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The Italian fiefdom of Castel Cicciano.

 

Footnote: The title of “Barone di Castel Cicciano” was enjoyed in 1695 by the Maltese Citizen Beatrice Cassia wife of Paolo Testaferrata, and before that year, by her ancestors. 

This title did not originate in Malta but in Naples. 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 and the Royal Commissioners found that it was in fact directly recognised by the Grand Masters at some time prior to 1725 in favour of Beatrice’s son Fabrizio Testaferrata. Moreover, it was also observed 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 “di San 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 (Castel Cicciano) and that discussed elsewhere (Mont’Alto) (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)).

VALUE OF REGISTRATION/MAGISTRAL RECOGNITION From the records of the Cancelleria it appeared that the titles so granted were registered in virtue of a rescript from the Grand Master, on an application by the party concerned. The Royal Commissioners of 1878 remarked that they were prone to believe that the Grand Master would not have given his assent to registration without any investigation. From the start, however, the Commissioners pointed out that the Despuig/Rohan Rules on the matter did not deny nobility to a Titolato  who failed to duly register his title, but only assigned him no place insofar as precedence was 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. 101-102)). It is also noteworthy that the Commissioners did not consider all the titles which were registered in the Cancelleria: For example the title of Conte granted to Baldassare Fenech Bonnici on the 11 June 1798 by Pope Benedict XIV, which was duly registered under Archives of the Order of Malta (554, f. 176) as well as the Archives of the Inquisition of Malta (102m f. 32) was not considered by the Report. It appears that no descendant of this grantee made any claim to the Commissioners. 

In regard to the title of “Barone di Castel Cicciano” enjoyed by Beatrice Testaferrata, it appears that she transferred this title by means of a private transaction unto her son Fabrizio Testaferrata. Royal assent from the relative foreign sovereign was however achieved some months later and the transaction was therefore legitimated. (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. 106-112)).

The actual report says the following:

“The gentleman who claims and actually holds the present title is Alessandro Sceberras, who is referred to in the committee list as Barone Testaferrata Sceberras Damico Inguanez. He is the first-born descendent in the primogenial line of Paolo Testaferrata and Beatrice Cassia Baronessa di Castel Cicciano his wife, who by a deed of donation stipulated before notary Benedetto Vassallo, on the 8th February 1695, granted to Fabrizio Testaferrata their first-born son ‘Baroniam et Jurisdictionem Criminalem, Civilem, et Mixtam Castri Cicciani ProvinciaeTerrae Laboris Regni Neapis scilicet cum cognitione primarum causarum civilium, criminalium, et secundarium causarum civilium, criminalium et commixtarum, meromixtoque imperio ac gladii potestate, componendi delicta poenasque committendi, etc’.”

The foregoing donation received on the 11th July 1695, the royal assent, which on the 28th September of the same year was entered in quinternionibus Regiae Camerae, in virtue of a decree of the 13th September 1695. That royal assent was on the 14th October 1702, registered in the Curia or Ufficio of the Universita’ of the City of Notabile, in the following terms: Praesentatum fuit et est praesens priviligium sive assensus Regius per Illm et NobilemDominum Fabritium Testaferrata Baronem Capitaneum Virgae ac Justitiarium NotabilisCivitati et Insulae Melitae in eo nominatum, fuitque de mandato in actis curiae sive officiiPerillmorum D.D. Juratorum Notabilis Civitatis praedictae, insinuatum atque registratumjuxta decretationem prout in eo, eidemque Domino Baron restitutum.

That title was in the year 1725, acknowledged in the person of Fabrizio Testaferrata By Grand Master Manoel, who, after having issued his Prammatica  bearing date 30th April 1725, of which an extract has already been quoted (#94) amended it by a decree of the same year. By that enactment he also excepted from the provisions contained in the Prammatica,Fabrizio Testaferrata, calling him “Barone di Cicciano”, in the Kingdom of Naples, and Baronessa Beatrice Testaferrata, his mother. From which it follows that the recognition of Fabrizio Testaferrata as “Barone di Cicciano” had taken place previously to the publication of the decree of Grand Master Despuig. He was moreover, in 1725, by special command of the Sovereign, declared to be entitled to the same honours and distinctions which were due to the highest functionaries of the island, and to Marco Antonio Inguanez, a Maltese baron.

The expressions contained in the aforesaid decree of the 15th May 1725, explain the real import of the words “Nobili ac Macco Fabritio Testaferrata Baroni meri et mixti Imperii, Castri et Terrae mae Comdae de Cicciano”, existing in the three different bulls of the 21st August 1702, the 30th August 1703, and the 21st August 1704, by which Grand Master Perellos appointed the said Fabrizio, Capitano della VergaSuch expressions clearly show that the said recognition had been effected before 1725.

The said recognition was confirmed by Grand Masters Ximenes and De Rohan. The former, on conferring, on the 20th August 1775, the office of Capitano della Verga on BaronePasquale Sceberras Testaferrata, son of Michele Sceberras by Clara Testaferrata Baronessa diCicciano his wife, and daughter of the said Fabrizio, in the bull of appointment, to which the Grand Master’s signature was attached, referred to his as follows: Don Paschali SceberrasTestaferrata, castri Cicciani cum mero mixtoque imperio Baroni; and the same expression occurs in the bull of the 27th August 1776, as well as in those of the following years till 1797, during the government of De Rohan, the said Barone Pasquale having for 22 years being uninterruptedly entrusted with the said office of Capitano della Verga.

The claimant and present holder of this title is the first-born son descending form the only surviving line of the said Fabritio Testaferrata. 

In the list forwarded by the Committee the date of the creation is stated to be the 11th June 1695, and considering the circumstances above stated, we have no doubt that on that day the title of Barone di Cicciano was possessed by the claimant’s ancestors. There is even reason to believe that, on a more careful investigation, it may be found that the claimant’s family had been in possession of the title from a more distant period. This observation is based on the fact that, in the petition by which the royal assent of the aforesaid donation was applied for, the following words, allusive to the fief of Castel Cicciano, exist:- As it appears from the royal grant and the purchase thereof made by the “ancestors of the said Beatrice Cassia”; and by the other circumstances that Beatrice Cassia in 1695, and before that year, Pietro Cassia her father, were already in possession of the fief.

We beg to add that though the claimant in the list of the Committee is entitled “BaroneAlessandro Testaferrata Sceberras Damico Inguanez”, his lawful patronymic is Sceberras, the other surnames affixed to his name being taken from his maternal ancestors. He will consequently be referred to in our list as “Alessandro Sceberras, Barone di Castel Cicciano”.

In view of the above, the Commissioners allowed the examination of a further, more careful examination in order to establish the exact date of creation.

The remainder of the title of Castel Cicciano described as a “Neapolitan barony to which certain civil and criminal jurisdictions were formerly attached, but which now appears to be a mere title of honour” was together with the aforesaid deed of 1695 the subject oflater court proceedings instituted by Alessandro’s eldest daughter against Alessandro’s half brother. Baron Alessandro died on the 15 October 1880 leaving two daughters. His half brother claimed the primogenitura and the title. By the time this case reached the Privy Council, the half brother was appellant for the title. 

The Lords of the Privy Council on the 4 August 1888, described the issue as follows: The deed of the 8 February 1695 is an elaborate instrument, executed upon the first marriage of Fabrizio (called in the deed Fabritius), the eldest son of Baron Paolo Testaferrata and Beatrice his wife, the founders or settlers. Its construction depends very much upon the effect of words of reference, found in all the substitutional clauses, to the clause or clauses preceding them. It limits the succession, after Fabritius, first to his eldest and other sons, and their respective male line; then on failure of all those lines, to his female issue and their respective descendants after them, in an order upon which the determination of the question in the first appeal turns; and lastly, on failure of all the male and female issue of Fabritius, to his younger brothers and their respective issue. The question is whether, under this deed, when the agnatic male line descended from Fabritiuswas exhausted (or in the event, which happened, of his having daughters only), the descendants of females, taking each in her turn as the head of a new line, were to take in what the Maltese law regards as ‘regular’ course of succession which admits females descended from the last holder in preference to all collaterals; or whether the male line of descendants from a female ancestress through males was to take, exclusively of males, till that male line was exhausted. The general presumption of Maltese law is in favour of the ‘regular’ order of succession; some authorities say that, if the construction be doubtful, that presumption must prevail. But the founder of a primogeniture might displace the ‘regular’ order of succession, if he pleased’ and such intention, if sufficiently manifested must receive effect. The question therefore, is merely one of the proper construction of the deed; and to ascertain this, all part of the instrument may properly be taken into account. Upon a careful examination of the deed of the 8 February 1695, and all its parts, their Lordships have come to the conclusion that the judgement appealed from (in the first appeal) is right; and that the succession from females under this primogenitura, is in lines of the kind described by Cardinal Luca (‘De Linea Legali’ Lib. 1, Art. 10, p.216) as lines of ‘artificial agnation’..On the whole of this part of the case, their Lordships are of the opinion that the judgment in the Respondent’s favour, in which the Court of First Instance and the majority of the Judges in the Court of Appeal concurred, was right and ought to be affirmed. The question of the barony of Castel Cicciano remains. That barony, to which a territorial jurisdiction, civil and criminal, was anciently attached, was in the old law, established under the Frank Princes in Naples and Sicily, a ‘hereditary’ or ‘mixed’ feud, alienable with, but not without, the Royal consent. The original grant does not appear to be now extant; but by a series of alienations, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it became vested in Paolo and Beatrice Testaferrata, the common ancestors under whom both parties to this contest claim. The history of the tenure of such baronies, and of the law applicable to them, was discussed with much learning by Dr. Gasan, the Judge of first instance; and their Lordships adopt his conclusion, that however the case may have been before the commutation in the thirteenth century of the military service due from barons, females as well as male were, after that commutation, capable in the ordinary course of law of succeeding to them; and this particular barony appears, at different times, to have been held by females.

Unfortunately although the Privy gave judgement on the 1695 primogenitura, it did not give any decision on the title of Barone di Castel Cicciano ordering ‘as to the barony, to remit the case for further consideration to the Court of Appeal in Malta; discharging in the meantime, without prejudice to any question, the judgment, as to the barony of that Court. Nonetheless, before remitting the question about the barony of Castel Cicciano, the Privy Council raised a number of issues intended to be addressed  the Maltese Courts, including:

1.        If by means of his will dated 12 August 1744 the then holder of the Barony of Castel Cicciano, Fabrizio Testaferrata, impressed upon the barony the character of a “majorat” in favour of the male-to-male descendants of his daughter in exclusion of all female heirs as long as there were such male descendants, was he entitled to do so? The Lords noted that Fabrizio in turn took the title from Beatrice Testaferrata who was the youngest of five daughters of Pietro Cassia. She received the title on the 20 January 1674 which had the Royal assent. Pietrotook it from his mother Maddalen daughter of Ascanio Surdo who in 1613 was the original settlor. The Lords said: The internal evidence of the deed of 20 January 1674 seems to their Lordships adverse to the supposition that it was either founded upon any renunciation or renunciations by Domenica or her sisters, or was intended by the parties to it to be governed in any way by the order of succession prescribed in Ascanio Surdos deed. To presume renunciations afterwards, if there were none before, would not seem to their Lordships reasonable; and, if there had been any before, it is hardly possible that evidence of them should not have been preserved in some notarial acts, and that no mention of them should be made in the deed of the 20 January 1674 itself. 

2.        Finally the Lords said: Supposing that Ascanio Surdo’s settlement is now not operative, the only remaining question would be, what was the effect upon the barony of the will of Fabrizio? He held, under the settlement of the 20 January 1674, not on the terms of any majorat or primogenitura, but with a simple destination to his descendants generally; and it appears to their Lordships that according to the view of both the Courts below, this would have enabled him to settle the barony by his will, so as to create a majorat, in any manner and to any extent authorized by the Pragmatic No. 34 of Philip IV. The only reason why the Court of Appeal held that he could not do so was, because they considered him to hold under, and upon the terms of, Ascanio Surdo’s settlement of 1613But the court of Appeal held that any such majorat or primogeniture, created by the will of Fabrizio, could not endure, so as to give a preference to male collaterals over female descendants of the last holder of the barony, beyond the fourth degree or generation, reckoned downwards from Fabrizio himself (Clara, the daughter of Fabrizio being in the first degree); a rule which would exclude the Appellant Salvatore from the succession. The Court of Appeal treated that point as depending upon the question, whether Clara as “institute” was to be included in or excluded from the computation of those four degrees; and it seems to have been so argued, on both sides, before that Court, as it was also before their Lordships, until a different view of the meaning of the “fourth degree” in the Pragmatic of Philip IV suggested itself during the course of the argument. Their Lordships would not differ on this point from the conclusion of the Court of Appeal, if they were satisfied that a correct view had been taken of the meaning of the “fourth degree” in the Pragmatic of Philip IV; and they would not think it satisfactory finally to decide that point in the Appellant Salvatore’s favour, until it had been argued and considered by the Court of Appeal in Malta, where perhaps some new light might be capable of being thrown upon it

 

It appears, however, that no further decision was reached by the Maltese Courts regarding the succession from Alessandro. In any event, there can be no doubt that the 1695 transaction received Royal assent.