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Updated (3): April 2012


Searching the Origins of Arfio (Nicolao)Capo di Ferro (de Capoferro)known as Testaferrata


Searching the Origins of Arfio (Nicolao) Capo di Ferro (de Capoferro) known as Testaferrata



The 15th century Noble Arfio Testaferrata, born Capo di Ferro, is the common ancestor of the eponymous family of Malta.


Offices, wealth, significant marriage alliances and inheritance disputes appear to have been dominated by Arfio’s descendants throughout 17th and 18th century Malta. The Testaferrata was represented by two main lines, one enjoying nobility in Rome, the other in the Holy Roman Empire. They also enjoyed the privilege of being admitted into the Order of St. John which generally prohibited admission to other noble families of Malta.


But what were the origins of Arfio Capo di Ferro known as Testaferrata?


This question is not new. It was already raised long ago in 1647 by Gian Francesco Abela.




There appears to be a strong tradition this family is a branch of the Roman Capo di Ferro family. Here are some examples:-

  1. Old memorials describe this descent e.g. http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/baronedicastelcicciano.htm  .
  2. Reference to this descent is found in the 1792 regrant of the title of Patrician of Messina in favour of the main sub-lines http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/nobility/Testaferratapatricanships.htm
  3. In 1965, Berardo Candida-Gonzaga in his Memorie delli famiglie Nobili delle provincie meridionali d’Italia (page 46) says that the Testaferrata family’s ancestry is shared with that of the Orsini, Crescenti and Massimi. (“Questa famiglia trae sua origine dalla famiglia Capo di Ferro di Roma, dalla quale furono pure originale le famiglie Orsini, Crescenti, Massimi”. )
  4. In 1981, Gauci describes Arfio Capo di Ferro as: “in 1479 appointed Commander of the Garrison of Malta by Ferdinand ‘the Catholic’ of Aragon, adding that he was descended in direct line from Pandolfo ‘Capo di Ferro’ Prince of Beneventum and Capua and Marquis of Camerino one of the most powerful feudal lords of his time who could trace his own descent from Celius de Capo-Ferro Vicedominus Extraurbem (Rural Governor) of Imperial Rome”.
  5. The most assertive claimant to this descent may be identified as the Marchese Nicolo’ Testaferrata de Noto who in the “Times” newspaper of the 13th March 1812 which contains a description of a reception held by the British Prince Regent at Carlton House, is described as “Marquis Testaferrata, of the Ancient Princes Capo d Ferro, Charge’ d’Affaires Maltese” and in other documents he is found described as having reverted to the original surname as “Nicolo Capo di Ferro, Marchese Testaferrata”.


But these statements do not provide any direct evidence that these Testaferratas were in fact descended from the ancient Capo di Ferro family.


We have made it our business to address this question by re-examining the evidence.




In 1880, Cassar Desain (page 8-13) took Abela to task by explaining the documentary evidence showing how the Magnifico and Nobile Arfio (Nicolau) Capo di Ferro came to be surnamed Testaferrata.


  1. He quotes a deed dated 18 February 1513 where the purchaser of a plot of land is named “Magnifico Jarfio de Capoferro”.
  2. A second deed made barely a fortnight later, the 3 March 1513, makes reference to the earlier deed of 18 February where the same seller is described as renouncing to the legal right of pre-emption in favour of the purchaser “Nobili Jarfium dicto Nicolao” is now surnamed “Testaferrata”.
  3. He provides further documentary evidence dated 1498 showing that these two surnames were used interchangeably by Arfio and his son Angaraldo. A document dated 4 August 1498 presented in the Curia describes the “Miles Angaraldo Testaferrata” acting on behalf of his father the “Nobili Jarfio de Capoferro” in a claim against a debtor.


Cassar Desain gives further documentation dated 3 November 1496 describing Angaraldo as “Magnificum Angaraldo Testaferrata” and another document dated 27 January where he is described as “Nobilis Angaraldus Testaferrata”


The 1880 publication draws a distinction between two categories of Nobility. The “Nobilta’ originaria” Cassar Desain explains, consists of the ancient families whose status as noblemen stretches to time immemorial whilst the “Nobilta’ acquisita” is made up of those families whose nobility is known to originate from a definitive epoch.


At this point we must comment that although this proves the “Nobilta’ originaria” of the earliest Testaferratas in Malta, it does not provide any direct evidence that these Testaferratas were in fact descended from the ancient Capo di Ferro, the great Pandulph or the Roman family. We therefore look further.




The Testaferrati display a bull on their shield.


Abela conceded that the arms borne by the Maltese Testaferratas are similar to those of the Roman Capo di Ferro family. (“Se la presente Famiglia .... sia discesa dalla nobile Romana CAPO DI FERRO son sappiamo fin ora, anzi bensi, che l’arme di quella vien appunto portata da questa simigliantemente”). http://www.maltagenealogy.com/libro%20d'Oro/sanvincenzoferreri.html


In 1985, Robert Montel describes the 15th century Capodiferro and Maddaleni-Capodiferro families as related but distinct families. http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/mefr_0223-5110_1985_num_97_2_2824?_Prescripts_Search_tabs1=standard&


It is unclear whether Abela had one or the other of these two Roman families in mind. However we have discovered that the Maddaleni-Capodiferros had a private chapel within Rome's only Gothic church “Santa Maria sopra Minerva”.


A sworn declaration dated 9 July 1803 by the priests Joseph Galea and Francis Lingua filed in the Curia of Rome before Nicolaus Damiani records how in the Chapel there were two tombs of the Capodiferro family both displaying an armorial bull. (“due antichi sepolchri genilizi della nobilissima Casa Capo di Ferro di Roma coperti con Lapide alla testa delli quali si ravvisano duplicamento incise e’ rilevate le armi della prelodata famiglia consistenti in un Toro, e leggonsi in caratteri Gottici”.)


Although we have been unable to locate these tombs, the document together with Abela’s findings, suffice to prove that the Testaferrata coat of arms is similar to at least one branch of the Roman Capo di Ferro.   


Moreover, one of the “Conservatori” of 15th century Rome, Marcello Capodiferro used an ox as his arms, which is easily confused with a bull.





According to some published sources, the Capo di Ferro and therefore the Testaferrata are not only descended from Pandulph Ironhead but also from the even more remote Celius de Capo Ferro a Rural Governor of Imperial Rome. Celius is considered to have been the brother of Primiano (Ariberto) Orsini the son of Cajo Orso Orsini from whom the princely Orsini family is said to descend.

Here we must concede that Romans did display bulls and other animals on their ‘vexilla’ and their ‘imagi’, but the claim from Celius de Capo-Ferro appears far too remote to bear any relevance on identifying Arfio’s closer relatives, and pass on to the next claim.




A princely dynasty founded by Pandulph Ironhead known as “Capo di Ferro” ruled all of Benevento, Capua, Salerno and Spoleto, practically half of Italian mainland during the 10th century A.D.


His successors, known as the Landulphids, steadily lost their possessions during the 11th century to the invading Normans.

The most shortlived of the landulphid stub-dynasties was that of Ironhead’s son Pandulph II of Salerno. He was young and was immediately opposed in 981 by Manso, Duke of Amalfi, who succeeded in ousting him. The dethroned Pandulf resettled in his brother’s principality of Capua. The brother Landulph had been dispossessed of Spoleto by Emperor Otto II . The two princes died in the Battle of Stilo against the Saracens on 13 July 982.


Landulph VI of Benevento already reduced by the Normans to acknowledging a papal overlord in 1073, had a son who died sole prince under the pope on 27 November 1077 bringing the ancient principality of Benevento to an end.


In Capua Landulph had been succeeded by Landenulf but was murdered in 993 at the behest of another brother Laidulf who succeeded him. In 999, the Emperor Otto avenged Landenulf by deposing Laidulf and taking him prisoner to Germany. Adhemar of Balsamo filled in till 1000 when the throne was reinstated in favour of one of Ironhead’s descendants Landolfo di Sant'Agata who is numbered Landulph VII. He was in turn succeeded in 1007 by his young son Pandulf the Black (Niger) who died in 1022 to be succeeded by his uncle another Pandulph who was to lose Capua to Richard I Drengot in 1058, thus ending the principality. Landulph’s sons were last seen by Pope Victor III wandering the countryside of the ‘Mezzogiorno’ as beggars.


The medieval claim merits further investigation even though the genealogies appear very confusing.




There is evidence suggesting that the Ironhead had other descendants who went on to occupy notable positions, even in the regions previously controlled by this family. In 1276 Pietro del Morrone  (later Pope Celestine V) accepted the abbey of S. Maria  di  Faifula  in Molise, an office offered to him by the controversial Archbishop of Benevento, Romano Capoferro (died 1280).


Other notable Capodiferros who are assumed to be Landulphid include Bartolomeo Capodiferro who was Bishop of Monteverde in Avellino between 1506 and 1521.


However, there is scant proof that late medieval Capodiferros were descendants of the Landulphids.





Girolamo Capo di Ferro (1502-1559) is possibly the most well known of the later Capo di Ferros for his patronage of the arts, but his real surname was Recanati. Official records describe him as the son of Alfonso Recanati and Bernardina Capodiferro but is also listed as Girolamo Capodiferro and, very interestingly “the order of his last names as Capodiferro Recanati; and his second last name as Testaferrata”. http://www2.fiu.edu/~mirandas/bios1544.htm



There are external indicators showing that the same heraldic shield was shared by the Maltese family and its Roman counterpart. There is also proof showing that both Maltese and Roman Capo di Ferro interchanged their surnames with that of Testaferrata.




There is no doubt that Arfio (Nicholas) Capo di Ferro enjoyed a noble status immediately upon settling in Malta where he and his son changed his surname to Testaferrata, sometime between 1496 and 1513.


There is still no proof of Arfio’s exact parentage but the indicators explained above show that he and his own descendants, the Testaferratas, were most probably descendants of the Roman Capo di Ferros.





History of the Testaferrata family: http://www.maltagenealogy.com/libro%20d'Oro/sanvincenzoferreri.html

Key determined from http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/nobility/Testaferratapatricanships.htm

(Line 2) Branch #1 (nobility in Rome)  http://www.maltagenealogy.com/libro%20d'oro/gomerino.html

(Line 1) Branch #1 (nobility in Holy Roman Empire)  http://www.maltagenealogy.com/libro%20d'Oro/cassardesain.html

(Line 1) Branch #2 (nobility in Holy Roman Empire)  http://www.maltagenealogy.com/libro%20d'Oro/testaferrata.htm including http://www.maltagenealogy.com/libro%20d'Oro/sanvincenzoferreri1.html

(Line 1) Branch #3 (nobility in Holy Roman Empire) http://www.maltagenealogy.com/libro%20d'Oro/testaferrataolivier.html


Possible D’Aquino Capo di Ferro connection


1. Adenolfo (+ post 883), Gastaldo d’Aquino, la sua posizione è incerta. Forse figlio o fratello di Rodoaldo.

1.1. (Parentela incerta) Rodiperto (+ post 924), Gastaldo di Aquino.= Magalù, figlia di Docibile dei Duchi di Gaeta (* ante 906 + ante 924)

1.1.1. Siconolfo I (+ post 963), Gastaldo di Aquino. Adenolfo II (+ post 980/982), Gastaldo e Conte di Aquino e Pontecorvo.  = Maria Conte Adenolfo III detto “Summucula” (i primi discendenti venivano denominati Summucula)  (vivente 996/1022), fu in contese con il monastero di Montecassino. E’ considerato il capostipite Certo della famiglia d’Aquino.  Conte Adenolfo IV (+ 3-1042), Duca di Gaeta nel 1038 ca., Difensore dell’abbazia

Benedettina di Monte Cassino  Conte Landone II (+ 7-1065/8-1067) = ca. 1029 Sichelgarda, figlia di Pandolfo IV Principe di Capua  Conte Landone III (+ post 1123), occupa la città di Teràme nel 1117. Conte Landone IV (+ post 1137). Dominus Pandolfo I (+ post 1157), nel 1157 fece una permuta con il Papa e cedette Montelibretti in cambio del feudo di Monte San Giovanni. Landolfo I de Albeto (+ post 6-10-1196). Adenolfo II (+ post 1210) = Ottolina dell’Isola, with issue. (Counts d’Acerra) Andrea d’Aquino (* ante 1157 + 1210 ?), ebbe in subfeudo dai Gesualdo la terra di Grottaminarda. Sposa Maria Gesualdo Signora di Grottaminarda.  Landolfo II (+ poco dopo 1239), Signore di Grottaminarda jure francorum; ebbe liti di successione con i cugini e i fratelli. Adinolfo IV (+ post 1247), Signore di Grottaminarda.  Andrea II (+ 1253), Signore di Grottaminarda, Aquino, Albeto, Settefrati, Viccalbo, Campoli e Monte San Giovanni. Tommaso (+ ca. 27-11-1289), Signore di Grottaminarda, Aquino, Albeto, Settefrati, Viccalbo, Campoli e Monte San Giovanni; giurò obbedienza a Carlo I d’Angiò nel 1266 e fu armato Cavaliere da questo. (la parentela alla famiglia d’Aquino è incerta) Capo di Ferro (+ post 11-7-1271), Signore di 1/3 del subfeudo di Villamaina, Parolise e San Barbato. = ………. nipote ed erede Enrico di San Barbato Signore di 1/3 di Villamaina, Parolise e San Barbato Filippo (+ ante 1280), Signore di 1/3 di Villamaina, Parolise e San Barbato alla morte del padre. Capo di Ferro II (+ 11-1291), Signore di 1/3 di Villamaina, Parolise e San Barbato e armato Cavaliere il 5-4-1280. Adenolfo (+ ante1317), Signore di 1/3 di Villamaina., Parolise e San Barbato investito il 26-11-1298. = Siffridina d’Afflitto, da Benevento (+ post 14-3-1318). Marino (+ post 14-3-1318), Signore di 1/3 di Villamaina, Parolise e San Barbato investito il 14-3-1328. Niccolò (+ post 1343), Signore di Villamaina. = Rosella, figlia di Antonio Crispano Roberto (+ post 1445) Marco (+ post 1462) = ……. da Salcano Tommaso (+ post 1482) Vincenzo (+ post 24-5-1510) Tommaso (+ post 4-3-1552) = Francesca del Nobile (?) Luca (+ post 1581). Faustina (+ post 16-1-1577) = Jacopo Aniello Romano Giovannella (+ post 13-7-1538). Beatrice (+ post 2-10-1572)= Domizio Marchese Signore di Castelpagano e Patrizio Napoletano Landolfo (+ post 1463) = Rita Castelli Francesco (+ post 20-1-1501) Giacomo (+ post 19-11-1520) = Filippa Mormile, with issue.  Roberto (+ post 1493).  Enrico (+ post 1522) = Olimpia Selvaggi, with issue. Michelangelo (+ post 1-2-1532) = Dianora Episcopo, with issue. Donato (+ Grottaminarda 8-4-1426), Arcivescovo di Benevento dal 1385. Roberto Roberto de Albeto, Signore di Albeto, Giustiziere di Terra di Lavoro il 18-5-1231., with issue. Pandolfo II (+ post 1239/ante 4-1249), Giustiziere di Terra di Lavoro l’8-1228., with issue.


Detailed genealogy of the d'Aquino family.










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www.maltagenealogy.com is dedicated to celebrating and reassessing the history of the Maltese People