Loftie, William John, 1839-1911

Two Extracts from the Book: “A RIDE IN EGYPT” (By W. J. LOFTIE,

M.A., F.S.A., AUTHOR OF “IN AND OUT OF LONDON,” “A PLEA FOR ART IN THE HOUSE,” &c., &c., London and New York: MACMILLAN AND CO. 1886.)     [Electronic Edition]  


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“The “Council of Government,” as it is called, assembles daily between November and June, in the Governor’s palace at Valetta. It is composed of eighteen members, of whom ten are appointed by the Crown, being the holders of such offices as that of Crown Advocate, Collector of Customs, or Treasurer, and including the Governor himself, who is thus at once Sovereign, Speaker, and Prime Minister. All the Government offices are open to natives, except those of Chief Secretary and of Auditor; and of the nine members of the Council now sitting on the official side, only two others besides the general commanding are English. On the opposite side all the elected members are natives. They include one Roman Catholic priest, two ecclesiastics only being allowed to sit at the same time, together with three lawyers, and several members of the old Maltese nobility.


 “The old Maltese families are rather proud of their titles of nobility, and at the time of the Prince of Wales’s visit there was some offence given because they were not duly recognised at the Vice-regal Court. Since then a Commission was appointed to go into the claims, and the Blue-Book which was issued gives some strange particulars on a subject which interested me very much during my stay. 

There are marquises, counts, and barons in the Commissioners’ list, but they are all to rank among themselves according to the seniority of their titles; and Madame Damico, “Baronessa di Diar el Bniet e di Bucana,” whose barony dates from 1350, will rank before Dr. Delicata, to whom the Commissioners have confirmed the title of Marquis of Ghain Kajet, conferred by the Grand Master de Rohan in 1796.

The task before the Commissioners was one of great difficulty, and their report is not altogether satisfactory from an English point of view. The “titolati,” to use the Commissioners’ phrase, who reside in Malta, consist of three distinct classes. 

There are some whose titles were conferred by ancient kings before the Order of St. John assumed the sovereignty of the islands. 

There are some whose titles were conferred by the Grand Masters, who appear in the eighteenth century, after they had been nearly two hundred years at Valetta, to have suddenly discovered that they were able to make grants of nobility to their subjects. 

Lastly, there are titles granted by foreign potentates to Maltese subjects, and recognised by the Grand Masters. 

Besides these three classes, which are easily defined, the Commissioners notice a number of titles “conferred by foreign authorities, but never recognised in Malta.”

Following this list, again, we have one of “claims referred to the decision of Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Colonies.”

Among the questions thus submitted were some of extraordinary complication and difficulty. For example: —the Commissioners allowed the claim of Amadeo Preziosi to a county conferred by Victor Amadeus, King of Sicily and Duke of Savoy, in 1718; and they reported to the Secretary of State that the said Amadeo was the senior male representative of the original grantee, and therefore undoubtedly a count; but the further questions arise, whether Count Amadeo alone of all his family is entitled to that distinction, whether it does not extend to all the first Count’s descendants, whether it is limited to his male descendants, and whether male descendants of females are included. There were nine gentlemen of the house of Preziosi who thus claimed to be called counts; but, if the right extended to descendants of daughters, the number of Counts Preziosi would be fifty-nine.

It is not to be wondered at if Lord Carnarvon refused to adjudicate upon such a question, and the case was referred back to the Commissioners for a further report: In their reply they came to the following conclusion, which so well illustrates the nature of their inquiries that I quote it entire:—

This title, originally granted to Giuseppe Preziosi and to his male descendants, is claimed not only by Amadeo Preziosi, the first-born son in the grantee’s primogenial line, but also by four other gentlemen who contend that it may be enjoyed by all the grantee’s contemporary male descendants, whether descending from the male or female lines. We beg respectfully to refer to our remarks on the claim to the title of Marchese conferred by the said King Victor Amadeus, in 1717, on Mario Testaferrata. It will be seen that the grant by Victor Amadeus to Mario Testaferrata was made under the law respecting titles of the Sicilian nobility, and that it is consequently descendable to the firstborn son only, according to the order of succession prescribed by the jus feudale francorum.

Applying  these remarks to the present case, it is obvious that the title of Conte granted to Giuseppe Preziosi cannot be enjoyed but by Amadeo Preziosi, whose name has been included in our list of titolati in our former report, and that the other gentlemen who have asserted a right to this title have not succeeded in making out their claims.” 

The secretary may well ask, after this second report, why it could not have been made at first; but we can understand that, after the settlement of the Testaferrata case referred to in the second report, the Commissioners may have felt themselves exhausted. In this case a marquisate was claimed by twenty-four gentlemen simultaneously, and indirectly by some ninety others; but the decision is adverse, not only to twenty-three of the claimants, but to the whole two dozen. The reasons on which the decision is founded cover twelve pages of the report, and in the end the Commissioners come to the conclusion that the title is “inheritable only by the first born,” and that the possession rests with one or other of two claimants, who will, it is presumed, have to go to law and try the question formally before the courts. 

The Commissioners came to a similar conclusion in another case, in which a marquisate conferred by Philip V. of Spain was claimed by one of the Testaferrata claimants, and by two other gentlemen of the same family. Here the title was never registered in Malta, but it was expressly recognised by one of the Grand Masters. One of the claimants asserted that the eldest branch of the family was disinherited by the original grantee, and one might have supposed the Commission quite capable of deciding how far such an act of disinheritance would be valid in the case of an hereditary title. 

The Testaferrata family, indeed, may justly complain that they have much litigation laid up for them for many days, but at least they are better off than some of their neighbours. The existence of two marquisates in the family is acknowledged; but in the cases of the Azzopardi, who claimed to be barons of Buleben, of Signor Gatt, who claimed to be Count of Beberrua, and of a gentleman who, as honorary secretary of the Committee of Maltese nobles by whose action the whole question has been opened, signed himself “Marquis,” the Commissioners decided that the claims were not made out.

There were, in all, twenty-four titles acknowledged, held by twenty-one “titolati”; and, in addition, four titles were recognised as existing, but disputed between two or more claimants. 

The list does not tally either with that of the Committee of Nobles or with that of the Marquis Crispo-Barbaro, published in 1870; but it must be allowed, even by those who have lost titles which they fancied to be their own, that the result of the Commissioners’ Report will be to place the position of a Maltese noble on a footing of security very satisfactory to the families concerned, and calculated to give the titolati of the island a place in European society denied to the doubtful marquises and counts of France or Italy.

The Commissioners seem, in one case at least, to have been too easily satisfied, and in another to have required proof nowhere possible; but, on the whole, little fault can be found with the Report, except in the points indicated above. 

A Maltese Peerage will doubtless soon appear; and we may hail among the nobles of our realms such picturesque names as those of the Baron of Ghariescem and Tabia, the Count of Ghain Toffieha, and the Marquis of Gnien Is Sultan. 

Even the ancient marquisate of Carabas pales before the name of Serafino Ciantar, Count Wzzini-Paleo-logo, and Baron of St. John. 

It is true a majority of the titles are of very modern origin, but it will not become Englishmen to sneer at Maltese nobles on this account. So many members of our own peerage date their honours since the dethronement of the Knights in 1798, that they can scarcely afford to despise a series of titles the first of which was conferred in 1350, even though the last was only granted in 1796.

It is not very clear what advantage the Maltese nobles hope to gain by this Government recognition of their existence. In the time of the Grand Masters even a marquis was as the dust of the earth before the lowest of the knights. They will now, if any special precedence be granted to them among their fellow-subjects, be in a better position than that they occupied while under the rule of the Order; but, so far as we are aware, no warrant, royal or other, has been issued assigning to them any place or privilege at the Vice-regal Court. 

Her Majesty, whose dignity as a great Asiatic sovereign has been frequently noticed in the past few years, appears in a character new to many of her subjects, and we may perhaps before long witness the creation of counts and marquises by a sovereign of Malta whose power is at least as great as that of any of the military monks her predecessors.

      FOLLOWING LINKS PROVIDED BY  :-   1.        The Nobles of Malta, and The Maltese Gentry holding Foreign Titles as at present existing by Geo. G.C.’A. Crispo Barbaro Marquis of St. George” Malta:- A.D. MDCCCLXX  2.        For “Marquis of Carabas”, please read “PUSS IN BOOTS”!!! J J J