Title of Baron of Grua
The title Barone della Grua is a title of Nobility in Malta. It was granted in 1794 by the penultimate Grandmaster of the Order of Saint John during its rule over the Maltese Islands. Succession to this title is according to the general rule of Primogeniture but in this case the rule is varied as the title may only be held by males.
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 della Grua was conferred by Grand Master Rohan on the 30th December 1794 upon the Magnifico Saverio Carbott Testaferrata, and his first-born sons and descendants, under the rule of primogeniture (de primogenitor in primogenito). The following is an extract form the patent of creation: ‘Tibi tuisque filiis et descendentibus masculis de primogenito in primogenitum tribuimus et concedimus et te hujusmodi Baronis titulo decoramus’.
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 Grua.
Some publications show Giovanna Carbott Montalto, wife of Giuseppe Delicata, as having succeeded this title as “4th Baroness”. This lady is neither counted nor included here because the creation in favour of Saverio Carbott does not comprehend any remainder in favour of females.
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). However, in regard to the title of Barone della Grua succession is not by regular primogeniture but “masculis de primogenito in primogenitum”.
PRECEDENCE ENJOYED BY THE HOLDER OF THE TITLE OF BARONE DELLA GRUA
In terms of the general 1739 legislation it follows that in 1794 all of Saverio Carbott Testaferrata’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 della Gruaand his agnate descendants were to rank before the holder of any title created after 1794 and respective descendants. Therefore, it follows that the Barone della Grua ranks before the Marchese di Ghajn Kajet (1796) even though all the latter title purports a higher rank. The same position holds in regard to the respective male-to-male descendants. Conversely, the Barone della Grua ranks after the older creations (mostly barons) and the holders of noble fiefs.
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 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, Nicola Maria Delicata is listed with the title of “Barone della Grua”. This listing is at variance with that published in 1870 by the Marchese Giorgio Crispo Barbaro in his “Maltese Nobility and the Maltese Gentry holding Foreign Titles” which does not include any reference to the title of Barone della Grua, implying that it was extinct.
COMMISSIONERS’ INITIAL DIFFICULTY WITH CLAIM OF NICOLA MARIA DELICATA, A MALE DESCENDING IN THE FEMALE LINE FROM SAVERIO CARBOTT TESTAFERRATA
Delicata explained that he descended lineally from the original grantee Saverio Carbott. In fact the Barone Saverio Carbott, left on his death his son Giuseppe, on whose decease the title devolved upon Saverio Carbott, who had no male issue, but only a daughter Giovanna, wife of Dr. Giuseppe Delicata, of whom Nicola Maria Delicata was born.
However, the Commissioners felt that the instructions of the British Secretary of State for the Colonies did not require them to determine the question whether a grant made to the male issue of a person is to be taken to extend to the sons of female descendants.
For this reason only, Delicata’s name did not feature on the list of title holders approved by the Commissioners.
COMMISSIONERS’ SUPPLEMENTAL REPORT CONFIRMING SUCCESSION IN FAVOUR OF DELICATA
Upon receiving these news, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies asked the Commissioners to look into this matter. The Commissioners then proceeded to make a Supplemental Report.
The Commissioners succinctly described the question as whether the son of a female descendant is called to the succession of a title originally conferred on one of his ancestors and his male descendants, from firstborn to firstborn, or, on the contrary, the title is determined by the extinction of the grantee’s male line.
The Commissioners explained that in the present case, the order of succession settled in the charter granting the title in question includes generally the grantee’s male descendants, and therefore taking the law relative to the transmission of lands (primogeniture) to be applicable to the transmission of titles, that charter comprehends the claimant who is descended from the grantee through a female line.
In arriving at this conclusion, the Commissioners took a settled point of jurisprudence that the appellation of male descendants includes not only the sons issuing from the male line (masculi ex masculis), but also those issuing from the female line (masculi ex foeminis).
They also explained that the exception to this rule occurs when some other expression occurs in the deed of grant which controls the meaning of that term, as for instance when the grantor limits his grant to such among his male descendants as should belong to the male line (descendentes masculi ex linea masculina), or when he employs other words which clearly show that he contemplated the grantee’s agnatio.
The Commissioners explained that the effect of a disposition restricting to the male line, meant that on the failure of males issuing from that line the grant becomes extinct because the male issue of daughters are not called into succession.
In the present case, the diploma creating the title of Barone della Grua provided Tibi tuisque filiis et descendentibus masculis de primogenito in primogenitum tribuimus et concedimus et te hujusmodi Baronis titulo decoramus. The Commissioners therefore found no reason to deny the grantee’s primogenial descendant, albeit descended in the female line.
Nicola Maria Delicata was a male descending in the female line. Some publications show Nicola as having succeeded his mother (i.e. a female) in this title. However, this view does not find any basis in the Commissioners’ findings. In fact neither the original Report nor the Supplemental Report implies that a female is entitled to succeed the title of Barone della Grua as granted in 1794. The diploma creating the title only provides for a remainder in favour of Carbott Testaferrata’s descendentibus masculis. The same Commissioners had already pointed out in their findings on the 1775 creation of “Barone della Marsa” that where only males are contemplated by the grant one cannot extend these terms to include females.
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 Senia granted by Grand Master Rohan to Vincenzo Fontani on the 6 June 1795 and after the title of Marchese di Gnien Is-Sultan granted by the same Grand Master to Filippo Apap on the 1 December 1792.
The limited use of the title “The Most Illustrious and Noble” was first regulated in Malta in 1725 and was extended by the Grand Masters to only some families, not necessarily titled-families. However, this title 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 style “The Most Noble” on the premise that all title holders were entitled to the title. Thus, as from the year 1886, the holder of the title of Barone della Grua became entitled to be styled “The Most Noble”.
The British Colonial administration also allowed presumed successors of titles of nobility, the diminutive style of their respective titles, in this case Baroncino della Grua. 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 della Grua. Again, the Colonial administration did not allow any legal right to the use of this style.
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).
1. Grant of title of Barone della Grua by Grand Master Rohan to Saverio Carbott Testaferrata on the 30 December 1794. (Recorded in the Archives of the Order, National Library, Malta Ref. AOM 617, ff. 135r)