Three Testaferrata de Noto families
There are in Malta three distinct branches of the Testaferrata de Noto family:- Testaferrata Bonnici, Testaferrata Olivier and Testaferrata de Noto. There were other branches, but these are now extinct.
Mario Testaferrata (23-8-1654, d. 23-11-1747) had three wives, Anna de Noto (1677), Elisabetta Castelletti (1697) and Alicunda Vassallo (1727).
The Testaferrata de Notos are the descendants from Mario and his first wife Anna de Noto.
Mario received a number of titles of nobility during his second marriage: ‘Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri’ in the Kingdom of Naples (1716), ‘Marchese Testaferrata’ in the Kingdom of Sicily and Duchy of Savoy (1717). However his family had already been ennobled in 1553 with the title of ‘Patrician of Messina’ and again in 1637 with the title of ‘Hereditary Knight of the Holy Roman Empire’. None of these titles were formally registered in Malta. This family left a number of prominent bequests. However, Mario did receive two titles in Malta, viz. those of ‘Most Illustrious’ and ‘Noble’ (1725) where he is described as ‘Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri’.
The title of patrician of Messina created in 1553 was confirmed in 1792 in favour of only four members of the Testaferrata family, including Daniele and Pandolfo Testaferrata de Noto. This grant also confirms the Testaferrata descent from that of Capo di Ferro. Abela’s description of this family suggests that the earlier members of this family were corsairs and dealt in armaments.
Technically Mario, a marquis, ranked the highest amongst the local nobility. However, by a general legislation of the 17 March 1795 enacted by Grand Master Rohan-Polduc, holders of titles of nobility were made to rank for the purposes of precedence in appointment to municipal offices (‘giurati‘) according to their dates of creation and all the other new creations came to be ranked after the older, “It being a principle universally acknowledged that the lustre of Nobility principally depends on its greater antiquity, nothing is more just and reasonable than that the older Nobles should have precedence over the more recent”.
The legislation clarified that holders of foreign titles could enjoy this precedence only if they effected due registration. At the same time, equal precedence for the same purposes was accorded to the holder of Maltese titles and any descendant from such holder provided he was descended in the male to male line, if he lives on rent of his own property, and this only if his intermediate ancestors had also lived on such rent. Therefore the marchesi Testaferrata were then considered as ranking after the older local baroni.
The text of the 1716 grant describes the title as one in Naples. However, by a later decision dated the 28 May 1901 the Italian ‘Consulta Araldica’ gave a judgment no. 2408 stating that the Italian Crown disassociated itself from the title ‘Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri’, in the Kingdom of Naples, granted in 1716 to Mario Testaferrata since at the date of creation “il napolitano non era piu’ nel dominio del Re di Spagna”.
The text of the 1717 grant describes the title as one having a wide multiple remainder: “conferiamo al prelodato Don Mario Testaferrata, ed a tutti li suoi discendenti legittimi e naturali successivamente il titolo di Marchese, con tutti li privilegi”. However, a later commission ruled in 1878 that this title was never recognized in Malta. The same Commission also concluded that the title of Patrician of Messina was never recognized, and a later decision of the British Secretary of State ruled that the title of Hereditary Knight was also never recognized.
Controversies arose between Mario’s descendants from his first and second marriages. It appears that the main dispute was his will opened 9 years after his death and published at Palermo by notary Dixidomino on the 16th April 1758, from which it appears that the said Mario willed as follows:- “in toto integro et indeminuito patrimonio ac in dicto titulo Marchiones Sancti Vincentii nec non etiam in ejus Palatio, etc’ejus haeredem universalem instituit, ac proprio ore nominavit et nominat D. Gilbertum Testaferrata ejus filium”. In the same testament, we find also the following clause: “Et quia dictus illustris testator ultra dictos Dominum Gilbertum et D. Pulchram, ejus filios desuper contemplatos, alium ejus filium primi matrimonii vocatum D. Enricum Testaferrata”. Et pro nonnullis ingratitudinibus disobedientiae, ac pro dubio insidiationis mortis ejusdem testatoris, ut ipse illustris asserit, etiam pro causa dissipationis nonnullorum bonorum mobiliumvigore praesentis, attentis juribus et rationibus desuper descriptis, dictus illus testator eumdem D. Henricum Testaferrata “dishaereditavit, a substantia et patrimonio paterno privando et totaliter eumdem D. Henricum Testaferrata ejus filium tam a successione titolorum Marchionis Sancti Vincentii Ferreri et Testaferrata, quam a succession”..et sic voluit et non aliter nec alio modo, et hoc non obstante quod fuisset per eundem illum testatorem facta wquaedam scriptura private, subscripta propria manu dicti illmi testatoris, in qua declarabat dictum D. Henricum ejus filium, successorem in Marchionem Sancti Vincentii Ferreri.”
In effect the descendants from the second marriage contended that the descendants from the first had no right to Mario’s estate, including the titles.
However, a deed made on the 10 September 1772, between members of Mario Testaferrata’s family intended to compromise all matters between them. This agreement states:-“Praefati quoque Dni contrahentes pro se et suis, convenerunt et convenient quod tam memoratus Dnus Don Gilbertus, ac sui filii et descendentes in infinituum, quam preti Dni Daniel, Don Pandulphus, et Donna Asteria eorumque filii et descendentes in infinitum, reciproce ac unite uti possint uti possint titulis omnibus honorificis atque nobilibus familiae competentibus, ac segnantur titulis Marchionatus Sancti Vincentii Ferreri et Marchionatus de Testaferrata et Equitis Sacri Romani Imperii, quorum copia uni alteri consignare debet, aliisque juribus etiam patronatus simplicis familiae competentibus et non aliter.”
Between 1878 and 1887 the seniormost descendant of Mario’s first marriage Emmanuele Testaferrata de Noto contended that the two marchional titles were his exclusively. However a decision of H.M. Court of Appeal (8-1-1887) says : “Che, dall’ altro canto, pero’ e’ giusto rimarcare che nella transazione seguita per atti del Notaro Vittorio Giammalva del 10 settembre 1773 tra i figli di Don Mario Testaferrata, il primo concessionario del titolo, di cui e’ qestione, dopo di avere menzionato solo due titoli di Nobilta’, quello cioe di San Vincenzo Ferreri, e l’altro di Testaferrata (alledendo a quello conceduto da Vittorio Amadeo) era stato convenuto che tutti i figli con loro discendenti dovessero essere in liberta’ di portare l’una e l’altra concessione.”
Separately, a Commission of 1878 had refrained from arriving at a decision in regard to the 1716 title of San Vincenzo Ferreri which it considered to have been a valid title, but at the same time it ruled that the other grant of 1717 was never recognized in Malta. This matter was followed up by Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonici and Gio. Paolo Testaferrata Olivier, the former insisting on his exclusive right the other on the multiple remainder of the titles. In 1883, a separate committee upheld Gio. Paolo’s claim establishing the year 1745 as the date of creation/recognition of the title and denied Emmanuele Testaferrata’s claim to exclusivity. A similar claim was upheld in favour of one of the descendants from Mario’s second marriage but set the relative year at 1749.
By the late 19th century, only the most junior branch of the Testaferrata de Noto family was still retaining the original surname.
The seniormost branch represented by Emmanuele Testaferrata de Noto changed his surname to ‘Testaferrata Bonici’. It appears that this change was made after he succeeded his mother’s sister Vincenza Bonnici widow of the Barone Pietro Paolo Galea. The Bonnici family is listed in 1647 as one of the old and notable families of Malta by G.F. Abela who described it as having origins in Gozo.
Vincenza’s ancestor Ignazio Bonnici (senior) had been ennobled as ‘Barone della Culeja’ by patent dated the 2nd June 1737, by Grand Master Fr. Raimondo Despuig, 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. In the grant the Grand Master describes the Bonnici family as having originated from the City of Florence.
The last person to have been invested in this title was Vincenza’s father Ignazio Bonnici (junior) on the 19 October 1792 described as “figlio Primogenito legittimo, e naturale di Francesco Bonnici”. Prior to Ignazio Bonnici (junior) the last person to have been invested in that title was “Gio Battista come figlio primogenito del fu’ Barone Ignazio Bonnici” and this took place on the 12 June 1741.” A publication dated 1870 shows a succession not in favour of Vincenza but in favour of her father’s nephews. However, the 1878 report describes Vincenza Galea as having inherited the title from her father, Barone Ignazio Bonnici, junior, who left no male issue. Her name in the Royal Commissioners’ list was included after no one called in question her claim, and she fully proved by documents, her descent from the person first ennobled.
The next branch represented by Gio Paolo Testaferrata de Noto had changed its surname to ‘Testaferrata Olivier’. This branch is descended from Mario’s second son Pandolfo who married Rosina Olivier in 1762.
There was in Malta a title of nobility which classified as “Marquis Testaferrata Olivier”. A report dated 1883 upheld Gio Paolo’s claim to the title establishing the year 1745 as the date of creation/recognition of the title. The descendants of this branch dropped “de Noto” for “Olivier”.
The aforesaid Pandolfo contracted a second marriage to Rosalie Mallia Tabone. The descendants from this marriage have retained the original combined surname of ‘Testaferrata de Noto’. Both Pandolfo and his son Nicolo’ are notable early 19th century politicians.
In terms of the 1795 legislation, as lineal male-to-male descendants, all branches, and sub-branches, of the Testaferrata Bonici, Testaferrata Olivier and Testaferrata de Noto ranked equally, “in regulating the precedency among the Nobles of this our dominion, whether first-born or cadets indiscriminately”. An attempt to change this rule of precedence to favour the new counts and marquises was defeated by Lord Granville on the 19 May 1886 who ruled that in view of the considerable opposition and the small support which the proposal received, “I have to request that you will inform the Committee of Privileges that I am not prepared to reconsider the decision of Grand Master Rohan.”
The use of the titles of “Most Illustrious” and “Noble“ was criminalized in 1725 and the Grand Masters relaxed this rule in favour of only some families, including Mario Testaferrata in July 1725.
On the 18 June 1884, the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility requested the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, for permission to allow each ‘titolato’ the use of the style and title of ‘The Most Noble’ explaining that “during the Government of the Order of St. John each and every Titolato in Malta was allowed the style and title of Most Noble or Most Illustrious”. At first this request was resisted by the British Authorities, not because the claim was misleading, but because British law allowed only Princes of the English Blood Royal use the title of “Most Illustrious”.
Not wanting to offend what was wrongly perceived as a Maltese custom, a compromise was reached and on the 23 February 1886, Lord Glanville instructed Governor Simmons that:- “I am also to desire you to give directions for the resuming the practice of according to the ‘Titolati’ in all public and official documents and in all communications from officers of the Government their customary titles of ‘Illustrissimo e Nobile’ or the ‘Most Noble’ as suggested in your despatch of the 7th of December, as there can be no good reason for withholding a courtesy the discontinuance of which has been felt to be a grievance.”
Therefore all the ‘titolati’ acknowledged by the British Administration became entitled to the style “The Most Noble”.