In 1516 Cosimo I de' Medici had The Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano created, similar to the already existing Order of the Knights in Malta, with the aim of keeping faith alive and as a way of standing up to the Ottomans and the barbary pirate attacks.
Up to 1516 Cosimo had already attempted to create an order of knights, but it was only once Pio IV became Pope, with full approval on behalf of the Medici, that the Order of Santo Stefano pope and martyr was founded, with Cosimo I as Great Master.
Interesting information: The emblem of the Order is the red cross of Malta (also known as Croce delle Otto Beatitudini),with a golden frame on a white background with golden lilies all around. The Order was originally divided into two different categories, the soldiers and the priests, assisted by their servants (of arms and stall), and today as in the past access was only granted to those who could prove they had four quarters of nobility (that is, they had inherited noble blood from their grandparents on both their father's and also their mother's side). The Knights had to make three chastity, charity and obedience vows that were granted by the Great Master.
The first seat of the Orderwas in the city of Cosmopoli in what used to be the convent of San Salvatore, that in 1562 was changed into the De Laugier Barracks. Later, due to disagreements with the State of the Garrisons, it was transferred permanently to Pisa, in the central Cavalieri square where Cosimo I had Giorgio Vasari build the Church of Santo Stefano of the Knights.
In the Galliass dockyards, that today is the indoor market, many of the large prisons were built, the so called galliasses, and the Knights used them to protect the coasts from pirate attacks.
These prisons clearly show the intense military movement carried out by the Knights of Santo Stefano, from 1561, year the Order was founded, till the middle of the eighteenth century when the fleet was permanently disarmed and the knights became a honorary order.
Proof of this epic period can now be seen in the seat in Pisa where, as well as many other treasures, there are about seventy flags taken from Ottoman and north African ships that had been captured or sunk by the Knights.
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