Title of Baron of Benuarrat (a.k.a “Benwarrad”)
The title Barone di Benuarrat is a title of Nobility in Malta. It was granted in 1737 by a Grandmaster of the Order of Saint John during its rule over the Maltese Islands. The remainder of this title contains a power to nominate a successor. “Benuarrat” is also spelt “Benwarrad”.
Since 1975, a general duty is imposed in the Republic of Malta not to recognize any title of nobility.
ORIGIN AND NATURE OF TITLE
The title of Barone di Benuarrat was conferred by patent on the 18th August 1737, by Grand Master Despuig to the nobleman Saverio Gatto, and to such of his sons or daughters in perpetuum as should be named by the holder of the title, and in default of nomination, to the first-born male descendent, and in the failure of male issue to the first-born daughter. The terms of the patent of creation being similar to those in the charter of the "Barone di San Marciano" No land was attached to this title of nobility. The title was merely honorific and did not give rise to any right of possession of the land called Benuarrat.
After Saverio died, his eldest daughter Paola wife of Emmanuele Muscati was invested by Grand Master Rohan on the 20 February 1783.
PRECEDENCE ENJOYED BY THE HOLDER OF THE TITLE OF BARONE DI BENUARRAT
In terms of the general 1739 legislation it follows that in 1737 all of Saverio Gatto’s male-to-male descendants (“Il discendente per linea mascolina”) were made automatically entitled to a precedence.
By virtue of the later general legislation of 1795 the Barone di Benuarrat and his agnate descendants were to rank before the holder of any title created after 18 August 1737 and respective agnates.
Therefore, it follows that the Barone di Benuarrat ranks before all the Counts and Marquises which were created by the Grand Masters after 1737 even though all the latter titles purport a higher rank. The same position holds in regard to the respective agnates. Conversely, the Barone di Benuarrat ranks after the older barons and the holders of noble fiefs.
Grand Master Rohan is also credited with codifying various laws in Malta. Amongst these, we find in the Code enacted in 1783 which states that the determining criteria of primogeniture in Malta operate in the following order:- Line (the first line excluding all the others), Degree (the closer degree of relationship excluding the remoter) Sex (the male sex being preferred to the female), and Age (the elder being preferred to the younger).
THE ROYAL COMMISSION APPOINTED TO ENQUIRE INTO THE CLAIMS OF THE MALTESE NOBILITY
After the Capitulation of the Order of Saint John the new French Rulers formally abolished all titles of nobility. A total of 3 general orders were made to this effect. The French in turn lost Malta in 1800 when the Commander in Chief Vaubois surrendered to His Britannic Majesty. On the 30 May 1814 (Treaty of Paris) it was stipulated that the island of Malta and its dependencies belong in full right and sovereignty to his Britannic majesty.
In time, the use of nobiliary titles was resumed. However, it appears that the unregulated and improper use of titles of nobility and other honours was tolerated by the local authorities who were themselves found to be at fault for encouraging such improper use. Throughout this period, a group known as the Assembly of Maltese Nobles is known to have functioned at this time but it did not enjoy any official role.
In 1870 the Marchese Giorgio Crispo Barbaro published a compendium of the “Maltese Nobility and the Maltese Gentry holding Foreign Titles”. In that publication Giorgio Crispo Barbaro makes no reference to the title of “Barone di Benuarrat”.
COMMITTEE OF NOBLES’ OMISSION TO INCLUDE ANGIOLINO ATTARD MONTALTO AND HIS CLAIM TO THE TITLES OF BARONE DI BENUARRAT AND BARONE DI SAN PAOLINO
In 1876, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies commissioned a report on those titles alleged to have been conferred to Maltese families before the annexation of Malta to the British Dominions, namely 1800. The Commissioners’ Report and Supplemental Report were published in 1878 together with relative correspondence.
To facilitate the preparation of the report, an “ad hoc” Committee of Nobles was requested to provide a list of claimants. In that list, there is no mention whatsoever of the title “Barone di Benuarrat”. In fact the Commissioners’ Report states that a claim was made only in the course of the enquiry. It is not reported why the claimant was left out.
SUCCESSFUL CLAIM OF ANGIOLINO ATTARD MONTALTO TO THE TITLE OF BARONE DI BENUARRAT
The Commissioner’s described the claimant as Angiolino Attard, who descends from the first titled person, although through a female line, as appears from documents produced by him; and he is the first-born descendent in the primogenial line from the grantee.
The Commissioners explained that because in terms of the 1737 grant, females are also qualified to enjoy the title in subsidium, they had no hesitation to include Angiolino Attard (-Montalto) as ‘Barone di Benuarrat’. Unlike the titles of Barone della Grua and Conte della Catena, females may come to hold the title originally granted to Saverio Gatto.
The Royal Commission did not make any specific pronouncements or conclusions about the validity of certain 19th century nominations claimed before them but did make a general observation that private transactions cannot have the effect of explaining, construing or extending a title of nobility, and that the power can only proceed from the Crown. This view was shared by the British administration which ruled that no public officer, not even a Secretary of State, had the power of conferring titles of honour, for which the personal sanction of the sovereign in each case is necessary; and even assuming such acts to have been done by British officials with full knowledge that the titles were non-existent, their want of power would prevent these acts of supposed recognition from having the slightest effect.
Angiolino Attard’s claim was however later challenged by a relative of his. This claim was however dismissed because the Court found that once there was no nomination, the title was succeeded by the primogenial descendant. In that case, the court worked out the descent from the original grantee and concluded that Angiolino Attard was indeed the primogenial descendant of Saverio Gatto.
For the purposes of precedence amongst the Nobility in Malta, this title ranks according to antiquity of creation. According to the 1878 Report, this title was considered before the title of Conte della Bahria granted by Grand Master Pinto to Don Ignazio Muscati Falsone Navarra on the 16 May 1743, and after the title of Barone della Culeja granted by Grand Master Despuig to Ignazio Bonnici on the 2 June 1737.
As from the year 1886, the holder of this title of Nobility became entitled to be styled “The Most Noble”. In fact Saverio’s descendants were already entitled to the title of “The Most Illustrious and Noble” by reason of a decree dated 23 August 1737 made in favour of Saverio, his wife and descendants. This title was extended to the Grand Masters to only some families, not necessarily titled-families. It was considered unacceptable to the British authorities who opined it could only be borne by Princes of the blood Royal. A compromise was reached allowing the introduction of the new style on the premise that all title holders were entitled to the title.
The British Colonial administration also allowed presumed successors of titles of nobility, the diminutive style of their respective titles, in this case Baroncino di Benuarrat. But the Colonial administration did not allow any legal right to the use of these styles.
Other descendants of the various holders of this title are by custom entitled to be styled dei Baroni di Benuarrat. Again, the Colonial administration did not allow any legal right to the use of these styles.
Since 1975, a general duty is imposed in the Republic of Malta not to recognize any title of nobility. (Act 29 of 1975 dated 17 October 1975).
PRIMARY REFERENCES (GRANT/S):
1. Grant of title of Barone di Benuarrat granted by Grand Master Despuig, to Saverio Gatto on the 18 August 1737. (Recorded in the Archives of the Order, National Library, Malta Ref. AOM 541, ff, 191r-191v)
2. Investiture by Grand Master Rohan on the 20 February 1783 of the title of Barone di Benuarrat originally granted to Saverio Gatto in 1737 in favour of Emmanuele Muscati on behalf of his wife Paola (Recorded in the Archives of the Order, National Library, Malta Ref.1194, ff. 49r-50r, 52r-57r)