The trials of the Bologna dynasty of Malta.

There was in Malta a family represented by Pietro Gaetano Perdicomati Bologna who in 1745 was conferred the title of “Conte della Catena” which the Grand Master had annexed to a private entail.

Today this family is extinct in the male line. 

The surname Bologna was originally Becadelli. The Becadelli could trace its descent from Vannino Beccadelli, Patrician of the City of Bologna, who was exiled from that city in 1303 and settled in Palermo. A tradition maintains that it was his descendants who added “di Bologna” to their surname in deference to their origins. One of such descendants, Pietro married Celindonia daughter of Gio Francesco Castelletti, whose family enjoyed immense wealth and status in Malta by their own descent from the Nava family. This union produced at least three children Alessandro, Antonio and Vincenza by then all known simply as ‘Bologna’. The first eventually became the Canon of the Cathedral of Malta, the second married Flaminea Inguanez but had no issue, whilst the daughter married the relatively unknown nobleman Francesco Perdicomati in 1631 and they had a son Pietro Perdicomati Bologna .

By a deed dated the 23rd of October, 1678, in the acts of Notary Gio Luca Mamo the Canon Alessandro Bologna, entailed all his property to his nephew Pietro reserving the right to establish a “primogeniture,” and obliging Pietro to do this if he survived the donor.

Fate demanded that Pietro died before his uncle and the Canon executed another deed on the 11th of May, 1686 (another deed was executed in 1696 but this confirmed that of 1686), which reads as follows (the clauses are numbered for convenience of reference):-

1. “Hinc est, quod hodie presenti die pretitulato prefatus Perillustris et Admodum Rev. D. Don Alexander Bologna J. U. D. Canonicus Cathedralis Ecclesi’ Melivetan’, Prothontarius Apostolicus, cognitus presens coram nobis per se et suos, non vi sed sponte declaravit, et declarat, dictam primogenituram regulari debeat modo infrascripto, scilicet quod bona stabilia omnia et singula per eundem Dominum D. Alexandrum dicto quandam D. Petro donata post obitum dicti D. Don Alexandri perveniant, et pervenire debeant, ad dictum Dominum Martinum Antonium Perdicomati Bologna primogenitum natum et procreatum ex dicto quondam D. Petro et D. Eugenia olim jugalibus, et deinde censeantur bona predicta vinculata et fideicommisso perpetuo supposita pro omnibus primogenitis maribus legittimis et naturalibus et ex legittimo matrimonio nascituris, per directam lineam ex dicto Martino Antonio de primogenito in primogenitum in infinitum, cunctisque futuris temporibus, et sine ulla temporis perfinitione.

2. “Cum hoc, quod ipse Dominus Martinus Antonius possit et libere valeat et sui possint et libere valeant in infinitum, eligere et nominare in locum primogeniti alterum ex alijs filijs maribus legittimis et naturalibus.

3. “Et in defectu primogeniti maris ex dicto Domino Martino Antonio, dicta bona pervenire debeant ac perveniant et pervenire debeant ad filios ejusdem Domini Martini Antonj, legittimos et naturales, et ex legittimo matrimonio nascituros quousque in secundo gradu nepotum dicti Domini Martini Antonij nasceretur masculus ex aliqua de filiabus dicti D. Martini Antonij legittimis et naturalibus et ex legittimo matrimonio, cui nepoti nato statim dicta bona devolvant cum onere ut supra transeundi de primogenito nepote dicti Martini Antonij in primogenitum nepotem legittimum et de legittimo matrimonio nasciturum.

4. “Et sic, tam cum extiterint mares quam cum non extiterint, ipse D. Donator jussit et mandavit observari perpetuo, et cunctis futuris temporibus et sine ulla perfinitione temporis, in linea descendentium ex supradicto Domino Martino Antonio.

5. “Et casu quo dictus Dominus Martinus Antonius decesserit sine filijs nepotibus pronepotibus alijsque ex eo descendentibus legittimis et naturalibus ac ex legittimo matrimonio natis maribus et feminis, vel cum talibus descendentibus et eisdem morientibus sine similibus descendentibus in infinitum, dicta bona ut supra donata devolvantur ad filium primogenitum marem legittimum et naturalem de legittimo matrimonio nasciturum ex dicta Domina Anna Maria, sorore dicti Domini Martini Antonij, si tunc extaret. Ita ut transeat de tali primogenito mare in primogenitum marem in omnibus et singulis gradibus descendentium legittimorum et naturalium et legittimis matrimonijs ex ipsa Domina Anna Maria, et si talis filius non extaret ex dicta Domina Anna Maria, perveniant et pervenire debeant ad illum seu illos ad quorum favorem dictus Dominus Don Alexander disposuerit, et si non disposuerit ad proximiorem in gradu consanguinitatis ipsius D. Don Alexandri primogenitum.”

The first limitation in the deed of 1686 was to Martino Antonio Perdicomati, and then the property was to be bound by a perpetual trust “pro omnibus primogenitis maribus”. The limitation is directed to favour sons, and only if there are none are the daughters called in, who in any case are to be divested on the instant of a son’s birth.

The term for the primogenital male to male descendant is “primogenitus mas”.

Martino Antonio had a son, Pietro Gaetano who succeeded as the “primogenitus mas”.

When Grand Master Pinto conferred the title of “Conte della Catena” upon Pietro Gaetano Perdicomati Bologna, so much importance was given to Perdicomati’s inherited wealth that the Grand Master subjected this honour to the entail founded by the Canon Alessandro.  The following is an extract from the deed of grant:-

“Te supradictum Dominum Petrum Cajetanum Perdicomati Bologna tuosque filios jam natos vel nascituros, haeredes et successores primogenitos et etiam extraneos, Comitem et Comites Territorii seu Tenutae delle Catene hodie vero delli Mori appellati, positi in hac Nostra Insula a te et antecesoribus possessi jure pleni dominii et proprietatis, nec non Primogenitura masculinae ordinatae per bon mem canonicum Don Alessandro Perdicomati Bologna… feudum nobilem sub titulo comitis erigimus atque extollimus.”.


The official archives of the Order show that the grantee was to pay, for the title, an annual tribute of a bouquet of flowers every first day of May and that every successor was to be formally invested in the title.

Pietro Gaetano was formally invested as Count on the same day the title was created.

He had a son, Nicolo, and a daughter, Matilda wife of the Barone Testaferrata.

Nicolo succeeded the wealth and title attached to it. In fact after Pietro Gaetano died, the Noble and Magnificent Nicolo was invested on the 30th May 1758. However, by then the price for the title had increased to payment of a saddled horse.

In 1770, Nicolo had died and he left five daughters. On the other hand his sister Matilde, widowed since 1760, had a son Pietro Paolo.

A dispute soon arose relating to the succession between Maria Giovanna (Nicolo’s eldest), and her only male collateral. An action was brought before the “Sacra Rota Romana,” by Maria Giovanna against the Baroness Matilde Testaferrata, who defended in her own behalf and in that of her son. The case was heard twice before Judge Origo, and he on each occasion decided in favour of Giovanna. Thereafter, a third decision in her favour was given by Cardinal Herzan. However this decision was reversed by a fourth, given by the same Judge. The four sisters then joined Giovanna but two further successive decisions were given by Herzan in favour of Testaferrata.

These three decisions were themselves reversed by Judge Riminaldo, and the first three decisions were rehabilitated, with this difference, that all five daughters were declared entitled to the succession.

The decision of Riminaldo was twice reheard and twice reaffirmed. A later decision of the Privy Council reported that the litigation, which had extended over twelve years, was then stopped by order of the Grand Master (However, the official Divietum dated 1783 shows that this referred to another case between Nicolo’s widow and the barone).

It appears that the five daughters of Nicolo held possession of the estate, until Nicolo Sceberras was born to Angela, the youngest, whereupon Sceberras succeeded to the possession. The aforesaid Privy Council explained that the ‘ratio decidendi’ of the judgment given in favour of the five daughters is that in this settlement superiority of line is preferred to all other considerations.

The death of Count Nicolo Sceberras on the 5th of July, 1875, without issue male or female, gave rise to acrimony between Nicolo Apap (born after 1838) whose mother Francesca was the fifth child of Angela, the Marchese Testaferrata Viani (born 1838) descended from Angela’s seventh child, and the Marchese Felicissimo Apap (born 1834) who was descended from Angela’s youngest child who all claimed under the limitation preferring males in closer degree from the last possessor, and Luisa Strickland daughter of Angela’s fourth child and mother of Geraldo who was born in 1861.

The strongest claims appear to be that of Strickland who were descended in the better line, and that of Felicissimo who being the first male to be born from Sceberras’s sisters could argue an immediate expectancy had become a certainty on his birth in 1834 and could only be defeated if Strickland had been born a “primogenitus mas”.

A suit giving rise was brought by Mrs. Strickland, widow of Captain Strickland, on her own behalf, and as tutrix and curatrix of her son Geraldo, in order to have it declared that she, or her son, was entitled to the Bologna entail, and to recover possession of them from the defendant, the Marchese Felicissimo Apap. The Court of the First Hall in Malta gave judgment for the defendant. On appeal the Court of the Second Hall reversed this judgment so far as it was against Geraldo, and gave judgment in his favour. The contest continued before the Privy Council and by then the remaining litigants were Geraldo and the Marchese Apap.


Apap argued that as when the estate was vested in all the daughters collectively of Nicolo Perdicomati, not one of them could form a line preferential to the line of all or any of the others thereby destroying the principle of line, leaving only the matter of priority of birth.


The Privy Council ruled that it was a well known rule that a deviation from the ordinary mode in which a primogenitura descends is not to be construed as interfering with that mode of descent more than is necessary to give effect to such deviation. It quoted an earlier judgment which held even where there was even an express direction that the property should devolve in the masculine line and that females should be excluded, that nevertheless the male descendant of a female in the better line took in preference to a male descendant of a male in an inferior line though earlier born. It followed that when the succession opened on the death of Sceberras Geraldo was entitled to succeed being in a nearer collateral line, viz. that of the elder sister, than the Marchese Apap, who though born first was in the line of the younger sister.


The Privy Council considered the hypothesis if Sceberras had died without issue, leaving sisters only, neither of whom had a son, then the estate would have devolved upon the sisters, to be divested on the birth of the first male to either of them. But this event had not happened (because Geraldo and Apap had already been born). On the death of Sceberras it was Geraldo who fulfilled this condition. Their Lordships therefore opined that in the events which actually happened, Geraldo was entitled to the estate by virtue of the ordinary rules of law applicable to the primogenitura, and applied the rule of seniority of line.


The Privy Council was not asked to consider the succession of the title of “Conte della Catena”. In any case this was not necessary because when the same Strickland and Apap had applied separately to the Royal Commissioners to be recognized in that title, the Commissioners had already indicated that this was to be enjoyed by that of the contending parties to whom the Primogenitura will by a definitive sentence be awarded (“The title of conte being annexed to the feud and Primogenitura Bologna, on succession to which a suit is at present pending, in the civil courts of these islands, between Marchese Felicissimo Apap and Luisa, widow of Captain Walter Strickland, in her own name, and on behalf of Gerardo her son, who is a minor, we must necessarily refrain from expressing any opinion on the subject. And as the title is to be enjoyed by that of the contending parties to whom the Primogenitura will by a definitive sentence be awarded, no one of the claimants will, in the list appended to this Report, be designated as “Conte delle Catene”, or “delli Mori”, and the decision on the matter in dispute must be left to the competent authority.”)


The male lines from the Bologna and Perdicomati Bologna families have long been extinct. Neither Strickland nor Apap bore surnames indicating their descent through the Sceberras or Perdicomato. Strickland (later Lord Srickland, and a Prime Minister of Malta) was styled on occasion as “Bologna Strickland” and “Strickland Bologna” but he remains better remembered by his father’s surname. The Apap descendants have maintained the surname “Apap Bologna”. None of Matilde’s Testaferrata descendants appear to have appended either Perdicomati or Bologna to their surname.


Technically the Perdicomati Bologna family, as counts, ranked before the barons. 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.

In terms of the 1795 legislation, as lineal male-to-male descendants, all branches, and sub-branches, of the Perdicomati Bologna families 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.”

Therefore the conti Perdicomati Bologna della Catena ranked after the older baroni.

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 enactments between 1725 and 1798 it appears that none favoured any member of the Perdicomati Bologna family to be styled “Most Illustrious” or “Noble”. However, the investiture in favour of Nicolo dated 1758 describes him as “Magnifico” and “Nobile”. This may be taken as a personal title.

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”.