Who is the rightful Conte di Mont'Alto? .
Who is the rightful Conte di Mont'Alto? The original fief and title of Conte di Mont'Alto granted by the penultimate Duke of Parma have been extinct since the 18th century, but it appears during late 19th century British Malta an earlier mere title of courtesy was adapted to be regarded as the perpetuation of the defunct honour which was claimed to have been renewed, albeit denuded of any fief, in 1776.
This mysterious twist happened sometime between 1878 and 1883 and has remained confused ever since.
Official documents show the foreign grant of title and fief of Conte di Mont' Alto within the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza was registered in Malta on the 2 September 1721.
The fief consisting of a Villa, enjoyed the power of merum and mixtum imperium. “Ottenne graziosamente da Francesco I Farnese Duca vii di Parma e Piacenza in feudo Nobile ed Antico una Villa da Montalto situate nello Stato di Parma Col titolo di Contea per lui e suoi Figli legmi maschi nati e nascituri in infinitum; Colla giurisdizione Civile e Criminale, mero e misto imperio, e potezta’ del Gradio. Sotto le condizioni. Pmo che fra un Mese debba prendersi l’investitura e prestar il giuramo di fedelta’, e riservati al duca tutti li gius di Darsj: 2 cio’ in vigor d’un atto pubblico rogato Stipulato dal Presidente e Magistrato della Camera Ducale di Parma d’Ordine del Duca li 10 Luglio 1720. Registrato in Cancell per Decreto del G. Mro. Dell 2 7bre 1721, f. 122.” Relative document is at A.O.M. 525, f. 111r-112r.
The grantee was one Bernardo Piscopo and the grant was dated 1720, but it was destined to become extinct as Bernardo did not have any children of his own.
The Count was well aware of this and he petitioned the Duke, representing he was desirous of obtaining the power of disposing of the fief in favour of one of his collateral relatives Felice Manduca or such other one male relative as per the order of primogeniture established on the 19th September 1724. The Duke acceded to this request on the 19 October 1724. “E poi Avendo esposto allo stesso Duca ch’ egli non aveva figli, ne sperava di averne lo supplico che si degnarse della facolta’ di nominare per suo successore il Nobe Felice Manduca Piscopo suo Pronipote, od altro suo fratello, e figli maschij del medesimo per ordine di primogenitura il che gli fu’ conceduto li 19. 7bre 1724.”
Bernardo died and Felice was duly invested as successor. Afterwards, Felice had his succession registered in Malta in July 1744. “Il do Felice morto il zio, e prese l’investitura supplico’ il G. Mro che quest’ ampliazione di privileggio farsi registrare in Cancll some segui’ sotto li 24.Luglio 1744 f. 161 p. 2”.Relative document is at A.O.M. 554, ff. 173r-173v
Meanwhile in Malta, Bernardo had also nominated his successor to the title in his will made on the 9th March 1725 (Notary Tommaso Vella). By means of the same will, Bernardo established an entail in Malta regulating other properties. Eventually, the nominated successor’s own family became extinct.
This gave rise to a serious problem. Although the Maltese entail was succeeded by another of Bernardo’s relatives, the title and fief of Mont’ Alto were extinct, because the 1724 permission could only be construed in regard to not more than the male issue of one nominated relative.
In fact by 1878, a Royal Commission appointed to enquire into the claims of the Maltese Nobility found that the title granted in 1720, as subsequently extended in 1724 had become extinct on the 14th May 1775, by the death of the Conte Felice Manduca. The Commission noted after Felice’s death the entail was succeeded by Vincenzo Manduca who in turn was succeeded in the same entail by Monsignor Salvatore Manduca, but concluded the succession of the mere entail could not revive the title.
The Commissioners were explicit: “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 stirpes. 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 Primogenitura, in 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 Bernardo’s 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.”
However, the Monsignor Salvatore Manduca Piscopo Macedonia, had a fall-back argument. He asserted that the grant of 1720 was, by a rescript of the 28th December 1776, renewed in favour of Salvatore Manduca, (coincidentally) the Monsignor’s own grand-father.
In support of this, the monsignor produced a number of unauthenticated papers purporting to be true copies of certain documents existing at Parma dated 1776.
The Commissioners indicated they were not convinced by this second claim: “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.”.
They were kind to add “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.’
Despite this opening, the Commissioners were still perplexed by the date of supposed extension being 1776. “It may not be improper to remark, in this place that in 1776, the Primogenitura erected by Bernardo Piscopo in 1725 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 himself and 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.”
In any case, the Commissioners did not even sound convinced about the Monsignor’s claim to the primogenitura which he succeeded, let alone the tile because – they noted – he only succeeded “based on certain arguments deduced from Bernardo’s testament”.
Yet another basis – the third – for the claim is found in the Commissioners’ report but this was not based on a title granted in Parma. “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.”
The Report was then presented to the British 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 in 1776 and not to the title of “Conte di Mont’Alto” created in 1720 which the Commissioners found to have been determined on the 14th May 1775.
It appears that something happened between 1878 and 1883 because the Monsignor’s name appears as one of the five titolati who were appointed to form a Committee in 1883. In that document, the Monsignor is noted as “Conte di Mont’ Alto”.
Did the Monsignor Manduca actually substantiate the 1776 claim or was his title based on the courtesy title of 1797?
In the first case, the title would be regulated by the law of Parma (later part of Italy), whereas in the second case the title might be taken to have originated in Malta and therefore subject to Maltese law.