Verifying the authenticity of claims.
In this article we consider what some nobiliary groups have been publishing in regard to the history of Maltese titles of nobility. For this purpose, we were fortunate to have stumbled across a website that fits the bill, namely that of the group known as “Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility”. A copy of the relative page headed “Some information on the Maltese Nobility” is shown below:-
What we’re going to do is consider the information published and see whether the claims are authentic. Readers can follow maltagenealogy.com’s commentary which is in square brackets [ ] .
The Maltese Nobility
Some Information on Maltese Nobility
Since the days of the granting of a flag by Count Roger the Norman, since the hierarchical feudal system began to function here within European Christendom, since the establishment of a great cathedral at Mdina, so long has the Maltese nobility formed an intrinsic part of Maltese society.
[MG.com: – There is no conclusive document which proves that there was an organized nobility in Malta during the late mediaeval period. There were prominent/’noble’ families but no organized nobility].
Its members have occupied stations of trust since the early days of its inception, and all the way down the paths of time into the twentieth century.
[MG.com: -This may be true, but not necessarily by reason of birthright]
Francesco Gatto, Baron of Djar il-Bniet, Hemsija and Buqana and lord of various other fiefdoms on the island
[MG.com: – There is no proof whatsoever that Francesco Gatto was a baron, or even claimed to be so ]
, at the time of writing his will in 1350 was Governor of Malta. Among his royally granted privileges was the right to place his coat of arms beside the sovereign’s on the Mdina gate
[MG.com: – In fact Francesco Gatto was never granted any such right: it was Antonio Inguanez who was granted the right in 1448 to have placed his shield on the Inner side of the Main Gate at Mdina, beneath the Royal arms, to commemorate Antonio’s having reduced the islands of Malta and Gozo 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].
The de Nava family virtually ruled in the east and their Castello a Mare, which is now known as Fort St Angelo, was their great castle.
[MG.com: – The connection between the present Maltese and the De Nava family is debatable. Alvaro de Nava and his family held the office of Castellano since the mid 15th century but he emigrated after surrendering his office to the new government on the 22 June 1530.]
The Order of St John received help from the native nobility in the administration of the Maltese Islands.
[MG.com: – Montalto in his “Nobles of Malta” details the magistral and municipal appointments held by certain families (page 101-131), showing how the relationship was built gradually].
The momentous battle of 1565 which we call the Great Siege, only took place some 30 years after the arrival of the Order, and there is little doubt that the Knights needed to call on all the influence and encouragement which the local nobility could muster for the momentous encounter which would establish the future course of Malta’s history.
[MG.com: – There does not seem to be any evidence of noteworthy involvement of the native leading families during the 17th and 18thcenturies. Montalto (page 307) notes the following:- “No local titles were conferred, and no fiefs were given, in recognition of the services rendered during the Siege……..The nobility in the seventeenth century had hardly any connection with either the defence of the Island, or the military establishments of the Order. There were several reasons for this. Virtually every titled person exempted himself from guard duty, militia service, or supplying horses, either by becoming a cleric of the Bishop, or obtaining a Patent from the Inquisitor, both of which carried the privilege of military immunity.” On the other hand there is some secondary evidence in Cassar Desain’s “Genealogia della famiglia Testaferrata” (page 61) claims that the Sovereign bestowed upon Pietro Viani the right to bear arms canted for his valiant resistance of the Turkish invaders, namely a decapitated head. One of Viani’s descendants was formally ennobled – twice – in the 18th century.]
As the years progressed, the Knights enhanced a number of nobility by creating new titles and re-granting extinct fiefs
[MG.com: – The Grand Masters granted many fiefs. However the first title, not fief, to have been created by the Grand Masters was 1710. Of the land tenures (fiefs) originating prior to the Order’s arrival in 1530, it appears that only one has been consistently regarded as a barony and this from around the late 17th century onwards. Another fief which originated after 1530 also came to be regarded as a barony]
All titles were officially registered in their Castellania
[MG.com: – A number of titles were not registered, All locally created titles, and successions, are found in the archives of the Order. After 1739, foreign titles could only enjoy a precedence if they were registered and taxed, the 19th century Royal Commissioners changed the criteria for foreign titles by allowing direct recognition. It appears that as recently 1986 the Committee of Privileges changed the criteria of a foreign title, as results from publications dated 1986 and 1992 .]
Sometimes, perhaps as a compliment to foreign monarchs they would also recognise a small number of titles granted to locals since the arrival of their sovereign Order in Malta, by other Christian princes
[MG.com: – According to a 19th century Commission, the procedure after 1739 was very simple: Pay 116 Scudi and the title gets registered. – In the throes of foreign-state military fund-raising some Maltese earned their “nobility” by doing exactly that. On the other hand the published Report shows how some titles which were directly recognized by the Grand Masters were not accepted by the British Secretary of State].
The Maltese nobility served the order well. They were given office in towns and villages as jurats, Captains of the Rod, segreti – the administrative of magisterial property – and offices within the military and self-administering commune known as the Universita.
[MG.com: – Montalto details the magistral and municipal appointments held by certain families (page 101-131), showing how the relationship was built gradually].
Napoleon, to his peril, rode roughshod over the ancient traditions of the Maltese people. He ransacked the churches and abolished the Maltese aristocracy who were ordered to burn their nobiliary grants in public. When the people rose against the French, the elected four leaders to direct them, and three of these were members of the native nobility .
[MG.com: – The reference here is to the Count Salvatore Manduca, the Count Ferdinando Teuma Castelletti and the Marquis Vincenzo Depiro who were elected to represent the people in the insurgency of September 1798. On the other hand, Montalto (page 356) notes the following; “General Vaubois, now blockaded in Malta, enacted one of the original ‘promulgations’ of Bonaparte. He set up a personal guard, selecting mostly sons of Maltese families. These bodyguards used to surround Vaubois with their unsheathed swords whenever e emerged from the Palace. Among them were three Testaferratas, the son of the ex-Marquis Apap, and three sons of the ex-Barons Galea, Carbott and Gauci. The selection of these Francophiles was done with the utmost discretion.” In addition we see how the ex-Count Romualdo Barbaro and ex-Baron Gregorio Bonnici were given municipal appointments by the French occupiers]
While Lord Nelson was invited to blockade the island at sea, the Maltese, in their thousands, lost their lives on their glorious path to victory.
[MG.com: – ???!]
The History of the Committee of Provileges
Under British protection, every assurance was given that the rights and privileges would be sustained. The Nobility of Malta was recognised after a Royal Commission established the legitimacy of each individual claim.
[MG.com: -In fact the Commission’s Report specifically considers 19 grants by the Grand Masters, of which 3 were found to be extinct, the remaining noble fiefs (2), foreign titles (14) and distinctions (10) considered by the Commissioners, have their own origins and are likewise amply described in the report. All were subjected to an investigation whether such noble fiefs, foreign titles and distinctions were duly registered, or at least directly recognized by the Grand Masters. – Not all were found to satisfy this criterion. Whilst both noble fiefs were allowed, 1 foreign title was declared extinct whilst 4 foreign titles and 8 distinctions were found to be ineligible; the remaining 2 distinctions were dismissed altogether by the Secretary of State for the colonies. Of the remaining 9 foreign titles, 1 was decided directly by the Secretary of State and 1 remained yet to be substantiated. Thus by the time the final Report was published the list of approved claimable titles approved by the Commissioners and the Secretary of State numbered 16 Magistral titles + 2 fiefs + 8 foreign titles + 1 to be substantiated, or a maximum of 27 eligible titles, of which 4 were disputed by more than one claimant, New data shows beyond doubt that during the Government of the Order (1530-1798), there were many more titles than the 45 titles presented to the 19th century Commission].
In order to protect the claims of further generations, a Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility was created with functions analogous to those of the Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom
[MG.com: -In fact some of the unsuccessful claimants asked for the Commissioners’ conclusions to be reconsidered by a different body resulting in the appointment of a special ad hoc committee in 1883, composed of “titolati”. This resulted in adding another 4 titles. However, at least one of those 4 claimed that his title of Marquis was not derived from the Knights’ period but directly from the British Sovereign. There is historic precedent of Commissions appointed by the Grand Master but these were not composed of “titolati”.
After the death of a Maltese titleholder a claim, and sometimes more than one, is made to the Committee of Privileges which, with the confirmation of learned advice at its disposal, decides on the soundness or invalidity of an appellant’s case.
After Independence in 1964, the autonomous Maltese government showed every courtesy to the old nobility whose history was honourably tied to the identity of the people.
The Republic feeling that there might be monarchial links with a nobility, decided in 1975 not to abolish the nobility, but to cease to recognise its de facto existence.
The traditions are now borne by the democratically elected Committee of Privileges. Every year for 105 years the General Assembly of the Nobility has been electing 7 titleholders to sit on this historical committee. Precedents among the titleholders is regulated by the antiquity of the title and not by its degree.
[MG.com: – The relatively older Maltese Assembly of the Maltese Nobility had nothing to do with British-sponsored Committee of Privileges and was on at leas one documented incident diametrically opposed to the new Committee. Precedence was regulated according to a law enacted by Grand Master Rohan which amended an earlier one by Grand Master Despuig, see A 19th century attempt by the new nobility to change this rule was successfully resisted by the old nobility ].
The oldest titles are almost predictably barons. Malta’s nobility consists of the titles of baron, count, and marquis.
[MG.com: – In fact the first title of baron to have been created locally was that of Gomerino in 1710, the first local title of count was that of Bahria in 1743, and that of Marquis was that of Sciorp il-Hagin in 1776 (extinct). Other titles of Patrician and Hereditary Knight definitely featured of Malta’s nobility under the Knights, but were not accepted by the subsequent British Government. The Maltese titles of “Noble” and Most Illustrious” first regulated in 1725 were never presented to the British Authorities for consideration, see
A titleholder and his wife are styled “The Most Noble”.
[MG.com: – In fact, this entitlement is regulated according to a law enacted in 1725 by Grand Master Vilhena and only some families, not necessarily titled-families, are entitled to it: a slip of British diplomacy in 1886 rendered the position quite nebulous].
The children and brothers and sisters of a titleholder are styled by courtesy “The Noble”.
[MG.com: – There is in effect a real distinction between those properly entitled under the 1725 legislation to the titles of “Most Illustrious” and “Noble” and those who can only claim the courtesy “The Noble” by reason of the parent ‘succeeding’ a title upheld by the British Colonial Government).
The heir to a title is Baroncino or Baronessina; Contino or Contessina; Marchesino or Marchesina
The wife of the heir to a barony would, of course be entitled to the courtesy title of “The Noble Baronessina” and so on. Those qualifying to “The Noble” will sometimes add, “dei Baroni” or “dei Conti” or “dei Marchesi” as a prefix to their surnames or to the names of their family’s fiefdom.
[MG.com: “Fiefdom” is misleading because the Report made it clear that as a rule, the titles described by the Commissioners were merely honorific, that is to say without and requirement of property tenure. The British Secretary of State also observed that these titles of honour were descendible by the rule of primogeniture. The requisite of wealth and security of status which is implied in the Despuig and Rohan rules, appears to have prompted some of the grantees/their descendants to set up or modify separate, individual entails known as fideicommissae or Primogenituri so that such entails, usually consisting of valuable buildings and large tracts of lucrative land, work in tandem with the succession of these otherwise, merely-honorific titles. The exception to this rule is found in the case of the fiefs described by the Commission where primary emphasis is shifted to property tenure and descent is secondary.]
Some of the names are magnificent and the tradition that created them can be looked at as a sheer delight of Maltese European gentility .