Notes on published successions of titles of Nobility in Malta.



In regard to Maltese titles of Nobility which were created by the Grand Masters during the government of the Order during 1530-1798, probably the most valid criticism about hereditary nobility is that the “successors” come to wear the plumes of their forebears. 


On the other hand, if the act of creating the title allows for a remainder, it would be wrong, if not unlawful, to deny the rightful successor his/her right to that title. Whatever shade of the political spectrum we choose to be, a lawful right should always be respected.


There is nothing unlawful in a “successor” claiming to be what he/she is. Bar the obvious consideration that in 1798 Napoleon himself had abolished Maltese titles of Nobility, the only valid question one can pose is whether the “successor” is, in fact, the successor in terms of the acts of creation of the title claimed by such person.


In this section, we look at published statements regarding the published “successions” of certain titles of Maltese Nobility and analyze whether these statements are correct.


The first case is that of the title of “Barone di Budacco” or “Budaq” a title originally created in 1716 in favour of Gio Pio Depiro. The De Piro family had the good fortune of marrying Gio Pio into the family of Giovanni Gourgion who held the important and lucrative post of Procuratore dei Grani. What is of particular interest is this title’s remainder, because the patent allows the holder to nominate as successor anyone of Gio Pio’s descendants, and if no nomination is made then succession favours the primogenital descendant: “Tibi Joanni Pio De Piro et post tui obituum uni ex filiis vel filiabus legitimis et naturabilibus, ex te et Nobili Anna Gourgion tua conjuge procreatis vel procreandis quem vel quam omni futuro tempore et in perpetuum. Tu et quilibet seu quaelibet ex tuis successoribus in dicta Baronia constitutus seu respective constituta, malueritis eligendum vel eligendam, tribuimus, concedimus et donamus hujusmodique titulo insignimus ac Baronem dicto Feudi de Budacco constituimus et ita nominari posse et debere....Hoc etiam addito, quod in casu tui vel tuorum in infinitum decessus, absque ulla nominatione vel electione dictui tituli seu Baroniae, ex nunc censeatur nominatus et electus Primogenitus, nisi erit ad sacros Ordines promotus et in Religione professus, et in defectu marium foemina primogenita  


Writing in 1981 (and reprinted in 2002) Charles A. Gauci in his “Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta” describes the succession of this title at Table 28 as follows: from Gio Pio Depiro (grantee), his grandson Vincenzo (2nd holder), the latter’s eldest son Antonio Depiro (3rd), the latter’s only son the childless Giuseppe Maria Depiro (4th) and the latter’s sister Francesca (5th), also childless. Gauci then adds: (The (5th) Baroness had nominated her distant kinsman Mgr. Don Salvatore Grech Delicata to succeed her. This decision was overruled by the Malta Court of Appeal in 1885 who awarded the title to Giuseppe de Piro Gourgion holder of the family ‘Primogenitura’.


However, in the same publication, the same Gauci at Table 7 says that: Dr. Carmelo de Piro M.D. nat. 4-9-1820 obt. 14-9-1869 whose issue (referring to Giuseppe and his brother Alessandro) succeeded to the Barony of Budaq on the extinction of the issue of the 3rd BaronThe implication, here, is that this line succeeded because they were next in line according to Primogeniture.


Writing later in 1992, the same Charles Gauci refers to the same title in Table 74 and Table 4 but makes no reference to either the decision of 1885 or the erstwhile fact that the title was succeeded by the line of Carmelo De Piro “on the extinction of the issue of the 3rd Baron”. Interestingly, in another publication dated 1986, called “Guide to the Maltese Nobility” the same Gauci again referred to the same title on pages 20-23 and 37-40 and again made no such references. 


So why the difference in reasons for succession? It appears that sometime after the 1981 publication some noises were made in reaction to Gauci’s first publication. In fact we find in the 1986 book (page 38) that the 3rd Baron’s line was not extinguished because he had another son, who was older than Giuseppe Maria. The boy’s name was Vincenzo and although he was not born in wedlock, Gauci says that his “legitimate status was confirmed by the Courts of Malta, 5th December 1807”. In the 1992 publication, Gauci is more explicit on page 301 “On the 5th December 1807, in a lengthy court judgement, the Courts of Malta upheld the primogenial and fedecommessary rights due to Vincenzo and his descendants as members of the de Piro family”.


At first sight, once Vincenzo was born prior to their parents marriage, he could not have succeeded the title of Barone di Budack because the terms read: filiabus legitimis et naturabilibus. However the import of the 1807 judgment changes the lawful succession of the title of Budaq as Vincenzo is lawfully regarded at par with his siblings. It follows therefore that the lawful successor of the title of Budaq was neither Giuseppe Maria Depiro nor Francesca Depiro but their elder brother Vincenzo. 


Further consideration reveals more inaccuracies in Gauci’s 1981 description. Gauci is saying that Giuseppe De Piro was already in possession of the family ‘primogenitura’; but in fact he was not. Contemporary documents prove that  the same Giuseppe who was descended in a less senior line than Francesca but more senior than the Monsignor, made a number of claims principally on the property entail which was in possession of the Monsignor who had been put in possession by Francesca’s will. An equally documented lawsuit followed and by then Giuseppe was demanding the title of Budaq, in addition to the entail. The case took its time and eventually in 1885 the court ruled that Francesca’s will was declared null because she was considered to have been a “dementa” that the entail was decided in favour of Giuseppe, who was the only plaintiff and against the Monsignor who was the only defendant. Throughout the lawsuit no mention whatsoever was made by either party to the existence of Vincenzo and his own descendants. On the basis of the 1807 judgment, Giuseppe De Piro and the Monsignor should have known better than produce an incomplete family tree. It need not be pointed out that had the Monsignor defended himself by invoking Vincenzo’s senior descent, the Monsignor would have implicitly acknowledged that Francesca could not have nominated him in the first place. Equally, had Giuseppe mentioned the existence of Vincenzo’s legitimated status, he would have risked having his own case thrown out altogether.


To say that Giuseppe “succeeded” Francesca is not quite right. It is true that Francesca’s will was invalidated but it is not true that Giuseppe was the primogenital descendant after the 3rd Baron. 


Looking at the terms of the grant, as well as the state of affairs brought about by the otherwise forgotten judgment of 1807, it is clear that the primogenital descendant was not Giuseppe Depiro but another, namely Vincenzo Depiro-. Why the existence of Vincenzo was not mentioned in the lawsuit between Giuseppe and the Monsignor is anybody’s guess, but the end result was that in the absence of anyone else Giuseppe was regarded as the primogenital descendant of Gio Pio Depiro and therefore the person to whom the title and the property entail devolved. Applying the same reasoning in the light of the erstwhile unknown existence of a more senior line, then the title devolved to Vincenzo as primogenital descendant.


But as the publications show, Giuseppe was wrongly considered to be the primogenital descendant following the demise of Francesca Depiro. 


As seen above, Gauci’s publications avoids this issue altogether and reports (to complicate matters further) that Giuseppe nominated as successor his younger nephew Igino De Piro D’Amico Inguanez instead of his elder nephew Carmelo Igino De Piro D’Amico Inguanez.  


We have seen how a mere testamentary nomination is not enough to give effect to a nomination. For a nomination to take effect, the person so nominated had to be formally invested by the fons honorum. In the Report of the Commission appointed to enquire into the claims of the Maltese Nobility, the Maltese Commissioners spared no opportunity to show their fundamental belief that any private transaction which is not approved by the Fons Honorum is of no effect. In addition, the opinion of the British Secretary of State for the Colonies’ which is attached (pages 59-60) to the 1878 Report, was that there is no way that a private transaction, however termed, may change the order of succession intended by the Fons Honorum. “With reference to the question which the Commissioners have very properly raised in their original report (par. 57 and others), viz. whether acts of presumed recognition under the British Government, such as the issue of a passport from the Foreign Office to a gentleman, in which he is styled baron, or count, or marquis, or the mention of a similar title in a Despatch from a Secretary of State, or in a Government notice or other official document emanating from the Governor of the Colony, may be taken to have revived or perpetuated a title which has become extinct, or was otherwise without legal support, I feel able to give no other answer than that all such acts are altogether valueless for that purpose, and cannot be taken to have conferred, revived, perpetuated or confirmed any dignity which did not already rest upon an independent legal basis. It is only necessary to point out to you that no public officer, not even a Secretary of State, has the power of conferring titles of honour, for which the personal sanction of Her Majesty is each case is necessary; and even assuming such acts to have been done by British officials with full knowledge that the titles were non-existent, their want of power would prevent these acts of supposed recognition from having the slightest effect.” The application of this rule was devastating for the claimants of the titles of ‘Barone della Marsa’, ‘Conte di Beberrua’, and other claimants to titles of nobility.


Two considerations arise here, one that it has now been revealed that Giuseppe was not entitled to succeed the title; second that a private nomination is of no effect unless it has been properly sanctioned by the Fons Honorum.


Notwithstanding these two compelling reasons to exclude Ignino Depiro D’Amico Inguanez from the title, this gentleman represented Malta at the coronation of King George VI. Of course, past mistakes cannot be undone but it is wrong to perpetuate a mistake. Hence the need to question whether a person is in fact what he/she claims to be.


Gauci reports similar ‘nominations’ made after 1798 in regard to the titles of ‘Barone di Gomerino’ (1710), ‘Barone di San Marciano’ (1726), ‘Barone della Tabria’ (1728), “Barone della Culeja’ (Qlejjgha) (1737), ‘Barone di Benuarrat’ (Benwarrad) (1737) as well as the foreign title of ‘Barone di San Giovanni’ (1777). In all these cases, he does not cite whether a ‘Fons Honorum’ actually and formally assented to such nomination.


The second case is that of the title of “Conte di Beberrua” a title originally created in 1783 in favour of Luigi or Ludovico Gatt. What is of particular interest is this title’s limited remainder, because the patent does not mention any whatsoever. Gatt was one of the last persons to be ennobled by the Order during its government of Malta. After his death his son took on the title. However, this was queried by a Commission. They read and re-read the grant and concluded that there was no valid argument to allow the son take on the title bestowed on the father. This, they continued was because acts of creation like that of Beberrua which did not contemplate a successor were by the Grand Master himself taken to be personal, and as such, they could only be extended on an application of the grantees themselves. Once it was firmly established that no such application was ever filed, the Commissioners got tired of the son’s nonsense and ruled that title became extinct upon the death of the original grantee Luigi, sive Ludovico, Gatt.  


This story had a happy ending (possibly to later evoke memories of a classic Disney movie) because in 1883 a totally-different body, a special committee, recommended that “it should continue to descend, de primogenito in primogenitum in infinitum, to the male descendants of the grantee. Under these circumstances we consider this title fully deserving the grace and favour of recognition from the Crown, that the bearer may have his name duly entered in the official list of Titolati. This recommendation was accepted by the Secretary of State for the Colonies.. That is to say to succeed this title, one must be a male to male descendant of Luigi Gatt. Strangely in all his publications, Charles A. Gauci reports in his 1981 (Table 15) and 1986 (pages 15-16) publications that the title is limited to males only but does not query how and why he numbers two ladies as holders of this title. 


The third case is that of the title of “Barone della Marsa” a title originally created in 1725 in favour of Ferdinando Castelletti and to such of his male or female children and successors as the holder of the title in perpetuum should appoint. As Ferdinando had no issue of his own it is clear that the title had become extinct on his death. However, a question arose in the 19th century when Alessandro Testaferrata Sceberras Damico Inguanez made a formal claim to this title. The dismissal of this claim took all of one line of the Royal Commissioners’ report. What is remarkable is the sheer audacity to claim an extinct title. Gauci describes the 1725 title in his 1992 publication (page 70) but wrongly ascribes it a status of a “fief” because in fact no property was attached to this title.

The fourth case is a later creation of the same title of “Barone della Marsa” in favour of Gio Francesco Dorell Falzon, made in the following terms: - Tibi Magnifico ac Nobili D. Joanni Francisco Dorel Falzon tuisque descentibus masculis tribuimus concedimus et donamus, hujusmodique Baronis titulo insignimus, ac Baronem dicti feudi della Marsa constituimus, et ita nominari posse et debere.... The aforesaid Barone Dorell having left on his death no issue, the title of Barone della Marsa, again became extinct. However this title was claimed by the Marchesa Maria Francesca Sceberras Bologna, widow of the Marchese Dr. Filipo Apap. Apap Bologna explained that as her own father Paolo Sceberras was the testamentary heir of the Barone Dorell Falzon, she was entitled to succeed the title. The Commissioners denied her claim explaining that as the Barone did not have any children of his own, he did not, and could not, transmit to his testamentary heir, Paolo Sceberras, the title of “Barone della Marsa”. Consequently Paolo Sceberras never conveyed that title to his daughter Maria Apap.  Moreover, the Commissioners also explained that as Maria Apap was a female, she could never be comprised in the grant, even if she descended from the said Dorell, because the title could only be enjoyed by the male issue of Dorell. Gauci describes this title in his 1992 publication (page 71) but wrongly describes it as a “fief” because in fact no property was attached to this title.


The next time you happen to be out shopping, sipping coffee by the bar, or just sunbathing on one of Malta’s beaches, roll over the sand onto the closest ‘title holder” and ask him/her whether he/she is really entitled to the plumes on his/her head. And if you’re told that it’s none of your business, politely remind him/her that the Grand Masters that ruled Malta took these matters so seriously that sometimes they even appointed special commissions composed of ordinary people to verify succession to titles which were created by earlier Grand Masters.