuses; Lascaris: an old man of seventy without knowledge, somewhat obstinate and choleric... himself a saint but given over to those he once described as the worst of mien; Bishop Balaguer and Prior Imbroll: the first is a man of little learning and less eloquence, without cunning, reserve or alertness — qualities on the contrary possessed by the other some to the highest degree. The serious historian need not, be taken always at their face value, any more than those of the persons with whom he came into contact.

The documents are preceded by a careful and lengthy analysis of the history and main problems of the whole period 1634-39. Of unexceptionable quality, it is based both on the documents edited in the book and on the extensive documentation available elsewhere — in the archives of Malta, Rome, Palermo, Simancas and Madrid personally examined by the author. It need hardly be added that the book has a complete bibliography and useful index, as well as copious footnotes to every page.

Godfrey Wettinger