The Hereditary Knighthood of the Holy Roman Empire (Testaferrata).



Footnote: The “Hereditary distinction of Knight of the Order of Torneari and Armigers of the Holy Roman Empire” was granted “motuproprio” by Emperor Ferdinand III to the Maltese citizen Giacomo Testaferrata de Robertis on the 6 November 1637. At Maltese Law it is only a foreign title and, as such, it can be considered for the purposes of precedence if registration or Magistral recognition has been achieved in accordance with the rules of 1739 and 1795 as enacted by Grand Masters Despuig and Rohan. 

VALUE OF REGISTRATION/MAGISTRAL RECOGNITION From the records of the Cancelleria it appeared that the titles so granted were registered in virtue of a rescript from the Grand Master, on an application by the party concerned. The Royal Commissioners of 1878 remarked that they were prone to believe that the Grand Master would not have given his assent to registration without any investigation. From the start, however, the Commissioners pointed out that the Despuig/Rohan Rules on the matter did not deny nobility to a Titolato  who failed to duly register his title, but only assigned him no place insofar as precedence was concerned. See:- “Correspondence and Report of the Commission appointed to enquire into the claims and grievances of the Maltese Nobility”, May 1878, presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty (C.-2033.) (See Report Paras. 101-102). It is also noteworthy that the Commissioners did not consider all the titles which were registered in the Cancelleria: For example the title of Conte granted to Baldassare Fenech Bonnici on the 11 June 1798 by Pope Benedict XIV, which was duly registered under Archives of the Order of Malta (554, f. 176) as well as the Archives of the Inquisition of Malta (102m f. 32) was not considered by the Report. It appears that no descendant of this grantee made any claim to the Commissioners. 

In this case, this title/distinction conferred to Giacomo Testaferrata de Robertis received direct recognition from the Grandmasters. This is in fact clearly stated by the Royal Commissioners. The Commissioners appeared unsure whether this title, although recognised, was in any way affected by the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and wrote to the British Secretary for the Colonies in this sense. Instead the British Secretary dismissed this title saying that thee was no proof that it ever received recognition.  (See:- “Correspondence and Report of the Commission appointed to enquire into the claims and grievances of the Maltese Nobility”, May 1878, presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty (C.-2033.) (See Report Paras. 227-228, 230-233, 235-236, Letter of Hicks-Beach at pages 59-60).

The actual report says the following:

“Two patents or bulls have been produced before the Commission, one of which was on the 6th November 1637 issued by Ferdinand 3rd Emperor Elect of the Romans and of Germany, at Vienna, in favour of the Doctor of Laws Giacomo Testaferrata De Robertis”.. In the former of these patents, Emperor Ferdinand, having premised some expressions in commendation of the merits of Dr. Giacomo and of his family, created by his mere motion, the said Dr. Giacomo and his descendants male and female for ever, Military Noblemen and Tornearii of the Holy Roman Empire. The following is an extract from the original patent: - Te Jacobum Testaferrata, tuosque liberos, haeredes, posterosac descendentes, masculos et foeminas, natos et nascituros in infinitum, ex legitimo matrimonii foedere ortos, et aeterna serie orituros, in numerum, coetum et consortium, statum gradum atque dignitatem Nostrorum et Sacri Romani Imperii aliorumque Regnorum et dominiorumNostrorum haereditariorum Nobilium Militarium et Torneariorum, assumpsimus et aggregavimus; vosque omnes et singulos, juxtaqualitatem conditiones humanae, Nobiles, Militares, et Tornearios dicimus, nominamus, et declaramus, adeoque ab omnibus et singuliscujuscumque status, gradus, ordinis, conditionis, dignitatis et proemineentia existent, pro veris Nostris et Sacri Romani ImperiiRegnorumque et Ditionum Nostrorum Haereditarum, Nobilibus Militaribus et Torneariis dici, nominari, atque reputari volumes.. “From the tenor of the (foregoing patent), it appears that it was thereby intended to raise to the dignity, and to elect into the Order, of the Noble Tornearii or “Ecuyers” and Armigers of the Holy Roman Empire, the said Testaferrata de Robertis and (his) issue male and female in infinitum

We have no means of ascertaining the difference, as to rank and dignity in the German Empire, between titled persons or persons ennobled by the sovereign with a particular title of nobility descendible to their issue, and the Noble Tornearii or Ecuyers, who possessed a distinction of a hereditary character. From a careful inspection of the patents of the said Testaferrata and, we are unable to determine whether the order of the Tornearii formed properly a part of the nobility of the German Empire. Nor have the gentlemen (who, as descendents of the original grantees, claim the enjoyment of all the privileges proceeding form the said two patents) supplied us with any satisfactory information on the subject. We can only state that the descendants of Giacomo Testaferrata De Robertis ........... contend that they have a right to bear the generic designation of noblemen prefixed to their baptismal, and the male descendant assert moreover a right to the prefix of cavalieri.

We must not, however, omit remarking that the said two patents were not registered in the Cancelleria and in the High Court dellaCastellania; that of Testaferrata being only enrolled in the office of the Jurats of the city of Notabile, on the 12th October 1683. And although the decree issued by Grand Master Despuig, on the 16th September 1739, providing that all foreign titles should be registered in the Cancelleria and in the Court of the Castellania, was published subsequently to the date of the above-mentioned patents, this circumstance could not have certainly dispensed with the said registration. This omission is, however, supplied by the recognition of the distinction we are considering, on the part of the Grand Masters, who at different times, and in their official acts, styled Nobiles SacriRomani Imperii some of the descendants of the original grantees.

All the members of the Testaferrata family, who have presented themselves before the Commission, and who descend from Don Mario Testaferrata, upon whom the title of Marchese was, as already stated, conferred by Philip V, and Victor Amadeus in the year 1716 and 1717, claim the distinction of “Tornearii del Sacro Romano Impero”, in virtue of the patent of 1637. A similar claim might be asserted by all other male and female descendants of the aforesaid Don Mario, who did not appear before us. From the table of descent of the Testaferrata family, already referred to in a foregoing paragraph, and appended to the present Report, it appears that the number of such descendants amounts to no less than 157. 

It appears from what has already been stated, that if the distinction referred to is to be taken to extend to all the contemporary lineal successors of the grantee, the male lawful holders of it would be very numerous, as that dignity would be inheritable by all the male and female descendants, without any limitation. Among such descendants there are persons of all classes, and whilst some live on income from their own property, others pursue mean occupations and have slender means of support.

Having submitted the above-stated circumstances, we beg respectfully to quit the subject under consideration, leaving it to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Colonies to decide:-

1st Whether by the dissolution of the German Empire (A.D. 1806) the Order of the Nobiles Tornearii ceased to exist:

2ndly. Whether the distinction of “Tornearius” of the Holy Roman Empire must be reckoned among the nobility in Malta, and in case it is to be so reckoned, whether

3rdly, It is descendible to all the grantee’s contemporary lineal successors, or to only one of them under the rule of primogeniture. Should it be decided that the distinction of “Tornearius” is to be inherited by all such descendants, an inquiry will become necessary in order to ascertain the number of Balzano’s descendants.

The British Secretary of State for the Colonies settled the issue regarding this Hereditary distinction as follows: See:- “Correspondence and Report of the Commission appointed to enquire into the claims and grievances of the Maltese Nobility”, May 1878, presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty (C.-2033.) (See Letter of Hicks-Beach at pages 59-60).

“The Commissioners further submitted for the Secretary of State’s decision (para. 236) certain questions arising out of two patents of “Tornearius”.

Without replying categorically to the questions submitted by the Commissioners, and without expressing any opinion as ti the existence or position at the present day of the body into which such a patent admits the grantee, which is described as ‘numerum coetum, atqueconsortium statum gradum et disnitatem nostrorum et Sacri Romani Imperii aliorumque Regnorum et Ditionum nostrarum HaereditariorumNobilium Tornearium seu scutariorum et armigerorum’, I observe that the patents in question were never registered as titles of nobility in the Cancelleria, or in the High Court of the Castellania of the Grand Masters; and that no proof is given that the alleged dignity was ever recognised in Malta. I do not therefore, perceive that the gentlemen claiming that dignity have made out sufficient grounds for being allowed the special precedency which has been accorded to the heads of families who before the annexation of Malta to the British dominions had obtained titles of nobility.”

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