Maltese Noble Families living and Extinct as at 1725.


The year 1725 is an important year for the history of Maltese history because here we find the Grand Masters making a deliberate attempt to regularize the old Noble families.


In 1647, the number of noble families living and extinct stood at 121. However, as seen in the above document by 1725 the number of families was 135. The difference seems to be made up of those families (e.g. Portella, Ferriol, Sans, Barbara and others) who were not listed as notable families in the earlier publication but were nonetheless referred to as forming part of the 200 good men who had accompanied General Roger Loria.


It appears that until 1725 each one of these families were styled “Nobili” or at least enjoyed the status of noblemen, but by that year the granting of this style in public acts had been so abused that of that Grand Master Vilhena criminalized it. The Grand Masters first legislated on matters relating to the Maltese Nobility as a general body only as late as 16 September 1739 (Grand Master Despuig).


On the other hand by that same year, the Grand Masters had created two titles of their own (Barone Testaferrata di Gomerino in 1710 and Barone De Piro di Budack in 1716.) Moreover another two titles had been acquired by two Maltese (Conte Preziosi in 1718 in the Kingdom of Savoy, registered in Malta in 1720, and Conte Piscopo di Mont’ Alto in 1720 in the Duchy of Parma, registered in Malta in 1721). Of these four families, only Testaferrata and Piscopo feature in the 1647 and 1725 lists.


It appears that, by implication, not much value was given to either the Grand Masters’ creations of nobility, or to the new titles obtained by Maltese outside their sovereign’s jurisdiction.


This is particularly significant in the case of the title of Conte Preziosi. The Duke of Savoy was for a time at least in theory the overall sovereign of Malta by virtue of his being the king of Sicily between 1713 and 1720. Moreover the Grand Master himself acknowledged Savoy as his overlord in 1714. This consideration destroys any argument that the Grand Masters were ruling as sovereigns of Malta, at least as long as Savoy was the overlord.


The title of Conte Preziosi appears to have been conferred on Giuseppe Preziosi by Victor-Amadeus, King of Sicily, Duke of Savoy &c, and Perpetual Vicar of the Empire, by a patent given at Rivoli on the 19th October 1718.’oro/preziosi.html


It follows that Preziosi and the Grand Master enjoyed their titles from the same fons honorum and there would have been no need for Preziosi to submit his grant to the scrutiny of the Grand Master.


However on the 17th February 1720, the Treaty of the Hague was concluded whereby Savoy ceded the kingdom of Sicily for Sardinia. The treaty was made two years after hostilities commenced regarding Sicily.


According to a 19th century Royal Commission appointed to enquire into the claims of the Maltese Nobility, the title of Conte Preziosi was categorized as a foreign title. That is to say the commission classified this title as one which would have been subjected to the Grand Master’s scrutiny. The Royal Commissioners might have done so in the light of the fact that Preziosi took the intiative to have his grant registered in a record of the Cancelleria, in consequence of a rescript of the Grand Master, bearing date the 20th June 1720.


Perhaps Preziosi was concerned that the effect of the Treaty could have voided his title. Had the title been a Sicilian title (as later concluded by the same Commission) the successor King of Sicily and his subjects, would have been bound to recognize the title and the registration was unnecessary. On the other hand had the title been regarded as a Savoian title, then it would have required the scrutiny of the Grand Master.


This consideration becomes relevant to the debate to establish the true origin of the title of Conte Preziosi and the implications of the outcome of such debate. In its supplemental Report, the Commissioners concluded that the title was not made under the laws of Savoy but under the law respecting the titles of the Sicilian nobility, “and that it is consequently descendible to the firstborn son only, according to the order of succession prescribed by the jus feudale francorum.  This ruling could devastate the claim of the many Preziosi male descendants who would otherwise benefit from the 1718 grant under the Savoian rules of succession jus feudale longobardum. 


Moreover, the application of the jus feudale francorum might be taken to destroy the meaning of the remainder of the 1718 grant “to hold to the grantee and his legitimate and natural male descendants, in lawful wedlock begotten, whether born or to be born”.


If the title was Sicilian in origin, Preziosi would not have needed to register the title because it would have been part of a superior, category of titles of Nobility in Malta. On the other hand, had it been Savoian in origin, then after the Treaty of the Hague there would have been a need to submit its use to the sanction of the Grand Master.


The fact that Preziosi did have it registered almost immediately after the Treaty gives greater credibility to the view that the title of Conte Preziosi is a Savoian not a Sicilian title.


This takes us back to the 1725 book which does not list Preziosi as a noble family of Malta. The exclusion of Preziosi form such a list should be taken to favour the Savoian argument. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the fact that the recently ennobled De Piro family is also excluded from the 1725 list. The exclusion of the De Piro family may be reconciled with the argument that the original Maltese Nobility, like the Grand Master, claimed their privileges directly from the King of Sicily. It follows that the author of the 1725 publication was correct to exclude De Piro from the list of Maltese noble families as this barony was only the creation of one of the Sovereign’s subjects. Likewise it follows that the author of the 1725 publication was correct to exclude Preziosi from the list of Maltese noble families as this comital title was not derived from the King of Sicily but from a foreign monarch. The titles obtained differently by Testaferrata and Piscopo in 1710 and 1720 respectively do not appear to affect these two families’ original status as noble families of Malta and therefore the author of the 1725 list was correct to include them.