The Maltese title of Benuarrat.
Footnote: The title of “Barone di Benuarrat” was conferred by Grand Master Despuig, by patent of the 18th August 1737, on Saverio Gatto. The title is purely nominal and does not have any property attached to it. In their general observations, the Royal Commissioners observed that most of the titles granted by the Grandmasters were merely honorary and had no relevance on property tenure “although it appears that those titles (granted by the Grand Masters) have derived their different denominations from several feudal lands existing in these islands, this annexation, however, is in most cases purely nominal, for those lands were never in reality conveyed to the grantees, but they remained as they are still Government Property.” The Commissioners also identified the only three exceptions to this purely nominal phenomenon, where tenure of property was a prerequisite namely Bahria, delle Catene, and Senia, the last being a divisible property. 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 Report Paras. 82).
This title was conferred on Saverio with power given to him and his descendants of nominating a successor, and in failure of such nomination with automatic transmission to the first born descendant in the primogenial line. The grant is similar to that of San Marciano (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 Report Para. 34).
Altogether the Grand Masters created six titles which are disposable by nomination, namely Gomerino (Perellos), Budack (Perellos), San Marciano (Vilhena); Tabria(Vilhena), Culeja (Despuig) and Benuarrat (Despuig).
It is to be remarked that in 1878 this title was successfully claimed by Angiolino AttardMontalto; however his name does not appear on the original list of “Titled Heads of the Maltese Nobility” originally presented to the Commissioners, In fact, in the Report it results that Angiolino Attard Montalto only made a claim to this title during the Commissioners proceedings (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.),pages 54-55) Report Para. 13)
The actual report says the following:
The sixth title in order of date is that of ‘Barone di Benuarrat’ which was granted by patent on the 18th August 1737, by the same Grand Master Despuig to the nobleman Saverio Gatto, and to such of his sons or daughters in perpetuum as should be named by the holder of the title, and in default of nomination, to the first-born male descendent, and in the failure of male issue to the first-born daughter. We do not think it necessary to quote the terms of the patent, they being similar to those of the deed granting the title of Barone di San Marciano.
The claimant of the title is Angiolino Attard, who descends from the first titled person, although through a female line, as appears from documents produced by him; and he is the first-born descendent in the primogenial line from the grantee. Now as females are also qualified to enjoy the title in subsidium, we do not hesitate to include in our list the claimant as ‘Barone di Benuarrat’.
It is to be remarked that after the Commissioners’ Report a lawsuit was instituted by a lady by the name of Formosa Montalto against Attard Montalto. The plaintiff based her claim to the title on the fact that a previous holder Antonia De Piro died in 1856 childless and without issue. Basically Formosa Montalto claimed that once her father Saverio was living at the time of Antonia De Piro’s death in 1856, and that Saverio was older than Angiolino Attard Montalto’s mother (Mariantonia) and that these were in the same grade, then the title should devolve to her. The Court of first instance as well as the Court of Appeal (13 November 1895) rejected her claim on the grounds that were 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 Saverio Gattoand confirmed that the possessor Attard Montalto was indeed in a better line. Thus: Che passando all applicazione delle suesposte regole al caso presente, si ha che mortoSaverio Gatto, primo investito nel detto titolo, lasciando superstiti due figlie, di dirittodoveva succedere, come succedette per nomina la sua figlia primogenita Paola Gatto in Muscati.Intanto, secondo le regole di primogenitura, sua sorella Mariantonia MontaltoRibera e ciascuno dei suoi discendenti, nascendo, avevano acquistato, in spe, il diritto disuccedere, avvenuto il caso nella detta baronia, ed i maschi di ciascun grado, discendenti dalei, avevano il diritto di preferenza alle femmine dello stesso grado, ed il macshiomaggiornato a quello minornato, e se la linea del prima fosse estinta, questo ultimo od un suo discendente avrebbe il diritto di succedere in preferenza anche di maschi maggiori di lui, ma avente per stipite una femmina. Che estinta la linea di Paolo Muscati nel 1856, colla morte di Antonia De Piro, ed entrato il detto feudo nella linea di Mariantonia MontaltoRibera, sarebbe succeduto, se fosse tuttora in vita, Francesco Saverio figlio primogenito di essa Mariantonia, od un dei discendenti di lui, frai quali era soltanto allora in vita la baronessa Maria Antonia Sciberras, la quale, pero’ mori’ improle in luglio 1872, onde estinta la linea di esso Francesco Saverio, doveva di regola succedere l’altro figlio di essaMariantonia, Paolo Montalto, in esclusione delle discendenti delle sue sorelle; ma non essendo egli nemmeno frai vivi, il feudo spettava a Vincenzo Montalto, suo unico figliomaschio, ed essendo costui morto prima del 1872, cioe’ nel 1856, il titolo passo’ nella lineadi Mariantonia Attard sorella di lui, indi al di lei figlio primogenito Angiolino, l’ultimo possessore di quel titolo. Per la cosa seguendo la prerogativa di Primogenitura, stabbilitapel detto capitolo si aliquem cioe’ la prerogativa della linea, il titolo in controversia passo’ al convenuto Giuseppe Attard Montalto, figlio primogenito dell’ ultimo possessore.
Today it is no longer possible to effect any nomination. In the Gieh ir-Repubblika Act(ACT XXIX of 1975), the law dictates that it is “the duty of every public officer orauthority, and of every body established or recognised by law and of every member thereof, to refrain from recognising in any way, and from doing anything which could imply recognition of, any title of nobility’. A similar duty is imposed in regard to other foreign honours which have not obtained approval by the local authorities. By reason of this ACT, it is therefore legally impossible (an offence?) for any notary to receive an instrument by which somebody can be “nominated” to succeed a title simply because such nomination would be made contrary to law. It therefore safe to premise that it is impossible for any “possessor” of the aforesaid title to avail him/herself to make use of the faculty to nominate a successor.
It follows that one may disregard any “nomination” purportedly made at any time after 1975, and instead follow the general remainder of the grant.
According to the Code de Rohan of 1783, a primogeniture is a regular individual entail consisting of chattels which devolved from first-born to first-born in the descendentalline. It can pass on to collaterals, the determining criteria operating in the following order: line (the first line excluding all the others), degree (the closer degree of relationship excluding the remoter) sex (the male sex being preferred to the female), and age (the elder being preferred to the younger). Accordingly, it follows that regardless of any nominations that may have been made in the meantime, in terms of the grant made out to Saverio Gatto, any succession happening after 1975 should be reckoned in accordance with the primogenial descent from Saverio Gatto