The Malta Independent 21 August 2019, Wednesday

Napoleon Bonaparte: The First to instigate a divorce debate in Malta

Malta Independent Tuesday, 13 July 2010, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando’s presentation of a Private Member’s Bill for the introduction of divorce in Malta last week has caused much furore and controversy, but it was Napoleon Bonaparte who first proposed the introduction of divorce in the Maltese society back in 1798.

Frans Sammut, one of Malta’s best known literary figures, has written two books on the impact of Napoleon’s six-day visit in Malta and the influence of the French Revolution on the country.

Speaking at the eight international congress organised by the International Napoleonic Society (INS), Mr Sammut said that “even though Napoleon Bonaparte’s stay in Malta was short-lived, he single-handedly tried to draw the country away from its medieval moorings and pave the way forward to cement its place into the modern era.

“He issued a series of decrees, aiming to bring about a thorough reorganisation of the government and society in Malta, and tirelessly sought to review the country’s laws and regulations. He tried to rid the stagnation of Malta under the influence of the Knights of St John, whom he felt had outstayed their welcome, and strived hard to make the country on a par with other influential countries at the time,” said Mr Sammut.

The abolition of noble titles and privileges and the removal of slavery were the first things Napoleon implemented. He later ordered the expulsion of the Inquisitor and voiced his surprise that fundamental subjects such as astronomy, physics and maths were, by the time of his arrival, still not being taught at the University of Malta.

“He was against adhering to any forms of tradition, superstition and other dogmas, which characterised society at the time, and was a different type of leader in the sense that he was not a warrior or a rebel, but more of an intellectual strategist and philosopher when commanding the fleet,” said Mr Sammut.

At his most fearsome, Napoleon decided that the best way to overcome the British army was by attacking the heart of its empire – India. He thought it best to invade Egypt before making his way to the Far East, and it was while on his way to Egypt that he decided to set base in Malta, which was taken over without a shot being fired.

“Shortly after arriving, he showed his chivalry and didn’t ask for the island to be surrendered, but asked for a convention. In the end, both he and the Church in Malta felt that the Knights of St John were no longer keeping abreast with the times, but unfortunately he did not have much time to exercise his authority,” added Mr Sammut, who added that the French leader had also campaigned for the release of political prisoners like Mikiel Anton Vassalli, who had first suggested that Maltese should form part of the government, something which was completely unheard of at the time, and whom Napoleon classified as being “the most ingenious prisoner that ever lived”.

The INS, which promotes the study of the Napoleonic Era in accordance with proper academic standards, will be spending the best part of four days in Malta. Scholars, most of whom are residing at the Corinthia Palace in Attard, will share their thoughts and views on Napoleon’s visit to Malta, as well as go on a tour of the major sites and buildings which were frequented by the legendary French Revolutionist.

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