different rules for different titles
The Maltese Nobility is made up of different subgroups. In this section, we find examples of different rules for different titles which form part of the Maltese Nobility.
When the British requested a formal enquiry into the claims of the Maltese Nobility, a written demand was made to the Assemblea (__) requesting the details of its titled members. The Secretary (__) complied furnishing a detailed list of various nobiliary pretensions of a number of ladies and gentlemen. The committee list is attached to the Royal Commissioners’ Report (pages 54-55) which together with a supplementary report (pages 57-59), was presented to the House of Lords in 1878. (___)
Three successful names are conspicuously absent from that list namely Maria D’Amico, Angiolino Attard Montalto and Luisa mother of Gerald Strickland. Another, which was not successful, is that of Maria Apap, which is also missing.
The Commissioners found that Maria Teresa D’Amico was actually the then possessor of the fiefs of Djar il-Bniet and Buqana. (__) The Commission therefore held that once she was the possessor of those fiefs, then only she was entitled to the title of Baronessa di Djar il-Bniet and Buqana and not her nephew Alessandro Sceberras. Reading the Report, it is not clear why Maria Teresa D’Amico was excluded from the Committee’s list, which is dated 1876. There is also no indication whether Maria Teresa was in fact ever asked to appear before the Commission.
It should be noted that writing in 1870, the Marchese Barbaro had already indicated her as holding this title of nobility, albeit classified as a foreign title granted in 1372. (__)
The Commissioners reported (page 5) that seven gentlemen were not included in the Committee list. Amongst these we find Angiolino Attard Montalto. In the Report (page 10), we find Angiolino’s claim to the 1737 title of Barone di Benuarrat (__) is declared to be successful because he “descends from the first titled person, although through a female line, as appears from documents produced by him; and he is the first-born descendant in the primogenial line of the grantee”.
Angiolino had a second claim (page 46-47), this time to the foreign title of Barone di San Paolino. The Commissioners noted that Angiolino “fully proved his descent through a female line from the person first ennobled”. This claim was unsuccessful only because the title was “never registered in this island, and no evidence of its recognition on the part of the sovereign authorities during the Government of the Knights of Saint John having been produced, we are of the opinion that the claimant has failed to establish his right to it”.
Reading the Report, it is not clear why Angiolino Attard Montalto was excluded from the Committee’s list which is dated 1876. Of significance is that he is neither mentioned in Marchese Barbaro’s book dated 1870. It could be surmised that both the Committee and the Marchese Barbaro had opined against a transmission in the female line and that it was only thanks to the Royal Commissioner’s scrupulous upholding of the rules of primogeniture that Angiolino was confirmed in his birthright to the title of Barone di Benuarrat.
Another of the seven excluded from the Committee list is Luisa widow of Captain Walter Strickland, R.N. Reading the Report (page 11) we find that she was acting in her own name and on behalf of he son Gerald for the title of Conte delle Catene (aka delli Mori). (__) On the other hand, the Committee list (page 55) attributes this title to Felicissimo Apap Pace Bologna with a caveat that this was “sub judice”.
Reading the Report, it results that the title was in fact “annexed to the feud and Primogenitura Bologna, on the succession to which a suit is at present pending, in the civil courts of these islands between Marchese Felicissimo Apap and Luisa, widow of Captain Walter Strickland, in her own name and on behalf of Geraldo her son, who is a minor.”
The Commissioners noted “for mere information, however, we beg to state that the last holder of the Primogenitura and of the title of conte was Sir Nicolo’ Sceberras Bologna, K.C.M.G., and that one of the two suitors, Luisa, widow of Captain Strickland, is the daughter of Maria Teresa Bonici nee Sceberras, eldest married sister of the last possessor, and that the other suitor, Marchese Felicissimo Apap, is the son of Maria Apap nee Sceberras, youngest sister of the said Sir Nicolo.”
From this clarification it is clearly understood that Felicissimo Apap was invoking the rules of a majorat whereas Luisa and her son were claiming primogeniture .
Felicisssimo would have won as the seniormost male descendant, had succession been reckoned from Nicolo Sceberras Bologna. The issue was eventually decided by the Privy Council in favour of Gerald Strickland as the primogenial male descendant of the original grantee.
The Apap Bologna family laid another claim through Maria Francesca widow of the Marchese Dr. Filipo Apap to the 1775 title of Barone della Marsa. (__) This lady was also not included in the Committee list. Reading the Report (page 11) we find that Maria Francesca’s claim was based on the premise that she was the only surviving daughter of the testamentary heir of the original grantee Gio Francesco Dorell. The Commissioners dismissed her claim explaining that once Gio Francesco Dorell was “destitute of any issue, devising by testament the whole of his estate to Paolo Sceberras, his nephew ex sorore, did not, and could not, transmit to him, as a collateral, the title of “Barone della Marsa”, granted only to the male issue of Dorell, by the death of whom it became extinct. Paolo Sceberras could not consequently convey that title to the claimant, who moreover, being a female, would not be comprised in the grant, even if she descended from the said Dorell.”
The above shows that in the case of an old fief mere possession is the main consideration and successor is therefore reckoned from possessor to possessor, whilst in the case of the later nobiliary grants the rules are subject to the rules of primogeniture and succession is therefore reckoned from the original grantee.
But even between the grants of nobility, the Report emphasizes how the more modern titles granted by Grand Master Rohan (pages 12-19) are subclassified (page 13) into three types, namely:
(1) those expressly providing for the perpetuity of the title specifically include the children and descendents in infinitum of the person first ennobled; such as the title of “Barone della Marsa” (__) granted to Gio Francesco Dorell Falzon on the 10 March 1775, .the title of “Marchese della Taflia” granted to Saverio Alessi on the 13 November 1790 (__) the title of “Conte di Ghain Toffieha” granted to Ferdinando Teuma Castelletti on the 7 January 1792, the title of “Marchese di Gnien Is-Sultan” granted to Filippo Apap on the 1 December 1792, the title of “Barone della Grua” (__) granted to Saverio Carbott Testaferrata on the 30 December 1794, the title of “Conte della Senia” granted to Vincenzo Fontani on the 6 June 1795 and the title of “Marchese di Ghain Kajet” granted to Gerolamo Delicata on the 4 June 1796.
(2) those which only designated the grantees' names without proceeding further. The patents of the title of “Marchese di San Giorgio” (__) granted to Carlo Antonio Barbaro on the 6 September 1778, of the title of “Conte di Beberrua” granted to Luigi or Ludovico Gatt on the 23 October 1783 (__) of the title of “Marchese del Fiddien” granted to Salvatore Mallia Tabone on the 15 October 1785, and that which conferred on the 23rd October 1783, the title (now extinct) of Barone to Signor Mompalao (__) as well as the title of “Barone di Buleben” (__) ranted to Gaetano Azzopardi on the 23 July 1777, all fall under this class. – The Commissioners explained that these patents only provide for the investiture of the person therein mentioned but do not proceed further to direct that the said investiture should be obtained by all the successors on any future vacancy, as laid down in the patents of the first class.
(3) those which besides the designation of the titled person exclusively, contain a restrictive clause; such as that granted to Conte Romualdo Barbaro, on the 14th January 1793, (__) and worded thus: "Tibi Magnifico ac Nobili Romualdo Barbaro tantum", that conferred upon Marchese Saverio Marchesi on the 8th March 1793, (__) in the following terms:-"Tibi Magnifico ac Nobili Saverio Marchesi tantum ", and the other (__) given to Barone Francesco Gauci, on the 23rd December 1781, and which runs thus:-"Tibi tantum, tua naturali vita perdurante"
The Commissioners explained that they saw no difference between the second and the third class. Moreover, they remarked in regard to the patents of the second class, that the grantees have often applied for and obtained, by special favour of the Sovereign, the extension and amplification of the title in perpetuum, or in favour of their children or of their descendants generally. Thus the Marchese Barbaro had requested and obtained that the title should be extended to at least his first born son, who subsequently applied for and obtained a further extension for all his descendents in perpetuum. The Marchese Mallia Tabone had likewise prayed that his title should be made to extend after his death to his male descendents successively, and in default of male issue to his female descendents, and had obtained from the Grand Master an extension in favour of his first born male descendents only. The Commissioners remarked that in the case of “Barone di Buleben”, the grantee successfully requested an amplification.
The succession of some titles was changed by the Grand Masters themselves. Thus in 1737 we find a change in the 1710 grant of the title of Barone di Gomerino (__) and in 1778 we find a change to the 1777 grant of the title of Barone di Buleben (__) . Also, in the latter two cases as well as that of Conte di Catena (__) we also find that these grants are supplemented by private deeds. Of these 3 cases, the Commissioners ruled against the title of Barone di Buleben (__). This decision was later reversed in 1883 by a new Committee (__) . The Commissioners came to no conclusion in regard to the other two cases. However, it is to be noted that the value of the private deed was confirmed by the Privy Council in regard to the title of Conte della Catena. (__)
In regard to foreign titles the Report (pages 23-49) referred to the respective laws of countries where these were granted and not to the laws of succession of Malta. Thus we find (pages 39-42) the 1720 title of Conte di Mont’ Alto being declared extinct in 1775 in accordance with the legislation of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza (__) and we find (page 43) the Spanish 1742 title of Marques Depiro being revived in 1870 by the King of Spain (__)
Unfortunately we find some other foreign titles being “tampered” with in the course of the enquiry. Thus we find the Report (page 27, pages 38-39) saying that the 1718 title of Conte Preziosi granted in Rivoli was conferred to all male descendants but the Supplemental Report (page 58) saying that it was descendible to the firstborn son only, whilst in the case of the 1770 title of Conte Fournier (pages 44-45) granted by Empress Maria Teresa this was eventually described in the Supplemental Report (page 58) as being subject to German Law (“the claim must be considered under the German Feudal Law in force at the time of the issuing of the patent of this title”) but the British Secretary of State instead permitted “the claimant and his successors, for the purposes of precedence, to take the place to which they would be entitled under the principles of legal interpretation applicable to the grant if it had emanated in 1770 from the Sicilian or Maltese sovereign authority.”