Five Barbaro families.
There were in Malta five distinct branches of the Barbaro family:- Crispo-Barbaro, Zimmermann-Barbaro, two families of Barbaro-Sant and another Barbaro di Santi. The first, third and fifth are now extinct in the male line.
The Barbaro family already received nobility through its patri-lineal line as patricians of Venice, a creation dated 1297 by the Maggior Consiglio of the Senate of Venice. The surname was originally Magadesi: One member Marco is remembered for having in 1125 during a sea battle, improvised a flag by dismembering a Moor’s arm and using the stump to impress a circular shape on the enemy’s turban. This incident is the traditional basis for the surname and shield of arms associated with this family.
A branch settled in Malta during the 17th century. The Maltese title of Marchese di San Giorgio was granted by patent on the 6th September 1778, by Grand Master Rohan, to Carlo Antonio Barbaro. It was a personal title, without any mention of sons, heirs, and successors of the grantee. The operative part of the patent of creation runs thus:- ‘Tibi Nobile D. Carolo Antonio Barbaro tribuimus, concedimus, et donamus, hujusmodi titulo insignimus ac Marchionem dicti Pheudi Sancti Georgii constituimus et ita nominari posse et debere’. Carlo Antonio later applied to the Grand Master for an extension to his first-born son. Grand Master Rohan, by a rescript dated the 2nd February 1779, acceded to the petitioner’s request in the following terms: ‘Fiat prout petitur’. The son Gioacchino Ermolao later applied to the Grand Master for another extension, this time to ‘all descendants, forever’. His application was complied with by a rescript of the 5th June 1792. There is nothing in the text to support the view expressed by the 1878 Royal Commission that the title was limited to singular succession. The other argument that it may be transmitted through females by primogeniture is defeated by the consideration that the last extension was made by way of a rescript not ‘moto proprio’. The principle of wide interpretation does not hold good with regard to those privileges granted at the request of the party concerned.
Gioacchino Ermolao, first holder of the perpetuated (1792) title, was married to Aloisea Clotilde Crispo who was a lineal descendant of the Dukes of Naxos. The last Duke of the Archipelago surrendered in 1566 to the Ottomans and that title was extinguished.
Their son Francesco (1794-1847) married Carolina von Zimmermann whose grandfather General Emmanuele received the title of Count in 1790. The first four branches descend from Francesco.
His eldest son Gustavo Barbaro (1818-1880) ignored the Maltese practice of putting the patronymic before the maternal surname and adopted the surname ‘Crispo Barbaro’.
The male line from Gustavo’s elder son Giorgio is now extinct. However that from the younger son Carlo is still extant. This younger line adopted the surname ‘Zimmermann Barbaro’ but later changed it for the anglicized “St. George”.
The branches of ‘Barbaro Sant’ originate one from Gustavo’s younger brother Arturo Barbaro who married Carmela Sant, the other from Gustavo’s other brother Ramiro Barbaro who married Carmela’s sister Chiara Sant. Arturo’s male line is also extinct.
The fifth line was represented by Carlo Antonio’s younger brother Romualdo who received the personal title of Conte di Santi from the same Grand Master on the 14 January 1793. Although this was also extended on the 16 April 1796 (‘per tutti i suoi discendenti Maschi solamente’), he was not survived by any issue whatsoever and his line became extinct.
Technically the Barbaro family, as marquises, ranked the highest amongst the local nobility. However, by a general legislation of the 17 March 1795 enacted by Grand Master Rohan-Polduc, holders of titles of nobility were made to rank for the purposes of precedence in appointment to municipal offices ('giurati') according to their dates of creation and all the other new creations came to be ranked after the older, “It being a principle universally acknowledged that the lustre of Nobility principally depends on its greater antiquity, nothing is more just and reasonable than that the older Nobles should have precedence over the more recent”.
The legislation clarified that holders of foreign titles could enjoy this precedence only if they effected due registration. At the same time, equal precedence for the same purposes was accorded to the holder of Maltese titles and any descendant from such holder provided he was descended in the male to male line, if he lives on rent of his own property, and this only if his intermediate ancestors had also lived on such rent.
In terms of the 1795 legislation, as lineal male-to-male descendants, all branches, and sub-branches, of the Crispo Barbaro, Zimmermann Barbaro, the two Barbaro Sant and that of Barbaro di Santi ranked equally, “in regulating the precedency among the Nobles of this our dominion, whether first-born or cadets indiscriminately”. An attempt – spearheaded by a member of the Barbaro family - to change this rule of precedence to favour the new counts and marquises was defeated by Lord Granville on the 19 May 1886 who ruled that in view of the considerable opposition and the small support which the proposal received, “I have to request that you will inform the Committee of Privileges that I am not prepared to reconsider the decision of Grand Master Rohan.”
In terms of the 1795 legislation, the Barbaro family should have enjoyed a greater precedence because of its very old patriciate. However “no proof or document whatsoever” was produced concerning the claim of Venetian Patrician during the 1878 Commission (which regarded titles of Patricians as mere municipal honours).
Therefore the marchesi Barbaro di San Giorgio ranked after the older baroni.
The use of the titles of "Most Illustrious" and "Noble" was criminalized in 1725 and the Grand Masters relaxed this rule in favour of only some families. Of all the various enactments between 1725 and 1798 it appears that none favoured any member of the Barbaro family to be styled "Most Illustrious" or "Noble". However, on the 18 June 1884, the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility requested the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, for permission to allow each 'titolato' the use of the style and title of 'The Most Noble' explaining that “during the Government of the Order of St. John each and every Titolato in Malta was allowed the style and title of Most Noble or Most Illustrious”. At first this request was resisted by the British Authorities, not because the claim was misleading, but because British law allowed only Princes of the English Blood Royal use the title of “Most Illustrious”.
Not wanting to offend what was wrongly perceived as a Maltese custom, a compromise was reached and on the 23 February 1886, Lord Glanville instructed Governor Simmons that:- “I am also to desire you to give directions for the resuming the practice of according to the ‘Titolati’ in all public and official documents and in all communications from officers of the Government their customary titles of ‘Illustrissimo e Nobile’ or the ‘Most Noble’ as suggested in your despatch of the 7th of December, as there can be no good reason for withholding a courtesy the discontinuance of which has been felt to be a grievance.”
Therefore all the ‘titolati’ acknowledged by the British Administration became entitled to the style “The Most Noble”.
In 1878, Giorgio Crispo Barbaro claimed before the Royal Commissioners that his father Gustavo had empowered him (Giorgio) to assume the title of Marchese di San Giorgio. His claim was dismissed by the Commissioners because they held that the then first-born male descendent in the primogenial line of the first titled person was not Giorgio, but his father Gustavo who was still alive at the time, remarking that the title would only descend to Giorgio after the death of Gustavo. It appears that this cession was superfluous because the 1792 extension already allowed a multiple succession as already observed by the same commissioners in other parts of their report (“Thus the Marchese Barbaro had requested and obtained that the title should be extended to at least his first born son, who subsequently applied for and obtained a further extension for all his descendents in perpetuum” and “or as in the instance of Marchese Barbaro, to all their descendents for ever”).
In addition, the Commissioners gave no value to the cession because it is legally void (“it being a settled point of feudal law that titles of nobility cannot be alienated and conveyed to other persons by deed of transaction between private parties, and without the sovereign’s sanction”). In other parts of their Report, the Commissioners demonstrated how private transactions of titles, even testamentary nominations, could only be validated by a formal investiture.