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The comital title (Conte) was enjoyed in Malta by the Wzzini Paleologo family during the reign of the Grand Masters of the Order (1530-1798). In the 19th century this title was examined by a Royal Commission appointed to enquire into various claims of the Maltese Nobility. That Commission concluded that this title, of unknown foreign origin but taken to have been first recognized in the year 1722, could not have originated before that year, there being no proof whatsoever that the title was ever enjoyed by that family at any point in time prior to that year.
Serafino Ciantar was identified by the Commission as the successor of this title, was the first President of the British-sponsored Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility, first formed in 1883.
Since 1975, a general duty is imposed in the Republic of Malta not to recognize any title of nobility.
ORIGIN AND NATURE OF TITLE
Contrary to the findings of the Report, a number of publications (published both before and after the 1878 Report) describe this title as having been granted to the same Ignazio by Pope Clement XI on the 8 November 1711. These publications refer to the title variously as “Count Lateranese”, “Count Ciantar Paleologo” and “Count of St. John Lateran” (Conte di San Giovanni Lateranese).
(First Description - as described by a Royal Commission)
The Report identified Ignazio Wzzini Paleologo as being the first person to hold this title, adding that none of the published Histories of Malta, attributed the comital title to any of Ignazio’s ancestors. Although the Report admits that nothing is known of when, on whom, and on what condition that title was conferred, there exists (according to the same Report) enough documentary proof that the Wzinni Paleologo was constantly and unquestionably in possession of that title from the year 1722.
Moreover, the report showed how this title was eventually enjoyed by persons descending in the female line from the Wzzini Paleologo family.
The report concluded that this title was successfully claimed by Serafino Ciantar.
The proofs described therein consist of the following:
1. A letter dated 10th January, 1722 addressed by Grand Master Marc'Antonio Zondadari to Ignazio Wzzini, who was then at Rome. This letter contains the following superscription: Mag. Fideli Nobis dilecto Comiti Wzzini
2. A letter dated 8th February 1722 addressed by Grand Master Marc'Antonio Zondadari to Ignazio Wzzini, who was then at Rome. This letter is addressed thus, “Mag. Fideli Nobis dilecto Comiti Ignatio Wzzini
3. A letter dated 30th March 1722, addressed by Grand Master Marc'Antonio Zondadari to Ignazio Wzzini, who was then at Rome. This letter is addressed “Mag. Fideli Nobis dilecto Co. Ignatio Wzzini J.U.D.”
4. A first letter 22nd January 1722 by the same Grand Master Marc'Antonio Zondadari to Cardinal d’Althama which prefixed the title of Conte to the name of the said Ignazio Wzzini.
5. A second letter 22nd January 1722 by the same Grand Master Marc'Antonio Zondadari to Cardinal Cieufuegos which prefixed the title of Conte to the name of the said Ignazio Wzzini.
6. A third letter 22nd January 1722 by the same Grand Master Marc'Antonio Zondadari to Bali Spinola which prefixed the title of Conte to the name of the said Ignazio Wzzini.
7. Another letter by Grand Master António Manoel de Vilhena dated the 4th November 1722, which strongly recommended to the Vice Roy of Sicily, the Conte Ignazio Wzzini and Antonio Ciantar his son-in-law.
8. A record whereby Grand Master Manuel Pinto de Fonseca, appointed, on the 1st June 1750, Giorgio Serafino Ciantar, the grandson ex filia of the said Conte Ignazio, to a lieutenancy in a company of the regiment of Citta Pinto. In this record Serafino Ciantar is styled Comiti et baroni St. Joannes Militi Don Georgio Seraphino Ciantar Paleologo, Equiti Professo Sacri Militaris Ordinis S. Benedicti de Avis, in Lusitania, Fideli Vasallo nro Nobis in Christo Dilecto Salutem
9. A record whereby Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc, on the 17th May 1783, conferred upon a cadet of the family the commission of captain in a company of a regiment of chasseurs (cacciatore The Cacciatori or Falconiere, were during the Government of the Order, a body of volunteers) addressed him thus: Nobili Josepho ex Comitibus Ciantar, fideli Vassallo uro Nobis in xto Dilecto Salutem.
10. Another proof of the existence of this title is desumed from two patents issued on the 11th September 1738, by John, King of Portugal, appointing the Conte Fr. Ignazio Wzzini, Knight of the Order of St. Benedict de Avis, and containing the necessary direction for his investiture. In those two patents the said Ignazio Wzzini is styled Conte.
The 1878 Report added its observation that there is nothing to show that the ancestors of Count Ignazio Wzzini were also in possession of the title. In no place of published histories of Malta, the Wzzini family, before the Conte Ignazio, is referred to as a titled family: and in a certificate relating to the baptism of the above-named Conte Serafino Ciantar, senior, son of the said Contessa Teodora Ciantar Wzzini, daughter, as already stated, of Conte Ignazio Francesco Wzzini, the last-mentioned person, who stood as godfather, is not described as son of the Conte Paolo, but simply Filius quondam Dni Pauli, ejusdem civitatis Vallettae , although it must be presumed that such designation was written down in the certificate in question as dictated by the father of the christened child, or by the godfather himself.
In allowing this title, the Royal Commissioners felt justified in adding that it was not shown that the family of Wzzini was ever in possession of the title of “Conte” prior to the year 1722.
From this information, it does not appear that any land was attached to this title of nobility. The title was thus merely honorific and did not give rise to any right of possession of any lands.
Ruvigny classifies this title as one created by Grand Master Marc’ Antonio Zondadari. He justifies this by stating that “In the Report, this is included as one of the Foreign titles recognized in Malta, but as it owes its existence to a recognition by one of the Grand Masters, it is here included among the Maltese Titles proper”.
Zondadari is one of the few Grand Masters who refused to swear to protect the rights and privileges of the Maltese (this refers to the right of the Maltese to make representations to the Viceroy of Sicily who notionally held the right of high dominion over Malta). In fact, this Grand Master argued that it was morally wrong to swear to respect rights which had already been broken, and honour privileges which were no more.
(Second Description - as described by various publications)
Other publications state that this title is in fact the title of “Conte Lateranese” granted by Pope Clement XI to Ignazio Francesco Wzzini (or Uizzini) Paleologo on the 8 November 1711. This title is described as having been granted to all descendants of Ignazio. For example, the Marchese Giorgio Crispo Barbaro in his “Maltese Nobility and the Maltese Gentry holding Foreign Titles” (1870) describes Serafino Ciantar Paleologo as a member of the Maltese Gentry holding the title of “Count Lateranese” originally granted to Ignazio Uizzini Paleologo by His Holiness Pope Clement XI on the 8 November 1711. Moreover and in a separate footnote, Crispo Barbaro states that the title was also registered in Volume 216 of the Court of the Very Reverend the Auditor General of Rome.
The difference in description may be due to a political consideration made in the context of 19th century colonial Malta:- A fundamental difference existed between Malta and England in the treatment of Papal titles. Not only is Malta a Catholic Country but the Order that governed Malta between 1530-1798 always regarded the Pope as its Supreme Head in all matters. It is therefore not surprising to note that Papal titles were well known to Malta and in fact in 1750 we find registered in Malta the title of Conte Fenech Bonnici(extinct by the time the Commission was appointed). On the other hand Protestant England has a long history of not recognizing Papal Authority. As far as the British are concerned, the Pope is not an independent Sovereign and therefore has no power to confer titles and orders. - This may be the underlying motive why the foreign title of Count enjoyed by the family of Wzzini Paleologo was considered by the British-appointed Royal Commissioners as a title created by a private letter by (Grand Master Zondadari) in 1722, rather than as a papal title created in 1711.
In terms of the above, again it does not appear that any land was attached to this title of nobility. The title was thus merely honorific and did not give rise to any right of possession of any lands.
Other publications describe this title not as Conte Lateranesebut as Conte di San Giovanni Lateranese. This may be a result of some confusion with another title claimed by Serafino Ciantar, namely the title of Barone di San Giovanni. Finally this title is also described as being the same as Conte Ciantar Paleologo, “Ciantar” being merely the surname of Ignazio’s son-in-law.
PRECEDENCE ENJOYED BY THE HOLDER OF THE COMITAL TITLE ENJOYED BY THE FAMILY WZZINI PALEOLOGO
In terms of the general 1739 legislation it follows that the direct recognition made in 1722 ( and those subsequent by Grand Masters António Manoel de Vilhena, Manuel Pinto de Fonseca and Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc), albeit unregistered, allowed Ignazio Wzzini a right to precedence.
The consideration whether this title was of foreign origin or locally created becomes relevant because that precedence was allowed only to him as the holder of a recognized foreign title and did not extend to his male-to-male descendants (“Il discendente per linea mascolina”). Only local titles had the effect of extending to agnate descendants the right of precedence.
By virtue of the later general legislation of 1795 cadets of local and foreign titles were put on an equal footing provided it was registered in the Chancery, and in the High Court of the Castellania.
In terms of the these legislations combined, the holder of the title of Conte enjoyed by the family Wzzini Paleologoand the qualifying agnate descendants are to rank before the holder of any title created after 1722 (year of first recognition) and respective descendants. Therefore, it follows that the Conte Wzzini Paleologoranks before the Marchese di Scriop el Hagin(1776)and the Marchese di Ghajn Kajet (1796) even though all the latter titles purport a higher rank. The direct recognition of 1722 also entitles this holder to rank before the holders of other titles which were created earlier but recognized at a later date. Therefore it follows that this comital title ranks before those of Barone di Cicicanoand Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri(both recognized in 1725). The same position holds in regard to the respective male-to-male descendants on the assumption that the title has in fact been registered.
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 theisland 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, Giorgio Serafino Duca Comninoe Lascaris Ciantar-Paleologo is listed with the title of “Count, Noble, Patrician and Roman Senator, as per diploma of the 4th July 1744”.
SUCCESSFUL CLAIM OF SERAFINO CIANTAR TO THE COMITAL TITLE
The Commissioners described Serafino as descending in the primogenial line from the Conte Ignazio Wzzini through a female. In fact they observed that Ignazio had one daughter who married Giovani Antonio Ciantar, she in turn having had a son from whom Serafino descended in the primogenial line.
It appears that in the course of the Inquiry, that the date of creation was not taken to be 1744 but 1722.
As seen above the Commissioners were not provided with any details regarding the origin and remainder of the title. However, they relied on the afore-mentioned documentation and held that this was sufficient to hold that the title was “constantly and unquestionably held” by Serafino’s ancestors and that the title was moreover directly recognised by the Grand Masters at different times. The Commissioners also maintained that they had no hesitation to be still existing because the same documents showed that the title was later held by male descendants of daughters with the knowledge and approbation of the Grand Masters.
In allowing Serafino’s claim, the Commissioners emphasised that there was no proof that he had shown that his family was in possession of the title of “Conte” prior to 1722.
The 1878 Report also describes how Serafino Ciantar made unsuccessful claims to the foreign title of Roman Patrician, but was successful in his claim to the other foreign title of Barone di San Giovanniwhich originated in Sicily on the 16 July 1777.
FIRST CONTROVERSY: The first controversy is the origin of the title. If as described by the Commissioners, the title did not exist before 1722, it remains unclear as to what law of succession would be applicable to this title.
A similar controversy surrounds the title of "Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri", which having failed the validity of the original grant prompts one to argue that the title must be regarded as a purely Maltese title created by direct Magistral fiat, that is to say 1725 in the case of "Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri", and 1722 in the case of the comital title under discussion. However, and as in the case of "Marchese di San Vincenzo Ferreri", this argument does not have any basis on the findings of the Royal Commission as published in 1878. In fact that Commission describes the comital title as one not originating in Malta, that is to say a title not created by the Grand Masters.
In the 1878 Report the Commissioners stated that they were of the opinion that an acknowledgment of a foreign title, made directly by a Grand Master must be taken to be, in its effects, equivalent to a registration. In default of an unquestionable recognition, a title could not be taken notice of unless it was registered in accordance with the 1739 and 1795 enactments. On the other hand, however, elsewhere in their same Report, the same Commissioners said that they could give no importance to the circumstance where during the Government of the Order, Salvatore Manduca was styled “Conte” in his appointment as a jurat in the absence of proof of that title. It follows that if the purpose of the proofs described in the 1878 Report, was solely to recommend somebody to a post, it is not sufficient to put the title upon an independent legal basis.
It would appear that this controversy is resolved outside the findings of the 1878 Report, namely the corroborating proof, published both before and after, the Royal Commission, which shows that this comital title was indeed granted by Pope Clement in 1711.
SECOND CONTROVERSY: The Second controversy is that once it has been established that the title is of Papal origin, it follows that although the title forms part of the Maltese Nobility, it remains subject to the laws of its origin and not according to those of Malta. Despite all of the above difficulties, the same Serafino Ciantar was in 1887 to die in office as first President of “The Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility”. It is reported that following his death, the title was succeeded by his sister’s son. There is no record if this succession was ever ratified by any of Pope Clement XI’s successors.
THIRD CONTROVERSY: The Third controversy concerns one of the various appellations of this comital title. Some publications describe this title as “Conte Ciantar Paleologo”. However, as results from the 1878 Report, as well as the very same publications, this title was first attributed to Ignazio Wzzini Paleologo, “Ciantar” being merely the married surname of Ignazio’s only daughter. There is therefore no basis in referring this title as “Ciantar Paleologo”.
FOURTH CONTROVERSY: The Fourth controversy concerns the remainder of this comital title as described by Crispo Barbaro which says that the title was created to benefit “all” of Ignazio Wzzini’s descendants. This is not corroborated either by 1878 or even by the documents described by the same Report. Nowhere in the 1878 Report, does it say that this title had a wide remainder. Instead, the 1878 Report only states that in 1783 (see 9 above) a cadet of family was described as “ex Comitibus Ciantar”. Unlike other titles where a multiple remainder was claimed, as for example a marquisate, a knighthood and a patriciate where those claims were at least based on contemporary 18th century claims, albeit deemed insufficient for the purposes of the Report, there is nothing in the 1878 Report which shows that a multiple remainder was ever claimed in the 18th century.
For the purposes of precedence amongst the Nobility in Malta, in terms of the 1739 and 1795 legislations combined, the holder of the title of this comital title would rank according to antiquity of creation and relative registration. The Conte Wzzini Paleologo (1722) aka Conte Lateranese (1711)would rank after the title of Conte Preziosi(1718) because the latter title was first recognized before the title in question (1722).
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 Comital title enjoyed by the family Wzzini Paleologo 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 Contino Wzzini Paleologo. 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 Conti Wzzini Paleologo. Again, the Colonial administration did not allow any legal right to the use of this style.
Writing in 1886, Loftie wrote “Even the ancient marquisate of Carabas pales before the name of Serafino Ciantar, Count Wzzini-Paleo-logo, and Baron of St. John.”
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).
For full Genealogy of the Counts Wzzini Paleologo please see:
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