The importance of independent legal and factual bases for titles of Nobility in Malta.

This gateway is the inner side to the main entrance to Mdina, Malta. The coat of arms is that of the familyInguanez.   The 14th century old Inguanez family is especially important to Malta’s history. In 1448, King Alfonso gave Antonio Inguanez permission to have the arms of Inguanez placed on the Inner side of the Main Gate atMdina, beneath the Royal arms, to commemorate Antonio’s having reduced the islands of Malta andGozo to submit to the House of Aragon. These arms adorned the gate until 1798, when these, together with many other escutcheons, were removed by order of the French occupiers. The arms were later restored in 1886. Antonio was the husband of the heiress Imperia Gatto. It is said that in addition to the latter privilege, King Alfonso also authorized the placing of the united arms of Inguanez and Gatto over the Castle of St. Angelo in the Borgo (Vittoriosa) as a mark of gratitude in testimony for the services rendered to the House of Aragon by Francesco Gatto and Antonio Inguanez.   The Inguanez family was undoubtedly amongst Malta’s foremost from the 14th century right up to when its last member the barone Marc’ Antonio Inguanez died childless in 1760. His wealth was succeeded by a collateral descended in a female line.  

To say that Malta had a number of advantaged families for a long time is fundamentally correct. However, care should be had to distinguish fact from anachronism.   The celebrated historian Abela (17th century) author of “Della Descrittione di Malta del CommendatoreAbela” is regarded as a pioneer of Maltese history but although many of his descriptions are correct there are a number of instances where he fails miserably by making anachronistic statements.   A case in point is Abela’s belief that there was a Maltese “nobility” in the 14th century; This belief has been disproved by Anthony T. Luttrell and other historians.   One example of such anachronism is the “title” of “Baron of Djar il-Bniet and Buqana”, which is reported by Abela to have been created in the 14th century  . Centuries later, in the late 19th century, in a report dated 1878 issued by a Royal Commission appointed to enquire into the claims of the Maltese Nobility accepted blindfold Abela’s assertion  that Giacomo Arginaldo Inguanez was in 1512 designated as the “Barone di Bucana”.   It will be recalled that the first formal creation of a Maltese title of nobility was only as late as 1710 and that the first legislative act regulating the nobility as a body only came about as late as 1739.

This is not to say that titles of nobility were unknown in Malta until 1710 but to show clearly that such titles only started to be created locally from that date onwards.   Having established the chronology of these facts, it now becomes understandable why the MagnificoGiacomo Inguanez was in fact never during his own lifetime, referred to in official documents as a baron of sorts, neither “Barone di Bucana” even less “Djar el-Bniet et Bucana”, as clearly results from the license of 1536 issued by the King of Spain so that he may emigrate from Malta without incurring any penalties from the new rulers.    Indeed going by the findings of the Commissioners’ Report the first grant-proper of nobility in respect of a Maltese was only one of untitled nobility dated 1553 which was granted to a totally different family, namely that of Testaferrata.   ( In the 1878 Report there is no mention whatsoever of the claim to the title of “Baron of Ortigos” in Catalonia (Spain) which is described in the book “The Family of Inguanez” (Malta, 1888) as having been enjoyed by the father (Angeraldo) of the aforesaid Antonio Inguanez. )   It was the Royal Commissioners’ blind acceptance of Abela’s statement that formed the basis of backdating the title of “Barone di Djar el Bniet et Bucana” from 1725 to 1350, thereby rendering it to be regarded as Malta’s premier title of nobility, a vast improvement on the erstwhile status of two mere land holdings in fief.    Consequent to the debatable conclusion of the 19th century report in regard to the “titles” of “Baron ofDjar il-Bniet et Bucana” and “Baron of Ghariescem et Tabia” (the latter is based on a property compromise dated 1638), one would expect a greater discipline in regulating the preservation and succession of all titles of nobility in Malta.   Unfortunately, this is not the case and subsequent publications, purportedly vetted by the noble families themselves, indicate an evolving tendency to – perhaps unwittingly – gloss over facts or confuse them in such a way to change the fact.  

To illustrate this, one can compare the description of the “Maltese Nobility” in the 1915 publicationMalta and Gibraltar with the present-day website of the “Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility”. Whilst “Malta and Gibraltar” (M&G) gives the date of creation of the Neapolitan title of “Baron of Cicciano” as 1695 (as indicated by the Commission) the website describes the title as having been created in 1560 without giving anything short of an explanation why the change in dates. Other examples of inconsistency exist but the piece de resistance is where M&G describes the aforesaid “title” of “Baron of Djar il-Bniet et Bucana” as one title granted in 1350 (which is consistent with the 1878 Report) whilst the website now describes this as two independent titles given in 1350 and 1372. Perhaps more telling is that M&G patiently reproduces the entire text of the 1739 and 1795 legislations on precedence  amongst the Maltese nobility, whereas the website does not give these laws any importance whatsoever.   It should not be understood that M&G is 100% reliable. M&G claims that “there are very few titles in Englandolder than that of the Barony of Djar-el-Bniet and Bucana, and comparatively few older than that of Castel Cicciano”. What it fails to mention is that the few titles in England created prior to 1350 were created by formal charters at the time of creation by reigning sovereigns, whereas the “title” of Djar el-Bniet et Bucana was retroactively dated by a 19th century commission to a time when a nobility did not even exist.  

Another glaring misrepresentation is M&G’s assertion that the “Official recognition, however, during the time of the Grand Masters necessitated the registration of all titles at Government Cancelleria and at the Castellania of the High Courts. Fortunately, these registers were preserved and can still be referred to. Maltese Nobility consists of such holders of titles as arerecognised by His Majesty the King, no other title receiving official recognition. On March 8th 1877, a Commission was appointed to inquire into the claims of titles of Nobility in Malta, when the claims of twenty-eight Noblemen, some of them having more than one title were upheld. The oldest existing title goes back to 1350, and it is a feature of the Maltese Nobility that no title has been conferred since 1798, so that to-day the most recent title is 118 years old”.    It is clear that the “title” of  Djar el-Bniet et Bucana was never registered. The 1878 Report states that Marc’ Antonio Inguanez was styled a “Barone” (without indicating the location of the barony) in a legislation dated 1725 and that this, according to the Commissioners, was sufficient to determine that the Grand Masters had directly recognized the “title” of Djar il-Bniet and Bucana. That Marc’ AntonioInguanez had no issue of his own appears to have gone unnoticed by the Royal Commissioners who emphasized that in the case of “Djar el Bniet et Bucana” it was possession of that fief, not descent, which accorded nobility.   What M&G also omits to mention is that not all foreign titles allowed by the Commissioners were in fact registered. Indeed, the Report describes how the foreign titles of San Vincenzo Ferreri , CastelCicciano  and Wzzini  were never registered but were regarded, by the Commissioners, to have been directly recognized by the Grand Masters and therefore part of the nobility in Malta. M&G states that the dates of creation of “Marchese Cassar Desain” and “Marchese Testaferrata Olivier” along with the title of “Conte di Beberrua”  are 1749, 1745 and 1783 respectively. As explained elsewhere there is nothing to substantiate this except for the arguments and recommendations which we find in a separate report of an 1883 committee (not the 1878 Commission).  

The 19th century anachronisms are cringing. Indeed, it is a feature of the Maltese Nobility that some titles were created, made up, or otherwise resuscitated long after 1796 by sheer shallowness.   But the story gets better:- as at 1915 the cumulative result of the 1878 and 1883 reports bring together a grand total of 31 titles. However M&G states there were 32. Indeed, the Commissioners definitively upheld only 20 titles in their Report, 2 of which were held by the same individuals, and added another 1 in their supplemental Report; Another 1 was added by the Secretary of State. 4 titles were referred to litigation and another 1 had yet to be determined by production of evidence. These 27 titles were to be held by 25 individuals. It was only some 5 years later that another 4 titles were added to this list, making a total of 31. The title of “Marchese Testaferrata”  was not allowed either by the Commission, the Supplemental Report or the later 1883 additions.   So where did the number 32 come from?   Reading the list reported in M&G one finds the title of “Marquis Testaferrata” which as explained above was not “approved”. This mistake must have been pointed out by somebody, and at some point in time someone must have had the bright idea to do away altogether with Marquis Testaferrata and split “Djar il-Bniet and Buqana” into 2 titles thereby ‘retaining’ the number 32.   This begs the question whether the 31/32 number is in fact correct?  In fact, it is not for a number of reasons:-   First, what M&G also forgets to mention is that the Royal Commission’s sole purpose was to identify those titles which were granted or recognized by the Order during the period ending 1798 and not whether the British Monarch recognized them. In fact the Report is very clear on this issue: if anyone can prove his right to a title which legally existed in Malta during 1530-1798, then he is part of the Maltese Nobility organized under the Grand Masters that ruled Malta.   Secondly, the Commissioners never said that their findings were complete. On the contrary, the Commissioners did not hesitate to affirm that several other titles were at different times created, some of which had been determined by the death without issue of their holders, whilst others were granted to the applicants/grantees to hold to themselves alone. These casualties include the titles of “Conte dei Santi”, “Conte di Meimum”,  “Barone Gauci”, and the “Barone della Marsa”.   Third, the Commissioners admitted to the possibility of the existence of other titles, of which they had no notice.

The Commissioners justified themselves by saying that they were only called upon by their instructions to consider such claims as have been referred to them. One such title which was not claimed by anyone was that of “Barone di Frigenuini”, another being that of “Conte Fenech Bonnici”.   And finally it should be added that contrary to M&G’s implication that foreign titles which were not registered do not form part of the Maltese Nobility, it was stated by the Royal Commissioners themselvesthat the Despuig/Rohan Rules on the matter did not deny nobility to a Titolato who failed to duly register his title, but only assigned him no place insofar as precedence was concerned. This is in fact the fate suffered by the title of “Marchese Testaferrata”. The aforesaid title of “Baron of Ortigos” does not appear to have been considered at any point in time. But the most tragic loss befell the one title which is described in the 1878 Report as having been “directly recognised” many times over by the Grand Masters namely  that of “Hereditary Knight of the Holy Roman Empire”: According to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies the latter title fell short of the registration rule even though the Commissioners made it very clear that this title had been recognized. Other titles described elsewhere fall in this category.   What is the value of the 1878 Report? When the report was first published it was hailed as a thorough and exhausting study into titles of nobility. However, later discoveries have dented its value. For example, in 1901 the hallowed title of Marquis of San Vincenzo Ferreri which is feted by the Report (and M&G) as the first (foreign) marquisate known in Malta was declared by the Italians to have been granted by an inexistent fons honorum. And it remains undocumented to this day whether the title of “Count Manduca” granted in 1776 was ever in fact “directly recognized” by the Grand Masters on an independent legal basis because the 1878 Commissioners had already specifically excluded the value of a purported 1798 recognition of this title. Perhaps the biggest criticism is that the Report did not consider, on their own merits, the titles of “Most Illustrious” and “Noble” which were regulated by a special legislation of 1725.   Recent court judgments show that a private body such as the “Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility” is effectively free to call someone a baroness one day and spurn her the next even though she may have also managed that committee for a number of years. This proves that what matters is not that a private group “recognizes” its members as title holders, but whether its own members can prove their own claims to nobility on independent, legal and factual bases backed by cogent and forcible documents issued in an era which is long past. Without such bases the claim becomes totally indefensible, irrespective of whether such claim is upheld or denied by a mere private body.  

There is nothing new in having a conflict between private committees and claimants of titles:-In the 19thcentury the old committee of Maltese nobles originally failed to acknowledge Angiolino Attard Montalto as the barone di Benuarrat (title created 1737) even though the documents in his favour were impeccable. In contrast, the same committee insisted that Alessandro Sceberras D’Amico was the “barone della Marsa” but it later transpired that that title had in fact been long extinct. A curious omission from recent publications is the total omission of the 1737 succession of the first local title to have been created by the Grand Masters ; Conversely, recent publications attribute the title of ‘countess’ to various descendants of the 1745 title of Count of Catena when that title was left to be held by males only. There are other instances where transmissions to females is disallowed and also cases which even exclude males descending through females.   It is therefore understandable how a group of disgruntled Maltese nobles, and others, set up their own brand new private association in 1995 (__) called the “Association of Foreign Title holders in Malta” which appears to be emphasizing most of its own members’ rights to old Maltese nobility including the 1725 legislation. This is not the first “breakaway” group in the Maltese nobles’ history (and nor may it be the last) because past experience shows at least one other documented conflict between one group of Maltese nobles and another.   It is anticipated that more in-depth knowledge will do away with the myths that have plagued the Maltese Nobility since it was first abolished by Napoleon in 1798.