An Introduction to the Nobility in Malta.
The Maltese Nobility was a complex structure of documented titles of nobility and other hereditary rights favouring certain local families which was governed by a system of grants, registrations and other recognitions made by the Grand Masters of the Order of Saint John during its Government of Malta (1530-1798). During the later British administration, these titles were to become unique because it is the only European nobility to have been examined by a British Royal Commission appointed for that purpose. Although a new regulation on the style of “The Most Noble” was introduced in the 19th Century colonials, the succession of the Maltese titles remained subject to the rules of the 18th Century. Fiefs were abolished in the 20th century and soon after Malta became a Republic. Legislation was then enacted removing any official recognition of titles of Nobility are no longer recognized, but they have still not been formally abolished.
A fundamental feature of the Maltese Nobility was that these titles originated or became part of officialdom during the period 1530-1798. The Report emphasized that the creation of titles of nobility was certainly an indisputable right of the Grand Masters, as real and full sovereigns of their territory. The Commissioners considered that although when Emperor Charles V, as King of Sicily, ceded the Maltese islands on the 24 March 1530 ultimate suzerainty was retained in favour of the King of Sicily, the Knights’s government steadily morphed to finally enjoy all of the principal attributes of a Sovereign state. Moreover the Commissioners also observed that any possible doubt was done away with by Philip II’s ulterior grant of 27 June 1559.
A handful of Foreign Titles and older fiefs were regarded as also considering part of the Maltese Nobility. This was because in 1739 a law was introduced allowing a foreign-titleholder to enjoy precedence, only if that title is registered against the payment of a fee. This rigid rule was modified by the later British Royal Commission which concluded that the lack of registration could be supplemented by a direct recognition of the Grand Master. A similar modification was made in regard to certain properties originally granted in fief simple but the later holders of which were recognized by the Grand Masters as “barons”, leading the Commissioners to conclude that the personal holder of those properties may be called a “baron”.
The Maltese Nobility
According to the Report of the Commission appointed to enquire into the claims of the Maltese Nobility (published in 1878), there were three categories of titles of nobility which enjoy precedence in Malta, the first being those created by the Grand Masters of the Order during its Government of Malta (1530-1798), the second are those created by previous sovereigns of the islands but were accepted by the same government of the Order, and the third are those which were bestowed upon Maltese in foreign jurisdictions but were accepted by the government of the Order. The three categories are described below.
As for the remaining category (the fourth), the Commission also concluded that the Grand Masters assigned no place to title-holders who had obtained titles from foreign sovereigns, but whose patents were not duly registered or at least directly recognised by the Grand Masters during their government of the Maltese Islands. Although the fourth category could not have formed part of the Maltese Nobility, they are nonetheless regarded as part of the Nobility in Malta.
The Grand Masters legislated on matters relating to the Maltese Nobility as a general body on 16 September 1739 (Grand Master Despuig) and the 17 March 1795 (Rohan). The legislation of the 30 April 1725 (Vilhena) is regarded as specific to the individual beneficiaries mentioned further below. These legislations are all mentioned in the Commissioners’ Report.
The nobility was abolished by Napoleon Bonaparte but after the French were ousted in 1800 it slowly regained an official status. During the early British administration, certain apointments to the new offices of Lord Lieutenant were reserved for leading members of the titled families as were most of the first apointments to the newly created Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
The 1739 legislation reads as follows:
“The Master of the Hospital at Jerusalem and of the Holy Sepulchre – To remove differences about precedency among the persons who will be appointed to the Juratships of the Universities of Notabile and Valletta, it is our will and pleasure, and we ordain
and command, that they shall all be preceded by the undermentioned and that among the latter the precedency be regulated in the following order, namely:
First: Any person who was Capitano della Verga of the said City Notabile and of our Island of Malta.
Second: the 'Titolato’ having a title founded on a fief really existing here, though he may not be in possession of it.
Third: The Titolato who has not a title founded upon a fief really existing in our dominions, on the registration of the title in the Chancery of our Religion, and in the High Court of the Castellania, and the payment, for the respective registrations,
of 116 scudi of our money, to be divided in equal shares between the said Chancery and Castellania.
Fourth: A descendant in the male line from any person who was Capitano della Verga, if he lives on rents of his own property, and if his intermediate ancestors lived also on the rents of their own property.
Fifth: A descendant in the male line from a ‘Titolato’, with title founded on a fief really existing here, if he lives on rent of his own property, and if his intermediate ancestors lived also on such rent.
Sixth: Any person who was First Jurat of Notabile.
Seventh: Any person who was First Jurat of Valletta.
Eighth: The most senior Jurat of the University to which he belongs.
Ninth: Any person who was Judge of Appeal, Criminal Judge, or Civil Judge of the Court of the Castellania, or the Courts Capitanale and Gubernatorial.
Tenth: A Doctor of Law, or a Doctor of Medicine.
We declare that, among persons of equal rank, the antiquity of the original title must be attended to, and that a person who was a Jurat, if he be appointed Console di Mare, shall have precedence over other Consoli, and amongst the latter the
precedency shall be regulated by the antiquity of the appointment.
Given at the Palace, 16th September 1739 (Signed) Despuig”
The 1795 legislation reads as follows:
“The Master of the Hospital at Jerusalem, of the Holy Sepulchre and of the Order of St. Anthony of Vienna – 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. We have therefore determined to ordain that, in regulating the precedency among the Nobles of this our dominion, whether first-born or cadets indiscriminately, regard
shall be had only to the greater or lesser antiquity of the title by which their family was ennobled, whether that title had been granted by ourselves or by our predecessors, or by foreign princes, provided however, it was registered in our Chancery, and in the High Court
of the Castellania. In cases, however, of grants bearing the same date, the person possessing two or more titles, shall have precedence over another who has less titles, according to the rule established by the magisterial decree of our lamented predecessor, Grand Master Despuig
of the 16th September 1739, which in any part not inconsistent with our present enactment, we confirm in its entirety. Given at the Palace, 17th March 1795 (signed) Rohan.”
The 1725 legislation reads as follows:
“Of Titles – Prammatica – His Most Serene Highness in virtue of the present enactment, about to be of perpetual value, wishing to remedy the abuses and inconveniences for time introduced in the matter of title, - orders and commands that from
today henceforth, no Advocate, Notary, or Registrar of this our Dominion, shall dare to give the title of “Most Illustrious” or “Noble” in writings, contracts, or public documents to any of our vassals, with the exception of the “Capitano della Verga”, pro tempore, and the
two Jurats of our city of Notabile and Valletta, and the Milite Barone Marco Antonio Inguanez, our Feudatory, with the Baroness Inguanez, his wife, and their descendants, under pain in case of contravention, as regards advocates of suspension, and as regards Notaries and
Registrar, of privation of office, and other penalties at pleasure of His Most Serene Highness, 30th day of the month of April 1725.
The present enactment was read and published in the usual and customary public places in the cities of Valletta, Vittoriosa, Senglea and Burmula with sound of trumpet, the people in part assembled, listening and understanding, the Registrar himself
M.C. Castelle reading, and Joseph Vella, crying in a loud and intelligible voice.”
Titles of Nobility in Malta - First Category
With little exception, each title created by the Grand Masters is regulated by its own grant. Some grants were made in perpetuity, others on a personal basis, some allow females to hold them and some limit succession to males only. Most of the hereditary ones are subject to investiture. However Montalto reports that although some successors failed to get invested, this did not always bring about a forfeiture.
Of those grants which provided for a remainder , the earlier ones allow only singular succession whilst some of the later ones (notably creations by Grand Master Rohan) had wider remainders.
The remainder of some grants was made subject to private entails or primogenitura (a type of Trust which determines the mode of succession of certain properties) already held by the grantees, e.g. In their Report the Royal Commissioners identified the title of Conte della Catena as one which was to follow the order of succession stated in a masculine primogeniture established by the Canon Alessandro Perdicomati Bologna.
The Royal Commission remarked that very few titles of this category require the tenure of the property, explaining that in most cases the titles were merely honorific, the property/fief remaining in possession of the Government or of its allodial owner, e.g. although the title of Barone di Budac was created in 1716 in favour of Gio Pio De Piro, the property by that name – the fief of Budac - which had previously been enfeoffed in favour of Nicolo Cilia in 1644 was not granted to the Depiro family.
Even if possession of the property coincided in the person of the possessor of the title of nobility of the same name, the later transfer of that property did not affect the tenure of the title of nobility, e.g. when Beatrice Testaferrata transferred the allodial fief of Gomerino unto her son Fabrizio in 1713, she remaind officially in possession of the title of Barone di Gomerino and was succeded by her other son Ercole Martino as results from the acts of 1725 and 1737.
The general rule of succession of Maltese titles of nobility was unlike that of noble fiefs. The British Secretary of State for the Colonies observed that in the case of fiefs, succession is personal to the holder of the particular fief. However, in the case of a title of nobility this descends in order of primogeniture to be tenable only by the eldest male descendant.
Certain grants e.g. the 1725 title of Barone della Marsa, made by the Grand Masters allow for the right of ‘nomination’ of the successor. The correct application of this right is when made under the approval of the Grand Master. That is to say until the nomination is approved by the Grand Master, the act is regarded as a mere private transaction devoid of any legal effect, e.g. although the title of Conte della Bahria allows for a right of succession even in favour of strangers-in-blood, if that title-holder does make a will leaving the title to such a stranger the title would not be deemed to have been succeeded unless the Grand Master would have approved the succession. The Royal Commission did not make any specific pronouncements or conclusions about the validity of certain 19th century nominations claimed in the cases of Gomerino and Budac but did make a general observation that private transactions cannot have the effect of explaining, construing or extending a title of nobility, and that the power can only proceed from the Crown. This view was shared by the British administration which ruled that no public officer, not even a Secretary of State, had the power of conferring titles of honour, for which the personal sanction of the sovereign in each case is necessary; and even assuming such acts to have been done by British officials with full knowledge that the titles were non-existent, their want of power would prevent these acts of supposed recognition from having the slightest effect. The only documentation showing that the British deliberately interfered with the succession of a title of nobility was in 1883 in regard to the title of Beberrua which had been declared extinct by the Commissioners. Strictly speaking the British administration did not interfere with the titles of Barone di Buleben, Marchese Cassar Desainand Marchese Testaferrata Olivieras the arguments for their later admission were based on 18th century documents.
A special subcategory of titles identified by the Royal Commissioners is that gamut of new titles created by Grand Master Rohan. These are divided into those personal titles which specifically provide that they are to borne by the grantee only, those which provide nothing about the remainder, and those which specify a remainder. Of the last subcategory, the Commissioners noted that there were differences in wording, some which provide for singular succession, e.g. the title of Barone della Grua, others which provide for multiple remainders e.g. the extension of the title of Marchese di San Giorgio and the title of Marchese della Taflia and the the title of Marchese di Gnien Is-Sultan. Although there is nothing to prevent the many collaterals of each family from enjoying these titles, the Commissioners noted that such grants are in the respective families always taken to be limited to the first-born descendant only. In the case of certain titles, e.g. the title of Marchese del Fiddien such titles are limited to males only. In examining the title of Barone della Grua, the Royal Commissioners explained those instances where succession through females is not permitted.
Titles of Nobility in Malta – Second Category
Very prominent amongst the old feudal families is the Inguanez family which had long been addressed as Barons, particularly their holding the fiefs of Djar el Bniet et Bucana. In their Report the Royal Commissioners made a distinction between a noble fief and a simple fief. The latter is granted without entitlement of any honour whatsoever, whilst the holder of the former is specifically granted the right to be called a Baron. In terms of the Report, it does not appear that any titles of Nobility claimed in 1878, actually existed in Malta before the advent of the Knights. In fact the Commissioners reported that they found that under the Kings of Sicily there were only possessors of land (fiefs) held by military tenure. On the other hand the Commission observed that large landowners in Malta were often called “Barons” without any justification, both before and after the year 1530. The Commissioners identified the fief of Djar el-Bniet et Bucana and the fief of Ghariescem et Tabia as cases where custom accorded the holder of those fiefs the designation of Barone even though there was nothing in the texts of either grant which supported the view that these fiefs were to be regarded as baronies.
As neither of the aforesaid fiefs satisfied the criterion of nobility, the Commission had to concede that according to strict law, no titles are traceable in Malta which were created previous to the rule of the Grand Masters, but went on to resolve this problem in two ways. First, it interpreted a later recognition by the Grand Masters as tantamount to formal acquiescence of the baronial nature of the fief. Second, the Commission held such recognition to have effect not from the date of recognition but having the effect of ante-dating these “baronies”, for purposes of precedence only, to coincide with the date of grants of land under a military tenure which is inferior to a baronial tenure, e.g. in the Report we find that the fief of Djar el-Bniet was first granted in 1350 in favour of Cicco Gatto without any entitlement of nobility, but is was only in 1725 that his descendant Marc’ Antonio Inguanez (by then the holder of the fief of Djar el-Bniet et Bucana) was first recognized as a Baron. On the basis of the published histories of Malta, the Commissioners thought themselves justified to ante-date the title to 1350.
Unlike the titles in the first category, the honours implied in noble fiefs are succeeded by qualified descent, not necessarily by Primogeniture: That is to say to succeed the honour, one must be in possession of the same fief originally granted to the ancestor who first received it. A second difference is that fiefs are temporary whilst titles were granted in perpetuity. Therefore a title based on a noble fief could only last as long as it is held by the same family. If the property is lost then the honours are extinguished. In both cases of the fief of Djar el-Bniet et Bucana and the fief of Ghariescem et Tabia the family of the original fief holder first acknowledged as noble, namely Inguanez and Cassia respectively, had become extinct in the male line, but the Commissioners maintained that the nobility was transmitted in the female line to the personal holders of the respective fiefs.
Titles of Nobility in Malta – Third Category
As a rule any title of nobility that was not granted by the Grand Masters did not form part of the local Nobility. This is because a foreign title as its name implies, is a title which originates outside the jurisdiction of the local fons honorum. However, in terms of the 1739 legislation, as confirmed in 1795, for any foreign title to enjoy precedence it could be registered in Malta against payment of a fee. But the Commissioners also ruled that there was nothing in that legislation to prevent the Grand Masters from directly recognising a title of nobility even if it was not formally registered.
Following the criteria of the Commissioners’ findings and Report, the titles falling within the third category of the Maltese Nobility consist of those 8 titles which were registered at 9 intervals in accordance with the 1739 law, and those 6 titles which were otherwise directly recognised by the Grand Masters.
Although this category of titles is classified under the general “Maltese” titles, in fact they remained subject to the laws of the country where they originated, e.g. in 1739 Felice Manduca succeeded the title of Conte di Mont’ Alto in the Duchy of Parma.However by then the lawful sovereign of Parma was the King of Hungary. The succession in favour of Felice was registered in Malta only after it was verified that Hungarian assent was forthcoming. The 1741 assent was registered in 1744. One such example is found in the Report the case of the title of Barone di Castel Cicciano in Naples which described how in February 1695 Beatrice Testaferrata donated the title to her first born Fabrizio, but it was only later in July that this transaction received assent from the sovereign of Naples. According to the Report, Fabrizio’s tenure of that barony was first directly recognised in Malta only as late as 1725, when he and his mother received the newly created Maltese honour of Most Illustrious and Noble.
The rule that Maltese could not supplement the foreign sovereign’s assent was applied by the Commissioners when they considered the title of Marquis De Piro in Spain: in that case it was observed that in 1870 the King of Spain revived the title in favour of Don Saverio De Piro and the Royal Commissioners therefore found it unnecessary for them to consider in what manner that title descended from the grantee to the other ancestors of Saverio.
Titles of Nobility in Malta – Fourth Category
The Commission concluded that the Grand Masters assigned no place to Titolati (title-holders) who had obtained titles from foreign sovereigns, but whose patents were not duly registered or at least directly recognized by the Grand Masters during their government of the Maltese Islands. This does not render such titles invalid but has the effect of not allowing them any precedence in terms of the 1739 and 1795 laws.
Colonial Malta – The Royal Commission appointed to enquire into the claims of the Maltese Nobility
After Malta became a Colony of Britain, the unregulated and improper use of titles of nobility and other honours was tolerated by the local authorities who were themselves found to be at fault for encouraging such improper use. Throughout this period, a group known as the Assembly of Maltese Nobles is known to have functioned at this time but it did not enjoy any official role.
In 1876, an incident arose in connection with a visit by the Prince of Wales. Having felt slighted by the welcoming party, some members of the Assembly of Maltese Nobles led by the secretary the Marchese Cassar Desain retaliated by boycotting the reception.
After this incident a formal enquiry (the Royal Commission) was appointed to identify those Maltese who claimed a title of nobility which was granted, registered or otherwise recognised by the Grand Masters during their government of the Order. The Report was to be addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
The Commission was composed of two Maltese judges (Pullicino and Naudi) who received most of the claims through the Secretary of the Assembly of Nobles but ostensibly as the “Secretary of the Committee of Nobles originally formed on the occasion of the late visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales”. Claims to some other titles were received separately. The report and supplemental Report of the Royal Commission were completed by May 1878 and these were together with correspondences, formally presented to the British House of Commons.
The Commission’s Report specifically considers various titles of nobility. The titles claimed included some which were not formally registered in the Registry during the government of the Order. Some titles originally created by the Grand Masters were not claimed.
All the titles claimed be they created by the Grand Masters (first category) noble fiefs (second) or foreign titles which were duly registered, or at least directly recognized (third) by the Grand Masters, were subjected to an investigation whether such titles were. Not all were found to satisfy this criterion.
Aspects of Nobility not considered by the Royal Commission
The Commissioners admitted that their report may be incomplete as they only considered the claims as laid before them. This may explain why there is nothing in their findings which refers to the traditional descent recorded in the published histories of Malta of the Inguanez family from the 13th century Lords of Ortigos (in Spain) and that of the Testaferrata family from the 10th century Longobard Princes Capo di Ferro. There is also no mention of the registered descent of the Maltese branch of the Imperial Paleologus family or that of the Aragona rulers of Sicily. Other lacunae comprise matters as diverse as the Manduca family's knighthood of the Holy Roman Empire, the Maltese branch of the Roman counts Moroni and the branches of the Sicilian Montalto and Trigona families. Likewise, no mention whatsoever was made of the Maltese branch of the Venetian Barbaro family and that of the D'Armenia family which were associated with claims to the Duchy of Naxos and the Kingdom of Cyprus respectively. Finally, the old and noble Vassallo family (which is another Paleologus branch) which is listed amongst the prominent families in Abela’s and Ciantar’s published histories of Malta is not to be found in the Commissioners’ Report. Finally, The descendants of Sultan Djem of the Ottoman Empire, whom claimed for a period the pretenders of the Ottoman Empire and later Princes de Sayd and the Sicilian Barony and Princely of Bibino Magno.
The Commissioners’ Report bears a strong resistance against applying wide remainders. In regard to specific Maltese titles, the Commissioners avoided the issue by observing that ‘family tradition’ interpreted wide remainders restrictively, even though it was the Commissioners themselves who said that private agreements may not affect the remainders. Most telling is the Commissioners’ commentary on the title of Hereditary Knight of the Holy Roman Empire where they express their concern that by applying the stated remainder of that grant such application would benefit ‘persons of all classes, and whilst some live on income from their own property, others pursue mean occupations, and have slender means of support.’
There are valid reasons for arguing that there may be other foreign titles in Malta which were not considered by the Royal Commission, e.g. the registered title of Count Fenech Bonnici was not considered by the Commission, and the Archives of the Order hold documentary evidence implying that the title of Duca di Paganica was recognized by the Grand Masters. Further evidence shows that the Commission failed to consider all the relevant documentation, e.g the 1744 registration also refers to a distinct title of Count Ciantar, that the 1798 act of capitulation of the Order to Napoleon Bonaparte was signed by the Marchese/Barone Mario Testaferrata Castelletti. Special interest titles like the title of Patrician is an established, Italian title of nobility but the Commissioners dismissed these as mere municipal honours.
A contemporary observer (Loftie) welcomed the Commission’s findings as having the effect of placing the position of a Maltese noble on a footing of security very satisfactory to the families concerned, and calculated to give the titolati of the island a place in European society denied to the doubtful marquises and counts of France or Italy. On the other hand he did criticize the Commission for being incomplete especially in regard to the title of Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri where it did not assert its capability to decide how far an act of disinheritance would be valid in the case of an hereditary title. Similar criticism may be leveled because of the Commission’s decision not to summon the different claimants to the titles of Barone di Budacco and Barone di Gomerino.
Following the Commission’s decisions, the unsuccessful foreign titles were no longer regarded as forming part of the Maltese Nobility. However, the Commission’s conclusion does not appear to have ended any Maltese claims to the unsuccessful foreign titles, e.g. Ruvbigny in “The Nobilities of Europe” (1910) lists the titles of Patrician of Messina (Testaferrata, 1553) and Barone di San Paolino (1638).
The stated purposes of the Royal Commission were to consider only those titles of nobility in the context of the Government of the Maltese Islands (1530-1798) by the Order of Saint John. Thus although a number of other Maltese were first ennobled after 1798, these later titles were not taken to form part of the Maltese Nobility, even though there is evidence showing that the British acknowledged such later titles, e.g. the Papal title (1878) of Marquis granted to Giuseppe Scicluna and the Neapolitan grant (1819) of Count of San Paolino d’Aquilejo to Carlo Antonio Bonavita.
Results of the Royal Commission
The right to be styled Illustrissimo e Nobile conferred at various times between 1725 and 1798 by the Grand Masters on some families was not claimed as a title before the Commission. However, it served as the basis for ascertaining direct recognitions of the fief (Barone) of Djar il-Bniet and Buqana and the unregistered foreign titles of Barone di Castel Cicciano, and Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri. A direct recognition of the title of Conte enjoyed by the family Wzzini Paleologo was based on a private correspondence dated 1722.
Of the claims to the titles created by the Grand Masters, three titles were found to be extinct, namely both 1725 and 1776 creations of the title of Barone della Marsa, the personal title of Conte di Beberrua and the originally personal title Barone di Buleben.
Another three titles with singular remainder were found to be claimed by more than one person for different reasons namely the titles of Barone di Gomerino, Barone di Budac and Conte della Catena. The title of Barone di Gomerino was claimed by Pietro Paolo Testaferrata Abela Moroni on the basis that he contended that that title was made subject to a private entail dated 7 March 1714 in favour of Ercole Martino and now possessed by him, whilst Augusto Testaferrata Abela contended that it was he who held the allodial property previously held by Fabrizio; the title of Barone di Budac was claimed by Monsignor Salvatore Grech Delicata Testaferrata Cassia who explained that he had been nominated to succeed by the last holder of it; however, Giuseppe De Piro called the Monsignor’s claim into question by contending that the title had been extinct for a long time and the estate annexed to that title had devolved upon him (De Piro) by title of a Primogenitura. The primogenitura to which the title of Conte della Catena was annexed was already indicated by the Committee of Nobles as “sub judice”. The primogenitura was being claimed by Felicissimo Apap Pace Bologna and Luisa/Gerald Strickland. Because of these contestations, the Commissioners decided not to hear the competing claimants and no decision was reached by the Royal Commissioners.
Of the claims to the only two Maltese fiefs considered by the Commissioners, it resulted that neither was originally granted as a noble fief. However the Commission concluded that over time both the tenure of the fief of Djar il-Bniet and Bucana and the tenure of the fief of Ghariescem and Tabia had come to be regarded by the Grand Masters as noble fiefs. The Commission accorded both fiefs a date of precedence which predates the date it was first acknowledged as a noble fief.
Strictly speaking the claims to the titles of Barone di Djar il-Bniet and Bucana and Marchese di San Giorgio (and that of Venetian Patrician) were dismissed. However the Commissioners note that the first was a fief which was in fact held a the time by that claimant's aunt Maria D'Amico, whilst in the case of the second the Commissioners noted that the claimant's father Gustavo Barbaro was still alive. Neither Maria D’Amico nor the older Barbaro claimed those titles but the Commissioners instead of dismissing the claims before them decided to award those two titles to D’Amico and Barbaro senior respectively. The title of Venetian patrician was dismissed as explained below.
Of the claims to the registered foreign titles, the claim to the title of Conte di Mont’ Alto was disallowed by the Commission because it resulted that it had become extinct. All the other registered foreign titles, as claimed, were allowed by the Royal Commission with the exception of the title of Conte Fournier and decision was referred to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies.
No decision was reached by the Commission on the unregistered foreign titles of Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri and that of Conte presumed to have been granted to Salvatore Manduca. This was so because the first was found to have been claimed by more than one claimant whilst the documentation for the second had not arrived in time.
Finally a number of unregistered foreign titles were disallowed by the Commission because no proof was provided of their registration or direct recognition by the Grand Masters.
The Colonial Office could not ask the Commissioners to reconsider the rejected claims as they being judges who already expressed their views, could not be asked to reconsider the same claims which they had already dismissed.
Separate recommendations of a later-formed Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility
By a Despatch dated 16 August 1882, issued by the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, through the intervention of Sir George Bowyer, a Special Committee was set up namely a Committee “with functions analogous to those of the Committee of Privileges in the House of Lords (of the United Kingdom)”. The first Committee was composed of the Conte Ciantar Paleologo, the Marchese Apap Bologna di Gnien is-Sultan, the Marchese de Piro, the Marchese Delicata di Ghajn Qajjet and the Monsignor Count Manduca di Mont’ Alto. The stated purpose of the committee was to take into consideration the cases of those title-holders ('Titolati') who were not included by the Commissioners Judges Naudi and Pullicino, in the list of Titolati prepared by them for the local government. In addition the Committee was allowed to report from time to time to the Secretary of State for the Colonies on any matter affecting the Maltese Nobility or their rights, claims or privileges, or to bring such matter to the foot of throne by petition to the British Sovereign.
The Special Committee revisited the respective claims of Calcedonio Azopardi to the title of Barone di Buleben (erstwhile erroneously declared extinct by the Commissioners), that of Nicolo’ Gatto to the title of Conte di Beberrua, that of Giovanni Paolo Testaferrata Olivier to the title of Marchese dating it to 1745, and that of Lorenzo Cassar Desain to a similar title of Marchese dated to 1749 and recommended that these four claims be approved. Special grace and favour from the Queen was received in 1883.
As a result of a debate held in the House of Lords on the 20th April 1885 the Colonial Secretary was urged to ‘do all he could to recognize the nobility still further, as it would smooth the intercourse …between English and Maltese societies and to strengthen British rule in the Island’. Following this intervention, a greater tolerance was shown towards the Nobles of Malta, some of whom were even received in the private Drawing-room of Queen Victoria.
The British Colonial Administration issued a recognition to the successful titles according to the perceived date taken for precedence. However, with the 1883 exception of the title of Conte di Beberrua, the British left all of these titles subject to the regulations of succession of titles of nobility as were obtaining during the Knights’ period, e.g. although an issue of interpretation of transmission through the female line had already arisen during the course of the Royal Commission, there was no new grant of the title of Barone della Grua which remained regulated by the relative grant dated 1794. The titles approved by the British Colonial Administration.
Use of long Surnames
In the Report, we find the Commissioners quietly rebuking certain individuals for using surnames to which they were not entitled, e.g. the Barone di Castel Cicciano who unsuccessfully claimed the other titles of Barone della Marsa and Barone di Djar el Bniet et Bucana was first put down by the long and sonorous ‘Alessandro Testaferrata Sceberras Damico Inguanez’, but the Commissioners corrected this to read by his lawful patronymic, to wit ‘Alessandro Sceberras’. Similarly, the Commissioners shortened the surname name of the Barone della Tabria whose surname was put down as ‘Testaferrata Viani’ to ‘Testaferrata’ which was the Barone’s lawful surname in the male line; and the surname of the Barone di Ghariescem et Tabia Gio Francesco Sant Cassia was shorted to ‘Sant’ and the Commissioners deliberately emphasised their deliberate point by stating that the “family name Cassia will not be appended to the latter title”. In the last part of their report, the Commissioners conceded that surnames may be appended to the lawful patronymic ‘apparently to show their connexion with families on which a title of nobility was originally conferred, or to indicate the possession of lands ‘primogeniture’ entailed by persons who bore such surnames’, or the simple expedient of ‘distinguishing the different branches of the same family’, observing that thisexpedient is resorted to by many members of the nobility.
Later changes to the Maltese Nobility
Historians criticize the final list approved by the British Colonial Administration for being various reasons including anachronisms, perpetuation of some extinct titles, and historically inaccurate and/or incomplete data, e.g. although it results (see Table 10) that the fief of Djar il-Bniet was held by the Gacto family in 1350/51, that same fief appears to have been held by the Osa family in 1376. Table 10 shows how many fiefs in Malta were held by different families at short time intervals.
The Committee as a recognized official body continued to elect its members once a year. The Colonial Government’s position was not to issue any provisional recognition by the Government of any of the aforesaid titles unless the Committee of Privileges has reported.
All recognitions by the Government were issued provisionally as the decisions of the Committee were made subject to any subsequent decision of a Court of law. In his dispatch of the 30 April 1878 the Secretary of State laid down “It is only necessary to point out to you that no public officer, not even a Secretary of State, has the power of conferring titles of honour, for which the personal sanction of Her Majesty is each case is necessary; and even assuming such acts to have been done by British officials with full knowledge that the titles were non-existent, their want of power would prevent these acts of supposed recognition from having the slightest effect.”
The effect of the 1739 and 1795 legislation meant that the Maltese nobility would rank amongst itself according to the date of creation of title and not according to the degree/rank of the title. No changes to this system was made by either the Commission or the Special Committee. However, an attempt to change the rules of precedence last amended by Grand Master Rohan, was made by the Maltese Committee of Privileges in 1886. However this was strongly resisted by the Assembly of Nobles as soon as the Governor (John Simmons) made these intentions known justifying his disclosure on his view that the cadets had an interest equal to that of the Titolati. A secondary issue arose on who of the two enjoyed the representation of the Maltese Nobility. Lord Granville ended the dispute on 19 May 1886 when he communicated his decision that in view of the considerable opposition and the small support which the proposal received, that he was “not prepared to reconsider the decision of Grand Master Rohan”. Granville did not commit on the secondary issue but it appears that after this incident the Assembly of Maltese Nobility lost its political significance with the result that the Committee of Privileges took up all representation of the Maltese “Titolati” whilst the “Cadetti” were unrepresented.
The effect of the 1725 legislation meant that only some families, not necessarily titled-families, are entitled to the titles of “Most Illustrious” and “Noble”. However, in 1886 the Committee of Privileges was successful to obtain for each of the British-acknowledged titolati the right to the style “The Most Noble”.
As at 1910, the pedigrees and the right to bear two of the titles (Barone di Cicciano and Conte della Catena) approved by the Royal Commission had been investigated by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It was then anticipated that similar investigations would follow, including questions of precedence inter se, and of dates of legal “creation”, on some Special Reference, or directly in England on a Petition of Right. This expectation was short-lived as the Privy Council did not make any other decision directly on a title of nobility. However, the Privy Council did make some decisions on succession of property entailments which were established during the Magistral period.
Although politically the nobles declined, nevertheless the two Constitutions of 1887 and 1921 provide for representatives from the nobility. In the earlier constitution, four members in the Council of members were to represent the clergy, the nobility and landed proprietors, university graduates and the merchants. By classifying the nobility with landed proprietors, the Constitution effectively restored a position of status to the cadet lines who albeit untitled lost their historic nobility under the 1878 Royal Commission.
The later constitution which provided for a bicameral legislature allowed for ten special members in the senate to represent the above-mentioned groups, and also the Trade Unions. Some nobles were elected to the Lower House or Legislative Assembly and one prominent nobleman, Count Sir Gerald Strickland was Prime Minister of Malta.
No provision was made for the nobility in the later Constitutions.
The last vestiges of the nobility under the Grand Masters, were steadily done away with. In 1950, succession by entail was abolished in Malta under the Premiership of Paul Boffa by Act 12 of 1950 dated 5 May 1950. This was followed in 1969, under the Premiership of Giorgio Borg Olivier by an abolition of succession by fief by Act 30 of 1969 dated 21 November, 1969. Provision is made in the later law that nothing shall affect any title of nobility, and the laws in force concerning any such titles shall continue to have effect.
Finally, in 1975 the Maltese Government under the Premiership of Dom Mintoff brought in a Bill for the purpose of abolishing titles of nobility. On the 25 June 1975, the President of the Republic of Malta Sir Anthony Mamo, gave his assent to Act No. XXIX. Although titles of nobility were not abolished ‘for historical reasons’, a general duty was imposed to no longer recognize them.
Montalto reports that although the nobles still exist, their numbers have certainly dwindled, and some titles have fallen into abeyance – for instance the Counts of Bahria and Senia and Marquises of Taflia and Ghajn Qajjet. He continues, saying that it is usual for Petitions to be presented to the “Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility” by claimants, but it is unusual for decisions to be taken. He reports that the Committee still meets, but its function is now a little obscure.
A revival of interest in the subjects of Maltese and foreign titles was noted in the early 1980s with a feted publication by John Attard Montalto and a series of articles and books by Charles A. Gauci.
In Appendix VIII of his 1981 book, Gauci reproduces a notarized declaration dated 24th May 1975 of certain individuals who claimed to represent “the REAL and GENUINE nobility, with Family, Ancestry, Genealogy, and Stock, confirmed by that faithful and authentic History of these Maltese Islands”. An examination of those names shows that of those seven persons, the claims of four were based on nominations made after the government of the Order of Saint John, one claim was to a title already declared extinct but revived anew in the 1880s whilst another was a claim to a foreign title the country of origin of which had long become a republic.
It appears that since 1981, that Committee has revived a number of titles irrespective of whether these were created in Malta or abroad.
Moreover, the Gauci publications reports how that same Committee has revisited the criteria of recognition of ‘bona fide’ titles of nobility which did not form part of the list approved by the British Colonial Authorities. These criteria are not the same as those provided for in the 1739 legislation or the criteria set by the 1878 Royal Commission. The publications report that Gauci's criteria were endorsed at various times by the Committee of Privileges and although these ‘bona fide’ titles of nobility are not part of the Maltese Nobility, they are nonetheless regarded as part of the Nobility in Malta. Gauci’s 2002 publication reports that on the basis of these criteria, as also approved by the “Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility”, an “Association of Foreign Title Holders in Malta” was finally established in 1992 and is regulated by a statute dated 1995. However, of the 21 titles described by Gauci in 2002 as being approved by the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility, very few are in fact those which originated in favour of Maltese prior to the year 1798.
Two related lawsuits decided in the early 21st century, one “Ramsay vs Bugeja” the other “Bugeja Viani vs Attorney General” regarding claims to the title of Barone della Tabria highlights the obligation not to recognize any title of nobility.
Some recent publications in Malta, e.g. “Dictionary of Maltese Biographies” mention a plethora of titles such as marquises, barons, even patricians of Rome but do not attempt to offer any explanation as to how these originated, or whether the person so styled is actually entitled to such honours.
With Act No. XXIX, the Maltese State has its new formal system of honours based on personal merit. However the fact that the old hereditary titles have still not been formally abolished may be regarded as an obstacle to fully appreciating the Republican honours. It is being suggested that the Maltese State formally expropriates the old honours originally created by the previous Sovereigns of Malta, so that they be granted anew to present day Maltese citizens who may be just as, if not more, meritorious as the original grantees of the aforesaid historic honours.
1. 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.)
2. Report of the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility on the claims of certain members of that body with the Secretary of State’s Reply, August 1883, presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty (C-3812)
3. Copies or Extracts of Correspondence with reference to the Maltese Nobility (In continuation of C3812, August 1883), presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty May 1886 (C-4628a)
4. Montalto, John, The nobles of Malta, 1530-1800 Midsea Books, Valletta, Malta : 1979 ASIN: B0000EE028
5. Charles Gauci "The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta" (Gulf Publishing, Malta, 1981)" ASIN: B0000EDUI4
6. Charles Gauci A Guide to the Maltese Nobility" (PEG Publications, Malta, 1986) ISBN 999900122X
7. Charles Gauci "The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta VOLUME TWO " (PEG Publications, Malta, 1992) ASIN: B0018V7SUA
8. Charles Gauci "The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta VOLUME ONE " (PEG Publications, Malta, 2002) ASIN: B0018W7TVM
9. Anon “The Family of Inguanez” (Malta, 1888) - reprinted in 1979 to form part of Marcel DINGLI ATTARD, “The Family of Inguanez”(Interprint Malta, 1979) ASIN: B0000EEAZL
10. Cassar Desain, Marchese L.A., " Genealogia della famiglia Testaferrata di Malta." Malta, 1880
11. Abela Della Descrittione di Malta del Commendatore Abela, 1647 ASIN: B000VDOSF4
12. Abela & Ciantar, Malta Illustrata, Malta 1780 ASIN: B000VDMIRY
13. Farrugia Randon, Marquis Nicolo Testaferrata de Noto, 1993 ISBN 9990941092
14. Farrugia Randon, Cardinal Fabrizio Sceberras Testaferrata, 1988 ASIN: B0006EVTVO
15. Frendo, Maltese Political Development 1798-1964, 1993 ASIN: B000Q5P9RI
16. Galea, Malta's Timeline, Malta.
17. Goodwin, Stefan MALTA MEDITERRANEAN BRIDGE, 2002 ISBN 0-89789-820-6
18. Marquis de Ruvbigny, “The Nobilities of Europe” 1910 (reprint 2005) ISBN 1-4021-8561-8
19. The British claim to rule Malta 1800-1813 by Howard Davis and Barry Hough in Melita Historica (new series), 14(2007)4(387-407)
20. Desmond Gregory Malta, Britain, and the European powers, 1793-1815 ISBN 978-0838635902
21. “The Nobles of Malta, and The Maltese Gentry holding Foreign Titles as at present existing by Geo. G.C.’A. Crispo Barbaro Marquis of St. George” Malta:- A.D. MDCCCLXX
22. Short Sketch of the Maltese Nobility” by M.C.D. (1876)
23. Melita Historica:
24. Strickland v. Apap Bologna , Privy Council A.C. 106
25. Sceberras D’Amico v. Sceberras Trigona , Privy Council A.C. 806
26. Cassar Desain v. Testaferrata Moroni Viani  Privy Council A.C. 416
27. Sammut v Strickland  Privy Council A.C. 678, 701.
28. George Cassar Desain v. James Cassar Desain Viani  Privy Council A.C. 18
29. Chesney Sceberras D’Amico vs Cuschieri Malta Court of Appeal  10 June 1957
30. Ramsay v Bugeja  Malta Civil Court 1722/2001/1
31. Bugeja Viani v Attorney General Malta Constitutional Court  57/2006,  57/2006/1
32. A.O.M. refers to Archives of the Order found at the National Library, Malta.
33. “A Ride in Egypt” By W. J. Loftie: MACMILLAN AND CO. 1886
34. “Dictionary of Maltese Biographies” (edited by Michael J. Schiavone and Louis J. Scerri), Pubblikazzjonijiet Indipendenza - PIN, 2009