The Battle for Representation between the “Assembly of the Maltese Nobility” and the “Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility”
(The old Maltese Nobility versus the new).
A number of representations were made against the adverse findings of the Royal Commission published in 1878 , particularly those reported as “extinct” and “not recognized by the Grand Masters”.
However, as the Commissioners had already expressed their views, they could not be asked to reconsider the same claims which they had dismissed.
The Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility (first established: 1882)
By a Despatch dated 16 August 1882, issued by the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, through the intervention of Sir George Bowyer , a Special Committee was set up namely a Committee “with functions analogous to those of the Committee of Privileges in the House of Lords (of the United Kingdom)”. The first Committee was composed of the Conte Ciantar Paleologo, the Marchese Apap Bologna di Gnien is-Sultan, the Marchese de Piro, the Marchese Delicata di Ghajn Qajjet and the Monsignor Count Manduca.
The stated purpose of the committee was to take into consideration the cases of those Titolati who were not included by the Commissioners Judges Naudi and Pullicino, in the list of Titolati prepared by them for the local government.
In addition the Committee was allowed to report from time to time to the Secretary of State for the Colonies on any matter affecting the Maltese Nobility or their rights, claims or privileges, or to bring such matter to the foot of throne by petition to Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen.
The first Committee was successful. It revisited the respective claims of Calcedonio Azopardi to the title of Barone di Buleben (erstwhile erroneously declared extinct by the Commissioners), that of Nicolo’ Gatto to the title of Conte di Beberrua (declared extinct, but perpetuated anew by grace and favour of the Queen), that of Giovanni Paolo Testaferrata Olivier to the title of Marchese (which goes by the anachronistic style of "Testaferrata Olivier, 1745") (declared unsuccessful, but in 1883 accorded by grace and favour of the Queen), and that of Lorenzo Cassar Desain to a similar title of "Marchese” (“Cassar Desain”, 1749, another anachronism) (declared unsuccessful, but in 1883 accorded by grace and favour of the Queen).
The subsequent Committees of Privileges were elected from amongst the “Titolati”.
However and as seen elsewhere in this section, the Nobility of Malta also consisted of a number of “cadets” who were defined in the legislations of 1739 and 1795 as those male descendants descended in the male line from a “Titolato” who lived on his own income, and whose intermediate ancestors also lived on their own income. Some of these “cadetti” were even entitled to the style of "Illustrissimo" (Most Illustrious) and "Nobile" (Noble) in their own right.
The Assembly of Nobles (first established: before-1878)
It appears that although there was no place for the “cadetti” within the Committee of Privileges, the Maltese Nobility in general regulated their affairs through a separate body called the “Assembly of Nobles”.
The Assembly of Nobles was in existence at least since 1876. Bowyer was Honorary President of this august body at least in 1880 (see picture below). That is to say the “Assemblea” was an older and distinct group from the “Committee of Privileges”.
It appears that the “cadetti” retained a strong control over the “Assemblea”. Moreover the documentation discussed below shows undoubtedly that the “Assemblea” was the original representative body of the Maltese Nobility, whether “Titolati” or “Cadetti”.
A look at the members who participated in the 29th general meeting of the Assembly held in 1886, shows a number a members who were not regarded as Titolati. (How and why all these “cadetti” satisfied the criteria set in 1795 is not known).The strength of the cadetto is also seen by the signature of one F. Sceberras who on 24 April 1886 was a co-signatory to a letter together with some of the most senior Titolati. (This correspondence is found in the document “COPIES OR EXTRACTS OF CORRESPONDENCE WITH REFERENCE TO THE MALTESE NOBILITY (IN CONTINUATION OF C3812, August 1883) PRESENTED TO THE HOUSE OF LORDS BY COMMAND OF HER MAJESTY MAY 1886”.
Dispute between the Assembly of Nobles and the Committee of Privileges
On the 15 March 1886, the Marchese di San Giorgio wrote to the President of the Committee of Privileges, the Most Noble Count Ciantar Paleologo complaining that “a preposterous irregularity still exists among us which is contrary to all common sense and that is, that we rank among ourselves according to the date of our creation regardless of the title we enjoy.”
Barbaro was insisting that Marquises should rank before Counts, and Counts should rank before Barons.
It may be worth recalling that at one point in time until 1795, and because of a legal quirk, Barbaro’s predecessor was in fact qualified as Malta’s Premier noble, ranking before all other title holders, even the Baron of Djar il-Bniet et Bucana.
This undesirable state of affairs was finally resolved by Grand Master Rohan who in 1795 legislated that henceforth the Maltese nobility would rank amongst itself according to the date of creation of title and not according to the degree/rank of the title.
At first sight Barbaro could not be regarded as completely self-serving. After all, should the rule of precedence be amended as he requested, the person standing to gain would have been the Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri (Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonnici). However, given the soon to be officially revealed (in 1901) queries on Testaferrata Bonnici’s claim to his own title, Barbaro would have been one step away from guiding the next logical amendment in his favour, namely to do away with all the foreign titles and bring about the status quo ante-1795.
Barbaro’s proposal gathered support, from the holders of new titles, such as his own, namely the Conte Fontani della Senia, the Marchese Alessi della Taflia , the newly revived Conte Caruana Gatto di Beberrua and of course the Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri , with whom he stood to share his gains.
The Committee of Privileges considered the proposal very favourably. This comes as no surprise as each member of that Committee namely the Conte Ciantar Paleologo (who was compared by Loftie with the Marquis of Carabas) , the Marchese Apap Bologna diGnien is-Sultan, the Marchese de Piro, the Marchese Delicata di Ghajn Qajjet and the "Marchese Testaferrata Olivier" all stood to benefit from this proposal.
Thus, on the 26 March, this Committee wrote to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies for his approval.
As befits such grave matters, this letter had to pass protocol, which meant that it was the Governor of Malta, John Simmons , who physically passed the letter on to the Secretary of State. Needless to say, the Governor was curious and read the contents of the proposal.
And this is where a constitutional crisis began.
The Governor immediately realised that none of the senior “Baroni” had been consulted. Moreover, the Governor saw that the “Titolati” as a body, were not consulted. - Here the Governor was referring to the Assembly of the Maltese Nobility as a body distinct from the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility.
True to his sense of duty, the Governor made it his business to “ascertain the views of the Assembly of the Nobles on the proposal made by the Committee of Privileges.”
The Assembly made haste and held its 29th General Meeting on the 21 April 1886.
A very angry Assembly of the Maltese nobility chided the Committee of Privileges and a resolution was carried saying “It is the opinion of this Assembly to request His Excellency the Governor to recommend to the Right Honorable Earl Granville, K.G., that no alteration in regard to precedence among the Titolati be made, and that precedence continue to be regulated as at present, according to priority of creation.”
This resolution was supported by the old nobility including the Baronessa D’Amico Inguanez, Filippo Sceberras , the Conte and Barone Sant Cassia , the Barone Calcedonio Galea and the Barone Giuseppe de Piro : The antiquity of these persons’ respective nobility outshined that of the parvenu members of the Committee of Privileges. This recommendation was then communicated by separate letter.
The Committee of Privileges was very upset for having been upstaged. A formal protest was filed by the Marchese de Piro, the Conte Ciantar Paleologo and the Marchese di San Giorgio, in their capacity as members of the Assembly, saying that “The Committee of Privileges has the exclusive competence of reporting on all matters affecting the Maltese Nobility, their rights, claims and privileges, and that the Assembly of Nobles is incompetent to give any opinion on this subject.”
However, the Committee of Privileges played their only card. By means of their letter dated 26 April 1886, Conte Ciantar Paleologo and Marchese de Piro insisted that independently of the petition presented by the Marchese di San Giorgio, that for the future no decision or opinion of the Committee of Privileges be submitted or otherwise referred to the Assembly of Nobles.
Governor Simmons found himself writing another letter to Earl Granville on the 5 May 1886, justifying his actions by saying that the Committee had acted “without consulting the wishes of the nobility in general and without consulting them or ascertaining their wishes.”
In fact, Simmons wrote that had the recommendation of the Committee been adopted without inquiry, “much discontent would have been caused amongst the nobility. This is amply proved by the address of the Assembly of Nobles, by BaronTestaferrata Abela’s letter, and by the letter signed by Baroness Inguanez and other Titolati.”
In addition, Governor Simmons pointed out that “It appears to me that in a question of precedence inter se, the cadetti have, relatively, an interest equal to that of the Titolati.”
In the meantime, this alarming state of affairs prompted the up-and-coming Conte della Catena Gerald Strickland to resign as supplementary member of the Committee of Privileges.
Lord Granville ended the imploding war on the 19 May 1886 when he communicated his decision 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.”
As a savvy diplomat Granville left unresolved the question about representation of the Maltese Nobility saying “The point in controversy between yourself (the Governor) and the Committee of Privileges, relative to your reference of this question to the Assembly of Nobles, becomes of minor importance. I may observe, however, that I do not consider that that Assembly is so constituted, at present, as to give much weight to its opinion on the main question at issue.”
Following this decision, it appears that the Assembly of Maltese Nobility lost its political significance and the Committee of Privileges took up all representation of the Maltese “Titolati”. The “cadetti” were unrepresented.
Writing in 1981 and again in 2002, Gauci asserts that the “final blow” to the cadets occurred in 1882 when the Committee of Privileges was set up. However, this assertion is erroneous as the “cadetti” clearly remained a political force to be reckoned with, at least until 1886.
Whether the “Cadetti” have in the meantime lost their rights protected by the 1795 legislation is debatable. In effect, Lord Granville went as far to say only that he had some reservations about the composition of the Assembly. He expressed no reservations about the criteria for eligibility. Governor Simmons was most explicit when he stated that the cadets had an interest equal to that of the Titolati. There appears to be no record that the 1739 and 1795 legislation was ever abolished, effectively meaning that the status of a “cadetto” has been retained to this present day.
Since 1975, titles of nobility are no longer recognized in the Republic of Malta by Act 29 of 1975 dated 17 October 1975 (see picture below). -“Not recognized” falls short of “abolished”.
Writing in 1979 Montalto says that the nobles still exist, although their numbers have greatly dwindled, and some titles have fallen into abeyance – Montalto mentions that the Counts of Bahria and Senia, and the Marquises of Taflia and Ghajn Qajjet had already fallen into abeyance. He adds that it is usual for Petitions to be presented to the Committee of Privileges by claimants, but it is unusual for decisions to be taken.
According to Montalto, this Committee was still meeting in 1979, but its function was already regarded as a little obscure.
The effects of the 1975 legislation appears to be ignored when one finds a number of publications (all post 1981) by Gauci which report decisions made by a “Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility”, and that the same publications were made “with the blessing of the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility”.
Writing a private letter in 1981 (picture below), the English Registrar and Librarian of the College of Arms opined that the Committee of Privileges must now be regarded as a private society having no constitutional significance either in Malta or in the United Kingdom. None of Gauci’s books mentions this significant detail, even though Gauci himself was the recipient of the letter.
In 1986, Gauci reports that the same “Committee of Privileges” determined the “succession” of the following titles: Conte Ciantar Paleologo (1981), Barone di Djar il-Bniet et Bucana (1983), Barone della Tabria (1983 and 1985), Barone della Culeja (1983), Conte della Senia (1983), Marchese de Piro (1983, twice), Conte della Bahria (1983), Marchese "Testaferrata Olivier" (1983), Marchese del Fiddien Marchese del Fiddien (1983), Marchese della Taflia (1983), Barone di Castel Cicciano (1984), Conte della Catena (1984) Conte Sant (1985) and Barone della Grua (1983).
In 1991, Gauci reports that more “decisions” were taken by the same “Committee of Privileges”, namely Conte di Ghain Tuffieha (1989) and Marchese di San Vinceno Ferreri (1990) . Given the number of these “decisions”, it would not be surprising that there are others which as yet, have not been published.
These “decisions” contrast with the aforesaid legislation and are, simply put, unlawful.
It appears that an issue arose in 2004 before the Maltese Courts regarding the title of Barone della Tabria
which was being claimed by two lady plaintiffs. The case was filed against four defendants. The Court decision (picture below) reads that the plaintiffs were effectively requesting the court to decide who has the right to call himself the Barone della Tabria; The court held that the purpose of the 1975 legislation was clear and that the legislator did not want titles of nobility to be recognized any more, also ordering that all public authorities are not to take note of them. The court went on to say that society is not interested if anyone calls herself Baron or Count of wherever. The Court added that both plaintiffs have a right to call themselves whatever they like without the intervention of the courts. Finally, the court added that it was clear that the legislator did not want any public authority to waste their time on such matters.
With such compelling evidence, there can be no doubt that since 1975 there is in Malta, no body, group, association or committee by whatever name called, which has the power to determine any succession of a title of nobility.
Thus, by becoming a mere private society, the Committee of Privileges suffered the same fate as that of the Assembly of the Maltese Nobility, and any of its “decisions” made post-1975 must necessarily be regarded as worthless. Any other view would effectively subject the nobility to private interests which may, or may not, allow correct transmission or even revive a title which has become extinct. Any such “decision”, and any claim to being a “titolato” which is based solely on such “decisions”, must therefore be regarded as suspect.
According to Grand Master Rohan’s 1795 legislation, there is no difference between the “Titolato” of the family and a “cadetto” of the same family.
Ironically, and as a complete turnaround from 1886, the “cadetti” are today in a better position to prove their Maltese nobility by factual male-to-male descent from their “Titolati” ancestors, than a present-day claimant whose claim to being a “Titolato” is based solely on the “decisions” of a private society.
1. COPIES OR EXTRACTS OF CORRESPONDENCE WITH REFERENCE TO THE MALTESE NOBILITY (IN CONTINUATION OF C3812, August 1883) PRESENTED TO THE HOUSE OF LORDS BY COMMAND OF HER MAJESTY MAY 1886.
(1) 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.)
(2) REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE OF PRIVILEGES OF THE MALTESE NOBILITY ON THE CLAIMS OF CERTAIN MEMBERS OF THAT BODY WITH THE SECRETARY OF STATE’S REPLY, AUGUST 1883, PRESENTED TO BOTH HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT BY COMMAND OF HER MAJESTY (C-3812).
(3) John Montalto, “The Nobles of Malta 1530-1800” (Midsea Books, Malta, 1980)
(4) Cassar Desain, Marchese L.A., " Genealogia della famiglia Testaferrata di Malta." Malta, 1880
(5) Archives of the Malta Courts (30 January 2004, 1722/2001, “Ramsay and Pergola vs Bugeja family”.
(6) Archives of the Order, National Library, Valletta, Malta
TERTIARY REFERENCES (PUBLISHED GENEALOGY):
(1) Charles Gauci "THE GENEALOGY AND HERALDRY OF THE NOBLE FAMILIES OF MALTA" (GULF PUBLISHING, MALTA, 1981)"
(2) Charles Gauci A GUIDE TO THE MALTESE NOBILITY" (PEG PUBLICATIONS, MALTA, 1986)
(3) Charles Gauci "THE GENEALOGY AND HERALDRY OF THE NOBLE FAMILIES OF MALTA VOLUME TWO" (PEG PUBLICATIONS, MALTA, 1992)
(4) Charles Gauci "THE GENEALOGY AND HERALDRY OF THE NOBLE FAMILIES OF MALTA VOLUME ONE" (PEG PUBLICATIONS, MALTA, 2002)
1. TABULAR VIEW OF PUBLISHED INCONSISTENCIES RELATING TO THE ORIGIN OF NOBILIARY TITLES CONNECTED TO MALTA
2. FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE SEE:-
Said Vassallo, C.M.,Charles Said-Vassallo's Research site and Maltese Nobility web site.