Jean de Valette (1498-1567) Grand master of the Knights of St John. Left his home in Gascony at age nineteen just in time to take part in the Siege of Rhodes. He rose steadily, though not smoothly (he was jailed at least twice for acts of unwarranted violence), through the ranks of the Order until being elected Grand Master in 1557. Tempestuous, strict, ruthless, but effective, he was exactly the man needed at the time of the siege. Despite a shaky start and shaking hands, he managed to impose his will on the at times rebellious soldiers under him and withstand the considerable pressure brought to bear on the island all that summer.
Don Garcia de Toledo (1514-1577), Viceroy of Naples and Commander in Chief of . Son of Don Viceroy of Naples, he entered the service of Charles V and over the years proved a capable and inventive military man both on land and on sea. Exhausted by ill health by 1564, he nevertheless recognized the serious threat that would come the following year and petitioned Philip II of Spain to let him organize the gathering and deploying of forces to counter the Ottoman expedition. His actions proved critical to Christian success, but personal enemies (not least of all members of the Order) blackened his name for not doing more, and earlier.
Suleiman the Magnificent (1498-1566), referred to as The Lawgiver by his Ottoman subjects, he began his career by expelling the Knights of St John from Rhodes and ended it with a failure to expel them from Malta. His reign marked the high point in Ottoman influence, political, cultural, religious, and military, and he might have extended these even further had this expedition gone otherwise.
Torgut Rais (1485-1565), aka Dragut Rais, born in Bodrum on the Anatolian coast, he showed an early taste for adventure and flair for the new technology of artillery. He was schooled in the arts of naval warfare by the legendary Barbary Corsair, Khairedihn Barbarossa, whose reputation in the Mediterranean he surpassed. By 1565 he was eighty years of age, a living legend and critical in gathering and inspiring the free-booting pirates of North Africa to take part in the siege, a siege which, if successful, would have made those who survived exceedingly rich.
Mustapha Pasha, cousin to the Sultan, another veteran of the siege of Rhodes as well as wars in Persia and Hungary, he volunteered to lead the expedition to Malta. Despite his at times astonishing bravery, he proved unable to inspire the kind of loyalty in his immediate subordinates (not least of all his co-commander Piali Pasha) that was necessary for making the operation a success.
Piali Pasha (1515-1578), a Croatian foundling who was brought to Constantinople and palace school, the Enderun, in Constantinople with a view towards service to the empire. He rose to rank of Kapudan Pasha while still in his thirties, and as a reward for successful voyages alongside Torgut Rais in the western Mediterranean, was wed to Suleiman’s grand-daughter. He was co-commander with Mustapha Pasha for the Malta expedition, deputed both to keep the fleet intact and to aid the army as needed.
El Eudj Ali (1519-1587), aka Ochiali, “the Scabby One” after a skin condition that affected his head. An Italian kidnapped by pirates as a young man, he converted to Islam and took to the life of a corsair, rising in success and esteem second only to Torgut. Arrogant and loudmouthed but with the abilities to back them up, he would go on to become Kapudan Pasha of the Ottoman fleet, succeeding as the only Ottoman to escape during the battle of Lepanto .
Ascanio della Corgna (1516-1571), one-eyed Condottiere from Perugia, and among the most notable soldiers of 16th century Italy. At the time of the siege, charged with peculation, murder, and rape, he was languishing in Rome’s Castel St. Angelo, a prisoner of the pope. He was only released at the combined urging of his old comrade-in-arms Don Garcia de Toledo, Jean de Valette, and Philip II. (That, and a substantial payment in gold by his brother the Cardinal Fulvio Giulio della Corgna.)
Vincenzo Anastagi (?-1585), Knight of St John and like della Corgna, a citizen of Perugia. He came to the Order at a relatively advanced age and with unspecified martial accomplishments. On Malta, he served as a commander of cavalry, intelligence officer, and was arguably responsible for breaking Mustapha Pasha’s massive attack of August 7 which would otherwise have carried the day for the invaders. He was also the author of the last, and lengthy, situation report that same month which convinced Don Garcia to launch the final relief force to oust the Ottomans once and for all.
Toni Bajada, near legendary Maltese spy and courier, he was responsible for carrying messages through enemy lines. Stories of his exploits are told on Malta to this day.