The French domination of the Maltese islands was short and turbulent. Their arrival in 1798 had promised otherwise since Napoleon and his troops were initially welcomed by the Maltese. However, this was prompted more by a growing dislike of the incumbent rulers, the Order of St. John, than by any real affection for the revolutionary ideals of France.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Malta was part of a strategic design to conquer Egypt and then gain India and the Far Eastern colonies of the British Empire. Keen to control the massive fortifications and harbours of Malta, Napoleon managed to get a number of Knights and Maltese on his side.
They passed on information and were ready to help promote a popular movement against the Order of St. John and their aristocratic style of government. Lack of materials, treacherous captains and general confusion, led to the capitulation of the Order within days. The Maltese Islands became another jewel in the crown of Napoleon.
The radical reforms introduced by the new rulers were excessive in the eyes of the locals who were still largely dominated by two institutions – the aristocracy and the Church – and loyal to both. Nobles and general populace alike began to see Napoleonic laws as an attack on their beloved Church and a threat to their traditional way of life.
Within three months of the French take-over, the Maltese revolted and forced the occupiers to withdraw behind the fortifications of Valletta and the Three Cities. They remained there until September 1800 when they capitulated to the British forces who had been called in to assist the Maltese in gaining their freedom. The British fleet entered Grand Harbour, marking the start of a century and a half of British rule.