Shelley’s house in St Christopher Street belonged to the English langue. One of the eight langues of the Order of St John was the Venerable langue of England, which history through the early modern age is rather of a complex nature. The English langue was practically suppressed soon after King Henry the Eight established the Protestant Church of England in 1534. In England, as soon as the properties of the langue were forfeited by the Protestant King, the Lieutenant Turcopilier petitioned the Grand Master to assist financially the langue. By 1546, the Order agreed to grant an annual pension to the English langue, however serious difficulties developed in the following years for the Order to maintain this langue. By the end of the 16th century, England’s representation within the Order was practically reduced to a few individual knights. The unpopularity of the English langue led this section of the Order to face serious difficulties when they came to establish an auberge at the new city of Valletta, this notwithstanding that the Order allocated a plot to the langue. When the responsibilities of the English langue were taken over by the new Anglo-Bavarian langue in 1784, the Order had in fact transferred the value of the 16th century plot to the new langue. The plot allocated to the English langue during the foundation of Valletta was a whole block confined by Merchants Street, St Christopher Street, St Paul Street and St Nicholas Street. The langue had never occupied this plot, and no auberge of the English langue was ever constructed in Valletta. By the 17th century, a polverista (gun-powder magazine) was eventually built on part of this plot until the entire block was re-appropriated by Grand Master Fra’ Nicolas Cottoner on which he constructed the Cottoner Block.
Shelley’s house was demolished and rebuilt in its present form by the Assembly in 1718 at an expense of 4,201 scudi. It seems that part of this sum, 2,500 scudi was covered from the Caraffa Foundation. In 1789, since the Shelley ‘Foundation’ was debtor of 6,319 scudi to the Assembly and the Caraffa Foundation, it was decided that celebration of masses be suspended until the debt is paid for. During the British period, the Magistrate Dr Guglielmo Rapinet obtained the house under perpetual lease. Soon after he acquired the property in 1880, the Magistrate restored the building carrying out radical modifications including the building of a new staircase, the addition of wrought iron balconies, and a granite entrance; however, he was not to enjoy it for long. Over the main doorway to this house is a defaced coat-of-arm which may have borne the fleur-de-lys and lions of Elizabeth of England. At the building’s corner is a marble plaque to commemorate the English connection to this house.
The house was extensively restored in 2021.
- Bonello, Giovanni, ‘The Magistrate Imprisoned for Indecent Assault‘, in Histories of Malta Deceptions and Perceptions, Vol. 1, Malta 2000, p. 230-1.
- De Lucca, Denis, ‘Some Landmark Buildings of Valletta’, in Encounters in Valletta A Baroque City through the ages, Petra Caruana Dingli, Giovanni Bonello, Denis De Lucca eds., Malta 2018, p. 44, 68.
- Denaro, Victor, ‘Still more houses in Valletta’, Melita Historica, 3, 3 (1962), 42-58.
- Hughes, Quentin, The Building of Malta, Malta 1956, p. 138-9.
- Mifsud, Alfredo, The Knights Hospitallers of The Venerable Tongue of England in Malta, Malta 1914, p. 99-100.
- Zammit, Temi, The City of Valletta: A Historical Sketch, Malta 1929, p. 43, 56-7.