Maltese “Hereditary Knights of the Holy Roman Empire”
Reference is often found in Malta, to the title “Knight of the Holy Roman Empire”. The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved in 1806.
This is a title of Nobility which predates all of the titles created by the Grandmasters of the Order of Saint John during their rule over the Maltese Islands. The title was conferred “motu proprio” by the Holy Roman Emperors in favour of Giacomo Testaferrata in 1637, and Massimiliano Balzano in 1698.
The first title granted by the Grand Masters was that of Barone di Budach granted by Grand Master Lascaris to Cesare Passalacqua on the 22 December 1646, unless one accepts the contentions about earlier fiefs.
“Motu proprio” means that the relative grants are not be interpreted restrictively. A restrictive interpretation is given where a title of nobility is granted on the request of the grantee (for example a “Rescript”).
A Report published in 1878 stated that there were numerous persons descending in the male and female lines who could be lawfully entitled to this title includes persons of all classes, and whilst some live on income from their own property, others pursue mean occupations and have slender means of support.
The correct designation of this title is “Hereditary Noble and Military Armiger of the Holy Roman Empire”. Other published forms of description include “Cavaliere Ereditario”, “Tornearii del Sacro Romano Impero”, “Noble Knight of the Holy Roman Empire”, “Nobiles Sacri Romani Imperii” and the generic “Noble”.
In Germany and other territories of the Holy Roman Empire, holders of similar titles formed part of the Lower Nobility and were referred to as “Imperial Knights” (German:Reichsritterschaft). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Knight
There is no basis in asserting that this title was disallowed by the aforesaid Commission. Although this title received direct recognition from the Grandmasters of the Order of Saint John during its Government of the Maltese Islands, its use was denied by only the British Secretary of State for the Colonies.
Since 1975, titles of nobility are no longer recognized in the Republic of Malta by Act 29 of 1975 dated 17 October 1975.
Origin and Nature of 1637 title in favour of Giacomo Testaferrata
The title was granted at Vienna on the 6 November 1637, Emperor Ferdinand III to Giacomo Testaferrata. (Testaferrata was Secreto to Grand Master Cottoner. The “Secreto” was the administrator of the Grand Master’s property. According to Montalto, the appointment to this office was almost invariably made from amongst the Maltese aristocracy).
In the grant, Emperor Ferdinand, having premised some expressions in commendation of the merits of Testaferrata and of his family, created by his mere motion, the said Giacomo Testaferrata and his descendants male and female for ever, Military Noblemen and Tornearii of the Holy Roman Empire.
The following is an extract from the original patent: - Te Jacobum Testaferrata, tuosque liberos, haeredes, posteros ac descendentes, masculos et foeminas, natos et nascituros in infinitum, ex legitimo matrimonii foedere ortos, et aeterna serie orituros, in numerum, coetum et consortium, statum gradum atque dignitatem Nostrorum et Sacri Romani Imperii aliorumque Regnorum et dominiorum Nostrorum haereditariorum Nobilium Militarium et Torneariorum, assumpsimus et aggregavimus; vosque omnes et singulos, juxta qualitatem conditiones humanae, Nobiles, Militares, et Tornearios dicimus, nominamus, et declaramus, adeoque ab omnibus et singulis cujuscumque status, gradus, ordinis, conditionis, dignitatis et proemineentia existent, pro veris Nostris et Sacri Romani Imperii Regnorumque et Ditionum Nostrorum Haereditarum, Nobilibus Militaribus et Torneariis dici, nominari, atque reputari volumes”. From the tenor of the foregoing patent, the title is to be construed in favour of all of Testaferrata’s male and female issue in infinitum
It is unknown whether Testaferrata was ever called to war by the Kaiser or whether he was exempted from imperial taxes and quartering troops. Most probably, this title was given on a purely honoraric basis and is likely to be so because it appears that by as early as the 16th century, the title of Reichsritter had already become a mere title of nobility rather than occupation. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Knight
Origin and Nature of 1698 title in favour of Massimilliano Balzano
The other title was granted at Vienna on the 19 November 1698, Emperor Leopold I to Massimiliano Balzano. (Balzano was Uditore of the Religious Order of St. John. The “Uditore” or “Auditore” was regarded as one of the two foremost ministers in all matters pertaining to the administration of Justice in the Maltese Islands. According to Montalto, the relationship between this legal post and the nobility was remote).
In the patent, granted also by the sovereign’s mere motion, Emperor Leopold, after having extolled the personal merits of Balzano expresses himself as follows: Te Maximillanum Balsanum, omnesque liberos, haeredes, posteros, ac descendentes, legitimo ex matrimonio natos et nascituros in infinitum, masculos et foeminas, in numerum, coetum, atque consortium, statum, gradum et dignitatem nostorum et Sacri Romani Imperii aliorumque Regnorum et Ditionum nostrarum Haereditariorum Nobilum Tornearium seu singulos, juxta sortis humanae qualitatem, nobiles et tamquam de nobili genere, domo ac familia procreatos, dicimu ac nominamus, atque adeo ab omnibus et singulis cujuscumque status, gradus, ordinis, conditionis, dignitatis, aut praeheminentiae existent, pro veris Nobilibus dici, nominari, haberi, reputarique volumes From the tenor of the foregoing patent, the title is to be construed in favour of all of Balzano’s male and female issue in infinitum.
It is unknown whether Balzano was ever called to war by the Kaiser or whether he was exempted from imperial taxes and quartering troops. Most probably, this title was given on a purely honoraric basis. Most probably, this title was given on a purely honoraric basis and is likely to be so because it appears that by as early as the 16th century, the title of Reichsritter had already become a mere title of nobility rather than occupation. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Knight
RECOGNITION BY THE GOVERNMENT OF THE ORDER OF SAINT JOHN
As the title originated in the Holy Roman Empire, it could not be held to form part of the Maltese Nobility. In 1739, Grand Master Despuig enacted a law allowing for the registration in Malta of foreign titles of nobility in the Cancelleria and in the Court of the Castellania.
The relative law is reproduced hereunder:-
Hosplis Mgr et Hierlem Sti. Sepulchri. - Per togliere le differenze di precedenze tra le persone che saranno promosse alla giurazie dell’ Universita’ della Notabile e della Valletta, vogliamo, ordiniamo e comandiamo che tutte siano precedue dagli infrascritti, e che fra queti si regoli la precedena call’ ordine seguente cioe’: Primieramente, chi fu Capitano della Verga della Sudetta Citta’ Notabile e nostra Isola di Malta.; Secondo. Il Titolato che ha un titolo fondato sopra un feudo in realta’ esistente qui, benche’ non lo possegga.; Terzo. Il titolato che non ha un titolo fondato sopra fondo realmenteesistente nel nostro Dominio, registrato che sia il titolo nella Cancelleria nella nostra Religione e nella Gran Corte della nostra Castellania, e pagato per i rispettivi registramenti il diritto di scudi cento sedici di questa moneta, da dividersi per meta’ tra la Cancelleria e la Castellania sudetta.; Quarto. Il discendente per linea mascolina da chi fu Capitano della Verga, se vive colle proprie rendite, e se i di lui ascendente intermedie vissero pure colle proprie rendite.; Quinto. Il discendente per linea mascolina da un titolo con titolo fondato sopra un feudo qui realmente esistente, se vive colle proprierendite, e se i suoi ascendenti intermedie cosi vissero; Sesto. Chi fu primo Giurato della Notabile; Settimo. Chi fu primo Giurato della Valletta; Ottavo. Il piu’ anziani di Giurazia di quella Universita’ dellaquale sara’ creato giurato.; Nono. Chi fu Giudice d’Appello Criminale o Civile della Gran Corte della Castellania e della Corte Capitanale e Governatoriale; Diecimo. Il Dottore di Leggi ed il Dottore di Medicina.: - Dichiariamo che fra le persone d’un stesso grado si deve attendere l’anzianita’ del titolo primordiale e che chiunque fu Giurato, se sara’ fatto Console di Mare, fra i quali s’attendera l’anzianitad’ufficio. Dat. In Palatio, die xvi. Septembris 1739 (f. Despuig)
The law was later amended in 1795 by Grand Master Rohan as follows:
Hosplis Magr. Hierlem. Sti. Sepulchri, et Ordinis Sti Antonii, Viennensis Essendo una massima universalmente ricevuto, che il maggior lustro della Nobilta’ principalmente dipende dalla sua maggiore antichita’, niente che il piu’ giusto e ragionevole che il piu’ antico Nobile preceda il piu’ moderno. Siamo pertanto venuti nella determinazione di Ordinare che nel regolarsi la precedenza tra le persone Nobile di questo nostro Dominio, cosi’ primogeniti che cadetti indistintamente, si abbioa ad avere unicamente riguardo alla maggiore o minore antichita’ del titolo che nobilito le loro famiglie, e cio tanto se il titolo sara’ stato concesso da Noi o Nostri predecessori, che se lo avessero ottenuto da Principi esteri, purche’ pero sara’ stato questo debitamente registrato nella Nostra Cancelleria e Gran Corte della Castellania; nel consorso pero’ di ugual data quello nella di cui persona concorreranno piu’ titoli dovra’ essere preferito, all’ altro che ne avesse meno, secondo la graduazione stabilita nel Chirografo Magisteriale del Nostro Predecessore Gran Maestro Despuig di Gl. Em. Del 16 Sept 1739, quale in quelle parti che non contradicono la questa nostra disposizione intendiamo di pienamente confermare.Datum in Palatio die xvii Martii 1795 (f.) Rohan
Although Testaferrata’s title was in fact registered in the Universita’ of Notabile on the 12th October 1683, and that of Balzano on the 3rd March 1704, neither title was registered in either of the legal registries contemplated by the 1739 legislation.
On the other hand, this omission is supplied by the recognition of the distinction by the same Grand Masters of the Order of Saint John, who at different times, and in their official acts, styled Nobiles Sacri Romani Imperii some of the descendants of the original grantees.
Analogous circumstances, namely the titles of “Barone di Djar il-Bniet and Bucana”, Barone di Cicciano, “Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri” and “Conte Wzzini Paleologo” show that a direct recognition by the Grand Masters over-rode the need to make a registration.
The 19th Century Report also states that a failure to register a title in terms of the 1739 legislation did not deny nobility but only assigned him no place insofar as precedence was concerned.
THE ROYAL COMMISSION APPOINTED TO ENQUIRE INTO THE CLAIMS OF THE MALTESE NOBILITY
After the Capitulation of the Order of Saint John the new French Rulers formally abolished all titles of nobility. (General Napoleon Bonaparte issued two orders dated 13 and 16 June 1798 prohibiting the use of any title “Ordre (1) Quartier General de malte, le 25 Prairal, an VI (13 Juin 1798): Le General en Chef ordonne……(Article 2.)… Toutes les armoires seront abbatues dans l’ espace de 24 heures. Il est defendu de porter dest livrees, ni aucune marque et titre distinctif de noblesse. Ordre (2) Au Quartier General de malte, le 28 Prairal, an VI (16 Juin 1798): Bonaparte Membre de l’Istitut National, General-en-Chef ordonne…(Article Cinquieme)….Dix jours apres la publication du present ordre, il est defendu d’avoir des armoires soit dans l’interieur, soit a l’exterieur des maisons, de cacheter des lettres avec des armoires, ou de prendre des titres feodaux. ……(Article Douzieme)….Tous les contrevenants aux articles cidessous, seront condamnes pour la premier fois, a une amende du tiers de leurs revenus; pour la seconde fois, a trois mois de prison; pour la troisieme fois a un an de prison; pour la quatrieme fois, a la deportation de l’ile de Malte, et a la confiscation de la moitie de leurs biens. Il devra toujours y avoir 10 jours d’intervalle entre la recidive.”
Another Order was issued by Bosredon Ransijat, President of the Commission du Gouvernement dated 18 Messidor Year 6 (6 July 1798), where it was enacted that all honorary titles should be burnt on the 14th of that month and that every holder of a title should carry his patent at the Arbre de la Liberté.
The French in turn lost Malta in 1800 to a contingent raised by Captain Ball and Admiral Nelson. Malta later became a British Protectorate after the Treaty of Paris of 1814.
In time, the use of nobiliary titles was resumed. However, it appears that this use was unregulated.
In 1876, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies commissioned a report on those titles alleged to have been conferred to Maltese families before the annexation of Malta to the British Dominions, namely 1800. The Commissioners’ Report and Supplemental Report were published in 1878 together with relative correspondence.
FAVOURABLE CONSIDERATION BY ROYAL COMMISSIONERS IN FAVOUR OF VERY WIDE REMAINDER
In 1878, at least 157 persons were identified as being lawfullt entitled to this title under just 1637 grant. Of these claimants, the following persons are mentioned by name in a list provided to the Commissioners and published in the report:
i. Marchese Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonici Asciack
ii. Marchese Lorenzo Antonio Testaferrata
iii. Marchese e Barone Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani
iv. Marchese Gio Paolo Testaferrata Olivier de Puget
v. Marchese Lorenzo Antonio Cassar Desain ne’ Testaferrata
vi. Marchese Ignazio Testaferrata Bonici
The Report implies that in the course of its enquiry, the Commission also received claims to this title from Enrico Testaferrata and Francesco Gauci Testaferrata.
In regard to the other grant dated 1698, there is no indication as to how many persons could have claims to the title. However, the Report implies that in the course of its enquiry, it received only one claim to the title conferred to Massimilliano Balzano from Luisa, widow of Captain Walter Strickland, in her own name and on behalf of her sons who are all minors.
The Commissioners did not express any doubt regarding the validity of the recognition by the Grand Masters. As results from their Report, the Commissioners were concerned about the very wide remainder.
The Commissioners therefore requested the British Secretary of State for the Colonies to decide whether in his opinion the title was determined by the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, whether this title should be reckoned among the nobility in Malta, and if so, whether it is descendible to all the grantee’s contemporary lineal successors, or to only one of them under the rule of primogeniture.
DISMISSAL OF TITLE BY BRITISH SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
Instead of answering these questions, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies stated that no proof was given that the title was ever recognised in Malta.
Some publications regard Maltese titles of Nobility as being only those recognized by the British Monarch. This has no basis because the stated purpose of the 1878 Report was to identify which titles of Nobility were granted and recognized by the Sovereigns of Malta prior to the year 1800.
Therefore the fact that the British Secretary of State failed to accept that the Grand Masters had indeed made direct recognitions of this title is of no effect to both titles’ respective histories.
A controversy remains whether the titles conferred in 1637 and 1698 were determined by the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. It appears that in the territories of the former Holy Roman Empire, the Imperial Knights who were formerly completely independent under the Kaiser, took the title “Freiherr” and submitted themselves to their new lords. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Knight
The genealogy of the Maltese Hereditary Noble and Military Armigers of the Holy Roman Empire is as follows:-
Original creation (1637 Testaferrata)
· Giacomo Testaferrata. For full Genealogy please see
Original creation (1698 Balzano)
· Massimiliano Balzano. For full Genealogy please see http://www.maltagenealogy.com/libro%20d'Oro/balzano.html
PRIMARY REFERENCES (GRANT/S):
1. Grant dated 6 November 1637 of title to Giacomo Testaferrata by Emperor Ferdinand III (Official Archives of the Holy Roman Empire)
2. Grant dated 19 November 1698 of title to Massimiliano Balzano by Emperor Leopold I (Official Archives of the Holy Roman Empire)
SECONDARY REFERENCES (HISTORY):
(1) Note of Registration dated 12th October 1683 of title conferred in 1637 to Giacomo Testaferrata (Official Archives of the Universita’ of Notabile)
(2) Note of Registration dated 3rd March 1704 of title conferred in 1698 to Massimiliano Balzano (Official Archives of the Universita’ of Notabile)
(3) 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.):
(4) Report of the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility on the claims of certain members of that body with the Secretary of State’s Reply, August 1883, presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty (C-3812) ((5) Copies or Extracts of Correspondence with reference to the Maltese Nobility (In continuation of C3812, August 1883), presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty May 1886 (C-4628a)
(6) John Montalto, “The Nobles of Malta 1530-1800” (Midsea Books, Malta, 1980)
(7) For history of “Imperial Knights” see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Knight
TERTIARY REFERENCES (PUBLISHED GENEALOGY):
(1) Crispo Barbaro "The Nobles of Malta, and The Maltese Gentry holding Foreign Titles as at present existing by Geo. G.C.’A. Crispo Barbaro Marquis of St. George” Malta:- A.D. MDCCCLXX (The Anglo-Maltese Press, Malta, 1870)"
(2) Charles Gauci "The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta" (Gulf Publishing, Malta, 1981)"
(3) Charles Gauci A Guide to the Maltese Nobility" (PEG Publications, Malta, 1986)
(4) Charles Gauci "The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta VOLUME TWO " (PEG Publications, Malta, 1992)
(5) Charles Gauci "The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta VOLUME ONE " (PEG Publications, Malta, 2002)