The Order of St John – the Knights of Malta – began as an order to protect Christian pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem, but transformed into an organization dedicated to corsairing in the Mediterranean Sea. Basically, legally justified pirates. For about 300 years they were based on the island of Malta, and while they produced their own cannons there, they purchased small arms from mainland Europe.
Today, we are looking at guns from the last major order placed by the…Order. In addition to muskets, it included 2000 flintlock handguns of the French Modele 1733 pattern. Part of the order was for long barreled (300mm) individual pistols, and part was for pairs of shorter barreled (240mm) ones. These were for both naval and cavalry forces, although it remains unclear which service received which type. However, the two different models have distinctly different acceptance marks.
In 1798, Napoleon’s fleet captured Malta, and these pistols (along with many other arms) fell into French hands, where they were easily absorbed into the armed forces, being identical to a French standard pattern. The fleet was very shortly thereafter defeated by the British, and control of Malta and these arms went to Great Britain. The long barreled type of Maltese 1733 pistol is particularly rare today, with probably only about 5 surviving. The short barreled ones are more common by a factor of 10 or so, but still very rare all things considered.