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The Maltese title of Catena.

 

Footnote: Unlike the great majority of titles conferred by the Grand Masters, the title of “Conte delle Catene,” or “ delli Mori” was specifically conferred so as to further enhance a property already held in entail by the grantee. This title was granted on the 20th January 1745, upon Pietro Gaetano PerdicomatiBologna and his sons, born and to be born, as well as on his heirs and successors, whether relations or strangers. 

It is to be remarked that at the time the Royal Commission was first constituted, this title was the only one to be indicated in the list of “Titled Heads of the Maltese Nobility” as being in dispute (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.), pages 54-55)) By the end of the Commission, other titles were found to be  disputed.

In any case, it is to be especially remarked that this title “follows” the tenure of the territory known as “Catene”. That is to say, unlike other titles which provide for a remainder in favour of descendants of the relative grantee, succession to this title is to be reckoned according to the possessor of the land who must be a male. This effectively means that the title may be succeeded to by strangers in blood of Pietro GaetanoPerdicomato Bologna. Moreover, the Report observes that the remainder of the above extract favours not only the one of the grantees descendants, but the grantee’s sons (born and to be born) heirs, AND successors(tuosque filios jam natos vel nascituros, haeredes et successores primogenitos et etiam extraneos), meaning that grant may allow to a plurality of claims being founded on the grant dated 1745. This view appears to be reinforced by the grants use of the term comitem et comites.

This observation was made by the Royal Commissioners. (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. 35-36).

The actual report says the following:

“The title of ‘Conte delle Catene,’ or ‘ delli Mori,’ which is the eighth in order of date, was conferred by Grand Master Pinto, by a patent of the 20th January 1745, upon Pietro Gaetano Perdicomati Bologna and his sons, as well as on his heirs and successors, whether relations or strangers. The terms of the patent are almost identical with those of the preceding grant, and this dignity is annexed to the landed estate delle Catene or delli Mori. The said estate was by that patent erected into a noble feud. The following is an extract from the deed of grant:- "Te supradictum Dominum Petrum Cajetanum Perdicomati Bologna tuosque filios jam natos vel nascituros, haeredeset successores primogenitos et etiam extraneos, Comitem et Comites Territorii seu Tenutae delle Catene hodie verodelli Mori appellati, positi in hac Nostra Insula a te et antecesoribus possessi jure pleni dominii et proprietatis,nec non Primogenitura masculinae ordinatae per bon mem canonicum Don Alessandro Perdicomati Bologna.....in feudum nobilem sub titulo comitis erigimus atque extollimus.".

The title of conte being annexed to the feud and Primogenitura Bologna, on succession to which a suit is at present pending, in the civil courts of these islands, between Marchese Felicissimo Apap and Luisa, widow of Captain Walter Strickland, in her own name, and on behalf of Gerardo her son, who is a minor, we must necessarily refrain from expressing any opinion on the subject. 

And as the title is to be enjoyed by that of the contending parties to whom the Primogenitura will by a definitive sentence be awarded, no one of the claimants will, in the list appended to this Report, be designated as “Conte delle Catene”, or “delli Mori”, and the decision on the matter in dispute must be left to the competent authority. 

For mere information, however, we beg to state that the last holder of the Primogenitura and of the title of conte, was Sir Nicolo Sceberras Bologna, K.C.M.G., and that one of the two suitors, Luisa, widow of Captain Strickland, is the daughter of Maria Teresa Bonici nee Sceberras, eldest married sister of the last possessor, and that the other suitor, Marchese Felicissimo Apap, is the son of Maria Apap nee Sceberras, youngest sister of the said Sir Nicolo.

It is to be remarked however that apart from the consideration that he grant also conferred the title on all of the grantee’s sons, that the entail referred to above was an indivisible primogenitura and that ulterior succession was to be limited according to a primogenitura favouring males. Therefore although the grant envisages the possibility of a plurality of sons of the grantee, the remainder is effectively restricted only by reason of the indivisible nature of the entail restricted in favour of males. 

In any event and as predicted by the Commissioners, succession to the Primogenitura was to be decided by a Court of Law. This was finally decided by the 10th February 1883 by the Lords of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in favour of Geraldo Strickland who by inference succeeded to the title of Catena.

 

According to the Code de Rohan of 1783, a primogenitura is a regular individual primogeniture consisting of chattels which devolved from first-born to first-born in the descendental line. It can pass on to collaterals, the determining criteria operating in the following order: line (the first line excluding all the others), degree (the closer degree of relationship excluding the remoter) sex (the male sex being preferred to the female), and age (the elder being preferred to the younger). On the other hand, a majorat was an irregular entail which did not abide by the criteria of primogeniture : there can be many variations, but a common feature was that - contrary to the case of regular primogeniture - the criterion of the first line or sex is not given decisive effect. In either case, unless the foundation allowed it, an entail could not be alienated. In this way, the title of Catena was effectively protected by primogeniture.

 

The outcome of the court case between Apap and Strickland rested on this neat distinction between a regular and irregular primogenitura. It appears that the entail in question was irregular because it was subjected to a preference for males as well as a faculty to nominate a successor outside the primogenial line. When eventually a possessor died without having made a nomination, the entail provided for automatic succession in favour of the primogenial (male) descendant. The facts as narrated by that judgment (and by the Royal Commissioners in the extract above) said that Felicissimo Apap was closest in degree to the last possessor who had been nominated to possess the entail, whereas Strickland was in a better line from PietroGaetano Perdicomati Bologna. 

 

The judgment favoured Strickland on the basis that line was to be preferred to degree and that any variance to a regular primogenitura was to be construed limitedly so as to not destroy the character of a primogenitura. Thus the judgment concluded that where no nomination was made, the primogenitura in question was to automatically devolve in favour of the primogenial descendant of Pietro GaetanoPerdicomati Bologna, preference being given to a male. At the time, the latter happened to be Geraldo Strickland as represented by his mother. 

 

The final judgment of the Lords (Ref: 8 A.C.106) says thus: The general rule governing the succession to a primogenitura is thus expressed in Rohan’s “Diritto Municipale di Malta”, B. iv.c.ii. s.10, “To succeed in primogenitures, in the absence of any particular rule, one must consider, in the first place, the line, in the second place, the degree, in the third place, the sex, and in the fourth place the age.” The same rule is to be found in many other books of authority. The present primogenitura differs from a strictly regular primogenitura by preferring (i) sex to line and degree, and (ii) by giving powers of nomination. The rule must therefore be modified in its application so far as such preference and such powers render necessary, but no farther; the principle still obtains, when it is not at variance with the terms of the instrument, that line is to be preferred to degree and age. The difference of the application of the rule, as far as concerns line and degree, to “primogenituras” and “majoratus” respectively is thus clearly illustrated by Torre, vol. I, sect. 5, page 51. After expressing his opinion that, in a majoratus, the younger son of the last possessor would take in preference to the son of the elder son deceased, because he is nearer in degree, he proceeds to state, as an uncontrovertedproposition, that in a primogeniture the nephew because he is in a better line, would exclude the uncle. The remainder of the clause relative to the devolution of the primogenitura in the absence of nomination must, in their Lordships judgment, be construed relatively to the power of nomination. It is almost incredible that the settlor should have restricted the latitude of nomination within certain limits, and should have desired the devolution of the property in the absence of nomination, to go beyond those limits; still less that it should go so far beyond those limits to destroy the whole character of the primogenitura he was founding, nor is such a construction consistent with the strict language of the clause. In default of actual nomination one is to be deemed nominated: “censeatur nominates”. The natural meaning of that expression is that this imported or supposed nomination is to be of the same nature as the real nomination might have been. The limit of line must be taken to apply to devolution in the absence of nomination (omissis.. Thus the power of nomination and the gifts in default of nomination have precisely the same range of objects. The gifts in default of nomination apply the ordinary rules of primogenituras to the cases not before expressly provided for; the power of nomination gives the possessor a free choice in those same cases; but neither the nomination,  nor the gifts in default of it, operate to displace the order of vocation or preference expressly prescribed by the previous parts of the deed.

The succession of properties under entail was revoked by the ENTAILED PROPERTY (DISENTAILMENT) ACT (ACT XII of 1950). Unlike the DISENTAILMENT OF PROPERTY (EXTENSION TO FIEFS) ACT (ACT XXX of 1969), there is no provision in this ACT for titles of nobility. Thus, after 1950 the property known as “Catena” came to be held like any other property. 

In view of the wide wording of the original grant (founded on the premise that the title “follows” the property) which is now no longer effectively restricted by an indivisible entail, it would at first sight appear that a plurality of claims may be entertained on the basis that more than one male descendant of PietroGaetano Perdicomati Bologna may come to own the property of Catena. This consideration is immediately dismissed by the by the limitation successores primogenitos.

On the other hand, however it appears that that once the grant allows for remainder in favour of strangers in blood, it follows that if the property or part thereof were to be alienated (to a male), any (male) successor of the territory of Catena would be entitled to the title. This latter consideration is immediately tempered by the consideration that in order to achieve this purpose, it is the fundamental character of the property that should be alienated and that the mere acquisition of a small portion thereof would not suffice to found a claim to the title.