Holy Roman Emperor Charles V granted Malta to a military religious order called the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem in 1530. Malta was a base of operations for the knights against the Ottoman Turks. The knights developed Malta as a center of commerce and it ruled the islands until the 19th century.
In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led an expeditionary force to Egypt in order to expel the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, later known as the Knights of Malta. However, French rule was so disliked that the Maltese revolted in the same year. The Maltese made a plea for help from Britain, so in 1799 the British navy under Horatio Nelson lay siege on Valletta and caused the French to later withdraw. In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire and was used as a shipping way-station and fleet headquarters. After the Suez Canal opened in 1869, Malta's position halfway between the Strait of Gibraltar and Egypt proved to be its main asset and it was considered an important stop on the way to India. This was an important trade route for the British and thus, the Maltese people took great advantage of this alliance as several culinary and botanical products were introduced in Malta; some examples (derived from the National Book of Trade Customs found in the National Library) include the entry of wheat (for bread making) and bacon. In 1919 British troops fired on a rally protesting against new taxes, killing four Maltese men. The event, known as Sette Giugno (Italian for 7 June), is commemorated every year and is one of five National Days.
In the early 1930s the British Mediterranean Fleet, which was at that time the main contributor to commerce on the island, moved to Alexandria as an economic measure and to be out of range of Italian bombers.
During World War II, Malta played an important role owing to its proximity to Axis shipping lanes. The bravery of the Maltese people during the second Siege of Malta moved King George VI to award the George Cross to Malta on a collective basis on 15 April 1942 "to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history". Some historians argue that the award caused Britain to incur disproportionate losses in defending Malta, as British credibility would have suffered if Malta surrendered, as Singapore had. A replica of the George Cross now appears in the upper hoist corner of the Flag of Malta. The collective award remained unique until April 1999, when the Royal Ulster Constabulary became the second – and, to date, the only other – recipient of a collective George Cross.
In the 1962 elections, 76% of the electorate voted for the principal parties which were demanding Independence. The Nationalists gained a majority and therefore Dr George Borg Olivier became Prime Minister. Shortly afterwards, amendments to the Constitution were made. Borg Olivier proceeded to London to ask for a financial agreement and demand Independence with full membership within the Commonwealth. At the time unemployment had risen to 6% and there were fears of discharges from the Naval Arsenal.
On the 20th August 1962 Dr Borg Olivier presented his formal request for Independence. It was soon made known that the Attorney General Prof J J Cremona, was working on a draft constitution while it was announced that a Malta Independence Conference was to be held at Marlborough House, London. The Conference started on the 16th July, 1963. Delegates from all the political parties led by Dr George Borg Olivier, Mr. Dom. Mintoff, Mr. Toni Pellegrini, Dr Herbert Ganado and Miss Mabel Strickland attended. The Conference was chaired by Mr. Duncan Sandys. Discussions went on right through July. The Maltese Government was asking for a monarchical state with a Governor General representing the Queen. The Secretary of State proposed a referendum about the constitution.
Initially it was announced that Malta would be granted Independence by the 31st May, 1964, but controversial issues about the constitution and a demand for elections prior to the granting of independence, prolonged the discussions and made this impossible. In the meantime the draft was presented before parliament. Political leaders again went to London late in 1963 to discuss the referendum. Further discussions were held in February 1964 and in March 1964 Duncan Sandys and Borg Olivier issued a Joint Statement declaring that Borg Oliver was going to present the draft constitution before the National Assembly and after its approval, it would be presented to the Maltese electorate for a referendum. These were approved and a referendum was held in May when 129,649 or 82.6% of the electorate voted. Out of these, 65,714 voted for independence.
Dr Borg Olivier proceeded to London to discuss the constitution, a Defence Agreement and Economic Aid. It was proposed that British forces would be allowed to stay for ten years while the British Government was to provide Lstg50 millions to help in the diversification of the economy. Malta's Draft Constitution was approved in the House of Commons on 23rd July 1964 and the date for Independence was set for the 21st September, 1964.
On the night of the 20-21st September, the Maltese Flag was raised at Independence Arena, Floriana, amidst the cheers of the large crowd present. Malta had become an independent nation.
Malta became a democratic constitutional monarchy with Elizabeth II declared as Queen of Malta. The Duke of Edinburgh came to Malta as her official representative to participate in the various festivities.
In 1971, the Malta Labour Party led by Dom Mintoff won the General Elections, resulting in Malta declaring itself a republic on 13 December 1974 (Republic Day) within the Commonwealth, with the President as head of state. A defence agreement signed soon after independence (and re-negotiated in 1972) expired on 31 March 1979.
Malta adopted a policy of neutrality in 1980. In 1989, Malta was the venue of a summit between US President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, their first face-to-face encounter, which signalled the end of the Cold War.
On 16 July 1990, Malta, through its foreign minister, Guido de Marco, applied to join the European Union. After tough negotiations, a referendum was held on 8 March 2003, which resulted in a favourable vote. General Elections held on 12 April 2003, gave a clear mandate to the Prime Minister, Eddie Fenech Adami, to sign the Treaty of accession to the European Union on 16 April 2003 in Athens, Greece. Malta joined the European Union on 1 May 2004. Following the European Council of 21–22 June 2007, Malta joined the Eurozone on 1 January 2008.
Malta's Independence Day is a public holiday with a military parade in Valletta, music concerts and festivities across the country.. The highlight of the day is a Pontifical Mass and a performance of the National Orchestra of Malta. In Floriana, wreaths are also laid at the Independence Monument. This holiday is one of five national days in Malta.