The Maltese title of San Giorgio.


Footnote: The title of “Marchese di San Giorgio” is purely nominal and does not have any property attached to it. It was originally granted by Grand Master Rohan in 1778 and extended twice, once in 1779 and again in 1792, 

In their general observations, the Royal Commissioners observed that most of the titles granted by the Grandmasters were merely honorary and had no relevance on property tenure “although it appears that those titles (granted by the Grand Masters) have derived their different denominations from several feudal lands existing in these islands, this annexation, however, is in most cases purely nominal, for those lands were never in reality conveyed to the grantees, but they remained as they are still Government Property.” The Commissioners also identified the only three exceptions to this purely nominal phenomenon, where tenure of property was a prerequisite namely Bahriadelle Catene, and Senia. 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. 82).


Throughout the period of 1883 (date of reorganization of the titolati in Malta) till 1975 (date of the enactment of the Gieh ir-Repubblika Act) this title a.k.a “St. George” was treated by the State authorities as being inheritable only by singular succession in the primogenial line. With respect, however, this treatment has no basis in the aforesaid grant and extensions. The title does not have a primogenial remainder but a wide remainder to all descendents. Moreover, the circumstances of the grant (or rather, the last extension of this title) indicate that this title may only be succeeded by the grantees agnatio, that is to say only by males descended in the male to male line. 


It is noteworthy that the Royal Commissioners found that the original grant was only one made “ad personam”. The original grantee then applied for an extension: this was a limited success because it was only extended to the grantee’s first born son. Subsequently, the latter son applied for yet another extension, this time to all descendents. This last request was also complied with. (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. 58-61).


The actual report says the following:


“This title which is the eleventh in order of date, is the first marquisate conferred by the Grand Masters out of those referred to in the committee list.

The title of “Marchese di San Giorgio” was granted by patent on the 6th September 1778, by Grand Master Rohan, to the nobleman Carlo Antonio Barbaro, in the same terms as those of the preceding charter of Barone Azzopardi, that is, 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.

The aforesaid Marchese Carlo Antonio Barbaro, after the dignity had been conferred upon him, considering that the grant was limited to himself alone, applied to the Grand Master praying that it might at least be extended 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.” At a later period, the Marchese Gioacchino Ermolao Barbaro, in whose favour only the grant had been extended, applied to the Grand Master for the extension of the title to all of his descendents in perpetuum. His application was complied with by a rescript of the 5th June 1792. 

The first-born male descendent in the primogenial line of the first titled person is not the claimant Giorgio CrispoBarbaro, but his father, who is still alive, and after whose death the title will descend to the claimant his only son. The latter, however, in laying his claim to the marquisate, stated that the title belongs to him, it having been renounced in his favour and conveyed to him by his father, who resides abroad. By one of these letters, dated the 13th December 1868, the Marchese Gustavo empowers the claimant to assume the title, and by the other, bearing date 1st September 1877, he confirmed that power, declaring himself at the same time ready to sign any public instrument to that effect. It is hardly necessary to remark that such cession would be 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.

(Part 1 - The extension allows multiple succession; primogenial remainder is excluded) 

The fact that the only claimant (in 1878) for this title was descended in the primogenial line of the first-titled person (Carlo Antonio Barbaro) is coincidental. A careful reading of the report reveals that the Commissioners themselves understood the title of Marchese di San Giorgio as extended to all descendants of Gioacchino ErmolaoBarbaro. The following extracts from the report whilst discussing two separate titles immediately before and after the title of San Giorgio comfort this view:- 

(a)       All these arguments rest on the hypothesis that the patent of 1777 contained a perpetual grant, and that it is not likely that by the subsequent rescript of 1778 it should have been restricted and limited. On this point we must observe that the numerous grants of titles made by Grand Master Rohan may be classed under three different heads; some patents expressly providing for the perpetuity of the title specifically include the children and descendents in infinitum of the person first ennobled; such are the titles we have hitherto considered, and others which will be hereinafter inquired into. Other grants, like that the Commissioners presently considered, only designated the grantees' names without proceeding further. The patents of the Marchese Barbaro (#58), of the Conte Gatt (#62), of the Marchese Mallia Tabone (#67), and that which conferred on the 23rd October 1783, the title (now extinct) of Barone to Signor Mompalao, fall under this class. Other diplomas, lastly, besides the designation of the titled person exclusively, contain a restrictive clause; such as that granted to Conte Romualdo Barbaro, on the 14th January 1793, and worded thus: "Tibi Magnifico ac Nobili RomualdoBarbaro tantum", that conferred upon Marchese Saverio Marchesi on the 8th March 1793, in the following terms:-"Tibi Magnifico ac Nobili Saverio Marchesi tantum", and the other given to BaroneFrancesco Gauci, on the 23rd December 1781, and which runs thus:-"Tibi tantum, tua naturali vita perdurante.". The grants of the second and third description, differently from those of the first, provide only for the investiture of the person therein mentioned, but do not proceed further to direct that the said investiture should be obtained by all the successors on any future vacancy, as laid down in the patents of the first class. Hence it follows, that from this point of view we see no difference between the patents granted with or without any restrictive clause, and comprised in the second and third classes, all such patents having been issued in the same terms and under the same conditions. It is moreover to be remarked in regard to the patents of the second class containing no restrictive clauses, that the grantees have often applied for and obtained, by special favour of the sovereign the extension and amplification of the title in perpetuum, or in favour of thier children or of their descendents generally. 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 (#59, 60). The Marchese Mallia Tabone had likewise prayed that his title should be made to extend after his death to his male descendents successively, and in default of male issue to his female descendents, and had obtained from the Grand Master an extension in favour of his first born male descendents only (#68). “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. 41-57)

(b)      The terms of the grant are similar to those of the preceding patents granted to Barone Azzopardiand to Marchese Barbaro, containing no provision for the descent of the title to sons, heirs, descendents, and successors of the grantee. The two preceding grants, as we have already remarked, were by the same Grand Master taken to be personal, and as such, they were extended on an application of the grantees themselves, either to their first-born son exclusively, or as in the instance of Marchese Barbaro, to all their descendents for ever. “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. 62-66)

In addition to the above considerations, it is also worthwhile noting that the argument that such title has always been considered as descendible only in the primogenial line of the original grantee (or that of Gioacchino ErmolaoBarbaro), cannot hold. 

This is being said because:

1.        when one considers the fact that the San Giorgio extension of the 5th June 1792 is worded in terms which are different to those relative to other grants and extensions made by the same Grand Master. For example the title of Ghain Kajet (4.06.1796) reads tuisque descendentibus primogenitis legitimis et naturalibus tribuimus concedimus, et donamus, the title of Gnien-is-sultan (1.12.1792) reads Tibi MagnigicoPhilippo Apap, tuisque descendentibus masculis legitimis et naturalibus ipsisque deficientibus, foeminamajori natu, tribuimus, concedimus et donamus, ac te Marchionis hujusmodi titulo decoramus, and the extension to Fiddien (17.06.1793) reads “Fiat pro primogenitis maribus tantum.”

2.        Moreover, whilst the Commissioners remarked in regard to title of a foreign origin that they “cannot, in fact, suppose that the Grand Masters were disposed to recognize, without any investigation, and as a matter independent of their own sovereign assent and approbation, as Titolati in their dominion, any persons indiscriminately who should have obtained a title of nobility from ay foreign Sovereign”, 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. 102), it is reasonable to assert that the Grand Master knew full well that different remainders bring along different implications. 

3.        Moreover, it is manifest that the 1792 rescript as assented to by the Grand Master, does not include any references to remainder by primogenial descent. 

In view of the absence of any clause limiting the remainder of the San Giorgio title to the primogenial descendant, the grant relative to the title of Marchese di San Giorgio must be construed as favouring all descendants of Gioacchino Ermolao Barbaro only (i.e. not the descendants of the first recipient Carlo Antonio Barbaro).

(Part 2  In regard to the title in question which does not have a primogenial remainder, principles of interpretation disallow succession in favour of females and/or males descended from females) 

The question remains whether the title of Marchese di San Giorgio as extended in 1792 can in fact be transmitted to females descended from Carlo Antonio Barbaro, or to males claiming from Carlo Antonio Barbaro through a female line. 

In support of the view that this title is only inheritable in the male-to-male line, it is sufficient to consider the following:

1)        It is a settled rule that any interpretation of Magistral assent to a rescript must be restrictive. Wide interpretations are only allowed in grants made “motu proprio”. This maxim is explained by the Commissioners thus: “The claimant lastly contends that the diploma and the rescript must be extensively construed; for although it is a legal maxim, “Privilegia sunt stricte interpretanda”, the privileges, however, granted by a sovereign authority, and which do not act to the prejudice of third parties, are susceptible of a wide and liberal interpretation. Although this is admitted by the common opinion of civilians, yet that principle holds good with regard to those privileges which are granted by the sovereign’s mere motion (moto proprio) and not at the request of the party concerned (Jasonii Comment. Quoted by Altograd. Consilia Con. 71, No. 9, 10, 11, and by many other legal writers). Now as a general rule, patents of nobility in Malta were granted by the Grand Masters at the request of the grantee, and it was moreover upon an application by Barone Azzopardi that the rescript of 1778 was issued. It is likewise a settled opinion that, when the patent of creation does not contain the expression motu proprio, the grant is taken to have been made at the request of the party concerned.” (See:-“Correspondence and Report of the Commission appointed to enquire into the claims and grievances of the Maltese Nobility”, May 1878, presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty (C.-2033.) (See Report Paras. 41-57).

2)        The terms of the extension show that the grand master only contemplated the agnatioThis is manifest when one considers especially the fact that the 1792 extension in favour of Barbaro junior was made only six months prior to the grant relative to the title of “Marchese di Gnien-is-Sultan”:- It is noteworthy that whilst the grant of Gnien-is-sultan (1.12.1792) reads Tibi Magnigico Philippo Apap, tuisque descendentibusmasculis legitimis et naturalibus ipsisque deficientibus, foemina majori natu, tribuimus, concedimus et donamus, ac te Marchionis hujusmodi titulo decoramus, there is no similar disposition in the Barbaro extension which allows transmission to females in the absence of male descendants. Moreover whilst the grant of GhainKajet (4.06.1796) reads tuisque descendentibus primogenitis legitimis et naturalibus tribuimus concedimus, et donamus, there is no similar disposition in the “San Giorgio” extension which limits transmission to the primogenial line. 

3)        In addition, it is significant that the grantor of the title Marchese di San Giorgio as well as both relative extensions was none other than Grand Master Rohan, who was the same Grand Master who on the 17 March 1795 issued a rule regulating precedence between noblemen of his dominion, for certain appointments stating that no distinction is to be made between firstborn and younger sons, regard being had only to the greater or lesser antiquity of the title which had ennobled their family. This rule amended an earlier one enacted by Grand Master Despuig on the 16 September 1739 which originally accorded precedence to the title holder over agnatic descendants of a title holder defined thus: “il discendente per linea mascolina da un titolo con titolo fondato sopra un feudo qui realmente esistente, se vive colle proprierendite, e se i suoi ascendenti intermedie cosi vissero

4)        There is nothing in the extension of 1793 that allows succession by rule of primogeniture (that is to say a basis for an argument allowing “artificial agnation”); Nor is there anything in the extension that provides for female succession. 

All of the above point to one conclusion, namely that insofar as concerns the title of “Marchese di San Giorgio”(as granted in 1778, and extended in 1779 and 1792), whilst transmission to all of Gioacchino Ermolao Barbaro (not Carlo Antonio Barbaro’s) descendants is allowed, any transmission to his female descendants or any male descendant in the female line from said Gioacchino Ermolao Barbaro is not allowedThere is therefore no basis in asserting that the title granted to Carlo Antonio Barbaro is transmissible in the primogenial line. The title, as extended, favours all male-to-male descendants of Gioacchino Ermolao Barbaro and it is not transmissible in the female line.

(Part 3  Heritage value of the title in question) 

All the titles granted by the Grand Masters, including that of San Giorgio, were granted as a special contract between the Grantor and the recipient. Unfortunately, some later writers appear to delight in making us disregard each title’s respective particular circumstances, by simply grouping them into one list, at times even applying extraneous/ irrelevant considerations. Needless to say, this is a trap that can befall anybody who has not been forewarned.

In terms of the Gieh ir-Repubblika Act of 1975, titles of Nobility are not recognized and moreover it is the duty of every public officer, bodies corporate and their members to refrain from doing anything which could imply recognition of any title of nobility. It would be amiss not to anticipate the ready criticism that nobility does not fit in today’s society. - Today, Malta has a new Nobility: This is regulated by the State under the very same “Gieh ir-Repubblika Act”. In line with the notion of nobility, this law provides for honours being awarded to citizens for outstanding services to the State. Moreover, and as indicated above, it also provides a legal mechanism which regulates the use of medals and other forms of honours received from foreign states and other entities. - In principle therefore, today’s recipients under the “Gieh ir-Repubblika Act” are at a par with the grantees of the purely honorific titles described here and elsewhere. In this sense it is fair to say that the protection of the heritage value of a nobiliary title granted to our forebears, no matter how distant, is no different to being expected to afford future protection to the cultural value of the Midalja ghal Qadi lir-Repubblika or the National Order of Merit being awarded to a present-day recipient. 

There is no need for hyperbole or ridicule of any particular title of nobility which is linked to the history of the Maltese nation, but misrepresentation should not be encouraged. It is unfortunate that although today one witnesses in Malta the use of nobiliary titles, such use is neither legal, nor regulated, nor protected. The implication of the ACT is that titles continue to exist but are not recognised. The sad truth is that these titles, which are undoubtedly part of Malta’s heritage, are now being subjected to private interests which may, or may not, allow the ineligible to hold the title whilst casting doubts on the more eligible. A more complete frustration of Malta’s heritage can hardly be conceived.

A recent court judgment is very clear: - In Malta, these titles have no legal status or protection whatsoever, and anyone can call him/herself whatever he/she wants, and there is no legal redress against it. The judgment dated 30 January 2004 delivered by the Civil Court, First Hall in the names “Corinne Ramsay u Christianne Ramsay Pergola vs John Bugeja, Philip, Maryanne, u Julian Bugeja” decided that public bodies are not to be bothered with any claims to titles of nobility. More specifically, the Court said that: “il-mens legis wara l-Kap 251 hu wiehedcar. Il-legislatur ghamilha cara li ma” jibqax jirrikonoxxi titoli ta “nobilta” u ried ukoll illi ebda awtorita pubblikama tibqa tiehu konjizzjoni taghhom. Ma jikkoncerna xejn lis-socjeta li wiehed isejjah lilu nniffsu Baruni jew Konti tafejn irid, u certament ma ghandhux jikkoncerna lill-Qorti. L-atturi stess jekk iridu, ghandhom kull dritt isejjhulilhom infushom dak li jridu minghajr hadd ma jinvoka l-intervent tal-Qorti dwar dan. Hu car li l-legislatur ma jridxli l-organi pubblici jahlu l-hin taghhom dwar vertenzi simili."

The Maltese Authorities would do well to do away with this legal limbo, by either outlawing completely the use of titles of Heritage value, or by introducing legislation for the correct use thereof, thereby curtailing the abuse of such titles. Needless to say, the former option would unfairly punish those whose claims are justified. The Royal Commissioners stated that it is an unquestionable principle of law that titles of nobility as they affect social order, must exclusively proceed from the Crown, from which all honours and distinctions must emanate and moreover, the same Commissioners stated that they cannot therefore assume such titles can be lawfully explained, construed or extended by private agreements. (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. 151). Thus, if the Civil authorities were to introduce any legislation, this should be by form of public application to a legally constituted authority which is versed in legal principle and argument, and not to a mere private procedure between private parties. Of course, this would be cumbersome to some people, but the result should end the controversies which arose since 1975 surrounding many Maltese titles of nobility.