Настоящата публикация е в отговор на многократните и (вече) няколкогодишни запитвания от страна на група приятели и колеги относно устройството на ордена на хоспиталиерите през Средните векове. Съжалявам, че е на английски, но се надявам, че англо-говорящите и -четящите няма да са чак толкова разочаровани.
(primarily due to the brilliant exposition of Prof. Jonathan Riley-Smith)
In the XIII century the Order of St. John gained more power in the Outremer, its politics became independent of any other central government in the region, and its members grew more numerous. The membership in the Order could take several forms. There were brother priests and, by the XIIIth century, brother knights and sergeants. There were also sisters of the Order of St. John by the later XII century. There were lay associates: confratres and donats. The brethren lived a common live in houses that were all known as "convents", although they varied greatly in size.
In the two centuries of its existence as an institution in Outremer, the administrative structure of the Hospital (a popular and shorter name for the Order) gradually cleared. With the increase of the donations, and sometimes the conquests of new large land estates, appeared the need for their more efficient administration. The land possessions were grouped in so called “commanderies” or “preceptories”, menaged accordingly by “commander” or “preceptor”. A commander was obliged each year to send to the Master (called later the Grand Master) at the headquarters of the Order responsiones – amounts that were estimated at nearly 15 % of the incomes of the commandery and represented a sort of “tax”, which was then distributed according to the needs of the Order; for example: to funding military campaigns. For commanders were appointed only old and honored members of the brethren. The commanderies themselves were grouped into provinces called priories, capitular commanderies or capitular castellanies, whose administrators ranked as capitular bailiffs, because they were theoretically appointed and recalled by the General Chapter of the whole Order. By the late twelfth century the priories had been collected into much larger units called grand commanderies, while by the late XIIIth century they were also grouped into seven Tongues or Langues (literally: "languages"). In the East there were commanderies and castellanies too but, as a rule, the eastern commander governed a larger area than his western counterpart, while he ranked as a capitular bailiff and was therefore equal to European prior.
The headquarters of the Order (it changed its place in XII-XIVth centuries first from Jerusalem to Acre, then to Limassol and, finally, to Rhodes) was also called a convent. Its structure differed little from the humblest house of brethren, although it was far larger and its officers were much more important. By the early XIVth century there were eight of these central officers, seven of whom were normally called the conventual bailiffs: the Grand Commander, the Marshal, the Hospitaller, the Drapier, the Treasurer, the Admiral, the Turkopolier and the Conventual Prior. At their head and entrusted with the government of the Order was the Master. But his power, like that of the least important commander, was limited by the communal decision of his brethren, who met in the Chapter on Sundays in every house of the Hospitallers. Once a year was held a prioral Chapter in the provincial headquarters; and at irregular intervals the capitular bailiffs and the brethren of the Convent in the East met in a General Chapter. All these bodies exercised jurisdiction and increasingly assumed administrative powers, but the Chapter General also legislated for the whole Order.
In Jonathan Riley-Smith’s opinion by the 1270’s no high office could be held by those who were not knights. This testifies for the complete dominance, which the military class in the Order had acquired at this time. I shall describe a little more-detailed the senior ruling postions who were held by the knightly brethren. At first place was the Master, the ruler of the Order. He exercised direct and personal government, but always shared authority with his Convent in the East and with the Chapter General. His deputy was called Lieutenant or Lieutenant-Master. In his administration of the Order the Master was assisted, and controlled, by the prud’hommes of the Convent. The term “convent” was applied to any house where brethren resided permanently, but, in a narrower sense, it was always used of the seat of the government i.e. the headquarters. Firstly: there were conventual bailiffs, the great officers of the Order. They were already mentioned, but not that the most important among them were the Grand Commander and the Marshal (later, with the transformation of the Order into predominantly maritime power, a certain and gradually larger significance acquired the position of Admiral). The Grand Commander was the chief officer after the Master. He administered the Order in the absence of the Master and in the interim between the magistracies. At any time he might be called upon to be Lieutenant Master and as such commanded the military force in battle. He was also responsible for the supplies of the headquarters and everything for the equipment of the ships of the Admiral in XIVth C. The Treasurer was appointed by the Chapter General immediately after the Grand Commander and was responsible for the finances. The function of the Drapier was to take care of the clothing of the brethren which were under strict regulations according to the Rule of the Order. The Marshal was the leader of the military element within the Order that, as I've already mentioned, became predominant soon after its establishment. On campaign, he commanded those present in the Hospitaller force, although the Master or the Lieutenant exercised supreme authority. He had power over the Turcoplier and the Admiral. The Marshal also had many other responsibilities, obviously connected with the militarization (i.e. the military functions) of the Hospital.In their offices these capitular bailiffs were regarded as representatives of the Master.
A second group of the Convent was made up of the Companions of the Master. They, as the conventual bailiffs, had the privilege to be exempted from the authority of the Marshal (the supreme military commander). Thirdly, there were the Ancients. They were brethren with special merits, such as had been more than 20 years on service of the Order. Finally, there were the conventual brethren, the most numerous compared to the others that were divided into Tongues or groups of those who spoke the same language. It was necessary because of the practice that various provinces of the Order sent their brethren to serve in the East and they needed to understand each other. The brethren of the Convent in the East took part in all conventual, provincial and General chapters. They, therefore, exercised great power in the Order. So, to assume, it could be said that the center of the government of the Order was in the East on the all levels of administrative power.