by The Telegraph
February 11, 2008
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Fra’ Andrew Bertie: a deeply reserved man, his dignity and charm earned him affection and respect
His Most Eminent Highness Fra' Andrew Bertie, who died in Rome on February 7 aged 78, was Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta; the 78th man to hold the office, he was the first Englishman to be elected the Order's leader since Hugh Revel in 1258, and the first non-Italian since the end of the 18th century.
Dedicated to caring for pilgrims and the poor and the sick, the Order emerged in Palestine in about 1100, during the Crusades, and took up arms to defend the Holy Land. It continued its war against Islam, first from Rhodes and then from Malta, whence it was evicted by Napoleon in 1798.
Since 1834 its headquarters has been the Palazzo Magistrale in Rome, which constitutes the world's smallest sovereign state; the Order exchanges ambassadors with many countries and issues its own passports.
Membership is largely restricted to Catholics with proofs of nobility, although there is an increasing element from among the new elite. The higher officers are nearly always noblemen who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Today, the Order - officially known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta - numbers about 12,500 knights, dames, chaplains and donats (members who are not knights).
As early as the 15th century the Grand Master wore the gilded armour of royalty, while in 1607 he was made, ex officio, a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire. After 1630 his rank at Rome was equated with that of a cardinal-deacon - hence the style "Most Eminent Highness".
By the end of the 17th century he had acquired all the attributes of a sovereign, addressing kings as "Cousin". He still wears an extraordinary hat of office - an inverted fluted cone - that is as distinctive in its own way as that of a Venetian Doge.
Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie (pronounced "Barty") was born on May 15 1929, the elder son of James Bertie, a younger son of the 7th Earl of Abingdon, and of Lady Jean Bertie (née Crichton-Stuart), a daughter of the 4th Marquess of Bute.
A branch of the Berties had been Dukes of Ancaster, while the Crichton-Stuarts, descended from King Robert II of Scotland, were known for their enormous wealth.
Andrew's forebears also included many recusants, English men and women who had remained staunchly Catholic in the face of persecution. He was to take particular pride in his collateral descent from Sir Edward Bellingham, a Knight of Malta during Henry VIII's reign.
He was educated at Ampleforth, Christ Church, Oxford, and at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London. During his National Service he was commissioned in the Scots Guards.
After working as a financial journalist in the City, he taught French and Spanish at Worth School in Sussex, where he intrigued the boys by driving a Rolls-Royce.
With his friend Viscount Furness, Bertie developed an increasing interest in the Order of Malta, joining its British Association in 1956. Taking solemn religious vows in 1981, he moved to Rome, where he served on the Sovereign Council (the Order's governing body) for seven years.
Nevertheless, it was a shock for so self-effacing a man, especially for one who was not an Italian, to find himself elected Grand Master in April 1988.
In Italy, where the Order of Malta has a high profile, the election of an Englishman came as no less of a surprise. It was typical of the man that his first act after being elected was to invite all the rival candidates to luncheon at the Palazzo Magistrale.
The Order combines an aristocratic membership with modern humanitarian activities. In Catholic Europe it is the last bastion of the old establishment. King Juan Carlos was President of its Spanish Association before he became king, while the Austrian Association contains a score of Habsburg archdukes.
Its hospitaller activities - funding and administering hospitals, providing ambulance brigades and sending supplies - range from Peru to Pakistan, from California to Russia.
There is also a worldwide relief service, Malteser International. The Order specialises in helping victims of armed conflict or natural disaster, providing medical assistance, caring for refugees and distributing medicine and basic equipment for survival.
Its members are supported by 80,000 permanent volunteers, who are backed by a qualified staff that consists of more than 13,000 doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and other assistants.
Fra' Andrew's term of office proved highly successful. He spoke five languages (and had a working knowledge of half a dozen more), and he increased the Order's membership, bringing a fresh approach to its humanitarian activities and extending aid to hitherto inaccessible regions.
The Order's diplomatic missions, offering assistance during natural disasters or armed conflict, doubled from 49 to 100.
Fra' Andrew established conferences at which members of the Order were invited to contribute to its work, were encouraged to commit themselves to the spiritual aspect of its mission to the sick and the poor, and were urged to live according to Christian principles. Above all, he wanted the knights, even those not in vows, to see their calling as a religious vocation.
Although deeply reserved, he was a man of great natural dignity and charm, who inspired affection as well as respect. He had a remarkable sympathy for the young, and was frequently visited in Rome by his former pupils.
On Malta, where he loved to spend holidays, he organised judo classes for children, teaching them himself (he was a judo black belt). He enjoyed great support from his younger brother Peregrine, and was delighted when he became president of the British Association.
Characteristically, the Grand Master's last official pronouncement, in January this year, was very much to the point.
In an address to the ambassadors accredited to the Sovereign Military Order, he warned of harmful and unfounded rumours that the knights were involved in anti-Islamic activities in countries where, in reality, they were engaged in humanitarian work.
Rumours of this sort, he told the ambassadors, were placing the lives of the Order's volunteer carers in grave danger.