Value of private Transactions and Nominations in Maltese titles of Nobility, including case studies
(incorporates two articles headed ‘Historical Context of Titles of Nobility disposable by Nomination’ and ‘Value of Private Transactions’.)
The Grand Masters created a number of titles which contemplated the right to nominate a successor. e.g. Gomerino (Testaferrata et Cassia - 1710), Budack (De Piro- 1716), San Marciano (Galea Feriolo - 1726), Tabria (Viani - 1728), Culeja (Bonnici - 1737), and Marsa (Castelletti – 1725). The faculty to nominate a successor was effective only if sanctioned by the fons honorum, failing which it remains a private transaction and therefore devoid of any effect. There are a few recorded instances of deviation from this rule but it remains unclear whether these are valid.
A private transaction is an act whereby one or more people purport to convey a title of nobility, whether by a “transfer” or by inheritance. Private transactions are regarded as having no effect whatsoever unless they receive the Sovereign’s approval. Therefore, to determine succession, one must ignore any unapproved private transaction and instead refer solely to the grant and other acts approved by the Sovereign.
The 1878 Report shows that the Royal Commissioners did not allow private transactions to over-rule the requirement of sovereign sanction. “It is hardly necessary to remark that such cession would be legally void, it being a settled point of feudal law that titles of nobility cannot be alienated and conveyed to other persons by deed of transaction between private parties, and without the sovereign’s sanction:. 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 also http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/marchesedisangiorgio.htm
The Report describes instances of private nominations effected during the Government of the Grandmasters, which were regarded as valid only with the Sovereign’s assent. E.g. in the case of the title of Barone di Castel Cicciano http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/baronedicastelcicciano.htm , Royal assent was required for the 1695 transaction in favour of Fabritio Testaferrata and was in fact given in 1695, similarly in the case of Conte di Mont' Altohttp://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/contedimontalto.htm , Royal assent was required for succession of the first count’s nominated successor and was in fact achieved in 1724.
In an analogous case not determined by the Commissioners, the disherision by Mario Testaferrata de Robertis of his eldest son made in Palermo on the 16th April 1758 was not regarded as having any effect on the title of Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/marchesedisanvincenzoferreri.htm. See also William Loftie “One of the claimants asserted that the eldest branch of the family was disinherited by the original grantee, and one might have supposed the Commission quite capable of deciding how far such an act of disinheritance would be valid in the case of an hereditary title”. - http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/twoextracts.htm
Other instances not described in the Report but which are similar in meaning are: , the case of Barone di Gomerino, where Royal assent was required for the 1734 transaction in favour of Ercole Martino Testaferrata and was in fact given in 1737, http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/baronedigomerino.htm and the case of Barone della Tabria, where Royal assent was required for the 1784 renunciation in favour of Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani and was in fact given in 1784.
Older instances not mentioned by the 1878 Report, are described in Abela’s “Della Descrittione di Malta del Commendatore Abela” (1647) in the descriptions of the noble families of that day, e.g. the fiefs originally granted to the Vaccaro family in the 14th century could only be passed down the different generations and families through a number of investitures, the subject of various inheritances, whilst the later Inguanez siblings Goffredo, Guglielmo, Angaraldo, Don Lanza and Francesco had to be formally invested in various fiefs (three referred to as baronie) received from their parents and grandparents. See links from http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/oldfamilies1647.htm
The policy of succession of titles as far as the British Government was concerned was stated in 1878 by the British Secretary of State for the Colonies writing to the Governor of Malta in 1878 to be “either personal to the holder of a particular fief, or descends in order of primogeniture to be tenable only by the eldest male descendant”. (See:- Letter dated 30 April 1878 from the Secretary of State for the Colonies Hicks-Beach to Governor van Straubanzee in Correspondence and Report etc, page 59-60)).
According to Maltese legislation (Code de Rohan) to succeed in primogenitures, 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. In those claims determined by the Commissioners, it appears that they applied the principle of computing from the grantee. E.g. in their remarks about Angiolino Attard (Benwarrad) being the ‘first-born descendent in the primogenial line from the grantee’, and in regard to Pietro Paolo Galea (San Marciano) who had a ‘descent from Barone Diego Antonio Galea Ferriol, and the regular transmission of the title through the first born male descendents, successively down to his person’. Some of these grants allow primogenial succession through the female line. Thus in regard to the title of Barone della Tabria that in that grant ‘it is provided that in default of male issue the title is inheritable by female descendents’. Consequently, although the then claimant Dr. Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani descended in the primogenial line through a female line, he was nonetheless entitled to enjoy that barony.
The Commissioners also reported that not only did they give no importance to private transactions, but also that they were ignoring any errors committed by the Colonial Office itself.
“165. We also found in several lists of the electors of the members of council for Malta and Gozo, published under Government authority, the said Gio. Paolo Testaferrata referred to as “Marchese” in the list of electors for Gozo, and “dei Marchesi” in the list of those of Malta. In some notices the late Francesco Gauci Bonici, who was for several years member of the Council of Government, is designated as Barone, which title had originally been given to one of his ancestors, for the term of his life only. (Sua naturali vita perdurante). The above stated circumstances lead us to conclude that no great importance was formerly attached by the Local Government to a proper use of the titles of nobility. In confirmation of this statement, we may mention that in several Government notices the late Baldasare Sant was styled Count, to which title he had no right. His son and heir, Lazzaro Sant, does not claim but the titles of Conte and Barone Fournier de Pausier, which he inherited from his mother Luigia, wife of the said Baldassare, to whom they were certainly not communicable. It must, however, be remarked that since 1870 the said Gio Paolo Testaferrata and Lorenzo Cassar Desain have been styled Marchesi in several Government notices concerning the Agrarian Society, and the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. 166. With reference to the foregoing papers, by which the above-named claimants have attempted to establish the recognition of the title now under consideration, on the part of the British Government, we beg to refer his Excellency’s attention to the fact, that, as far as we are aware, such official documents emanating from the head of the Local Government and other authorities of the island, were not issued pursuant to orders received from Her Majesty or her predecessors, who are the source of all honours and distinctions.”
The application of this rule was devastating for the claimants of the titles of Barone della Marsa http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/baronedimarsa.htm , Conte di Beberrua http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/contedibeberrua.htm , Barone di Buleben http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/baronedibuleben.htm , the 1720 title of Conte di Mont’ Alto http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/contedimontalto.htm and the many claimants to the title of Marchese Testaferrata.http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/marchesetestaferrata.htm Following the 1878 Report, some of its conclusions were overturned in 1883 by a separate Committee appointed for that purpose, therefore allowing “by Grace and Favour of Her Majesty Queen Victoria” the titles of Barone di Buleben and Conte di Beberrua as well as the claims of Lorenzo Antonio Cassar Desain and Gio Paolo Testaferrata Olivier to the title of Marchese, but this was done “without prejudice to a decision of a competent court of law”.
APPLICATION COUNTER TO INTERPRETATION
One can argue that the summing up by the Secretary of State is sufficient to regard any testamentary nomination invalid. However, in the context of the 1878 Report, one of its shortcomings is the fact that it did not specifically consider the import of one’s failure to obtain an investiture. This is indeed surprising when one considers that much importance was given to the investitures in order to uphold the claims to the titles of Barone di Djar il-Bniet et Bucana http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/baronedidjarilbniet.htm and Barone di Ghariescem et Tabiahttp://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/actofrecognition.htm. The only reference we find to the effects of an omission to effect an investiture is in the case of Marques Depiro http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/marquisdepiro1.htm.
On the other hand, however, it appears ever since after the Government of the Order of St. John, a practice to ‘nominate’ a successor by a will has become accepted even though no assent is received from the Sovereign. E.g. in the case of Barone di Gomerino, in 1827 the barone Pietro Paolo Testaferrata Abela ‘nominated’ by a will his younger son, in the case of Barone della Tabria, the marchese Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani ‘nominated’ his younger nephew by means of a will made in 1892, in the case of Barone di San Marciano, the barone Calcedonio Galea Feriolo also willed in 1908 a ‘nomination’ in favour of his daughter in lieu of his son. Moreover, the Maltese Courts appear to have had no difficulty in (then) accepting the principle of a ‘nomination’ without ratification from the Sovereign (In particular see judgments of 1882 (Gomerino), 1885 (Budack,) and 1894 (Tabria,).
The argument for using a mere testamentary disposition, that is to say without seeking the Sovereign’s ratification, appears to be justified by the Budack judgment delivered by the Court of Appeal dated 7 January 1885 which held that the payment of homage was not necessary for the enjoyment of the title, also adding that the requirement of investiture ceased to be observed by reason of falling out of use, in regard to those titles conferred by the Grand Masters: “l’obbligo di chiedere l’investitura e di fare omaggio non era nella Bolla del Gran Maestro imposto sotto pena di decadenza del titolo e sotto il Governo successivo, l’obbligo medesimo ando’ completamente in disuso rispetto a tutti i titoli di nobilta’ conceduti dai Gran Maestri”.
MECHANISMS OF SUCCESSION CONTEMPLATED IN GRANTS
The Magistral grants which provide for the power of nomination also provide for a mechanism whereby the relative title is succeeded by the person determinable as per the following formulae thus: (Barone di Gomerino): facoltatem nominandi et eligendi unum ex dictis eorum descendentibus sive marem sive foeminanam, ad ipsorumet libitum et beneplacitum, pro hujusmodi titulo Baronis Gomerini consequendo et adipiscendo, dictaque nominatione et electione minime facta, ex tunc censeatur per eosdem eorumque singulos barones, nominatus et electus ipsorum Primogenitus, nisi eri ad Sacros Ordines promotus et in Religione professus et in defectu marium foemina primogenita; (Barone di Budack:-) 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....; (Barone di San Marciano:-) Et in casu tui vel tuorum in infinitum decessus, absque ulla nominatione vel electione successoris in dicto titulo, ex nunc censeatur nominatus et electus primogenitus nisi erit ad sacros ordines promotus, aut in religione professus, et in defectu marium, foemina primogenita...(Barone della Tabria: -) Et in casu tui vel tuorum in infinitu decessus absque ulla nominatione vel elctione successoris in dicto titulo, ex nunc censeatur nominatus et electus primogenitus, nisi erit ad sacros ordines promotus et in religione professus, et in defectu marium, foemina primogenita..." (For Culeja , see Tabria and for Benwarrad see San Marciano; the 1878 Report does not reproduce the text of Marsa but described the 1725 grant as “granted to the nobleman Ferdinando Castelletti, and to such of his male or female children and successors as the holder of the title in perpetuum should appoint”.).
A question which may be debated is whether the mechanism means calculating the successor from the original grantee or from the last ‘possessor’.
This question was raised in 1988 by Stephen D.G. Giles Ash in his “Malta's Nobility and The Winds of Change 1888-1988” but he does not give any detail.
However analogous cases are found in Maltese case law as well as decisions of the Privy Council of the House of Lords, and it appears that the correct application is to calculate from the grantee, not the last possessor. Thus in determining who is to succeed in the default of a nomination, one has to assess the descent from the original grantee. This consideration came out in the deliberations of the Budack judgment: In that case, a series of testamentary nominations made between 1874 and 1875 by the Baronessa Francesca Depiro in favour of a junior relative were declared invalid by reason of her incapacity of mind throughout that period and the title was therefore deemed to have been succeeded by the more senior descendant of the grantee. The argument follows that if a will is invalid (or simply not made), then the succession is regulated by the terms of the grant in favour of such senior descendant.
In the Benuarrat judgment, dated 1895 a lady by the name of Formosa Montalto claimed the title against Giuseppe, son of Angiolino Attard Montalto who was declared successful by the Royal Commissioners. The lady based her claim to the title on the fact that the previous holder Antonia De Piro died in 1856 childless and without issue, saying that once her father Saverio was living at the time of Antonia De Piro’s death in 1856, and that Saverio was in the same grade but older than Angiolino Attard Montalto’s mother (Mariantonia), then the title should devolve to her. Her claim was rejected on the grounds that where no nomination is made, then the title is to follow the rules of regular primogeniture. In this way, the court worked out the primogenial line commencing from the original grantee Saverio Gatto and confirmed that the possessor Attard Montalto was indeed in a better line.
In terms of a decision of the 10th February 1883 (Strickland vs Apap) (Ref: 8 A.C.106), any ‘nomination’ may not operate to displace the order of vocation or preference expressly prescribed by the previous parts of the deed nor may one interpret the remainder against the principles of primogeniture that line is to be preferred to degree and age. In default of actual nomination, the primogenitus is to be deemed nominated: censeatur nominatus. 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. See also http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/contedellacatena.htm In this way, one is precluded from determining succession from the last ‘possessor’ as otherwise it would make a nonsense of the original grant made out in favour of the grantees. The argument that one should compute from the last possessor was delivered a major blow by the same Privy Council (Ref: No. 150 1923) in its decision of the 20th January 1926 (Cassar Desain/Testaferrata Moroni Viani) when it dismissed that claim saying “It is a satisfaction to the Board to feel that they are justified by authority in doing so, for that conclusion seems to them to be alone consonant with principle and right. The consequences of the view adopted by both Courts in Malta are indeed devastating. Their decision means that any failure by a beneficiary from whatever interested motive to claim primogenial property that property is at the mercy of any person whether within or without the vocations who succeeds in obtaining possession of it. He may hold it as against all comers even those next in the vocation freed and discharged from all primogenial obligations precise and serious as in this case they are. A more complete frustration of founders’ intentions as set forth in such an instrument of foundation as that here in question can hardly be conceived.”
Malta is not bound by the rule of precedent and we find a recent lawsuit (Cremona vs Adriana Testaferrata Abela) (Court of Appeal Ref. 1/68) deciding that the failure to nominate a successor would benefit the person closest to the last possessor. This reasoning is not supported by the decisions cited above.
VALUE OF RECOGNITIONS ISSUED UNDER SIGNATURE OF BRITISH GOVERNOR
During the period 1883-1975, the British Colonial Administration adopted a practice of issuing ‘warrants of recognition’ issued ‘without prejudice to a decision of a competent court of law’: These warrants cannot be regarded as supplementing the terms of the original grants. In this regard, the words of the British Secretary of State are worth recalling: “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”.
CONCLUSION AND PRESENT DAY
Therefore that any private “nominations” are of no effect unless they are approved by the Fons Honorum. Whereas land could come into possession of illegitimate children or be willed away, on the other hand the right to a title of Nobility could only descend by primogeniture. There is no conceivable way for a private transaction, however termed, may change the order of succession intended by the Fons Honorum. It follows that any “nomination” made inter vivos or causa mortis made without either an investiture and/or approval by the Fons Honorum is invalid and must be ignored.
Since 1975, a general duty is imposed in the Republic of Malta not to recognize any title of nobility. (Act 29 of 1975 dated 17 October 1975).
(Case studies follow)
CASE STUDY #1
The title of Barone di Budack was created by Grand Master Perellos, by a diploma of the 23rd April 1716 in favour of Gio Pio De Piro, and to such of his descendents as the last holder should name, and, in default of nomination, to the first born child, not being a member of the clergy, secular or regular. The 1878 Commissioners described the terms of the patent of creation as being nearly identical with that contained in the charter of the Barone di Gomerino . The terms of this patent of creation read as follows: 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..
The terms of the grant impose an obligation of investiture and payment of homage consisting of two guns. The Grant does not contemplate a remainder in favour of any of Gio Pio’s descendants other than those from his wife Anna Gourgion.
The 1878 Commissioners found that the only gentleman who claimed this title was Monsignor Don Salvatore Grech Delicata, a lineal descendent of Gio Pio De Piro, who was nominated to the succession of the title by the last holder of it, Baronessa Francesca De Piro. However, they also noted that although no other person has appeared to claim the present title, Giuseppe De Piro, who is also one of the descendents of the original grantee, has laid before the Commission an oppository nota accompanied by several documents, calling in question Monsignor Delicata's claim, and contending that the title of Barone di Budack, having since a long time become extinct, the estate annexed thereto had devolved upon him by the title of a Primogenitura.
In their Report, the Commissioners only went as far as outlining the history of this title and the validity of the 1716 grant. The Commissioners took “no notice of the documents produced by Giuseppe De Piro, nor have we called for information from Monsignor Delicata, for the same reasons for which we had not asked the two claimants of the title of “Barone di Gomerino” to appear before the Commission; consequently we pronounce no opinion as to the justice of Monsignor Delicata’s claim, nor will his name be included in our list; the decision of that claim being thus left to the competent authority.”
The Commissioners’ conclusions raised more questions: If Giuseppe De Piro was claiming that the title was extinct, implying therefore that most if not all other titles were likewise extinct, why didn’t the Royal Commissioners consider this very relevant and far-reaching implication?
It is only after the 1878 Report was published, that we learn through the record of court proceedings culminating in a judgment of the Court of Appeal dated 7 January 1885, that Giuseppe was in fact claiming that although Gio Pio De Piro was duly invested, neither his successor nor the latter’s descendants (namely Antonio De Piro, Vincenzo Depiro, Antonio Depiro the junior and Giuseppe Maria Depiro) were ever so invested, adding that none of these ever paid relative homage. Moreover, it is through the course of the same court proceedings that we discover that Giuseppe was also claiming that Francesca De Piro was a “dementa” that is to say not fit to make any will.
From the court record, the uncontroverted position between the parties is that this title was succeeded from Gio Pio De Piro to Antonio De Piro, to Vincenzo Depiro, to Antonio Depiro the junior to Giuseppe Maria Depiro and lastly to Francesca Depiro. It appears, also from the court record, that the court was given a genealogical table only showing that Giuseppe Depiro was descended in the primogenial line from Gio Pio through Antonio and Vincenzo and thereafter he was descended from Vincenzo’s second son Giuseppe and from Carmelo son of the said Giuseppe, whilst the Monsignor was only descended from the said Vincenzo’s daughter’s daughter. On the basis of this evidence, Giuseppe Depiro was in a better line of descent than the Monisgnor.
The Court upheld Giuseppe De Piro’s claim that Francesca was a “dementa”, and therefore annulled the “nomination” made in her will. As the court record showed Giuseppe De Piro as the seniormost descendant of Gio Pio De Piro (and Anna Gourgion), he was therefore confirmed as the “successor” of the title.
However, in 1992, Charles A Gauci in his The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta Volume Two, (PEG Publications) revealed that Giuseppe Maria and Francesca Depiro had an older brother, (Vincenzo junior who was born 5 years before their parents’ marriage) and that on the 5 December 1807 the courts of Malta upheld the primogenial and fedecommissary rights due to Vincenzo and his descendants..
On the basis of the latter information, 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.
CASE STUDY #2
In the context of titles which had been created by the Order of Saint John (1530-1798) during its government of the Maltese Islands, it appears that certain documented facts and principles of succession have been forgotten altogether, paving the way to accommodate the (erroneous) belief that private nominations may be effected without obtaining the approval of the fons honorum which obviously cannot be achieved because the fons ended in 1798.
The Viani family seems to have been casualties of such forgetfulness because not only does their right granted in 1730 to the titles of “Illustrissimo” and “Nobile” http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/mostillustriousnoble.htm and http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility.htm go unrecorded in many publications, but the all-important 1784 investiture of their title dating back to 1728, has been overlooked many times over, not least by the Royal Commissioners themselves. However, the Commission erroneously describes the succession of the title as follows:-
“This title is held by Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani, a lineal descendant of Isidoro Viani, first baron, as appears from documents exhibited by him. He does not however, uninterruptedly descend from a male line, for Barone Isidoro was succeeded in the title by Barone Gio Battista Viani, his son. Barone Gio Battista having left on his death no male issue the title was inherited by his daughter, Anna Viani, who married Mario Testaferrata, the claimant’s great grand father. It is for such reason that the real claimant’s family name is Testaferrata and not Viani. But as in the grant it is provided that in default of male issue, the title is inheritable by female descendants, the said Dr. Giuseppe, although he descends from the grantee through a female line, is entitled to enjoy the present barony. No person having appeared to dispute his claim, he will be therefore included in the list, under the name of Dr. Giuseppe Testaferrata, “Barone di Tabria.” This gentleman also claims also the title of “Marchese” as one of the descendants of Mario Testaferrata. This point will be considered in another part of the present Report when the Commissioners will inquire into the titles granted by foreign sovereigns.”
However, it was not Anna Viani Testaferrata who succeeded Gio Battista, but Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani (senior) who was the last person to have been invested in the title.
A more authentic description of the succession is found in a report dated 9 December 1783 prepared by a commission appointed by Grand Master Rohan to assist him in determining some issues which arose after the death of Gio Batta Viani, 2nd Baron.
The Commission was made up of the following persons: D. Federico Gatt, D. Arcangelo Grech Cumbo, D. Giuseppe Axiach, D. Gio. Batta Prevost, D. Francesco Saverio Farrugia, D. Fortunato Bencini, D. Benedetto Schembri. The report was formally presented on the 13 December 1783. (No titolato participated in the decision making process and the relative decision was subject to the acquiescence of the Sovereign.)
The title’s history is described as follows: It was granted by Grand Master Vilhena on the 11 December 1728 to Isidoro Viani. Viani was invested 10 days later on the 21 December 1728 by the same Grand Master. The title is described as one granted in perpetuity to Isidoro Viani (in perpetuo ad Isidoro Viani), with the special right to nominate his successor (col particolare privilegio di nominare il successore) and in case of no nomination that the first born son be expressly elected and if there are no males, the first born daughter (col espressa elezione del figliuolo Primogenito e non essendovi maschi, della figliuola Primogenita). Isidoro did not make any nomination, but he was succeeded by his first born son Gio Batta Viani who was invested by Grand Master Despuig on the 18 January 1740 in the title originally granted to Isidoro Viani.
The issue that brought about the need for the report is described as follows: Gio Batta eventually died without nominating any successor. He had two daughters, of whom Francesca (a spinster) was the elder. However, it appeared that Francesca had fallen into a depressive state that prevented her from performing any civil act. After some time, the younger sister Anna, wife of the MarcheseMario Testaferrata, deemed that Francesca had forfeited her right to be invested in the title. Instead of claiming the title for herself, the Marchesa transferred the title by a public deed dated 6 November 1783 unto her own first born son Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani. On the 8 November 1783 Giuseppe filed an application explaining all that happened since his grandfather died and requested that he be invested in the title originally granted to Isidoro Viani.
After explaining these facts, the Commission described the legal considerations namely whether Francesca’s infirmity was such to as to make her forfeit her right , and if so, whether Anna could transfer the title. The Commission held whatever the infirmity there was nothing to stop Francesca from seeking investiture through her legal guardian, even more so in the present case which concerned a simple honorific title, subject to the sole condition of annual payment of a gun (un semplice titolo onorevole; sotto l’unico peso dell’ annua ricognizione d’un fucile). In regard to the second consideration, the Commission said that undoubtedly this required the assent of the Serene Sovereign.
The Commission therefore recommended that Francesca be given a period of one year and one day within which to apply to be invested in the title whether herself or through a curator acting in her name, and should this not be done then the Sovereign could at his discretion admit the transfer made by the Marchesa Anna in favour of Giuseppe.
It is to be remarked that, by now, although Gio Batta had already been dead for some time, neither Francesca nor Anna are on record as being the holder of the title originally granted to Isidoro.
On the 28 August 1784, Francesca herself appeared on a public deed where she formally signified her intention to apply to the Sovereign so that Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani be invested in the title. In fact the application had been filed by Francesca herself accompanied by a number of certificates proving that she had recovered and was fully capable to perform civil acts and that she was willing to have Giuseppe invested before the expiry of the aforesaid period of 1 year and one day.
On the 22 October 1784, the Noble Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani was invested by Grand Master Rohan, as Barone della Tabria as successor of Gio Batta Viani. In the record of investiture, both Francesca and Anna are noted as having renounced their rights in favour of Giuseppe, the primogenito.
Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani is the last person to have been invested in the title of Tabria. Giuseppe Testaferrata Viani (junior) was to successfully claim this title in 1878.
It appears that the Marchese Giuseppe (senior) “donated” the title of Tabria to his younger son Mario by virtue of a deed in the acts of Notary Lorenzo Antonio Azzopardi of the 16th June 1834. The Report does not make any reference to this transaction:- this is probably because of the principle that private transactions regarding titles of nobility are null and void.
Following the Commission’s Report we –very surprisingly – find no less than two “nominations” being reported in publications, both made outside the primogenial line, namely one made in 1892 by the said Giuseppe (junior) in favour of his younger nephew Rosario Testaferrata Moroni Viani, and another made in 1955 in favour of Rosario’s grandson Patrick Scicluna. Both Rosario and Patrick’s names were published in the Government Gazette as holders of this title, even though they were the primogenial descendants of Isidoro Viani. Even if one were to admit some form of “ratification” by the British Crown in favour of Rosario Testaferrata and his grandson Patrick, there is a clear break in the succession from Isidoro Viani. These “nominations” find no basis on the acts of the Grand Masters, or the conclusions of the Royal Commissioners, or those of the British Secretary of State.
Writing in 1986, Charles A. Gauci in his book “A Guide to the Maltese Nobility”, PEG Publications, Malta, 1986) says that following Patrick’s death in 1978 the title of Tabria “was called out of abeyance in 1983, in favour of Patrick’s elder brother Joseph who on the 14th January 1985 nominated his kinswoman Lilianina Falzon Sant Manduca as his heir to the Barony and renounced the title in her favour, such renunciation and nomination “inter vivos” being ratified by the Committee of Privileges 25th July 1985” (sic. !!!)
The purported acts of 1983 to bring the title ‘out of abeyance’ and the 1985 ‘ratification’ have no bearing on the consideration whether the principles described above and may be ignored.
According to Maltese media reports, Bugeja died, also without having made a nomination, and the title was ‘awarded’ to the Sciclunas’ sister Corinne Ramsay. Some court cases were instigated both by Bugeja’s son Philip as well as Ramsay and her daughter Christianne. http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/courtjudgements2009.htm and http://www.saidvassallo.com/SME/maltesenobility/tabriacourtcase.htm .
During the court cases it resulted that Joseph Scicluna had also made a will in favour of Lilianina Bugeja. However, in each case the Maltese Courts declared themselves to have no jurisdiction to hear such matters because Malta had legislated in 1975 (Act XXIX of 1975) against recognition of nobiliary titles in any form whatsoever.
One could argue that the Committee described by Gauci is free to change its mind, but the over-riding consideration is whether any of these reported successions faithfully adhere to that described by the British Secretary of State in 1878 as “either personal to the holder of a particular fief, or descends in order of primogeniture to be tenable only by the eldest male descendant”.
CASE STUDY #3
The title of Barone della Culeja was conferred by patent dated the 2nd June 1737, by Grand Master Fr. Raimondo Despuig, upon the nobleman Ignazio Bonnici, with succession to one of his issue, male or female, and with power to each of the holders of the title to name as his successor one of the descendents of the grantee. The terms of the patent of creation being identical with that contained in the charter of the Barone della Tabria . 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. To facilitate the preparation of the report, an “ad hoc” Committee of Nobles was requested to provide a list of claimants. In that list, a lady is indicated as holding the title of “Barone della Culeja”, namely Vincenza Bonnici wife of the barone Pietro Paolo Galea. This listing is at variance with that published in 1870 by the Marchese Giorgio Crispo Barbaro in his “Maltese Nobility and the Maltese Gentry holding Foreign Titles” where the holder of the same title granted in 1737 is stated to be a member of a completely different family namely Francesco Gauci Bonnici. Crispo Barbaro explains that in 1814 Francesco Gauci Bonnici succeeded his elder brother Vincenzo, son of Anna Gauci Ducos. In the corresponding genealogical table contained in the same Compendium, Vincenzo is shown as having in May 1809, succeeded his uncle Ignazio Bonnici, grandson of the original grantee. A closer look shows that Ignazio had two daughters of his own namely Vincenza and Eugenia. It is apparent that Giorgio Crispo Barbaro is implying that Ignazio Bonici was not succeeded by his eldest daughter Vincenza but instead he made use of the power to nominate in favour of his sister’s eldest son to the title. Giorgio Crispo Barbaro does not state how this nomination was made.
The Commissioners described Vincenza Galea as having inherited the title from her father, Barone Ignazio Bonnici, junior, who left no male issue. The Commissioners explained in terms of the 1737 grant, females are also qualified to enjoy the title. No one having called in question her claim, and she having fully proved by documents, her descent from the person first ennobled, she was included in the Royal Commissioners’ list, and designated as “Vincenza Galea, Baronessa della Culeja”
The Royal Commission did not make any specific pronouncements or conclusions about the validity of certain 19th century nominations claimed before them but did make a general observation that private transactions cannot have the effect of explaining, construing or extending a title of nobility, and that the power can only proceed from the Crown. Moreover, in his summation of the Commissioners’ Report, the British Secretary of State only considered the two modalities of succession described above and nomination was not one of these.
It appears that the observance of these principles caused the Commissioners to ignore the 1809 ‘nomination’ with the result that the title is reported to have descended through the primogenial line.
To accept as valid the ‘nomination’ of 1809 would imply that once the title of “Barone della Culeja” has entered the Gauci Bonnici line, then it is to remain there until that line is extinguished. By applying this argument, the title would be regarded as held by the seniormost descendant of Francesco Gauci Bonnici, unless this is displaced by another nomination. All this would have no basis in the principles discussed above and the Royal Commissioners did well to ignore the nomination.