Three Sant Cassia families
There are in Malta three distinct branches of the Sant Cassia family:- Sant Cassia, Sant Fournier and Sant Manduca. There were other branches, but these lines are now extinct.
The brothers Luigi Sant (1778-1867), Baldassare Sant (1789-1858) and Giuseppe Carmelo Sant (1792-1877) were the sons of Giovanni Francesco Sant, and grandsons of Salvatore Baldassare Sant who was, on the 22nd December 1770, granted the title of Conte (Sant) in virtue of a patent granted by the Empress Maria Theresa in the Italian Provinces annexed to the German Empire.
This title was registered in Malta on the 12 December 1775 under reference A.O.M. 571, fol. 351.
This was not their only claim to nobility because their own mother Felicita Chiara, born Bonnici Platamone had came to hold the barony of Gariescem et Tabiathrough her own maternal ancestors the Xara family who had since 1721 been invested in that fief which had come their way through marriage to the Cassia family who first received the property in 1638.
Technically Gio Francesco, a count, ranked before his wife a mere baroness. 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 actual possession of the Maltese fief was not required to enjoy the title. (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 older title of barone di Gariescem et Tabia now outranked the new conti Sant.
Such importance was given to the descent from the original feudatories of Gariescem et Tabia, that during the French occupation of 1798-1800,the ex-Count Gio Francesco, now appointed Treasurer-General of the new Commission of Government, requested permission to retain and preserve the old documents which showed the extent of the property interest.
The title of “Baron of Ghariescem et Tabia” is not a hereditary title but personal to the holder of the fief known by that name.
The text of the 1770 grant requires that certain lands be acquired by the grantee. It is not known whether such lands were ever acquired but by 1793, Giovanni Francesco Sant sent his three sons to study in Monza, Italy. According to the passport issued under the hand of the Grand Master each one was referred to as a ‘count’, indicating not only that the original grant benefited the grantee’s son but also that the comital title granted to Sant was considered to have a multiple remainder.
All three sons were known by the combined surname of ‘Sant Cassia’. According to Gauci (1986, page 60) the relative blazon shows elements taken from the families Sant, Bon(n)ici and Cassia only. This is less inconvenient than the more accurate ‘Sant Bonnici-Platamone Xara-Cassia”.
In time only the senior branch retained this combined surname (even though a Report dated 1878 specifically disallowed the then baron from appending the surname “Cassia”).
In 1811, the younger son Baldassare married Luigia Fournier de Pausier, granddaughter of Giorgio Fournier de Pausier who had applied and was granted two titles by the same Empress Maria Theresa, one of Barone by letters patent bearing date the 31st March 1768, the other of Conte by a patent given on the 29th January 1770. Only the comital title was registered in Malta (reference A.O.M. 571, fol. 349) and is registered as one originating in Hungary. The descendants of this branch dropped “Cassia” for “Fournier”.
In 1821, the youngest son Giuseppe Carmelo married Francesca Barbaro, daughter of Gioacchino Ermolao Barbaro who in 1792 had successfully applied for an extension of the title of Marchese di San Giorgio “to all his descendants, forever”. At first, this branch adopted the surname “Sant Barbaro”; however in 1844 one of the descendants married Maria Teresa Manduca, granddaughter of Salvatore Manduca who had applied for a revival of the title of “Conte di Mont’ Alto” (or “Count Manduca”) originally granted in 1720 in the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza and extinguished in 1775. For this reason the descendants from this union adopted the surname of “Sant Manduca”.
In terms of the 1795 legislation, as lineal male-to-male descendants, all branches, and sub-branches, of the Sant Cassia, Sant Fourniers and Sant Manducas 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. Of all the various exceptions promulgated by the Grand Masters between 1725 and 1798 it appears that none benefited the Sant, Xara, Fournier and Manduca families. However, some members of the Bonnici family were exempted.
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”.