More of the same old.

(More documentation relative to the 19th century claims to the 1717 title of Marchese Testaferrata)

“The Document was provide by Vincent Ellul, a Researcher, from the National Archives of Malta -Ref: NAM CSG02 3473/1886/87”.


In the Minutes of the British Colonial Government of Malta (Ref: 3473) we find the administrative process of a letter by Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonici Asciack through his lawyer G. Pullicino dated 17th January 1886 to the Governor of Malta (Sir John Lintorn Arabin Simmons).


In that letter (which should read 1887) Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonici Asciack broke the news that by a judgment of the Court of Appeal of the 8th January “it was definitively ruled that he is the rightful holder of the title of Marchese conferred by Victor Amadeus King of Sicily and Duke of Savoy, on the 13th July 1717, upon Mario Testaferrata, Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri and his descendants successively, and that no other person may make a claim to that title”. Emmanuele went on to request that he be acknowledged “as the present lawful holder of that title and exempted from any formality incidental to such recognition and that he may henceforth be styled in all public acts ‘Emmanuele Marchese Testaferrata Bonici Asciack, Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri’”.


The judgment referred to in the letter is in fact that dated 8 January 1887, not 1886.


Some 2 weeks later on the 27 January 1887, the clerk was sufficiently impressed by the judgment of the court of appeal to recommend that “the usual letter” be issued “to the effect that His Excellency has been pleased to recognize petitioner as holder of that title”. The clerk must have been troubled by something because immediately afterwards added a note that “No appeal was entered from the first judgment and the term of the appeal has elapsed”. Whatever prompted him to write that there was no appeal from an appeal may never be known.


The clerk then added another recommendation to write the usual letter.


However matters soon came to a standstill and on the 2nd February all processing stopped. The reason is found in this note “I beg to submit, on reconsideration, that as the S(Secretary) of S (State), in his dispatch of the 30 April 78, No. 23, has not included, in the list of the Titolati, the title of Marchese referred to in these papers, I think it would be advisable to submit the case to the S of S”.


Perhaps it is fortunate that the matter stopped there because the clerk appears to have misunderstood the judgment. He might be forgiven, because after all the court had written its decision in the Italian language. 


The judgment translates as follows:

Court of Appeal of Her Majesty for the Island of Malta and its dependencies.

Civil Hall

Judges . Lorenzo Xuereb

Dr. Paolo Vella

Dr. Luigi Ganado


Saturday 8 January 1887.


Case of:

Marquis Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonnici Axiak


Marquis Gio Paolo Testaferrata Olivier and Marquis Lorenzo Cassar Desain and today because of the death of the said Marquis Lorenzo Cassar Desain, the present proceedings, by decree of the May 1886, were transmitted in the person of the Noble Filippo Giacomo Cassar Desain, a minor, represented by his curator Marquis Saverio De Piro.


The Court,


Having seen the libel of the plaintiff filed in the First Hall of the Civil Court of Her Majesty  by virtue of which he demanded that it be declared: first that the title of Marquis granted by Vittorio Amaedo, King of Sicily and Duke of Savoy, by diploma datred 13 July 1717, is one ‘ex pacto et providentia’, second that that title is considered to be his, as primogenital descendant of the actual line of the grantee; third that the defendants be prohibited from using the title, whether before a court or outside a court,


Having seen at fol. 6 the Diploma of Vittorio Amadeo, worded in the following terms: “The consideration that we have of the remarkable qualities that we came across in the person of our beloved vassal D. Mario Testaferrata, a Maltese, Knight of the Holy Roman Empire, has benignly caused us to sow the effects of our munificence, and to give him an argument of the distinction with which we hold him, and therefore grant to him the title of Marquis of which he has shown himself very worthy, not only for the singular zeal that he has shown for service to us, but also because of his Nobility. Therefore it is in virtue of this present act signed by us, in our certain knowledge, Regal authority and absolute power, and with the advice of our Council, that we grant unto the said D. Mario Testaferrata, and to al his descendants, legitimate and natural successively the title of Marquis”.


Having seen the report exhibited by the plaintiff, of the Commissioners nominated by tge Government with the purpose of verifying the titles of the Maltese Nobility;

Having seen at fol. 65 tergo, the Diploma of the Secretary of State for the Colonies dated the 11 May 1883, by which instructions were given to the Head of the Government of these Islands to add to the list of Maltese Titolati four individuals, namely the two defendants with the title of Marquis, and the other two with different titles, but this without prejudice to any decision of the competent court of Justice.


Having seen at fol. 69 tergo, the other Despatch of the Secretary of State for the Colonies dated the 16th April 1882, where it was established that any decision of a competent court regarding titles of Nobility has the effect of revoking the decisions of the Committee.


Having seen the judgment of the aforesaid Court, of the 28 April 1885, which retained principally that the Diploma of Vittorio Amadeo was never formally recognized by the Government of Malta, and therefore it never enjoyed in Malta any legal value; and that the defendants not having any claim to the title granted by that diploma, it was not opportune for the plaintiff to institute the present proceedings against them, who (from their part) by impugning the plaintiff’s demands was not to be taken to mean that they were claiming that title for themselves, (the Court) decided to liberate them from the plaintiff’s demands, without tax of costs.


Having seen the note of Appeal of the plaintiff – the petition of the same for the revocation of the said judgment – and the protest of contumacy made to the defendants.


Having seen, at fol. 201 of the court file, the note by which the defendants “through their legal counsel have said that they have already made explicit declarations in their written acts, that the title of Marquis granted to them is independent from that granted by Vittorio Amadeo of Savoy”.


Having seen all the other documents.


Having heard the legal counsel of the parties;


Having considered – 

That it results on the one hand that both defendants in their respective written declarations before the first court, did declare amongst other matters, that they were enjoying the title of Marquis independently and without any reference whatsoever to the Diploma of Vittorio Amadeo of the 13 July 1717, whilst on the other hand it also results that both defendants in concluding their replies demanded that the plaintiff’s demands be rejected, including therefore the demand relative to the said Diploma.


That in consequence, having the first court with its aforesaid judgment decided to reject all the demands of the plaintiff, the latter feeling aggrieved felt that he had to at least file an appeal from that judgment.


That because of the aforesaid declarations made by the defendants that the title of Marquis borne by them is not dependant on the Diploma of Vittorio Amadeo, the difficulty of the present cause relates to the matter of costs rather than the merits;


That, in fact, the defendants – who descend in equal rank as the plaintiff from Don Mario Testaferrata to whom the title of Marquis was originally granted by the aforesaid Diploma, with the difference that the plaintiff is the actual pimogenital descendant in the primogenital line of the said Don Mario, whilst the defendants are in the lines of cadet sons – have declared expressly that they were granted by Her Majesty the Queen the title which they bear, and they are not adding any claims on that title granted by Vittorio Amadeo: In effect, they are admitting the claim of the plaintiff to enjoy for himself alone the title of Marquis conferred by the said Diploma, at least insofar as between the parties.


That the plaintiff’s demands having been circumscribed by the title conferred by the aforesaid Diploma, the Court may not extend its investigation beyond the parameters of the plaintiff’s demands, and consequently it may not take cognizance of the allegations of the defendants that they have the right to bear the title of Marquis – whether this be by virtue of other antique concessions as claimed by the defendant Cassar Desain in his reply at fol. 71 tergo, or whether by reason of Grace of Her Majesty the Queen recently obtained as claimed by the other defendant Testaferrata Olivier in his reply at fol. 75 tergo, and therefore the court may neither take into consideration the reasons claimed by the plaintiff in his petition to show the inexistence of those allegations, because as explained above the plaintiff’s demands including that intended to prohibit the defendants from using the title of Marquis, are restricted to only the title conferred by Vittorio Amadeo.


Now considering in relation to the costs.


That at paragraph 117 and the following of the Report of the Commissioners fol. 29, the list of the titled Maltese Nobles fol.61, the Despatch of the Secretary of State for the Colonies dated 16 August 1882 fol. 67 tergo, and the other despatch of the same Minister dated 11 May 1883, with the reservation in one and the other of the dispatches, in addition to other documents, clearly demonstrating that the defendants in substantiating their claims before the Commissioners, as well as the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility, made reference to the aforesaid Diploma and that fact is what gave rise to these present proceedings.


That on the other hand, however, it is right to remark that in the deed of transaction made in the acts of Notary Vittorio Giammalva of the 10 September 1772, fol. 184, between the sons of Don Mario Testaferrata, the first grantee of the title under discussion, after having mentioned only two titles of Nobility, namely that of San Vincenzo Ferreri and that of Testaferrata (alluding to that granted by Vittorio Amadeo) it was agreed that all the sons and their descendants were to be at liberty to bear either title.


Decides in accordance with the demands of the plaintiff, by revoking the judgment of the First Hall of the Civil Court of the 28 April 1885, without the taxes of the costs in regard to both the first and the second instance.”



The 1886/1887 letter must have been written in haste because the judgment does not mean that no person other than Emmanuele Testaferrata Bonici Asciack may make a claim to the title created in 1717. Quite the contrary, the Court of Appeal only confirmed that Cassar Desain and Testaferrata Olivier were not claming that particular title and there was therefore no issue on the merits. The Court of Appeal ruled that its decision was being limited “to the matter of costs rather than the merits”. All this was binding “at least insofar as between the parties”. The Court of Appeal however thought it fit to point out that in the deed of transaction dated 1772 “it was agreed that all the sons and their descendants were to be at liberty to bear either title.”