Byzantine Maltese nobility?!

The connection between the Eastern Roman Emperors and the Maltese Nobility is not romantic. Here are some documented facts:-

  • Giovanni Lascaris-Castellar was a descendant of the Emperors of Constantinople. He was the 57th Grand Master of the Order of Saint John which ruled Malta during 1530-1798 and is noted for having quartered the arms of the Order of Saint John with those of Byzantium. “Il Gran Maestro Lascaris, nizzardo, ‘… discendeva per sangue dall’antica, e illustre Famiglia di Ventimiglia nel Genovesato; ove Roberto di Ventimiglia, sposata Irene, Figliola di Theodoro Lascari Imperatore di Costantinopoli, tramandò a’ suoi Posteri il cognome della Moglie, e l’Arma con l’Aquila Imperiale di quella Casa; Et oltre la Signoria di Ventimiglia havendone i Progenitori di Gio: Paolo goduto molte altre, egli, e i suoi Nipoti di denominavano con quella di Castellar, che possedevano nella contea di Nizza” (B. Dal Pozzo: Historia della Sacra Religione Militare di San Giovanni Gerosolimitano, detta di Malta; vol. II, Venezia, 1715, p. 254). Tenuous as this may sound, Lascaris is also regarded as the fons honorum of the baronia di Ghariescem et Tabia, in 1638 making that title the 2nd in order of precedence vetted by the British in the 19th century.

[There was in fact no grant of nobility in 1638, but a question has been raised whether one could possibly argue that the “baronia di Ghariescem et Tabia” was somehow “created” in 1638 by reason of Lascaris’s imperial descent???!!!]

  • Sometime between 1589 and 1625, Michele Wzzini married Caterina Stafraggi Paleologo whose ancestors had been the ancient rulers of Constantinople. From this stem, there are, verily, many Maltese families that claim – and prove – descent from the old Palaeologos family who reigned over the Byzantine empire from 1261 until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. This proof culminated in the legislative act dated 1744 whereby Grand Master Pinto (the 68th Grand Master) gave formal permission on the 6th July 1744 to the Wzzini Paleologo family to register various diplomas of nobility including that given to the family by the Senato e Popolo Romano which emphasizes the way in which the Wzzinis descend from the “most august Paleologo family of Comneno Angelo Lascaris and Duca, of the Emperors of the East” (see National Library of Malta, Archives of the Order, vol. 548).




  • Amongst the descendants of the Wzzini Paleologo we find the comital branch as well as the branch holding the aforesaid title of Barone di San Giovanni  Both of these titles were admitted by the British administration (1814-1964) as titles extant during the Government of the Order of Saint John (1530-1798).


  • In addition to all this, we find that in 1985 Charles A. Gauci and Peter Mallat co-authored a book in 1985 called “The Palaeologos Family – A Genealogical review”, (PEG Publications, Malta, 1985) (see This publication charts out in 28 genealogical tables how the dispossessed imperial family fled from Greece and sought refuge in various countries, including Malta, always maintaining a claim “that their hereditary rights were unaffected”. [Remarkably there do not appear to be any Maltese aspirants to the throne of Constantinople]. Very surprisingly, the 1985 publication does not make any reference whatsoever to the formally-assented 1744 registration.


  • In the 1985 book we find four tables which discuss specifically certain Maltese families namely “Table 16 – The Maltese branch of the House of Selimbria and Mystra” and “Table 19 – The De Piro family of Malta (i), “Table 20 – The De Piro family of Malta (ii)” and “Table 21 – Di Cristoforo”.

This publication clearly shows that in addition to the Wzzini Paleologo family, even the De Piro family can prove descent from the Paleologo emperors through their descent from Cornelia Cauchi di Cristoforo who married Lorenzo Ubaldesco De Piro in 1671. The 1995 publiction does not indicate whether the Depiro/Cauchi di Cristoforo descent from the Emperors of the East was ever formally recognized by a Sovereign Grand Master, as happened in the case of the Wzzini Paleologo family.

  • In the 1985 publication, we find that the De Piro family lays claim to two titles which were approved by the British administration, namely the title of Barone di Budac  and another of Marquis De Piro. In addition Gauci/Mallat indicate on Table 20, as other descendants of Cauchi di Cristoforo the present claimants to the title Barone di San Marciano and the title/fief of Djar il-Bniet and Buqana. Other than revealing that a particular line of the De Piro family enjoyed a legitimate status (page 76) thereby implying that it was in a better genealogical position than another line (__), Gauci/Mallat do not shed any new genealogical facts on these families and in fact refer further genealogies to an earlier publication by Gauci (alone) namely “The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta”, Gulf Publications, Malta, 1981) (see ). Turning to the aforesaid 1981 publication, we find that a Chapelle descendant of the Wzzini married (Table 24) into the family of the Conte Preziosi whilst of the Depiro descendants of the de Cristoforo, one (Table 1) married into the family of the Marchese Cassar Desain another (Table 5) into that of Marchese di Gnien-Is Sultan whilst another member married (Table 37) into the family of the Barone della Culeja which also claims (Table 8) the title of Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri.


  • Altogether therefore, various Paleologo descendants, in fact, enjoy between them at least 11 titles or an impressive 35% of the complement of 31 titles that were finally admitted by the British (1878-1883) as titles extant during the Government of the Order of Saint John (1530-1798). It appears that the latter 31/32 titles of Nobility are under the “control” of the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility.


  • Over and above, this some Maltese Palreologo descendants enjoy other foreign titles which satisfy the new criteria set by Gauci in another publication made in 1986 (“A Guide to the Maltese Nobility”) for establishing whether a foreign title is bona fide or not that, the most senior being that of Prince of Selimbria. The latter publication, and therefore the new criteria, having been vetted by the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility. It should be recalled that some titles of Nobility do not fall under the “control” of the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility. In yet another publication dated 1992, we find perfect agreement with Charles Gauci’s explanation of what makes up the nobility in Malta by the President of the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility: “They (the foreign titles) together with the Maltese Nobility constitute the Nobility in Malta. These titles have proud origins of their own which the author describes in great detail. It is important to note that only title-holders whose (foreign) titles comply with very stringent legal criteria are mentioned in this book.”.  

An apt ending is the following taken from Gauci’s 1981 publication, namely an extract of its foreword written by John Brooke-Little, Esq., MVO, K.St.J., MA, FSA, FHS, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, Knight Grand Cross of Grace and Devotion SMOM, Registrar and Librarian of the College of Arms, London and Chairman of the Council of the Heraldry Society of Great Britain:- “It should make it difficult for pretenders to claim or invent titles for many years to come and so ensure the continuance of the genuine Nobility, for it is easy for a Government to refuse to recognize titles of nobility but it is impossible for it to proscribe inate nobility and pride in family and ancient history.”