Title of Barone di San Giovanni.
The title of “Barone di San Giovanni” is stated to have been created twice, once in 1657 and a second time in 1777. The title was regulated by Sicilian (later Italian) law.
The first creation was made by the Viceroy of Sicily (Redin) in favour of Dr. Vincenzo Abela and the heirs of his body by a patent given at Messina on the 20th August 1657. A later report dated 1878 says that to this grant, the Viceroy attached the condition that the title should be inheritable by persons to be, according to circumstances, nominated. This creation does not appear to have ever been registered in Malta, nor does it appear to have received direct recognition from the Grand Masters who ruled Malta. A registration was first made in 1777. This does not render the 1657 creation invalid but the holder of the title was not entitled to any precedence in Malta before 1777. Between 1815 and 1964 Malta formed part of the British Empire. In 1878 a Report was presented to the House of Commons justifying certain claims of the Maltese Nobility.
According to the 1878 Report the 1657 creation was already extinct (“the title was determined by the death of the said Dr Vincenzo Abela without issue”) but renewed in 1777 (“renewed by Ferdinand I. King of the Two Sicilies, by a patent given at Palermo on the 16th July 1777, in favour of Serafino Ciantar (a relation of the said Abela) and of his descendants”).
In fact, however the actual note of registration, shows that the grantor was not Ferdinand but the Viceroy of Sicily (Colonna) and that Ciantar is not noted as a grantee of a revived title but as the person invested as successor of Vincenzo Abela on the 16th July 1777:-
“Il Conte Serafino Ciantar, avendo conprovato per via d’un veridico, ed autentico documento d’essere Egli il legmo successore nella Baronia di S. Giovanni, concessa al fu’ Vincenzo Abela, dalla gl. Mem. Del fu’ Emo D. Martino De Redin allora Vice Re di Sicilia, e come tale aver conseguito sotto il di 16. Luglio 1777 dal Principe Ostiliario Colonna Vice Re’ di d. Sicilia, l’investitura del Titolo della enunciate Baronia, ottenne dal Gr. Mro di far registrare in questa Cancella : . il giadto documento, con pagare il solito e corrispondente dritto liberandolo dall’ obbligo del registro, e del pagamento de’ dritti della della G.C. della Castella.”
(Ciantar also held the title of Count Wzzini Paleologo)
In terms of the “Statuto delle succesioni ai titoli e agli attribuiti nobiliari” (Regio Decreto 16 agosto 1926, n. 1489) the faculty to nominate was abrogated in 1926. In the body of that law, there is no savings clause for any power ‘to nominate’ as taken to mean in the 1657 (and 1777) grant. Succession is reckoned from the last person invested downwards along the male to male line, in order of primogeniture without right of transmission to females or through the female line. A formal patent issued by the King could change this succession. The 1926 law was confirmed in 1943 “Ordinamento dello Stato nobiliare italiano” (Regio Decreto 7 giugno 1943, n.651)
There is no evidence of Britain revoking recognition of this title during the war with Italy, even though the title remained indisputably of Sicilian origin.
Modern publications describe this title as being held by Francis Chapelle as the 7th holder who is described as having succeeded a title originally “granted by Martino de Redin, Viceroy of Sicily in the name of Philip IV of Spain, King of Sicily on 20th August 1657”, in favour of Vincenzo Abela (1st) and described in turn as having been succeeded by his son Gio Domenico (2nd), in turn by the latter’s sister Angelica wife of Costanzo de Noto (3rd), in turn by the latter’s daughter Vincenza wife of Gio Domenico Formosa (4th), in turn by Vincenzo’s youngest daughter’s son Raffaele Portelli Abela (5th), following whom the title was revived by Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies in favour of Serafino Ciantar (1st) a kinsman of Vincenzo Abela, and was succeeded in turn by his son Serafino (2nd), in turn succeeded by the latter’s son Giorgio Serafino (3rd), in turn, by nomination by the latter’s sister’s youngest son Alessandro (4th), in turn by the latter’s son Frans (5th), in turn succeeded by the latter’s son Joseph (6th), in turn by the latter’s son the aforesaid Francis (7th).
According to these publications there is no limitation on the right to nominate a successor and the title may be held by a junior descendant:- “This title was originally granted to Vincenzo Abela in 1657 with power of nomination. It went into abeyance with the death of Vincenzo’s grandson Raffaele Portelli Abela in 1746. In 1758 a descendant of Vincenzo’s sister Antonia, namely Generosa Vella Abela, married Count Ignazio Wizzini Paleologo. In 1777 her grandson Giorgio Serafino Ciantar Paleologo petitioned the King of the two Sicilies to have the title called out of abeyance in his favour. This request was granted, and the Count became also Baron of San Giovanni. Sir Giorgio Serafino KCMG, 5th Count Ciantar Paleologo and 3rd Baron of San Giovanni, grandson of the abovementioned Giorgio Serafino, was unmarried. He nominated his younger nephew Sir Alessandro Chapelle to succeed him in the Barony of San Giovanni, whilst the title of Count passed on to Sir Alessandro’s elder brother Giovanni Chapelle, since Giuseppe died sine prole. Giovanni added Paleologo to his surname of Chapelle on acquiring the title of Count Ciantar Paleologo. Thus accounts for the fact that there are two noble Chapelle families; one the senior, holding the title of Count Ciantar Paleologo, and the other holding the title of Baron of San Giovanni.” (Both lines are noted as holding the title of “Patrician of Rome”).
Although these publications report Giorgio Serafino Ciantar bequeathed (in 1887) the Barony of San Giovanni to his younger nephew there is no evidence of any assent by the Sicilian/Italian monarch to this private transaction. The 1878 Report had occasion to give no value to private cessions because these is legally void (“it being a settled point of feudal law that titles of nobility cannot be alienated and conveyed to other persons by deed of transaction between private parties, and without the sovereign’s sanction”). Other parts of the Report demonstrate how private transactions of titles, even testamentary nominations, could only be validated by a formal investiture.
The last male to male descendant of Giorgio Serafino Ciantar was Giuseppe Ciantar Paleologo, who died unmarried in 1888. There are descendants from Giuseppe’s sister Elena Chapelle. However these descendants have not appended the surname ‘Ciantar’ or ‘Abela’ to the patrilineal ‘Chapelle’ according to the Maltese custom of appending surnames.
The use of the titles of "Most Illustrious" and "Noble" was criminalized in 1725 and the Grand Masters relaxed this rule in favour of only some families. Of all the various enactments between 1725 and 1798 it appears that none favoured any member of the Ciantar family to be styled "Most Illustrious" or "Noble". However, on the 18 June 1884, the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility requested the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, for permission to allow each 'titolato' the use of the style and title of 'The Most Noble' explaining that “during the Government of the Order of St. John each and every Titolato in Malta was allowed the style and title of Most Noble or Most Illustrious”. At first this request was resisted by the British Authorities, not because the claim was misleading, but because British law allowed only Princes of the English Blood Royal use the title of “Most Illustrious”.
Not wanting to offend what was wrongly perceived as a Maltese custom, a compromise was reached and on the 23 February 1886, Lord Glanville instructed Governor Simmons that:- “I am also to desire you to give directions for the resuming the practice of according to the ‘Titolati’ in all public and official documents and in all communications from officers of the Government their customary titles of ‘Illustrissimo e Nobile’ or the ‘Most Noble’ as suggested in your despatch of the 7th of December, as there can be no good reason for withholding a courtesy the discontinuance of which has been felt to be a grievance.”
Therefore all the ‘titolati’ acknowledged by the British Administration became entitled to the style “The Most Noble”.
By a general legislation of the 17 March 1795 enacted by Grand Master Rohan-Polduc, holders of titles of nobility were made to rank for the purposes of precedence in appointment to municipal offices ('giurati') according to their dates of creation and all the other new creations came to be ranked after the older. The legislation clarified that holders of foreign titles could enjoy this precedence only if they effected due registration. An attempt to change this rule of precedence to favour the new counts and marquises was defeated by Lord Granville on the 19 May 1886 who ruled that in view of the considerable opposition and the small support which the proposal received, “I have to request that you will inform the Committee of Privileges that I am not prepared to reconsider the decision of Grand Master Rohan.”