Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 6(1972)1(98-99)

[p.98] Reviews 1972

P. Andrew Vella O.P.: An Elizabethan - Ottoman Conspiracy, Printex Ltd., Malta, 1972. 168 pp., illus.

For over a year now, historians of the Elizabethan period and the Mediterranean area have been eagerly awaiting the results of Professor Andrew Vella's long and careful researches into the Anglo-Turkish plot to seize Malta in the years immediately preceding the Spanish Armada. On 20th December, 1970, an article in the London Times revealed that Professor Vella had discovered a number of documents pointing to the existence of a plot by Elizabeth I's government to seize Malta and thus embarrass her Spanish enemy — a pre-emptive move of considerable strategic vision. Professor Vella has produced his book as the third num­ber of the Royal University of Malta Historical Studies, and Printex Ltd. of Malta have made a tasteful job of the actual publication. Due credit must be paid to Professor Vella for seven years of painstaking and often extremely difficult research, the results of which are now offered to scholars for the first time. And as a Maltese, a Dominican Father and a professor of History, who could be better qualified than Professor Vella to have brought this task to a successful conclusion? His researches have taken him from Malta to Rome, and even to documents from Trinity College library in Dublin, for the Inquisitorial point of view; and to the British Museum Library in London for the English standpoint.

The work is divided into two almost equal parts. The second half consists entirely of transcripts of the documents upon which Professor Vella's thesis is based, and the excellent photograph of a page of manuscript, torn, moth-eaten, and well-nigh illegible, gives some idea of the author's task. The first half tells the narrative which these documents reveal; it is in English, whereas the transcripts are in Latin, Italian, or Spanish — or even sometimes, as the author remarks, in "a sort of Spanish-Italian". Definitely a book for scholars by a scholar.

The English narrative presents a detailed picture of English maritime penetration of the Mediterranean in the 1580's. Professor Vella is care­ful not to overstate his case, and what emerges for the intelligent layman from this book is a strong impression of Walsingham making use of com­mercial enterprises in the Mediterranean to build up an intelligence blue­print for the possible English seizure of Malta in alliance with the Turks. What is in doubt is whether this planning for an eventuality ever deve­loped into the actuality; certainly the Inquisition in Malta believed that it did, and reported accordingly. But they may have been predisposed [p.99] to believe the worst, and some of the testimony of Englishmen interro­gated in Malta by the resident Inquisitor is manifestly of doubtful relia­bility. This is a fascinating book, for it contains the fascinating possibility — if not more — that England cast thoughtful eyes on Malta 220 years before the Island was ceded to her.

Richard T. Beck