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Updated: April 2011


Regulation of Nobility by King Ferdinand IV of Naples and Sicily (also ‘de jure’ king of Malta)


Summary of the nobiliary laws until the end of the Bourbon rule in 1860








The 1800 document establishes the Supreme Conservatory Tribunal of' the Nobility of the Kingdom of Naples, entrusted with publishing the “Golden Book” (“Libro D’Oro”) and regulation of Heraldry, the Royal Senate of Naples, and creates as ‘first baron of the kingdom of Naples’, Thomas D'Avalos, Marquis del Vasto and Pescaire, with remainder to the eldest born of his male descendants for ever.


It also abolishes the Piazze and Sedili of the city of Naples and the Tribunal of St. Laurence


Provision is made for “a register of all the families who have received the privileges of the Order of Malta”.


Document explains how the Sedili gave no influence to the real nobility of Naples because the role had been hijacked by the cabals of inconsiderate persons. Describes ‘absurd privileges’ claimed by the Sedili which “never existed”.


The summary of legislation in Naples shows many similarities and differences to issues of succession of titles in Malta. Malta upholds the view that the rights of the King of Naples were not affected by the French Occupation (1798-1800); Malta became a Colony of Britain after 1800.





Edict of King Ferdinand respecting the Noblesse.


FERDINAND IV. by the grace of God King of the Two Sicilies, &c.

The noblesse of a well-regulated monarchy is its most solid pillar and its best support, as it is also its glory when it has for the basis of its conduct fidelity and valour—sublime object, to which alone should tend all those institutions, which in monarchies place the nobility as a distinguished and illustrious body amongst the other orders of the state.


It is therefore with the most sensible grief that we have lately observed the Sedili and Piazze of the city of Naples remain in total indifference to the situation of the state, and trust and abandon their fortunes to a troop of corrupt young men, without any attachment to the cause of God and ourselves, suffering them, as is notoriously known, to attack our supreme authority, without opposing that usurpation made upon the power which our Vicar General holds solely and legitimately from us.


And although the persons elected and deputed, after having criminally exceeded the limits of their power (yielding, perhaps, to momentary remorse, and embarrassed by circumstances), gave in their resignation to the Piazze, the latter did not think proper to accept it, thereby confirming the revolt and sedition of the elected and the deputies, when it was in their power to accept their resignation, and to select persons known for their attachment to religion and the throne.


The Piazze should have done more, and the moment it perceived the excesses committed by the elected and the deputies, should have revoked the powers with which it intrusted them and have made choice of more honest and more faithful subjects.


Our royal and very-merciful mind is far from supposing, in the individuals composing the Piazze, any hostile design or want of attachment to our royal crown: but we could not avoid observing, in those institutions themselves, an intrinsic vice which tended to discourage the good, and afforded to the wicked the means of doing mischief.


It has been for a long time known that the wise and honest Cavalieri had little influence, or rather none at all, in the meetings of the Sedili; for the votes being given by numbers, and not by families, inconsiderate young persons, degenerated or perverted by the corruption of the times, composing the majority in the resolutions, the election frequently fell upon unworthy objects: they, by these means, became a cause of scandal to the good, by reason of their cabals, which procured employment for persons who made: them an object of lucre or abuse.


Thus the accession to the Sedili, an object so delicate to an illustrious and ancient nobility, had more than once become a shameful traffic; insomuch that, in latter times, being informed that sums of money had been deposited for that purpose, we opposed this scandalous aggregation, because, when nobility is purchased, and not the reward of fidelity and valour, as well as the result of a long series of generations (which, while they live nobly, distinguished themselves for valour and fidelity), it ceases to be the glory and support of a monarchy.


As it is not befitting the Crown to permit amongst the nobles, institutions which degrade them and us, after having reconquered the kingdom of Naples by the assistance of God and the force of our victorious arms, it is our duty to abolish and reform these vicious institutions which have been introduced into the state, and which do not correspond with those principles of inviolable fidelity to which we are entitled.


We therefore think it necessary to bring back to their primitive and essential object, those degraded institutions, and for that purpose have resolved to give to the nobility of Naples a new form, which will restore to it at the fame time its lustre and its splendour.—


What has most contributed to this our determination is, that some persons had the boldness to fend forth a publication in defence of the elected and the deputies of the Piazze, maintaining that when the enemy was at Aversa they had the privilege of presenting him with the keys, and of submitting to the conqueror, whoever he may be, as also of taking a part in the government at the approach of an enemy—absurd privileges, which never existed, and which never could be imagined but by the extreme of baseness.


As we cannot support any institution which dares to pretend to such privileges (for that would be to authorize cowardice and indifference to the interests of the state, and anarchy and insubordination in critical conjunctures,) we, by this our sovereign edict, to have effect in perpetuity, by our supreme power and plenitude of right which belongs to us in virtue of the reconquest which we have made of the capital and the kingdom, abolish for ever the Piazzes and Sedili of the city of Naples, and prohibit them from assembling, under the pains of felony to those who shall call or form such meetings, revoking and annulling all laws, capitularies, and concessions heretofore granted, to those Piazzes.


Consequently we entirely abolish the body of the elected, or of the tribunal of St. Laurent, and all the deputations of the city, reserving to ourselves to provide hereafter by the present edict for the government of the affairs of the university of the city of Naples, in respect to subsidence, and other matters directed by the tribunal of St. Laurent, and the other tribunals and deputations of the city, which are hereby established for ever.


We therefore create a new tribunal, to be called the Supreme Conservatory Tribunal of' the Nobility of the Kingdom of Naples, which shall be composed of a president and six counsellors, taken from amongst the upright Cavalieri, distinguished by their attachment to the crown, their maxims, and their elevated sentiments : and we grant this tribunal the honours of excellency.


The functions of this most noble supreme tribunal will essentially be, to preserve always inviolate the purity and the distinction of noble families; to keep alive in the noblesse the principles of honour, fidelity, and valour; and to prepare and propose all the ordinances which we shall judge fit to issue en' these great and important objects.


It shall be charged in the first place to preserve an exact register of all the families which were inscribed on the Piazze and Sedili of Naples; which register shall be called the Golden Book of the Neapolitan Nobility; reserving to ourselves only, in the plenitude of our power, in consideration of the signal services and acknowledged antiquity of the noblesse, to inscribe in the said Golden Book the most distinguished and meritorious of our subjects, together with their families.


The aforesaid tribunal shall also keep a register of all the families not inscribed amongst the Sedili, but which have been in possession of fiefs for at least 200 years.


It shall also keep a register of all the families who have received the privileges of the Order of Malta, specifying the time at which they were received, and shall preserve another register of all the nobles inscribed on the Sedili Chiusi, stating, in a separate book, the families and individuals, who, being in the above-mentioned class but not in the Golden Book, are domiciliated in Naples.


And as we ardently desire that those sentiments of honour, which are the best appendages of a noble heart, should be inviolably preserved in the nobility, this tribunal shall be careful to institute the severest inquiries into the conduct of those nobles who shall be deficient in it, and erase (after having made a previous report to us) such as are nobles of that class from the Golden Book, as well as the other registers; and declare such as may be of the other classes deprived of the honours, prerogatives, and pre-eminences of their rank.


The supreme tribunal conservative of the noblesse of the kingdom of Naples shall cause every year to be printed a list of the individuals who shall incur such degradation, and the persons so degraded shall never be admitted to the royal presence, nor to the exercise of any public employment.


We also ordain, that two general officers of our army, and whom we shall name for that purpose, shall have deliberative voices in any judgments which the said supreme tribunal shall pass upon affairs of honour.


The said tribunal shall also keep another register, to be called the Register of Merit, in which shall be related all acts of fidelity, valour, or attachment to the state, performed by the nobles of the different classes; they shall be printed every year; and we are firmly resolved to grant honours and prerogatives to those nobles who shall be most distinguished for such conduct.


The same tribunal shall form, according to established usage, an armorial system, to be observed by all classes of nobles, and submit it for our approbation, in order to be published and irrevocably executed.


We create and establish for governing the affairs of the university of Naples, a royal senate, consisting of a president and eight senators, who shall exercise for a year the functions attributed to the supreme tribunal of St. Laurent.


They shall be nominated by us, and selected from the most upright of our subjects.


The president and two of the senators shall be taken from amongst the nobles of the Golden Book— two from those, who, though not in the Golden Book, shall be inscribed on other registers, and domiciliated at Naples—two from the order of the long robe, and the remaining two from the body of traders.


And as we are desirous that the said senate should have all requisite authority in every thing that concerns subsistence, even greater than that which the tribunal of St. Laurent possessed, we abolish the place of prefect of provisions, and the appeal to our royal chamber of St. Clare; and will that, after the installation of the senate, all matters relating to subsistence, which were before decided by the tribunal of St. Laurent, by the prefect of provisions, and the royal chamber of St. Clare, shall be decided without appeal, by the aforesaid senate, in the presence, and with the suffrage of two senators of the robe, reserving to ourselves, in extraordinary cafes, to revise the decisions of the senate by referring them to ministers.


The robes of the senate shall be the same as in the city of Palermo. The royal senate, in the aggregate, shall have the title of Excellency. It shall possess the same prerogatives and honours, shall be admitted to public ceremonies, and the honour of "kissing the King's hand", with the same distinction that was before enjoyed by the tribunal of St. Laurent.


Every senator shall, in his monthly turn, exercise the office of the King's justiciary, and propose the subjects of most importance to the senate.


The functions of an elect by the people shall be monthly discharged by one of the traders in turn. It will be his duty to propose all matters of grievance to the senate. He shall attentively watch that good order be preserved in the market and other places.


The merchants shall, as heretofore, be under his inspection, and he shall proceed according to the ordinary and accustomed forms.


We re-create the tribunal of the fortifications, water, and pavement of the city of Naples, and order that it be composed of a superintendent as heretofore, of two deputies taken from the Golden Book, and two nobles resident at Naples, from the other registers of a merchant and a lawyer; all of whom shall be appointed by us, and shall exercise for twelve months the functions heretofore assigned the tribunal of fortifications.


We order the general tribunal of health to continue its interesting functions as before, only giving to it the following new form :—It shall consist of a superintendent, who shall have the same powers which he possessed before, and of twelve deputies, four taken from the nobles of the Golden Book, two from the nobles of the other registers, three from the class of merchants, and three from that of lawyers. They shall remain in office as long as we please, and shall have the same functions as the former tribunal of health.


We preserve the office of Portolano in the same state in which it existed before. He shall be nominated by us annually, selecting him in alternate years, from the nobles of the Golden Book, and those of the other registers.


We also preserve the deputation of the office of Regio Portolano, to be composed, at our selection, of six deputies; two from the nobles of the Golden Book, two from the nobles of the other registers, and two taken indiscriminately from the class of merchants and lawyers.


The chief of the Tavolary of the Royal Council shall henceforth be a person of the faculty, and we .reserve to ourselves the right of appointing him, according to the report which the faculty may make of his talents and his services.


All the other deputations of the city are abolished: and as to what concerns that of the city revenues to which the Piazze nominated, we will that our Lieutenant and Captain-general of the kingdom of Naples, as also the junto of the government, shall lay before us a suitable plan of that administration, conformably to the spirit of that establishment, and of the other revenues.


The charitable purposes (oeuvres pies) administered by the Piazze, shall continue in the hands of some of those individuals whom we shall select from those families which had a right to them.


Those families which had the exclusive right of being admitted into the monastery of St. Gregory the Armenian, shall remain in possession of that right.


The royal senate of Naples, and the deputations which we have appointed by this edict, shall assemble in the monastery of Mount Olivet, which, as an act of our munificence, we grant them for that purpose.


We will that the senate and deputations be installed the first day of every year, and that the persons first: appointed to compose them shall be proposed to us after the necessary inquiries, and in the usual forms, by our Lieutenant general of the kingdom of Naples, and by the junto of the government, and recommend that the junto which is now at the head of the provisional department of the city of Naples, should continue to exercise in the mean time its functions with the lame zeal that hitherto distinguished it.


Finally, Thomas D'Avalos, Marquis del Vasto and Pescaire, having obtained every thing in order to follow us into Sicily, at the time of the invasion of the enemy, and having thus repeated the glorious example of fidelity which his illustrious grandfather, Alfonso D'Avalos, Marquis del Vasto, exhibited to King Ferdinand II. our august predecessor, we have determined to confer on him a lasting proof of the gratitude of his sovereign, by creating as first baron of the kingdom of Naples, Thomas D'Avalos, Marquis del Vasto and Pescaire, with remainder to the eldest born of his male descendants for ever; wishing that the Neapolitan nobility should see a durable monument of the unshaken fidelity of that family, and of the recompense which it has received.


And in order that all which we have prescribed in this royal edict, signed with our hand, under our seal, and countersigned by our Minister of State, should be known to all, we order it to be printed and published in the usual form in the city of Naples, and in all the provinces of the kingdom.




Palermo, April 25, 1800.


Published at Naples, May 8.


Source: A COLLECTION OF STATE PAPERS, RELATIVE TO THE WAR AGAINST FRANCE, Vol. X, London: Printed by S. Gosnell, Little Queen Street, Holborn, for J. Debrett, opposite Burlington House, Piccadilly, MDCCCI, p. 17-22 http://books.google.com.mt/books?id=93TH7PIHIIcC&printsec=frontcover&dq=editions:SC6qUBFWo8IC&hl=en&ei=jHu5TZ6ID4fKsgak5ZjrAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAjgK






A summary of the nobiliary laws and decisions of the Crown regarding noble titles, from the compilations of 1756 until the end of the Monarchy in 1860.  (Source: TWO SICILIES LAWS ON NOBILITY http://www.chivalricorders.org/nobility/twosicnobilit.htm#_ftn2  )



1. The Law of 25 January 1756, which declared the various grades of nobility. These were as follows: 

(a) The first class is nobiltà generosa, nobility proven by the continual recognition of noble status coupled with possession of a noble feudatory over centuries. This can also be proved by a number of other considerations, notably inclusion among the noble families of a città regia, or by having descended from someone who had a glorious career and held the highest positions in the military, in the administration, in the church or court, and whose descendants have for the longest time been maintained as nobles, without holding low civil or popular offices, or practicing the vile or mechanical arts.

(b) The second class of nobility is that of privilege, achieved through merit or personal services to the crown, by services in the military, the administration or court, and which includes all military offices, or other royal or ecclesiastical appointees of a certain rank.

(c) The third class are those of reputed nobility, or who have been called to office and whose father and grandfather can demonstrate that they did not hold low charges and were of honorable estate and (by the royal dispatch of 16 Oct 1743) had not occupied low positions or practiced the vile arts.


2. By royal dispatch of 19 January 1751 it was decreed that the governors of cities would only be aggregated to the nobiltà generosa by royal grace. 


3. A royal dispatch of 19 Feb 1757 prescribed that additions to the local nobility could not be achieved without princely confirmation, and that by a royal dispatch of 28 Oct 1758 such nobility could not be confirmed in this way without a royal cedula. 


4. By royal dispatch of 24 July 1758, the honor of the 1st class of nobiltà generosa di privilegio was extended to the sons of the officials of the Secretariat of State of the Azienda.[ Finance Ministry, in modern parlance.] 


5. By royal dispatch of 20 June 1763 proofs of nobiltà generosa had to be submitted to the Royal Chamber of Santa Chiara. 


6. A further royal dispatch of 2 Dec 1770 declared that nobiltà generosa derived from long possession of a feudatory or of title conceded by the Crown, or could be based on tenure of the highest office of the Military, the Magistrature or the Church. 


7. A royal dispatch of 25 April 1778 declared that the issue of foreign nobles long established in the Kingdom could be accorded the privilege of nobility with sovereign permission. 


8. A royal dispatch of 27 June 1780 prescribed that being from a feudatory city did not forfeit nobility, which would be treated as if from other non-feudal cities.  


9. By royal dispatch of 7 May 1795 it was provided that the officials of the royal secretariats of state and their sons would enjoy the honors of the first class of nobiltà generosa di privilegio. 


10. A royal dispatch of 27 Oct 1798 prescribed that those aggregated to the Decurionato in the noble class by supplication to the administration with approval of the Royal Chamber, cannot acquire nobility without the consent of the Sovereign. 


11. The law of 25 April 1800 is reproduced above. [The Supreme Conservatory Tribunal of' the Nobility of the Kingdom of Naples was replaced by the Royal Commission for titles of nobility by decree of 9 Sep 1832.] 


12. A royal dispatch of 12 Sep 1800 directed that each family first added to the Libro d’Oro della nobiltà napolitana must pay 10,000 ducats. The sum of 4000 ducats was required of all those recorded in other classes of nobility. Reintegrations into the Libro d’Oro would cost 1000 ducats and 400 ducats for the other classes of nobility. 


13. A royal dispatch of 13 Oct 1801 ordained that inscription among the feudatory families required possession of the feudatory for at least 200 years, or for those not in possession it was required that since alienation they had continued to live continually as nobles. 


14. A royal dispatch of 29 November 1804 prescribed that all those who had been received into the Constantinian Order as Knights of Justice before April 1800 could be inscribed into the register of the nobility of the Kingdom; those who were admitted to the Order as knights of Justice after that date could be so inscribed following payment of 4000 ducats.[ 29 novembre 1804. Eccelenza: Essendo stato informato il Re di quanto ha V.E. proposto con sua rappresentanza de’ 3 del passato mese di ottobre relativamente alla domanda avanzata dai cavalieri di giustizia del real Ordine Costantiniano di essere ascritti al registro della nobiltà, egualmente che si è praticato pei cavalieri di giustizia dell’Ordine Gerosolimitano; si è la M. S. degnata di dichiarare, che cotesto supreme tirbunale conservatore ascriva al registro della nobiltà I cavalieri di giustizia Costantiniani anteriori al mese di aprile 1800; otterrano la croce di giustizia posteriormente alla detta epoca, siano i medesimi ammessi in termini di aggregazione, e coi pagamento di duc. 4000.”] 


15. Law abolishing feudalism and fideicommis’, but conserving the hereditary nobility, of 9 Aug 1806. This stated explicitly “the hereditary nobility is conserved. The titles of prince, duke, count, and marquess legitimately conceded remain with the actual possessors transmissible to their descendants in perpetuity by order of primogeniture, and in the collateral lines to the fourth degree.” 


16. Law abolishing feudalism in Sicily but conserving hereditary nobility, of 10 Aug 1812. This confirmed that with the abolition of feudalism all baronial jurisdictions ceased, notwithstanding whatever privileges were claimed by the possessors of these feudatories. Titles of honor annexed to the feudatories would pass to their successors. 


17. Proclamation of 10 May 1815, by Ferdinand I preserving the ancient and the new nobility in their rank and titles. 


18. By the law of 11 Dec 1816, the feudal system was abolished, and the legitimate possessors of noble feudatories converted them to titles of nobility. 


19. By a royal prescript of 24 April 1828 the husbands of ladies who were decorated with titles could no longer use them jure uxoris in any public acts. 


20. The royal decree of 9 Sep 1832 suppressed the ministry and royal secretariat of state of the royal household and of orders of chivalry, and required that titles of nobility and everything concerning them would be under the jurisdiction of the ministry and secretariat of state of grace and justice.  


21. By royal decree of 23 March 1833 the royal commission for titles of nobility was established. 


22. By ministerial decree the succession of baronial titles following the abolition of feudalism was suspended to collaterals of the fourth degree, pending a decision by the royal commission appointed by the Sovereign. 


23. By the law of 10 Jan 1836 titles not attached to the feudal territory before the publication of the law of 1816, could not be attached to the land because the title would be added to the family name of the last legitimate owners of these feudatories. 


24. By Ministerial decree in the name of HM of 3 June 1837 it was determined that the transmission of titles formerly attached to the land could not be the subject of sale or contract. 


25. By Ministerial decrees in the name of HM of 7 Oct 1837 and 26 January 1839 it was determined that there could be no commercial transactions involving titles of nobility or titles formerly attached to feudal territories. 


26. By Ministerial decree of 10 Apr 1839 it was determined that since the denomination of baron was not a title, but a simple quality that defined the possession of feudatory, they remained extinct by the abolition of feudalism. 


27. By royal prescript of 7 Sep 1839 inclusion in the Libro d’Oro della nobiltà Napolitano was suspended until the publication of a new law on the nobility. 


28. By royal prescript of 7 Dec 1839 it was determined that the acquirer of a feudal territory could not acquire any title of nobility formerly annexed thereto. 


29. By royal prescript of 6 March 1841, it was declared that the proper system of succession must be respected even within a family, and that a title could not be diverted to another family member. 


30. By royal prescript of 23 March 1842 it was determined that a grantee of foreign nobility could not present inclusion in such foreign nobility as proof of nobility in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. 


31. By royal prescript of 8 June 1842 it was determined that no title could be resigned to any family member among those eligible for succession without the consent of all those who could succeed under the terms of the original investiture. [This law was further amended by royal prescript of 5 Aug 1843 so that any minor with right of succession could not consent until reaching his majority, at which time he could then give consent.] 


32. By royal prescript of 4 March 1843 any Neapolitan who wished to accept or use a foreign title must have the consent of the Sovereign. 


33. By law of 26 April 1848 responsibility for the royal commission for titles of nobility was attributed to the ministry of the presidency of the royal council. 


34. By royal prescript issued by the Minister and royal secretary of state of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of 2 Dec 1848 it was determined that the succession to new titles [New titles refers to those titles created after the abolition of feudalism.]  was limited to the descendants of the family of the grantee and that concession to a person and his descendants excluded collaterals of the grantee. 


35. By royal prescript issued by the Minister and royal secretary of state of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of 9 Feb 1849, rejecting a contrary recommendation of the royal commission for titles of nobility, it was determined that submission of a diploma of the Constantinian Order or of the Order of Malta was sufficient proof of nobiltà generosa of the family. 


36. By royal prescript issued by the Minister and royal secretary of state of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of 20 May 1851, it was determined that any family which pertained to the nobility of a city, and which was truly separated from the civil population and even more from the populace without being required to prove possession of a feudatory for 200 years but which pertained to the sedili of a city closed by the law of 25 April 1800, would be included among the nobiltà generosa. 


37. By royal prescript issued by the Minister and royal secretary of state of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of 22 May 1851, the tariffs for succession to noble titles were set as follows: 


Principe  duc. 2000                                             

Duca duc. 1000

Marchese duc. 800

Conte duc. 600

[It must be remembered that the denomination of “Barone” pertained to all holders of feudal lordships and that as it was abolished by the abolition of feudalism, it could not be subject to succession fees.]


Applications were processed by the royal commission for titles of nobility. 


38. By royal prescript issued by the Minister and royal secretary of state of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of 17 Aug 1851, the requirement that the possessors of feudatories had enjoyed them for more than 200 years in order to be inscribed in the second registry of the nobility following the abolition of the feudal system was not applicable to those who were inscribed in the abolished sedili, who were invested of nobiltà generosa and did not need to make further proof of nobility. 


39. By royal prescript issued by the Minister and royal secretary of state of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of 22 Sep 1852, it was determined that according to the ancient laws of Sicily, titles of nobility could not pass to the collaterals of the original investee or grantee. 


40. By royal prescript issued by the Minister and royal secretary of state of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of 29 July 1853 it was determined that: 


(a) The royal commission for titles of nobility was competent to determine, so as to remove all doubt, who among the nearest relatives was eligible to aspire to the succession to a noble title.


(b) That in the succession of maternal titles in event of the failure of male progeny, the senior heir by age would succeed.


(c)That since the abolition of feudalism in 1800 and of the fideicommis in 1806, the sole consideration for succession was legitimate descent from the grantee, by order of primogeniture.















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