Title of Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri (1716/1725).



Title of Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri (1716/1725).


The title of “Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri” is stated to have been one of the most “conspicuous” titles of nobility in Malta. The date of creation is invariably given as 1716 in favour of Mario Testaferrata (already a Knight of the Holy Roman Empire). The grant states it was granted “in dicto Regno Neapolis” by Philip of Spain as King of “Legionis Utriusque Siciliae” on the 10th November 1716. 


The title has been the subject of many issues. An act of disinheritance of 1758 by the grantee ordered that the title be succeeded by his second son. In 1901, after the incorporation of the Neapolitan Crown into that of a United Kingdom of Italy, it was discovered that the title itself was null and void. Towards the end of the 20th century an argument was put forward saying that it is a Maltese title first created in 1725.




The title of “Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri” was conferred in the Kingdom of Naples by Philip V, King of Spain and of Naples upon Mario Testaferrata, a Maltese, by a patent dated the 10th November 1716, registered in a book called “Privilegm Neap. X. fol. CCLVIII”. The following is an extract from that patent: “Tenore igitur praesentium ex certa scientia, regiaque auctoritate nostra, deliberato et consulto, ac ex gratia speciali maturaque sacri nostril Supremi Consilii accedente deliberatione, praefatum Don Marium Testaferrata, Sacri Romani Imperii equitem Tornearium, et cujus patria est insula Melitana, Illustrem Marchionem, in dicto Regno Neapolis Sancti Vincentii Ferreri ejusque haeredes et successores ex suo corpore legitime descendentes, praedicto ordine successivo servato, dicimus creamus et nominamus, ab aliisque in omnibus et quibuscumque actis et scriptures dici et nominari olumus et perpetuo reputari jubemus


Gauci (1981) describes the title created in 1716 as having been succeeded by his son Enrico (2nd), in turn by the latter’s son Daniele (3rd), in turn succeeded by the latter’s son Gregorio Augusto (4th) in turn succeeded by the latter’s son Daniele (5th) in turn succeeded by the latter’s son Emmanuele (6th) in turn succeeded by the latter’s son Daniele (7th), in turn succeeded by his eldest son Alfio (8th).


There is no record of formal registration of the title of Marquis of San Vincenzo Ferreri. According to the Report of a Royal Commission published in 1878, it was explained that the title was acknowledged in the person of the grantee Mario Testaferrata by Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena. The Report states that the Grand Master issued on the 30 April 1725 an order outlawing the use of the noble titles of Illustrissimo and Nobile but amended it by subsequent decrees dated 11 May 1725 and 9 July 1725. By that third enactment the Grand Master also excepted Mario Testaferrata calling him “Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri”. (“S.A. Sema Padrone, ordine e commanda che nella suddetta Prammatica s'intende eccettuato il Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri Don Mario Testaferrata, e li suoi discendenti. Oggi li 9 Luglio 1725. Ita referent. - F.N. Nalvanus de Vajus, AUD”). The Report concluded that this act was sufficient for establishing a direct recognition of the title of Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri. The Report classified this title under the list of titles granted by foreign sovereigns during the Government of the Order of the Knights of St. John.


The title is not Spanish. As seen in the case of Marquis De Piro, according to Spanish law (Ordinance of Philip IV), any person who is to be raised to the dignity of Marquis or Count must be previously created Viscount, which title is to be subsequently suppressed. Testaferrata was never created Viscount. The grant of San Vincenzo Ferreri says that it was granted in the Kingdom of Naples. In conclusion the title is Neapolitan and is therefore regulated by Neapolitan law. Therefore the terms of succession cannot be changed unless with the assent of the Neapolitan sovereign. It follows that the Sovereign of Malta had no right to change the terms of succession imposed by the king of Naples. 




This conclusion was clouded in 1901. In that year Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonnici attempted to be recognized by the king of the newly unified Italy. However, his request was turned down because the king realized that the title had been granted by a non-existent king of Naples (“il napolitano non era piu’ nel dominio del Re di Spagna”, decision 28 May 1901 Italian Consulta Araldica no. 2408 – See Gauci, 1992). 


In fact, by the terms of the Treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Baden (1714) Spain had lost both of the “Two Sicilies”:- Naples to the Austria Emperor and Sicily to the Duke of Savoy. 


Therefore in 1716 the King of Naples was not Philip of Spain but Emperor Charles VI. Likewise the King of Sicily was not Philip of Spain but Duke Victor Amadeus of Savoy. 


This administrative mistake was probably detected shortly afterwards because in 1717 the new king of Sicily granted the (valid) title of Marquis to Testaferrata. A striking similarity between the invalid and valid grants to Testaferrata is that neither is attached to property rights of any kind: both grants are merely honorific. (Compare texts of grants)


Notwithstanding the pronouncement by the Consulta Araldica, the title of “Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri” was considered, at least in Malta, to have been a valid Neapolitan title passed down from father to eldest son. A ‘right of precedence’ was maintained for the benefit of the holder of this title. The context of this right was an enactment of Grand Master Depuig who in 1739 extended certain rights of the local nobility, even holders of foreign titles provided they are formally registered. It appears that despite the lack of registration, the title of San Vincenzo Ferreri had been accepted as part of the Maltese Nobility. According to Gauci (1981), Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonnici Ghaxaq was “confirmed as the sole holder of the title by decision of H.M. Court of Appeal (8-1-1887).




Contrary to the perception that the title was succeeded from father to eldest son, documents contemporary to the time of the rule of the Order of St. John in Malta describe the title as having been succeeded by his younger son Gilberto. For example, Gilberto is listed as appointed to Company of Provence in 1742 (“Testaferrata Nob.e e D. Gilberto Marchese di S. Vincenzo, e Cav.l del S.R.I. luogotenente della Compagnia di Provenza. 1 7bre 1742, f. 160”) and both he and later his own son Mario junior are listed with the title of ‘Marchese di S. Vincenzo Ferreri’ in various official documents. (Mario junior is credited with signing the Act of surrender of the Order to Napoleon in 1798.)


The context of this is that Mario the grantee, had disinherited his eldest son Enrico by a will published in 1758 and nominated Gilberto. A deed of compromise dated 1772 between the grantee’s family allowed every one of his descendants to enjoy the title, but this did not end the many lawsuits between one branch and another, because court proceedings raged on for almost 150 years between the mid- 18th century right up to the late 19th century. 


The effective outcome was that the private disinheritance, as well as the 1772 compromise were considered as invalid because they were not sanctioned by the Neapolitan Sovereign and the title was taken to have descended from eldest son to eldest son, until it was finally succeeded by the Testaferrata Bonnici family. 


A decision sums up the argument that any private nomination made without the sanction of the Neapolitan sovereign was null and void. (“Ora dovendo il ditto Titolo e la sua successione essere regolata secondo le leggi e costituzioni feudali vigenti gia’ nel Regno di Napoli, siccome lo stesso e’ stato eretto in dicto Regno Neapolis come di esprime l’atto di concessione, e’ la costituzione Divae Memoriae come e’ stata commentate da Andrea Isernia che deve prevalere. Secondo questa, ogni disposizione o contratto concernente l’alienazione o disposizione del feudo e’ nulla senza l’assenso region, come pure qualunque ordine del defunto che lascia il feudo ad altri che non fosse il primogenito, e cio’ quando si succede nei feudi Jure Francorum come indubbiamente fu sempre nel Regno Napolitano”. (Maltese Court 1 October 1883))


In all of these judgments the Testaferrata Viani family was not party to the proceedings. This is doubly significant. In the first place, because the 1878 Report in its commentary on the title of “Marchese Testaferrata” had stated that if the disinheritance was valid the lawful successor would not be Testaferrata Bonnici but the head of Gilberto’s line who, at the time, was the Baron Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani (“If on the contrary, the title lawfully subsists, and it is inheritable by the first-born son only, under the rule of primogeniture, the marchese would be the said Emmanuele Testaferrata. Should the disinheritance be valid the title belongs to the said Dr. Giuseppe Testaferrata”.


In the second place because the same judgments held that Testaferrata Bonnici was claiming through Marianna Testaferrata Viani a descendant of Gilberto who had married Gregorio Augusto Testaferrata Bonnici. (“Che l’ attore Emmanuele, coe si e’ piu’ sopra rilevato, discende dalla linea di Enrico Testaferrata, ed e’ il primogenito attuale in quella linea, cio’ che non e’ cotroverso: ma ritenuta come inesistente od estinta quella linea, egli e’ anche discendente dalla altra linea di Gilberto mediante il matrimonio di Marianna figlia del Barone Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani con Gregorio Augusto Testaferrata. Mario figlio di Gilberto aveva tra altri due figli il suddetto Barone Giuseppe primogenitor, e Lorenzo Testaferrata secondogenito. Dal primo discende Emmanuele, e dal secondo il convenuto Lorenzo Antonio, qualunque si siano i titoli di prelazione che avrebbe potuto vantare il Barone Dr. Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani, il quale non sta nel presente giudizio. E pertanto sotto ogni riflesso anche esaminata la sola linea di Gilberto indipendentemente da quella di Enrico, i diritti dell’ attore collocato in una altra linea migliore sarebbero preferibili a quelli del convenuto.” (Maltese Court 1 October 1883))




The last judgment to be delivered was “Emanuele Testaferrata Bonnici Asciak vs Gio Paolo Testaferrata Olivier and others” decided on the 8 January 1887 said “Che, dall’ altro canto, pero’ e’ giusto rimarcare che nella transazione seguita per atti del Notaro Vittorio Giammalva del 10 settembre 1772 tra i figli di Don Mario Testaferrata, il primo concessionario del titolo, di cui e’ questione, dopo di avere menzionato solo due titoli di Nobilta’, quello cioe di San Vincenzo Ferreri, e l’altro di Testaferrata (alledendo a quello conceduto da Vittorio Amadeo) era stato convenuto che tutti i figli con loro discendenti dovessero essere in liberta’ di portare l’una e l’altra concessione.” This contradicts what is later stated in Gauci (1981). 


This contradiction appears to have little effect because the only likely contender, the Testaferrata Viani family, does not appear to make any claims to the 1716 title of ‘Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri’. Perhaps it was impressed by the argument that the act of disinheritance of 1758 by a mere will and even the compromise of 1772 by a mere deed, having been made without the sanction of the sovereign were null and void, or had already realized that the title itself was flawed. 


Even if the 1772 deed had any effect of multiple succession (as also implied in the 1792 regrant of the title of Patrician of Messina), this could only have continued until 1926 when a Uniform Italian Law on Nobility substituted all remainders of grants of nobility granted by monarchs of erstwhile Italian States and limited ulterior successions of titles. (Statuto delle succesioni ai titoli e agli attrbuti nobiliari (Regio Decreto 16 agosto 1926, n. 1489)). This law did not introduce any new rights for female descendants. 




A final twist occurred during the late 20th century (and long after titles were no longer recognized in Malta) when the 1901 declaration was used as the basis to claim that the same title was taken not to have been created in Naples in 1716 but in Malta in 1725, thereby allowing a lady to succeed the title “in accordance with Maltese Law”. The context of this innovative view is that in 1988 the seniormost male-to-male descendant of Enrico’s line, Alfio Testaferrata Bonnici Ghaxaq, died without issue, leaving as closest relatives a daughter from his brother and a nephew from his sister. Neither were agnatic descendants in terms of Neapolitan law. The next male-to-male descendant of Enrico was more distant. 


The effect and palpable purpose of the “1725 argument” is to invoke Maltese law and therefore allow succession in the female line in favour of Alfio’s closest relative: - once the title was invalidly created in 1716 but recognized in 1725, then the title must be regarded as a purely Maltese title created by direct Magistral fiat in 1725 regulated by Maltese law. (“The title of “Marquis of San Vincenzo Ferreri” in the Kingdom of Naples was granted by Philip V, King of Spain as King of Naples, on 10th November 1716. The title was never registered in Malta but Testaferrata was directly recognized as Marquis of San Vincenzo Ferreri by the reigning Grandmaster Manoel de Vilhena on 9th July 1725. Close study of the date of creation of (the title of San Vincenzo Ferreri) reveals that the King of Spain had no legal right whatsoever to grant any titles in Naples in 1716! By the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht on 11th April 1713, Spain had ceded Naples to the Empire and Sicily to Savoy; the Empire’s hold on Naples was further confirmed by the Treaty of Rastatt and Baden in 1714. Thus the lawful sovereign and fons honorum of Naples in 1716 was Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor; the emperor remained King of Naples until 1735 when the Empire lost Naples to the Spanish Bourbons. Under International Law, the title of ‘Marquis of San Vincenzo Ferreri’ is invalid; it cannot be regarded as a Neapolitan title as the King who granted it was not King of Naples and it cannot be regarded as a Spanish title since it was granted “ dicto Regno Neapolis…”. This fact was highlighted by the Consulta Araldica of Italy on 28th May 1901 in judgement no. 2408 given in the name of the King of Italy. Emmanuele Testaferrata 6th Marquis of San Vincenzo Ferreri and 6th Marquis Testaferrata had approached the Italian Court for official recognition as the holder of a Neapolitan title; by the above mentioned ruling, the Italian Crown disassociated itself from the title since at the date of creation ….il Napolitano non era piu’ nel dominio del Re di Spagna”. Despite the above, however, Grand Master de Vilhena, Soveriegn Prince of Malta, recognized Testaferrata as ‘Marquis of San Vincenzo Ferreri’. This local recognition enabled the Royal Commissioners to recommend that recognition also be extended by the British Crown (sic.), thus the title of ‘Marquis of San Vincenzo Ferreri’ became part of the present day Maltese Nobility. From a legal point of view it must be regarded as a purely Maltese title created by direct Magistral fiat in 1725. It therefore follows that it is not subject to Italian or Spanish law but only to Maltese law, which allows females to inherit in the absence of males”.)


However this argument overlooks the fact that the purpose of the 1725 enactment was solely intended to exempt Mario from the new law limiting the use of “Illustrissimo” and “Nobile” and not to change the succession of the title. The “1725 argument” is therefore a non sequitur . 


The logical step is that if the 1716 grant proves valid, succession is vested in Joseph Philip Testaferrata Bonnici who is the next male-to-male descendant of Enrico after Alfio Testaferrata Bonnici Ghaxaq. 


We could stop here for the purposes of determining the successor in terms of the 1716 grant. However the “1725 argument” should be criticized further. The argument brings about the more troubling effect of doing away with all of the past decisions and commentaries based on the original 1716 creation, and redrawing succession of the title of “San Vincenzo Ferreri”. By doing so, the will of the original grantee as well as the direct appointments of Gilberto and Mario junior can no longer be ignored, because the local sovereign would be considered to have given his own direct assent to the change in the so-called ‘Maltese title’ with the result that that it should be taken to descend in accordance with Maltese law to the seniormost descendant of Gilberto Testaferrata, second son of the original grantee. 




The other entitlements described below depend on first establishing the validity of this title.


As from the year 1886, the holder of a title of Nobility recognized by the British Colonial Office became entitled to be styled “The Most Noble”. 


The presumed successor of this title is by custom entitled to be styled Marchesino di San Vincenzo Ferreri


Other descendants of the various holders of this title are by custom entitled to be styled dei Marchesi di San Vincenzo Ferreri




Since 1975, titles of nobility are no longer recognized in the Republic of Malta by Act 29 of 1975 dated 17 October 1975. 


The present claimant is noted on the website of "The Assembly of Recognised Titleholders of the Maltee Nobility" as holding the title granted in 1716, but no longer makes reference to the recognition of 1725. The ‘Assembly’ has as its Patron the Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, His Most Eminent Highness Fra’ Matthew Festing. It is not known whether Fra’ Matthew has endorsed the “1725 argument”, or granted the 1716 title anew.  




The genealogy of Mario Testaferrata is as follows: 

Date of creation (1716).


Below – Portrait of 1st Marchioness of San Vincenzo Ferreri (1725). is grateful to Count Steve Sant Fournier for favouring us with a copy of Memorie sul Marchesato di San Vincenzo Ferreri estratte da due processi  gia’ vertenti tra i nobili Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonnici Asciack e Lorenzo Antonio Testaferrata e decisi in favore del primo dalla Corte d’Appello di S.M., il 5 novembre 1884” (Giuseppe Maistre tip, Valletta, Malta)

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