The Story of the French Invasion

Between the 9th and 10th of June Gozo and Malta commemorate the 220th Anniversary of the French invasion with the biggest re-enactment ever held on the Maltese islands.

550 performing re-enactors from 17 Countries have brought Gozo’s history back to life by re-creating landmark events illustrating the French invasion of Gozo, the Islanders’ rebellion and subsequent liberation.

Nick and I went to Gozo on Saturday the 9th to participate to the events.

It was amazing to see how many people all dress up in that time costumes were perfoming so intesely after have marched since early in the morning under a very hot sun! It was nice to see them then gathering together here and there around Rabat and the Citadel for a drink and to rest a bit!

They truly did a great perfomance allowing us to dive into the history of this drammatic episod!

In fact, it all started at dawn of the 9th June 1798, when daylight revealed a massive French fleet along the eastern horizon. General Napoleon Bonaparte was to bring about the end of the 268-year long rule of the Knights of Malta in just a matter of hours.

A powerful invasion force made a number of landings with an area just east of Rambla Bay being chosen for the attack on Gozo…

The Main French force marched through the village of Xaghra and proceeded towards the outskirts of Rabat where another Gozitan militia was preparing to make a last stand.

Nick and I where there just in that topic moment but as soon as the French column reached upper Republic Street Archpriest Cassar runs ahead of the Maltese defensive line with a white flag in hand.

Immediately understanding that the local defenders could have offered very little resistance, Cassar convinced the French to accept the Gozitan surrender to avoid further bloodshed.

The French proceeded to occupy the Citadel and the Gozitan defenders dispersed.

Shortely afterwards, Malta also surrendered and  the French became the new overlords.

What happend to the Gozitan?

History says that fast-forward 12 weeks from the French occupation of Gozo the French did not keep their promises and a rebellion was sparkled off at Mdina on 2nd September 1798. Within hours the Gozitans also took up arms against the enemy.

Archpriest Cassar is summoned and incited with a rousing speech the people to take up arms against the French. Unsuspected French soldiers around the town are caught by surprise – some got killed, some run for their lives to the Citadel.

Fast-forward 7 weeks from the outbreak of the rebellion

Following negotiations between Cassar and Nelson, the French are offered surrender terms and accept the guarantee that the British will give them safe passage home.

The re-enactment ends with Cassar giving the Gozitans an animated victory speech amidst the jubilation of Gozitans.

Having finished their business both British and French left the Island and it was from that moment onwards that Gozo gained its autonomy whereas Malta had to wait for two more long years before it eventually evicted the French.

As a matter of fact, Cassar ran Gozo as a completely autonomous territory – this he did efficiently and justly and for this he was held in great esteem by the Island’s population!

Eventually in 1813, the Islands became a British Crown Colony.

Thanks to the Ministry of Gozo for the useful information found on the depliant of the event and to all the participant!

The re-enactment was organized by HRGM (Historical Re-enactment Groups of Malta) with the collaboration of members of 60 other re-enactment societies, coming from places as far apart as Norway and Australia, and Spain and Russia, and who represented Maltese, French and British military forces, and also a number of civilians.

See you soon to the next Gozitan Exploration 😉