Reassessing the Maltese value of the foreign title of Patrician.

In the 19th century, a British-appointed Royal Commission to enquire into the claims of the Maltese Nobility concluded that the title of “Patrician of Rome” was a mere municipal concession and therefore not recognizable as an honour by the Grand Masters who ruled Malta during 1530 to 1798. This conclusion was acted upon by the British Government in the following years and thereafter no officialdom whatsoever was accorded to the old titles of “Patrician of Messina” (granted to the Testaferrata family in 1553, 1792), “Patrician of Rome” (Abela, Surdo and Testaferrata, in 1590) as well as the other titles of “Patrician of Venice” claimed by the Barbaro family, “Patrician of Messina” claimed by the family Stagno and that of “Patrician of Rome” claimed by the Ciantar Paleologo family. 

The aforesaid conclusion is false because Grand Master Pinto is counted as one of the Grand Masters who not only recognized, but even allowed the formal registration of the title of “Roman Patrician”. 

Such assent coming from a “fons honorum” who – as seen below – was very sparing in his powers to ennoble lends great support to the view that some of the conclusions of the Royal Commission may be wrong.

 Grand Master Pinto was born a Portuguese. He was admitted to the Order of Saint John within the langue of Castile. His reign lasted from 18 January 1741 to 23 January 1773). Pinto is often considered to be the first Grand Master to have formally asserted his position as a reigning prince; This is a surprising claim when one considers that in fact it was his predecessors Perellos and Despuig who first created titles of Maltese nobility (1710) and regulated precedence amongst them (1739).

 On record, Grand Master Pinto was very selective in creating new titles of nobility. Contrary to his predecessors he only granted one limited exception from the 1725 decree which outlawed the use of the title of “Illustrissimo” and “Nobile”, namely that of Most Illustrious in favour of his Secreto Ludovico Bianchi (25 October 1741).

 In regard to more elevated titles, Pinto in fact only created two titles, both comital, one of Bahria (1743)the other of Catena (1745). He once upheld a request to have granted anew the extinct title of Barone della Marsa (1753) but did not create any more titles.

 Pinto does not appear to have looked favourably on the new nobility. He allowed the registration of old, foreign nobility such as that enjoyed by the Wzzini Paleologo (1744) and Piscopo Macedonia (1744) families but it appears to have been hostile to the new comital concessionaires Fournier and Sant who having received their new nobility in 1770 only registered their titles two years after Pinto’s death, the only exception being the already ennobled family of Marquis De Piro (1743) and the Papal title of Count Fenech Bonnici (1750).

 Some 19th and 20th century publications contend that Pinto had created another two titles, namely “Marquis Testaferrata Olivier” in 1745 and “Marquis Cassar Desain” in 1749. However, this has been disproved as anachronistic. Undoubtedly Pinto did address many cadet members of the marchional branch of the Testaferrata family as Marchesi which gave rise to a number of claims in the 19th century, but there was no new grant in favour of these cadets. In regard to the baronial branch of the family the same publications assert that the title of Gomerino was succeeded from brother to brother in 1744; however this has been disproven by the documentation showing that the succession was in fact from mother to son in 1737, that is to say during Despuig’s not Pinto’s reign. Pinto also favoured the Inguanez family by reasserting their claim as Barons when he reappointed Marc’ Antonio Inguanez as Captain of the Rod (Maltese: Hakem).

 With hindsight Pinto must have been a terrible snob, who was accommodating to the old families of Inguanez, Testaferrata, Castelletti and De Piro but had little time for the new families who were only eventually first ennobled long after Pinto’s demise.

 The story goes back to the year 1744 when on the 26 June Don Salvatore Wzzini Paleologo, a professed knight of the Military Order of Saint James in Portugal, describing himself as a “Patrician of Rome” and “humble Servant and vassal”, applied in his own name as well as in his capacity as son of the Count Ignazio Francesco Wzzini Paleologo to Grand Master Pinto requesting that they be allowed to register a number of documents. The applicant explained that the documents concerned the reception of the son into the Military Order of Saint James and the father into the Order of (the House of) Avis in the Kingdom of Portugal. In addition there were also documents relative to the grant of Patrician of Rome with remainder to all, as well as another similar diploma issued in favour of his father in law the Count Ciantar with remainder to their descendants in infinity. The applicant expressed his concern that these documents may get misplaced if they were to remain unregistered in the Registry of the happy Kingdom. The applicant therefore requested the Grand Master to allow the registration of a copy of the documents in the Cancelleria, ordering that the originals be returned, also declaring that as these are not feudal titles that they not be subject to the “new tax introduced by Grand Master Despuig”. On the 4th July 1744 Grand Master Pinto ordered that the documents be registered.

 All this documentation may be found under Volume 548 of the Archives of the Order, at the National Library at Valletta, Malta. [It should be noted that some of the documents registered were in fact not originals but notarized copies]. 

The first document, in Italian, dated October 1735 and issued from the Roman records fol. 408, attests how the Count Ignazio Francesco Wzzini, described as a noble patrician of Malta, as well as his son the Count Paul and the Knight Ignazio Salvatore as well as the Countess Maria Theodora Josepha wife of the Count Gio Antonio Ciantar legitimate descendants of the most august and antique family of Paleologo prove descent from John Paleologo better described in the book “Le Glorie cadute dell’ antichissima e augustissima famiglia Comneno”, page 106, from whom George Paleologo, in turn Maria Catarina Stafraggi Paleologo, in turn Pietro Wzzini Paleologo, in turn Paolo Wzzini Paleologo who was in turn father of the said Count Ignazio Francesco Wzzini Paleologo all with documented descent from the most august Paleologo family of Comneno Angelo Lascaris and Duca, of the Emperors of the East, were all honoured by the Roman People with the nobility and patricianship of Rome, with remainder to their descendants. (The full text is reproduced below). 

The second set of documents, in Portuguese, dated 12 August 1735  and issued by the King of Portugal in favour of Don Salvatore Giacinto Wzzini admitting him into the Order of Santiago. (The full text is reproduced below). 

The third set of documents, in Portuguese, dated 11 September 1738, and issued by the King of Portugal in favour of the Count Ignazio Francesco Wzzini Paleologo, a Patrician of Rome, relating to the Order of Saint Benedict of Avis. (The full text is reproduced below).

 Of all these titles, only one was accepted by the British-appointed Royal Commission, namely that “title of Conte enjoyed by the family Wzzini” which the Commissioners dated to 1722. There is no indication in the 19th century Commissioners’ Report that the title of “Count” enjoyed in the 18th century by the in-law Gio Antonio Ciantar was regarded favourably by the Commissioners. Moreover the same Commissioners dismissed any claim to the Wzzini title of Patrician of Rome immediately after dismissing the Testaferrata patricianships as mere municipal concessions, not derived from the Crown as the fountain of all honours, because in the Commissioners’ opinion they held that there was “no proof or document whatsoever” concerning the Wzzini grant.

 One can reach his own conclusions whether the 19th century Commissioners had ulterior motivations in dismissing a title of Patrician registered in the 18th century, which is a far cry from the Commissioners’ very own statement (para. 102) that “We cannot, in fact, suppose that the Grand Masters were disposed to recognize, without any investigation, and as a matter independently of their own sovereign assent and approbation, as Titolati in their own dominion, any persons indiscriminately who should have obtained a title of nobility from any foreign sovereign. We do not mean to imply that in the absence of registration, a direct recognition by the Grand Masters would have no effect, on the contrary, as the registration of the patent (considering the way in which it was made, and adverting to the principles or law on the subject) was intended to express the decision of the sovereign to recognize the title, we are of opinion that an acknowledgment of a foreign title, made directly by a Grand Master, must be taken to be, in its effects, equivalent to the said registration.”

 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.”