On a fine day in early June of 1798, a forest of masts encircled Malta and every knight on the island was gripped by fear of what was to come. More than 280 vessels loomed on the horizon, boasting a fire power of 1,026 cannon. Aboard the vessels, 54,000 French troops were ready to disembark.
This pivotal moment in the history of Malta – and the letter that led to it – feature in a new Heritage Malta documentary. Entitled L-Ittra ta’ Napuljun, the documentary has been produced with the support of historians, military experts, linguists and curators who discuss the unique document that kickstarted the French rule in Malta.
The letter in question was sent to General Louis Desaix by Napoleon Bonaparte, who instructed him to gather the remnants of the papal fleet and make haste for the seas round Syracuse, or any ideal area that would make the invasion of Malta possible. The letter was acquired by Heritage Malta last year, followed by other contemporary letters documenting key exchanges between British Fleet Rear Admiral Sir John Orde, who was seeking Napoleon’s fleet, and the British Consul in Tangier.
Through its insightful new documentary, Heritage Malta continues the discussion on the momentous year of 1798 and on the paradoxical complexity surrounding Napoleon’s persona. This man, who was a main protagonist in the genesis of the Maltese nation, still divides opinions and generates debate centuries after his death as to whether he was a harbinger of democracy and a liberator of slaves. Yet only a year later he became First Consul, a de facto dictator and the only statesman to reinstate slavery in his country.
The 30-minute documentary was aired by the national broadcaster TVM on Sunday 30th May. It will be premiered on Heritage Malta’s Facebook page on Thursday 10th June, exactly 223 years to the day when the French started to land their forces at four different locations on the Maltese Islands. Transmission time will be 6.30pm.
Replicas of Napoleon’s letter to Desaix are available for online purchase on https://heritagemalta.org/shop/onwards-to-malta-napoleons-dispatch/https://heritagemalta.org/shop/