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The Italian title of Mont'Alto.

 

Footnote: The title of “Conte di Mont’Alto” in the Duchy of Parma, was, together with the fief of Monte Alto, conferred at Piacenza on the 8th July 1720 at the request of the grantee, the Maltese Citizen Bernardo Piscopo, by Francis I (Farnese), Duke of Parma.

This title did not originate in Malta but in Parma. At Maltese Law it is only a foreign title and, as such, it can be considered for the purposes of precedence only 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. In this case, the said title is clearly older than the aforesaid rules. However from a diligent reading of the Commissioners Report there is no reference to either a recognition by the Grand Masters nor to any registration of this title. In any event, this grant is detailed in the Commissioners Report. (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. 176-191)).

It is to be remarked that  in the general part of the Report that (like most of the titles granted by the Grand Masters), the foreign titles considered by the Commissioners were observed to be purely nominal, not feudal, and that the mere attachment of peculiar designations such as “diSan Vincenzo Ferreri” and “di San Paolino” did not render such titles feudal. The Commissioners did however point out that this was not the case in regard to the title under discussion (Mont’Alto) and that discussed elsewhere (Castel Cicciano) (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 Para. 241)).

The Commissioners carried out a very detailed analysis of this title, the fief and the remainder and concluded that the title of Conte di Mont’Alto as granted in 1720 became extinct in 1775 and accordingly dismissed the claim of the then claimant Monsignor Manduca PiscopoMacedonia .

However, the Monsignor was at the same time claiming another title of “Conte” namely one presumed to have been granted in 1776 to Salvatore Manduca by Ferdinand I, Duke of Parma. This second title was likewise not registered nor was there any proof of recognition by the Grand Masters. The Commissioners did not pronounce themselves on the latter title, because, as explained by them, the Monsignor had yet to present some more documents to substantiate his (second) claim both in so far as its existence as also insofar far of proof of recognition by the Grand Master

Some published sources indicate both titles as being one and the same, which of course they are not. However, it is worth noting that this confusion is probably due to the mistake of the British Secretary of State for the Colonies who in assessing the Report (which clearly states that the title of Mont’Alto is extinct) that “If Monsignor Salvatore Manduca Piscopo Macedonia succeeds in substantiating his claim to be Conte di Mont’Alto, the title should of course be added to the list”. (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. 176-191; 218-222 and letter dated 30 April 1878 to Governor van Straubanzee, the Secretary of State for the Colonies Hicks-Beach (Report page 59-60))

The full texts relative to both titles reads as follows:

The title of “Conte di Mont’Alto” in the Duchy of Parma, which is claimed by Monsignor Salvatore Manduca Piscopo Macedonia, was, together with the fief of Monte Alto, conferred at the grantee’s request, by Francis I (Farnese), Duke of Parma, upon Bernardo Piscopo, by a Rescript given at Piacenzaon the 8th July 1720.

Subsequently to the grant, the said Bernardo having no issue, in a petition addressed to the Duke of Parma, represented (translated from the Italian): that he was desirous of obtaining the power of disposing of the fief in favour of Felice Manduca Piscopo, his grand-nephew, or of one of the brothers of the said Felice, and so in favour of such of them as the petitioner (Bernardo) might designate his heir, and of his legitimate and natural male children and descendants from a real and lawful wedlock issuing in infinitum, according to the order of primogeniture, or in such any other manner as petitioner might prefer to dispose thereof, so that in case he should die without issue as aforesaid, the above-mentioned fief, with the title of Count, with its jurisdictions, power of the sword, and its merum and mixtum imperium..should be vested in the aforesaid Manduca, or in such of his brothers as the petitioner might nominate to be his heir, in the same manner and form as if the latter were expressly included and designated in the said grant and investiture, and this (he requested) in order that in the family of his said grand-nephews, that is of such of them as might be his heir, the glorious token of a perpetual vassalage to the Most Serene dynasty of your Highness might always be preserved in its lustre. He consequently requested that H.S. Highness, should grant him the power of disposing of the said fief, in the way hereinafter stated, and that pursuant to such a disposition, his highness should “nunc pro tunc” invest the abovementioned Manduca Piscopo, his grand-nephew, or another brother of his, as aforesaid, for himself and his legitimate and natural sons and male descendants, from a real and lawful wedlock, issuing in infinitum, and declare that, in such case, he should be considered as invested with the said fief of Monte Alto and with a title of Conte, as if the said Felice or such of his brothers as might be the petitioner’s heir, as aforesaid, had been expressly included and designated in the grant and in the investiture. He also prayed that H.S. Highness might be pleased to grant him licence to create on that fief a rgular and lineal Primogenitura, in favour of the legitimate and natural first-born descendants in infinitum of the sad Felice or another of his brothers, as petitioner might prefer”.

On the foregoing petition, the Duke issued the following rescript: Concedimus investimus, mandamus, declaramus, approbamus, et derogamus in omnibus et per omnia ut petit. Et non obstantibus (Dat. Comitii, die 19 Mensis 7 bris anni 1724, Franciscus Dux  

From the tenor of that petition it appears: 1st That Bernardo applied for the extension of the grant in favour of Felice Manduca his grand-nephew and his descendants or of another brother of the said Felice and his descendants exclusively, that is, in favour of such of them as he should have nominated his heir, according to the law of primogeniture; 2ndly that he did not in his application, contemplate the case of the extinction of the descending line of Felice, or of another of his grand-nephews, whom he would have designated as his heir; 3rdly That he did not apply for, and consequently, by the rescript juxta preces, did not obtain the grant, that the title should be enjoyed by all those who, according to his testamentary dispositions, would have possessed the Primogeniturabut he only obtained thereby the power of transmitting the title to one of his grandnephews who would be his heir, and to his descendants, under the rule of primogeniture.

Thence, it follows, that the dispositions contained in Bernardo’s testament, to which we shall hereafter refer, and according to which the devolution of the Primogenitura was to be regulated, cannot be attended to in interpreting the grant which, in substance, does not contain but an alternative power.

We do not think that it may be legally assumed that the expression “according to the order of primogeniture” have, in the present instance, the strength of establishing that the title we are considering is inheritable by all the holders of the Primogenituraeven though they do not descend from Felice or from one of his brothers whom the grantee would have nominated to be his heir. That expression implies merely that the descent of the title to the lineal successors of such heir must take place according to the rule of primogeniture; and certainly Bernardo in making use of that expression did not contemplate the removal of the title, under th law of primogeniture, to a line different from that which had been preferred, and which subsequently became extinct.

The words (which immediately precede the expression “according to the order of primogeniture”) in favour of Felice Piscopo his grand-nephew, or of one of the brothers of the said Felice, that is, of such of them as petitioner might designate his heir, and his legitimate and natural male children and descendants, form a real and lawful wedlock issuing”, leave no doubt on the subject. It is true that after the words “according to the order of primogeniture” Bernardo proceeds to say “or in such any other manner as petitioner might prefer to dispose thereof” but the applicant in order to explain what he meant by those expressions “or in such any other manner as petitioner might prefer to dispose thereof” immediately adds, “that in case he should die without issue, as aforesaid, the abovementioned fief, with the title of Count”.should be vested in the aforesaid Manduca, or in such of his brothers as the petitioner might nominate to be his heir.”

Bernardo in a subsequent part of his petition says “and this (he requested) in order that in the family of his said grand-nephews, that is of such of them as might be his heir, the glorious token”..might be preserved in its lustre. By these expressions, Bernardo evidently did not allude to the family of all his grand-nephews that is of Felice and of all the brothers of Felice, and their respective descendants, but to the family of that alone of his grand-nephews whom he should have nominated to be his heir. If, therefore, Bernardo in his testament designated Felice as his heir, no one of the brothers of Felice and no descendant of any of the brothers of Felice can have a reasonable claim in virtue of the Rescript of the 19th September 1724, to the title of “Conte di Mont’Alto.”

Now, Bernardo in his solemn testament received in the acts of Notary Tommaso Vella, on the 9th March 1725, nominated his heir in the following terms (translated from the Italian original):- “I further nominate”..Felice Manduca my grand-nephew, son of Signor Francesco Manduca, to be heir to all and singular my property”.. “The testator proceeds to say, “But whereas, being destitute of issue, it was always my particular intention to preserve my property, that it may be in perpetuum enjoyed by the descendants of Maria, my late paternal half-sister, my will and direction is that all my said property shall be erected”.into a perpetual majoratus , under a very close fidei commissum prohibiting”.for it is my will that the said property be perpetually preserved and enjoyed by the first-born or eldest son, and by his male children and descendants for ever, and on failue of male issue by the first-born daughter, nominating as I do nominate the aforesaid Signor  Felice my grand-nephew, son of Signor Francesco Manduca, to be the stock of the said Primogenitura  and Maggiorato, provided, however, that he as well as all his descendants who shall enjoy the Maggiorato, shall bear the family name PiscopoMacedonia and my own armorial ensigns..”and not otherwise.”

The testator moreover directed that in the succession to the Primogenitura the following order should be observed, that is, that after having been enjoyed pleno jure  by the aforesaid Signor Felice my grand-nephew, for the term of his life, it shall after his death descend to his first-born son, if he shall happen to be alive, and if he shall not, to his first-born son, from whom it shall be transmitted to the first-born grandson or other descendants, the one after the other, from one first-born descendant to another, the degree of primogeniture being observed, in perpetuum, even beyond the tenth and twentieth degree in infinitum , during the existence of the line of the said Felice, provided such descendants be lawfully and naturally born, so that he shall succeed who shall be the first-born surviving son, and his line, and the male or other surviving descendants issuing from such line, and after their decease quando cumque the succession shall devolve upon the second-born son of the said person first nominated, and his son, grandson, or great grandson, according to the order of primogeniture in perpetuum and in infinitum, and in the failure of the second-born son as aforesaid, it shall devolve upon the legitimate and natural third-born son, and on the first-born son among his legitimate and natural male descendants.

By the foregoing testamentary dispositions Bernardo Piscopo contemplating only his grand-nephew Felice, designated him alone as he heir, he created a Primogenitura of which he nominated the said Felice to be the stock and stirps. In regulating the succession to that Primogenitura, moreover, he ordered that it should descend to the first-born son of Felice and his issue according to the order of primogeniture; and foreseeing the possibility of the extinction of the descending line of Felice’s first-born son, he specified the manner in which he intended that in such case the Primogenitura should pass to the other descendants of the said Felice. It is therefore, obvious that Bernardo by his testament exhausted the powers granted him by the Duke of Parma, who had authorized him to dispose of the title in favour of Felice, or of one of the brothers of Felice,

Bernardo’s testament contains no disposition as to the devolution of the Primogeniturain case the line of Felice should be extinguished, and no substitution is in such case, ordered in favour of any of Felice’s brothers. It is only therein provided that “if the said Felice shall infringe the conditions herein-before expressed, he shall forfeit the succession to, and the enjoyment of, that property, and the whole of shall go to, and be vested in, Bernardo, his brother, or his sons, and in case both shall violate what has been as herein-before ordered, the whole shall fall to the benefit of their other brothers and sisters and their sons, after each other, the order of primogeniture, as aforesaid, being always observed.

Nor can it be inferred from the foregoing disposition, that the line of Felice having become extinct, we are to extend to the case of death the disposition which appears to have been made for the case of contravention; and even if this were assumed, it would not follow that Bernardo, after having designated Felice as his heir, had in virtue of the Rescript of 1724, the power of disposing either directly or by way of substitution, of the dignity with which he had been ennobled by the Duke of Parma, in favour also of another of Felice’s brothers. If therefore, we hold that Bernardo substituted in the Primogenitura other lines to that of Felice, (which it was certainly in his power to do) this assumption does not lead to the conclusion that he had the power of transferring the title to any of the persons belonging to the line he had substituted). 

Now, looking to the facts, it appears that the line of Felice, who left no issue, was determined by the death of his two daughters, the Contessa, Maria Manduca, wife of Barone Pietro Paolo Testaferrata and of the Contessa Felicita Manduca, wife of Barone Ignazio Bonici, both of whom had no offspring. After the decease of Contessa Felicita, the Primogenitura was inherited by Bernardo Manduca, brother of Felice, who died also without issue, and then it fell to Sir Vincenzo Manduca, who was born of Salvatore, another deceased brother of Felice, and who was also issueless. After the death of Sir Vincenzo Manduca, the Primogenitura was inherited by Monsignor Manduca, who is the present claimant of the title of “Conte di Mont’Alto”. He is the son of Paolo Manduca and grandson of the aforesaid Salvatore Manduca, and there is no doubt that, but for the circumstance of the title having become extinct, his claim would rest on good legal grounds. The possession of the Primogenitura  was awarded to Monsignor Manduca by a decision of the Civil Courts of these Islands, based on certain arguments deduced from Bernardos testament.

After a careful consideration of all the foregoing circumstances, we are necessarily led to the conclusion that the title of Conte di Mont Alto, was determined on the 14th May 1775, by the death of Conte Felice Manduca, who had no male issue (see Chap. 11, #218 et seq)

We have no legal grounds for adopting a different conclusion, and with regard to any recognition of the present title which might be presumed to have been effected under the British Government, we beg respectfully to refer His Excellency to the observations already stated with regard to the claim to the Barony of Buleben. 

The title of Mont Alto as granted in 1720 having been declared extinct, the Commissioners later proceeded to discuss the other title claimed by Monsgnor Manduca as follows:

As we have already stated, the title of “Conte di Mont’Alto”, in the Duchy of Parma, granted in 1720 to Bernardo Piscopo, and extended in 1724 in favour of one of the grantees male grand-nephews, was determined by the death without issue of “Conte Felice Manduca”, which occurred on the 14th May 1775 (#188). Monsignor Salvarore Manduca Piscopo Macedonia, however, asserts that the said grant was, by a rescript of the 28th December 1776, renewed in favour of Salvatore Manduca, his grand-father, and of the grantees male issue. In support of such claim, Francesco Manduca on the claimant’s behalf produced on the 29th September last several papers which are stated to be true copies of certain documents existing at Parma, but which bear no attestation, and consequently afford no evidence of the authenticity of their contents. 

One of these documents is stated to be a copy of a petition addressed to the Duke of Parma by the said Salvatore Manduca, who therein represented (the extract is translated from the Italian): “That having gratuitously obtained the grant of the fief of Monte Alto situated at Parma, for himself and his legitimate and natural sons and male descendants, in the same manner as it was originally granted to Bernardo Piscopo, on the 1st July 1720, and subsequently renewed in the person of Felice Manduca, late brother of the said Salvatore, he (petitioner) requested that H.S.H. should give the necessary directions for the execution of the deed relative to the grant”. The foregoing request was complied with, by the rescript of the 28th December 1776.

It may not be improper to remark, in this place that in 1776, the Primogenitura erected by Bernardo Piscopo in 1725 (#183) was possessed by Contessa Anna Manduca, eldest daughter of the said Count Felice. It follows that Salvatore Manduca in requesting the renewal of the title in favour of himselfand his male descendants, acknowledged that the original grant of 1720 had been extinguished by the death of Felice, and that the rules laid down in Bernardo’s testament for the devolution of the Primogenitura were not applicable to the succession of the original title. 

We beg to submit that among the unauthenticated documents produced by the claimant, there is the form of an oath of fidelity which is stated to have been taken by the said Salvatore Manduca, when invested with the fief of Monte Alto. It is conceived in the following terms:- (Translation form the Italian) “I, Salvatore Manduca Piscopo, feudatory of Mont’Alto situated in the Duchy of Parma, do swear unto God Almighty that from this time forward until the last day of my life I will always and at all times be a faithful and obedient subject, feudatory, and vassal of H.R.H. the Most Serene and Royal Infante of Spain, Don Ferdinando of the House of Bourbon, as Duke of Parma, Piacenza and Guastella”.. And that I will not acknowledge as my lord any other person, whatever may be his capacity, rank, condition, and pre-eminence, but H.R.H. the said Most Serene Infante Ferdinando as Duke of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla, his heirs and successors as aforesaid.

The present title (if taken to have ever existed) was never registered in Malta, nor has the claimant produced any proof of its having ever been recognized by the Grand Masters of the Order of St. John. We must not, however, omit to state that on inspecting the Minute Book in which the appointment of the jurats was entered during the Government of the Order, we noticed that Salvatore Manduca was in the year 1797-1798 appointed jurat for Notabile and styled “Conte”. We can, however, give no importance to this circumstance in the absence of an authentic copy of the patent of creation of this title; and we beg to add that although the above-named Francesco Manduca had declared himself ready to bring over from Parma some authentic documents, we did not think it advisable to delay further the presentation of our Report.”

As matters now stand, we cannot include Monsignor Manduca in our list of “Titolati”. It is, however, to be understood that the claimant is by no means precluded from producing at any future time further evidence of the existence and recognition of this title, in which case his claim, must in our opinion, be reconsidered.’

The Report was then presented to the authorities. In his letter dated 30 April 1878 to Governor van Straubanzee, the Secretary of State for the Colonies Hicks-Beach (See Report page 59-60) wrote:

“If Monsignor Salvatore Manduca Piscopo Macedonia succeeds in substantiating his claim to be Conte di Mont’Alto, the title should of course be added to the list”. 

It is clear that the Secretary of State was here referring to the title of “Conte” presumed to have been granted to Salvatore Manduca and not to the title of “Conte di Mont’Alto”, described elsewhere in the report under paras. 176-191, which the Commissioners found to have been determined on the 14th May 1775, by the death of Conte Felice Manduca, who had no male issue.

In any event, it appears Monsignor Manduca managed to substantiate his claim sometime between 1878 and 1883 because his name appears as one of the  five titolati who were appointed to form a Committee in 1883 as results from the document “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)”.

However, given the fact that the second grant (or extension of the  first?) is not