The Maltese Nobility in Maltese History
(compiled from various books and with the help of various people)


The earliest known inhabitants of Malta were the Phoenicians (same race as the Israelites). Some historians claim that Greeks settled on our island in 700 to 480BC. In 480BC the Carthaginians defeated the Phoenicians and took over the Islands . In about 264BC, a series of wars broke out between Carthaginians and the Romans, known as the 3 Punic wars.

There existed a Patriciate during the Roman period (218BC-AD395) when the Maltese were Socii Romani. We learn from Cicero that our ancestors took the side of the Roman against the Carthaginians and the islands had status of a Foederata Civitas (allied city) within the Roman Empire . Roman possessions were divided into provinces, each province governed by a Praetor and a Quaestor, the former enjoyed full civil and military authority, the latter in charge of revenues. In 71 and 73BC, Caius Verres, ruled the islands under a cruel hand, he was the Praetor. He desecrated many temples, one being the Juno temple ( Grand Harbour ) and Hercules temple (Marsaxlokk), denounced by the Maltese to Cicero and exiled.


Malta became Christian circa AD60, with the arrival of St. Paul . The island was known as Melita, St. Paul consecrated Publius, the chief man of the island, and first Bishop of Malta .


Between AD395 and 870, Malta gradually fell into the hands of the Arabs, who treated the Maltese very badly, taxing them heavily, and many families disappeared under their rule. In fact the administration fell under the Hakem, and a municipal council called the gemgha met every Friday. When the Maltese helped the Arabs defeat the Byzantines, they were treated better, fortified Mdina by resizing it to one-eight its original, building walls and a deep moat.


Nobility of Sicily (1090-1530)


Count Roger de Hauteville (AD1090-1091), Kinsman of William, instituted nobility in its present form; the Norman lord who landed on the coast of Malta called Migra l-fergha and liberated the islands from Arab rule in AD1090. The Ancestors of many of the present day noble families who settled in the Maltese islands were granted generous tracts of land.

Count Roger restored the lands to the church and endowed the Bishopric of Malta with lands in Sicily . He even rewarded the Maltese with a strip of his own flag, in token of his honour towards the Maltese, the red and white flag.

With the advent of Norman rule, the islands formed part of the Kingdom of Sicily and under successive dynasties were ceded as a fief to foreign lords who later styled Counts of Malta (in one instance, Marquis of Malta). Tracts of land in the islands themselves were also granted as separate fiefs by the reigning monarchs of Sicily in return for military service or an annual rent. There was a total of 81 fiefs in total before 1530 (the Knights under the Grandmasters), there is evidence that Giardino de re (Gnien is sultan) had 78,000 cannes whilst Bieb ir rua (Beberrua) had 246,000 canne and Hajntufejgha (Ghajn tuffieha) had 320,000 canes. The fief holders automatically acquired the status of noble and with this right went the right to sit on the local Government of the islands without election. Under the crown of Sicily, the Maltese nobles occupied the most important administrative offices in their homeland.

The Maltese Islands were then ceded to Margaritone da Brindisi, Grand Admiral of Sicily , the Maltese were not happy at being bought and sold under the Feudal system. Then Circa 1194-1266, known as the Swabian era, Malta was passed under the rule of the German Emperors. Meanwhile the Maltese thought the time had come to overthrow the Tyrant. The Aragonese Admiral, Ruggiero de Loria sailed for Malta and defeated the Angevins with the help of the Maltese.


In Malta during the time of the Angevins (1266-1283) land was held, but not in fief. The earliest dated feudal tenure was in 1316, when King Frederick III (1296-1337) granted the fief of TABRIA (TABARIA) to Artaldo de Barba.

As Malta passed from one Aragon Lord to the next, from 1283 to 1410, and once more Malta will join up with the Crown of Sicily by the Royal Patent of the 5th October 1350, and sent Ambassadors to represent them at the Kings court. In 1397,


Malta was again handed over to Feudal lords, but under Martin I, Aragonese, Malta was re-incorporated and recognised as a Commune or Universita’. Martin I also promised that Malta would never be granted as a FIEF again. In order to uphold his promise, he created the post of Governor or Capitano di Verga, elected by popular council and his assistant the Giurati, many nobles took these administrative posts. Apart from occupying Municipal posts, hey had complete monopoly on the crown offices. To safeguard their rights, they petitioned the Sicilian court to exclude all foreigners and local artisans from holding such posts (Capitano della Verga, Giurati, Baiulo, Capitano d’armi, Secreto, Vice Ammiraglio, and falconiere). In a number of Privilegia, some Maltese fief holders were styled as ‘Noble’ or ‘barons’, it is interesting to note that members of the Inguanez, Guevara, Attardo, Vassallo,  Nava, Landolina, and Perrello families were repeatedly designated with these titles during the 15th century and first quarter of the 16th century. Queen Mary and het husband Martin granted I, the fief of Qlejja in trust to Pino Vaccaro in 1398, for his loyalty to the crown during the Montecateno rebellion. In 1442, Alfonso V presented Saqqajja to Antonio Inguanez for accompanying the King, as his vassal, in the Barbary expedition.


Not all feudatories were faithful to their distant rulers, in fact Simon de Barba had his fief of Tabria and Budach taken away because of his involvement against Martin I, and in 1398 re-granted Tabria to Arnaldo Gueraldi, and Budach to Joannes de Aulesa.


After the death of Martin I, came Martin II, the Castilians (1412-1530), who died without issue. King Ferdinand of Castille (1412) was short lived and passed on to Alfonso, but in 1420 sold the island to Don Antonio Cardona, viceroy of Sicily for 30,000 florins. Again in 1425 he sold the island to Don Gonsalvo Monroy, this nobleman was cruel, greedy and very selfish. The Maltese threw him out, but Alfonso in 1427, threatened to cut off all provisions, so an envoy went to Sicily to explain and all was resolved. King Alfonso even gave them a Diploma signed by two Viceroys, confirming all privileges. In 1432 he visited Malta , but went to war against Naples , and Sicily took over the Naples , making King Alfonso the sovereign of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies.


Charles V was at the time sovereign to whom the island belonged became head of a large empire, the kingdom of Spain , Germany and the Netherlands , unified under his rule as Head of the Holy Roman Empire . Charles V ceded the island to the order of St. John of Jerusalem in 1530.


Nobility was extended under the monarch of Sicily until 1530, was further extended during the rule of the Grand Masters of St. John of Jerusalem (1530-1798). Most titles created by these Grand Masters, no less than 21, with the exception of one; Gheriexem & Tabia, where the fief was known to exist. The Order of St. John recognised 13 of the 81 Fiefs, namely Bieb ir rua (Beberrua), Baccari, Buleben, Buonocale, San Martino, Gomerino, Buqana and Djar il bniet, Hemsija, Migarro, Ghajn Rihani, Marsa, Qlejja, Tabria, Gariexem (Gheriexem) and Budach, the reason being that many of these fiefs were lost, confiscated or sold, like the Falsone and Xiberras to name but a few.


Of the baronial fiefs granted by the Kings of Sicily we may mention two; Djar il bniet and Buqana. These two baronies are the premier titles of Malta and Gozo.


It was before the Royal Commission of 1877, that precedence was granted by style of rank, that is Marquises (first) before Counts, Counts (second) before Barons (third). The Royal Commission later changed this to reflect precedence by date of the titles creation.


St. John of Jerusalem (1530-1798)


In 1530, the Grandmaster Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam (1st Grand Master of Malta) took possession of the islands on the 26th October 1530, but the Maltese resisted this barter and sent an envoy to plead with Charles V. But the commune were not strong enough to force their rights, and L’Isle Adam rode from Birgu to the Citta Notabile with great pomp, on the way he was joined by 500 armed militia riding on horses, Nobles and other society gentry. There the Maltese nobles received him on horseback at the gates of the old city of Mdina , where he was given the Keys to the city, as was custom and there he publicly swore to uphold  “the ancient rights and privileges of the Maltese people”. But during the initial period of the Knights domination, several thousand people left the island. Among these were various nobles, such as the Nava, Platamone, and Mazzara. To make things worse the Grand Masters gave many nobles and fiefs problems on retaining their income, and so Antonio Inguanez petitioned the King (Charles V) to sell, retain or enjoy his fief should they wish to leave the island, many nobles did return to Malta at a later stage.

The first title of Nobility granted was the Baron of Budach, which was confiscated and re-granted 3 times, 1644, 1646 and 1716. Most Grandmasters considered grading in order of antiquity (though barons were classed the higher), and in total created 16 barons, 7 counts and 7 marquises.


The knights were divided into 8 Langues or Languages: Provence , Auvergne , France , Italy , Aragon , England , Germany and Castille (Leon and Portugal added later). Each langue has it’s own Auberge (building) and the head of each was called the BALI .  Before coming to Malta, the Knights invaded Rhodes 1309, the Turks kept attacking Rhodes, making the knights more famous, but in 1522, Soleiman II attacked Rhodes and with 200,000 men against the 10,000 of the Order. Tired and shaken left the Island and Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam surrendered in December 1522.

Charles V, Emperor of Germany and Suzerain of Sicily ceded the Maltese islands to the order of St. John of Jerusalem. The only condition made by the emperor was that each year the reigning Grand Master should present a falcon to the Viceroy of Sicily as an acknowledgement of feudal fealty. The Grandmasters of the order reigned over the Islands of Malta as sovereign princes owing nominal fealty to the crown of Sicily. They exerted their sovereign prerogative to create several titles of nobility. The recipient of a magistral title and his successors were usually obliged to present an annual tribute to the reigning Grandmaster as a sign of feudal fealty.

Rule under the Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta,

The first Grandmaster to rule Malta was Philippe de Villiers de L’Isle Adam (1530-1534) died 22 August 1534; his successor Pierino di Ponte (1534-5) repeated the same ceremony on their election to the supreme rule of the order of the islands. He too died after only 16 months, and Didiers de Saint Jalle took over, a French Knight. He too died never setting foot on the Island . Next Grand Master was Juan D’Omedes (1536-53) and following that was Claude de La Sengle (1553-1557), soon after was Jean Parisot de La Valette (1557-68) who ruled as Grand Master during the Great Siege of 1565, where the Turks attacked Malta .

There were 5,830 Maltese, 1,230 regular men, and 592 Knights. On the 18th May 1565, the Turks attacked Malta with 183 galleys and 38,000 men. 23rd June on the eve of St. John , St. Elmo fell to the Turks, 1,500 Maltese lost their lives and 8,000 Turks died in battle, including Dragut. On the 7th September, after numerous attacks from both sides the Sicilian fleet of 15 galleys with 8,500 men and 250 knights arrive surprising the Turks. On 10th September 1565, the Turks retreated, 9,000 men died, 3,000 knights and 6,000 Maltese.

The great majority of present day Maltese nobles derive their titles from the order of St. John . During the order’s reign, European Monarchs ennobled several Maltese gentlemen, and most of these titles were granted full recognition by the Grandmasters. The nobility continued to occupy most key offices in the civil administration of the islands and were invariably awarded positions of honour at all formal state occasions.

Grand Masters of the Order of St.John;

The first Grandmaster to rule Malta was Philippe de Villiers de L’Isle Adam (1530-1534)

2nd Grandmaster was Pierino di Ponte (1534-5) 

3rd Grandmaster was Didiers de Saint Jalle, a French knight (1535-1536). He never actually set foot on Malta.

4th Grandmaster, Juan D’Omedes (1536-53)

5th Grandmaster, Claude de La Sengle (1553-1557). The city of Senglea was named after him.

6th Grandmaster, Jean Parisot de La Valette (1557-68) who ruled Malta during the Great siege in 1565 where the Turks attacked and tried to capture Malta. The Capital city of Malta was named after him.

7th Grand Master, Pietro del Monte (1568-72) continued to build Valetta after La Valette

8th Grand Master, Jean L’Eveque de la Cassiere (1572-81) the Cathedral of St. John’s Conventual church, Valetta was built and consecrated on the 20 February 1578.

9th Grand Master, Hughes Loubens de Verdalle (1581-95) was when Jesuits arrived in Malta 1592 and was also known for building the Verdala Palace .

10th Grand Master, Martin Garzes (1595-1601)

11th Grand Master, Alof de Wignacourt (1601-22) was also known for building the aqueducts

12th Grand Master, Luis Mendez de Vasconcellos (1622-23) under his rule Bishop Cagliares built the Bishops Palace Valletta

13th Grand Master, Antoine de Paule (1623-36) built the San Anton Palace .

14th Grand Master, Jean Paul Lascaris Castellar (1636-57) constructed the lanzaretto creek on Manoel Island , and Abela’s – Malta illustrata was published 1647

15th Grand Master, Martin de Redin (1657-60)

16th Grand Master, Annet de Clermont de Chattes Gessan (1660)

17th Grand Master, Raphael Cottoner (1660-63) engaged celebrated artist Mattia Preti

18th Grand Master, Nicolas Cottoner (1663-80)

19th Grand Master, Gregorio Carafa (1680-90)

20th Grand Master, Adrian de Wignacourt (1690-97)

21st Grand Master, Ramon Perellos Y Roccafull (1697-1720) Portes de Bombes

22nd Grand Master, Marc’antonio Zondadari (1720-22)

23rd Grand Master, Antonio Manoel de Vilhena (1722-36), the Manoel Theatre entertainment was built by him.

24th Grand Master, Ramon Despuig (1736-41)

25th Grand Master, Manoel Pinto de Fonseca (1741-73) built Fort Chambray

26th Grand Master Fra Francisco Ximenes de Texada (1773-1775)

27th Grand Master Emanuel de Rohan-Polduc (1775-97) fort Tigne was built under his rule,

28th and last Grand Master for Malta , Ferdinand von Hompesch (1797-98) who fled upon Napoleons advances in Malta and Gozo.


Noble discontent under the Knights

Grand Master L’Isle Adam swore to uphold the privileges of the nobility, but it was not to be. Contrary to what was to be promised he did not, and due to changes effecting the universita; the island was divided into 2 parts. Taxes and military duty were now controlled by the order. The relationship between the order and nobles got worse, especially under the Grand Master Homedes, who ruled for 17 years, this is when a lot of nobles left the island. The period leading up to the Great siege of 1565, showed a great improvement to the relationship between the Order and nobles. In 1563, all falcon hunters were exempted from the guardie, La Valette also employed members of the Xara family as game keepers, and tunny fishing was introduced. During the reign of La Valette, the major city began to take shape, Francesco Laparelli, who designed the city did not build the city as a collachio, a form of segregated closed in quarters for the knights, as they had done in previous times. Instead the nobles, clergy and many a wealthy business people learnt to share this city with the order and knights in relative harmony. Some nobles felt this unity meant a loss of identity to them, as the move from Mdina to Valletta meant mingling with the more common, and there was a 2nd wave of departures, namely the Stuniga and de Naso.  Some nobles continued to take favour with the knights and one such noble, Pietro Testaferrata was placed on a commission by Garzes to rid the island of vagabonds, which put this family in good relationship with the knights. During Wignacourt’s tenure, all ground rents in Senglea were abolished, and the sites all became freehold. One incident that stood out during the reign of Pinto, was that of the Countess Bologna, without warning an order was sent out to dispossess her, and was made to give up her residence and live with her brother. The same Grand Master imprisoned the noble Salvatore Wzzini “sive Vzzini” in Fort Manoel without giving him a chance to defend himself. Wzzini was accused of assaulting a lady of rank. He was later released and both the Grand Master and Wzzini became friends. Another incident involved the Count Manduca, when having a drink in a tavern, broke into his house the day after and beat him up and leaving him almost lifeless. Known as the rebellion Manduca, the Grand Master banished the knights from ever returning to Malta . When the Marquis Testaferrata wanted to publish the Privileges of the Maltese, this enfuriated the orders representative in Palermo , but the Perellos rebuked ‘the Marquis had very little else to do as these were already printed in the Malta Illustrata of Abela’. Another incident involving Giacinto Testaferrata; and two Spanish knights. ‘Ognion’ and ‘Lyagnos’, Ognion persuaded one of Testaferrata slaves to have sex with him in the courtyard of the Testaferrata Palace . Later whilst an Easter Sunday procession, the knights succeeded in attracting the slaves attention. Testaferrata who was participating in the procession told the knights off, but they simply answered back, lashing out foul words. Days later Ognion insulted Testaferrata in church, and on the way to Birgu the knight attacked him, they both drew swords. Ognion was forced to flee as the noble proved a better swordsman. Perellos protected the knights, but the Inquisitor thought otherwise and the two were convicted by Rome .

Years later many Grand Masters would improve their relations with nobles, such as Baron de Piro, who was bequeathed money and a slave for Baron Testaferrata. De Rohan received no less than 16 petitions for nobility, many were granted, and other nobles like Ribera, Fournier and Montalto were granted bolle di famigliarita’. He also employed many nobles and granted patents to all of them, amongst them the Xara, Bonici, Muscati, Xiberras and Sant families.

During de Vilhena’s rule, a prammatica was set up to control many of the nobles titles, and stem any abuse. In 1739 Ramon Despuig gave preference to those titles holding a fief, still having one or not, over those of foreign monarchs. In 1795 De Rohan decreed that precedence, was to be based on date of grant, or according to ‘Maggior Antichita’. Nobles were regarded as one of the highest institutions on the island, one of the most popular being the Imnarja (feast of St.Peter and Paul) held at Mdina in June. During evening festivities the Grand Master would invite the nobility to dine with him at his Palace. While certain functions were reserved for a few select nobles, example was when Pinto sent five kaless (horse and carriage considered a grand gesture notwithstanding the fact it showed sign of wealth, prestige and honour) for the baptism of Baron De Piro’s son. The Grand Master gave the boy a gold cross, Baroness D’Amico was given a ring and a necklace of diamonds, and the boys grandmother Marchioness Testaferrata received a jewelled pendant. Strangely enough, even a stiff neck as Ximenes hunted with nobles, even after enacting a law prohibiting hunting (1773) the Grand Master and the barons still-hunted for game at Buskett gardens in 1774.

In de Vilhena’s reign, he built a theatre for the people, and often entertained nobles and noble gentry, and the first boxes were reserved for nobles by right. A Final example of friendship, and maybe affectionate, which existed was that of de Rohan and Lorenzo Fontani. Lorenzo a member of the Florentine Banking family was employed at the Grand Masters palace, which in 1776 made him confratrem of the order. Later appointed him Intendente de Palazzo Magistrale, where Lorenzo was required to reside at the Palace, where he died in 1788. His son Vincenzo, aged 4 was made Captain of the Cavalry, and at 8 (1792) made a ‘knight of devotion’ and given a silver diamond encrusted crosses. Two years before de Rohan’s death (1797) made Vincenzo Count of Senia. Years later in gratitude Count Vincenzo restored the Cathedral of St. John in Valletta .


Some Titles granted Nobility under the Grand Masters;

Ghajn Qajjet (Giov. Calava) L’Isle Adam 1531

La Recona (Aloisio Montagnes) L’Isle Adam 1531

Petra Longa (Franc. Maldonato) Homedes 1553

FIEF (Francesco Mego) del Monte 1569

Gheriexem aka Tabia (Giacinto Cassia) Lascaris 1638

Budach Baron (N. Cilia) Lascaris 1644

Gomerino Baron (Paolo Testaferrata & Beatrice Casia) Perellos 1710

Budach Baron (Gio Pio De Piro and Anna Gourgion) Perellos 1716

Marsa Baron (Ferdinando Castelletti) Vilhena 1725

San Marciano Baron (Diego Antonio Galea Feriol) Vilhena 1726

Tabria Baron (Isidoro Viani) Vilhena 1728

Qlejja Baron (Ignatio Bonici) Despuig 1737

Benwarrat Baron (Saverio Gatto) Depsuig 1737

Frigenuini Baron (Aless. Maompalao) Depsuig 1737

Bahria Count (Ign. Muscati Falsone Navarra) Pinto 1743

Catena Count (Pietro Gaetano Perdicomati Bologna ) Pinto 1746

Marsa Baron (Antonio Azopardi Castelletti) Pinto 1753

Frigenuini Baron (Gaetano Pisani) Ximenes 1773

Sciorp il-Hagin Marquis (Claudio Muscati Xeiberras) Rohan 1776

Marsa Baron (Gio Francesco Dorell Falson) Rohan 1776

Buleben Baron (Gaetano Azopardi) Rohan 1777

San Giorgio (Carlo Antonio Barbaro) Rohan 1778

Gauci Baron* (Francesco Gauci) Rohan 1781

Beberrua Count (Luigi Gatt) Rohan 1783

Taflia Marquis (Gio Battista Mompalao) rohan 1783

Fiddein Marquis (Salvatore Mallia Tabone) Rohan 1785

Taflia Marquis (Xaverio Alessi) Rohan 1790

Hajntufegha Count (Ghajn Tuffieha - F. Teuma Castelletti) Rohan 1792

San Cosmo Baron (Ugolino Calleja) Rohan 1792

Gnien is-sultan (Filippo Apap) Rohan 1792

Santi Count (Rumualdo Barbaro) Rohan 1794

Meimon Count (Saverio Marchesi ) Rohan 1794

Grua Baron (Saverio Carbott Testaferrata) Rohan 1794

Senia Count (Vincenzo Fontani) Rohan 1795

Ghajn Qajjet (Geronimo Delicata) Rohan 1796


* The title was not given concession, allowing succession and therefore only conveyed to him personally.


Others titles conveyed by 4 Kings, two Popes, a Duke and an Empress during the reign of the Grand Masters;

Castel Cicciano Baron, Enrico Ursino King Charles I, 1500’s

Bibino Magno, Principe, Don Gio Battista de Sayd, King Phillip III –1599.

San Paolino Baron Matteo de Ribera, King Philip IV - 1638

San Giovanni Baron Vincenzo Abela, King Philip IV – 1657

San Giovanni Laterano Ignazio Wzzini, Pope Clement XI – 1711

Vincenzo Ferreri Marquis, Mario Testaferrata King Philip IV- 1716

Testaferrata Marquis, King Victor Amadeus – 1717

Preziosi Count, King Victor Amadeus- 1718

Montalto Count, Duke of Parma – 1720

Castile Marquis, King Philip V of Spain – 1742

Palatine Count, Baldassare Fenech Bonici, Pope Benedict XIV 1768

Fournier Baron, Giorgio Fournier, Maria Theresa Empress of Austria 1768

Fournier Count, Giorgio Fournier, Maria Theresa Empress of Austria 1770

Fournier Count, Salvatore Sant, Maria Theresa Empress of Austria 1770


Although in practise a Titolato had to register his title in both the canceleria and in the castellania and pay a fee of 116 scudi (about Lm2000 in today’s monetary terms dated 1640, when a ‘normal’ worker would receive half that per annum), the absence of such did not invalidate this ennoblement. Some registered with date of registration were, Count Preziosi (1720), Count Montalto (Bernardo Piscopo 1721), Marquis Castile (De piro 1743), Count Montalto (Felici Manduca  Piscopo 1744), Count Palatine (Fenech Bonici 1750), Count Fournier (1775), Count Sant (1775), Baron San Giovanni (1778).


The Secreto

One of the most coveted posts that remained accessible after the knights came to Malta . Only a few secreti had no connection with nobility, and even though many of them were not the actual title holder. The post was defined as ‘the administrator of the Grand Masters property’, basically he was involved in leasing, selling and transferring all property, and it was in his duties to give permission for the quarrying, cutting of stone, trees, construction of buildings, walls, staircases, balconies and almost anything else associated with permits on buildings and property. He usually got a payment in kind by all lease holders, a kaless (horse drawn carriage) was at his disposal and was allowed to hunt on Comino. The office of the Secrezia had its own offices and a bank, and even appointed staff usually referred to as famuli and even judges to preside over any legal tangles. Some of the Title holders who monopolised this position;

Baron Paolo Testaferrata (Perellos 1714)

Baron Fabrizio Testaferrata (Perellos 1720)

Baron Gio Pio Depiro (Zondadari 1722)

Count Giuseppe Preziosi (Vilhena 1729)

Baron Marc Antonio Inguanez (Vilhena 1736)

Baron Antonio de Piro (Despuig 1741)

Count Gian Francesco Preziosi (Pinto 1773)

Paolo Muscati Xiberras (Ximenes 1775)

Gajetano Bianchi (Rohan 1779)

Baron Stanisloa Xara (Rohan 1794)

Baron Giov. Galea (Rohan 1797)

Marquis Xaverio Alessi (Hompesch 1798)

Marquis Fellicisimmo Apap (Hompesch 1801).


Another post held by titled nobles was that of the Capitano della Verga, or Captain of the Rod held a small annual fee, and it was regarded under the Grand Masters as the second stage to acquiring knighthood. It is interesting to note that prior to 1530 this post held the Governorship of the Island , when the knights came he was considered Lieutenant Governor, enjoying precedence above everyone. He was commander in chief, and stood on the right hand of the Grand Master. From 1530 to 1584 the office was always filled and of the fifty or so we see some nobles such as D’Alagona, Guevara, Inguanez, Nava, Manduca, Falsone. Then from 1584 to 1798 we had names such as Xerri, Inguanez, Fiteni, Cassia, Testaferrata, Galea, Castelletti, D’Amico Inguanez, Sciberras Testaferrata and Bonici families. Sir Thomas Maitland abolished this position including that of the Jurats in his proclamation in 1815.


The French Republic (1798-1800)

On the 10 June 1798, French troops landed at St.Georges bay and and on the 17th June, Grandmaster Ferdinand von Hompesch capitulated to Napoleon Bonaparte. The order departed and the islands fell under the rule of the revolutionary forces of the French republic. General Bonaparte immediately abolished all titles of nobility and ordered the armorial bearings on buildings were to be effaced. On the 14th July of the same year, all ex nobles were ordered to cast their patents of nobility into a bonfire at the Palace square in Valletta . Some nobles threw facsimiles into the bonfire so a few original patents have survived to this day. Moreover, Bonaparte did not destroy the official records of the Order. On the 4th September 1798, a revolt was about to take place at the citta Notabile, 3 nobles (Conte Salvatore Manduca, Marchese Vincenzo DePiro, Conte Ferdinando Theuma Castelletti and Notary Em. Abela). Now they needed someone to take control of the Island . The Maltese asked the British to help, and after numerous attempts on 9th December 1799, some 800 troops under Brigadier General Graham landed in Malta .


Every title either granted by the Grandmasters or recognised by them was entered in these records, which survive to this day at the National library of Malta in Valletta , together with many priceless documents.


Under the British Rule

In 1800, the Maltese patriots with British assistance successfully expelled the French army of occupation. The Islands formally became part of the British Empire in 1814 by the Treaty of Paris. The British took possession of the islands through the free will of the Maltese people and not by right of conquest. Like the order before them they were obliged “to respect the ancient rights and privileges of the Maltese people”.

These obligations included the recognition of the status and rights of the Maltese Nobility by the British crown. England took possession of Malta , not by conquest, but by request of the Maltese who were the conquerors of the French. Hence the inscription in Valletta Magnae et Invictae Brittanie, Melitensium Amor et Europae vox, has insulas confirmant. AD MDCCCXIV”.


The beginning

'Report' of the Commission presented 10th December 1877:

Early in the year 1877, General Sir Charles Van Straubenzee (1872-78), Governor and commander in chief of Malta , decided to appoint two judges of her Majesty’s court of Justice to form a Commission to investigate the claims of the “Titolati” in Malta . On 10th December 1877, the British government instituted a Report of the Royal Commission composed of two eminent Maltese Judges, Dr. S. Naudi and Dr. F. Pullicino and to assist them the Government Notary and Archivist was to act as clerk to the commission.

They were asked to retrieve terms of reference:
1. Whether a Title was registered and officially recognised
2. Primogenital or Head of Family
3. Limitation like 'male descendants only'
4. Whether it was by 'nominations'
5.  Whether it was 'ad personam'
6. Whether it was feudatory
7. Whether it was under a disqualification
8. Whether it was Legal patryonics; succession without limitations or by male descendants

A report was laid out and from the report the following did stick out:

TWO gentlemen failed to comply or come forward, these were: Dr.Gaetano Delicata and Dr.Giuseppe Delicata as legal representative of his son Nicola Maria Delicata Carbott. 

7 Other gentlemen also not included appeared in the course of the inquiry; Alessandro Preziosi, Dr.Vincenzo Camilleri, Enrico Testaferrata, Maria Francesca widow of Dr. Filippo Apap, Francesco Gauci Testaferrata, Angiolina Attard Montalto, and Luisa widow of Capt. Walter Strickland R.N. 

3 gentlemen included in the Committee list the report did not think proper to call; Dr. Pietro Paolo Testaferrata Abela Moroni, and Augusto Testaferrata Abela who both claimed the title of Baron of Gomerino. Mons. Don Salvatore Grech Delicata De Piro claiming the title of Baron of Budak.

The Reason for this commission and report, to investigate claims of nobility from 1876 and afterwards, was a letter written by the Marchese Cassar Desain, complaining at the shabby way Nobles were treated during the visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and claiming that they as noblemen, should take precedence over the members of the Chamber of Commerce. Dated 16th March 1876, Valletta , addressed to the Governor and written by the Committee (of Privileges of Maltese Nobility). In return the Marchese received a reply from the Chief Secretary’s Office in Valletta , over the signature of Victor Houlton. 


The Marchese quickly replied to the letter received from Sir Victor Houlton G.C.M.G, Chief Secretary, in which he stated “….the rightful place of nobility was immediately after his Grace the Archbishop of Malta, The Lord bishop of Gozo and the Legislative council”. The Committee of nobles was prevented from personally paying homage to Royal Highness the Prince of Wales , and since the Prince did duly visit Malta , and returned to England . On 20th May 1876, penned from downing Street, from the Earl of Carnarvon, where he writes to state the complaints made by the nobles of Malta to the Prince of Wales; for which they refrain from taking part in the reception of his Royal Highness. Lord Carnarvon demanded an explanation.


It was later that General Sir Charles Van Straubenzee, Governor and commander in chief of Malta and the Committee of Nobles had been finally drawn. A reply a few days before Christmas 1876 from Downing Street in which a request was made by the Governor as of Malta and the representative of Sovereign within the Island, to have the Committee furnish a list of “Titolati” and a date of their respective creations. The Christmas and New Years celebrations over the request, was passed on to the Marchese Cassar Desain, through the office of the Chief Secretary to the Government on 11th January 1877.

In a letter dated 24th February 1877, the Marchese furnished a list of Titled Heads of Maltese Nobility of the Maltese Islands.

The following were the first batch of Titled Heads presented for recognition;

Sant Cassia Gio Francesco, Count Sant

Sceberras Testaferrata Damico Inguanez, Baron of Bucana and Djar il bniet

Ciantar Paleologo Giorgio Serafin, Baron of San Giovanni

Testaferrata Abela Moroni , Pietro Paolo, Baron of Gomerino

Testaferrata Abela, Don Augusto, Baron Gomerino

De Piro, Mons . S. Grech Delicata Testaferrata Cassia, Baron of Budack

Testaferrata Bonnici Asciack, Emmanuele, Marquis San Vincenzo Ferreri

Testaferrata, Lorenzo Antonio, Marquis

Testaferrata Viani, Giuseppe, Marquis

Testaferrata Olivier de Puget, Gio Paolo Marquis,

Cassar Desain, ne Testaferrata, Lorenzo Antonio, Marquis

Testaferrata Bonnici Ignazio, Marquis

Preziosi Amadeo Count

Preziosi Antonio Count

Preziosi Camillo Count

Manduca Piscopo Macedonia , Mons . S., Count of Montalto

Galea Peter Paul, Baron of San Marciano

Bonici Vincenza, Baroness of Culeja

De Piro Saverio, Marquis of Castille, Count De Piro, and Viscount de Cartely

Stagno Navarra Muscati Falsoni, Antonio, Count of Casandola

Sant Fournier, Lazzaro, Count de Pausier, Baron Fournier

Apap Pace Bologna, Felicissimo, Marquis of Gnien is-Sultan

Azzopardi Zamitt, Calcedonio, Baron of Buleben

Barbaro Giorgio Crispo, Marquis of St.George

Gatto Nicolo, Count of Beberrua

Mallia Tabone, Salvatore, Marquis of Fiddien

Alessi, Bernardi, Marquis of Taflia

Teuma Castelletti, Pietro Paolo, Count of Ghajn Toffieha

Delicata Carbot Asciak, Nocola Maria, Baron della Grua

Fontani, Luigi Conte della Senia

Delicata, Gaetano, Marquis of Ghajn Kajet


This list by the Marchese composed of 31 titles, in which he reserved a right to submit more in the future:

24 Titles were recognised as legitimate by the Royal Commission;

4 titles were hereditary not recognised in Malta (later allowed by Commission)

3 titles were extinct (brought out by the Committee after 1970’s)

2 titles went into abeyance (Ghajn Tuffieha brought out but the Barony of Marsa is today still in abeyance);

(4 titles were disputed by more than one person, but were later allowed by one title-holder only);

[ Note: 32 Titles were eventually allowed; of which all still exist today.]


Van Straubenzee then requested an appointed commission to look into the titles, as what he claimed had several inaccuracies and gave rise to several questions.


Nonetheless the Committee of Nobility forwarded a petition to the Queen, which read; 

[Letter ]

To the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty.
The humble petition of the Maltese Nobility

Showeth most respectfully,

That from the time of the Norman conquest A.D 1090, count Roger constituted a nobility, which not only was recognised as a body by all successive Sovereigns, but formed an essential element in the constitution of the Government. That this is proved by the very laws of the island, and the distribution of the Gov’t lands into fiefs, from which most of the nobility derive their denominations.

That a patriciate has constantly existed in the island, which comprises not only the first born, or heads of families, but also the cadets or descendants of each house.

That the Grand Masters of the sovereign Order of St. John of Jersualem recognised the patriciate in their various enactments, but especially so their Serene Highness Grand Masters Despuig and De Rohan, in the Orders dated respectively 16th September 1739 and 17th March 1795.

That, your Majesty’s Royal predecessors graciously promised to maintain the rights and privileges of the Maltese.

That Sir Thomas Maitland recognised the nobility as a body in the proclamation of the 5th June 1815.

That, 11 years ago, when the question of precedence arose, the Late Sir Henry Storks, Governor at the time, recognised precedence which nobility as a body enjoyed, and have direction that their address should follow immediately that of legislative council.

That, recently another question arose, on the occasion of the Gracious visit of your Majesty’s eldest son, His Royal Highness Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and the Local government having applied to your majesty’s Secretary of state of colonies for a decision, his Lordship, in a despatch dated 23rd December 1876, expressed an opinion that the same precedence should be maintained, but as regards only the Heads of Families, declaring at the same time that question of precedence can only be determined by regulations issued by your majesty.

That, this restriction is considered derogatory to the rights of the other members of the nobility, who have always lived in the persuasion that no innovation was to be introduced in the ancient laws and usage of the island.

Wherefore your petitioners humbly pray, that your majesty be graciously pleased to honour their patriciate with your royal acknowledgement, that no alteration derogating the rights of cadets as to the precedence may be introduced, and that the place of honour due to nobility be that immediately after the archbishop, the Lord bishop of Gozo and the Legislative council; and your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

[Signed] Count Baron Sant Cassia
Marchese Apap Bologna

Mons. Barone Delicata De Piro  

and 57 others

Valletta Malta , 20 March 1877

Conclusion on the Report of the Royal Commission 1877  

The commission, whose terms of reference were to investigate Maltese titles of Nobility and to decide which should be granted full recognition by the crown, presented its report to the British Houses of Parliament in 1878 and its conclusions, together with some later decisions by H.M. Secretary of state for the colonies eventually led to 32 titles being recognised by the crown. These 32 titles form the Maltese Nobility as it stands today. One of the prerogatives of the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility was that laying matters concerning the rights, claims and privileges of the nobility directly at the foot of the throne.


Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 until 1901, and for the sake of clarity it should be noted that Lord Kimberley, Secretary of the state of the colonies, in his despatch of 16th August 1882, on behalf of Queen Victoria, gave formal recognition of the existence of a body known as the “Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility”, and though it existed many years before, this is the first time its` existence was given British Royal recognition.  The Nobility have been given recognition by the Spanish, and the Two-Sicilians Kingdoms in the 15th and 16th century, again also in the 18th century during the French terror in Malta .



Although relations between the nobility and the British crown were not always friendly, the British crown always displayed the greatest courtesy towards the Maltese Nobles. In 1883, while on a visit to Malta and during the first of many official dinners, Queen Adelaide insisted that a Maltese nobleman be her official escort; in 1888 Queen Victoria directed the ladies of the Maltese nobility be received at court in the same manner as Peeresses of Great Britain; representatives of the Maltese nobility were always officially invited to attend the Sovereign coronation.

[Count Edward Sant Fournier and Countess Esther was amongst the invited !!!]


Born in 1861, President of the Committee in 1888 at the age of 27. Presented and printed the “standing Orders” to the Committee of Privileges (a year before he became barrister at law of the inner temple of London ). Gerald at the time of the commission was fatherless, his mother Luisa, widow of Walter RN, who presented the claim to the title of della Catena on his behalf. Created Commander of the Order of St.Michael and St. George in 1889, a Knight of the same order in 1897 and Grand cross of the same order in 1913. In 1928, Sir Gerald Strickland, Count of Catena received the only Peerage ever conferred on a Maltese Noble. He was created Baron Strickland of Sizergh, in the county of Westmoreland in the Peerage of the UK . He died in 940 when the Barony became extinct.


Next Secretary for drafting the “standing Orders” was Baron Gomerino. The next name was the Baron of Budak, Giuseppe, 6th Baron.

The other nobleman next in line was Emmanule, Marquis San Vincenzo Ferreri, who classified as the 6th holder.

Then was the Marquis DePiro, Francesco Saverio, born in 1824 and was 64 when he sat on the Committee, and died in 1894.

Some difficulty in assessing the name of the next noble to hold the “standing Orders”, if it were Gio Paolo Testaferrata Olivier who died in 1888, as the 4th Marquis aged 76 or his son Louis who was born 1855 and would be thirty three at the age he took the orders.

The Count Sant Fournier Lazzaro, who is mentioned next on the list, is presumably the same Lazzaro who had some difficulty in persuading the commission, to be styled Count. The question arose whether he was able to hold the title, which was transferred by “male primogeniture” through his mother. In 1878 he was included as a Titleholder and officially recognised. Born in 1813, Lazzaro was 75 years of age at the time he held the “standing Orders”, and died in 1898.


During British rule, as well as since independence, several Maltese gentlemen received ennoblement from foreign powers. These foreign titles although socially prestigious, have never received official recognition by the Maltese nobility.



Knights of the British orders


* Cav. Giuseppe Antonio Apap, Marquis di Gnien is-Sultan, CMG, 1833.

* Cav. Dr. Vincenzo Azopardi-Zamit, Baron of Buleben, CMG, 1842.

* Cav. Romualdo Barbaro, Count of Santi, CMG, 1834.

* Cav. Prof Albert Victor Bernard, CMG, 1945. brother of the Count Bernard

* Cav. Lieut Col Joseph Francis Bernard, CMG, 1916.
* Sir Ignazio Gavino Bonavita, K.C.M.G., 1856, a kin of the Counts of San Paolino d’Aquileja
* Sir Claudio Vincenzo Bonici, K.C.M.G., 1835. a kin of the Barons of Qlejjgha

* Sir Giuseppe Borg Olivier, G.C.M.G., 1818. a kin of the Marquis of Ghajn Qajjed.

* Cav. Vincenzo, Marquis Bugeja CMG, 1876.
* Mgr. Sir Maurus Caruana, K.B.E.,1918. a descendant of the Marquis Testaferrata de Noto

* Cav. Lorenzo Antonio, Marquis Cassar Desain, CMG, 1885.
* Sir Vincent Casolani, K.C.M.G., 1853. a descendant of the Formosa de Fremaux family

* Sir Giorgio Serafina, Count Ciantar Paleologo, KCMG, 1882.
* Sir Giuseppe Calcedonio Debono, G.C.M.G., 1832. a descendant of the Marquis Testaferrata de Noto

* Cav. Maj Giuseppe, Marquis de Piro, CMG, 1833.

* Cav. Giuseppe Lorenzo de Piro, Marchesino de Piro, CMG, 1887.

* Sir Giuseppe Maria de Piro, Baron of Budaq, GCMG, 1856.

* Cav. Maj Saverio, Marquis de Piro, CMG, 1882.
* Sir Paolo Dingli, K.C.M.G., 1860, by marriage connected to the Mompalao family

* Cav. Lorenzo Galea Feriol, Baron of San Marciano., CMG, 1833.
* Count, Archbishop, Sir Michele Gonzi, K.B.E., 1946.

* Sir Vincenzo Manduca, Count of Mont’Alto, KCMG, 1833.

* Cav. Vincenzo Mamo CMG, 1859. a kin of the Mompalao family

* Cav. Saverio, Count Marchese, CMG, 1833.

* Cav. Col Antonio Mattei, CMG, 1877. a kin of the Marchese Mattei
* Sir Paolo Pariso Moscati, K.C.M.G., 1836, husband to Baroness of Grua and later to the Baroness of Budaq.

* Cav. Lieut Col Achilles Samut CMG, 1901, by marriage a kin to the Counts Tagliaferro

* Cav. Luigi Sant, Count Sant, CMG, 1833.
* Sir Filippo Sceberras, Kt.Bach., 1921.  a kin of the Barons of Castel Cicciano.

* Sir Nicholas Sceberras Bologna, Count of Catena., KCMG, 1868.

* Sir Pasquale Sceberras Trigona, Baron of Castel Cicciano., KCMG, 1868.

* Lord Gerald Strickland, Count of Catena, GCMG, 1913.

* Cav. Capt. Giacomo Tagliaferro, CMG., 1856. a kin of the Counts Tagliaferro

* Sir Giuseppe Vincenzo Testaferrata, KCMG, 1833.

* Cav. Augusto Testaferrata Abela, Baron of Gomerino, CMG, 1880.

* Cav Ugo Testaferrata Abela, Baron of Gomerino, CMG, 1901.

* Cav. Hon Francis Vella CMG, 1893. descendant of the Marquis di San Vincenzo Ferreri

* Cav. Hon Giovanni Vella CMG, 1868. descendant of the Marquis di San Vincenzo Ferreri

* Cav. Dr Paolo Vella CMG, 1890. descendant of the Marquis di San Vincenzo Ferreri
* Sir Raffaele Crispino Xerri, G.C.M.G., 1818.  brother to the Countess of Beberrua
* Sir Joseph Nicholas Zammit, K.C.M.G., 1818. father to the Baroness of Buleben
* Sir Temistole Zammit, Kt.Bach., 1930. by marriage, a kin to the Marquis di San Giorgio




Some Noble Bishops after 1831


Mons . Saverio Caruana Gatto , Malta - 1831

Mons . Publio Sant  from 1847 to 1857 Archbishop of Malta

Mons . Fra. Gaetano Pace Forno, Bishop of Malta, (r. 1857-74 his grandfather was Baron Forno of Sicily )

Mons . Conte Carmelo Scicluna D.D – 1875

Mons . Count Sir Michael Gonzi, KBE., Last Bishop of Malta , (r. 1943-44)

Mons . Antonio Grech Delicata, Bishop of Gozo, (r. 1868-76), Baroncino di Budaq, Nominated by the Baroness of Budaq, but failed to succeed upon her death.


Other Nobles of the Saintly order;


The Venerable Maria Adeodata Pisani O.S.B. 1806-1855, Baronessina di Frigenuini


The Constitution (1921)

In 1919-1924 Lord Plumer arrives in Malta as Governor, induces the government to create an autonomous form of Government. In 1921, this is granted, which consists of a senate and a legislative assembly. The Senate was made up of 17 members elected from different classes of the people in the island, whilst the Legislative is composed of 32 members to be elected by the people, into 8 districts. Great rivalry ensues at every election, when language came to play a role. On the one part, the Constitutional in compact with the Labour party prefer English, while the Nationalist party favour the pari-passu, where English and Italian are placed on equal footing. After the 2nd World war, Contino L. Preziosi forms the National Assembly, and in the elections of 1945, the Labour party wins, but in 1946 resigns en masse due to the layoffs at the HM Dockyard. On 10th September 1947, Douglas Governor in chief pushes the new constitution to take effect in 22nd September 1947, with this the senate is abolished and the legislative body, of which the Labour Party wins under Dr. Paul Boffa M.D and becomes Prime Minister. The split in 1949 brings the party to a downfall. Mr. Dominic Mintoff is elected leader of the labour Party, which he calls Malta Workers Party.


Since Independence

On the 21st September 1964, the Maltese islands gained their ‘so called’ independence from Great Britain but opted for a monarchical constitution, H.M Queen Elizabeth II becoming Queen of Malta. The nobility were still accepted as an official body by the Maltese Government although by now they had lost most of their Privileges.

On the 13th December 1974, the islands became an independent Republic within the British Commonwealth with a President as Head of state. On the 23rd June 1975, the Government of the republic of Malta withdrew its recognition of all titles of nobility. Titles were still freely used in Malta then, but during those ‘dark years’ of the 1970’s, under the Premiership of Dom Mintoff, these titles were no longer included in any Government documents.


The Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility, now a completely autonomous body, still exists and regularly meets to decide succession to titles, but its decisions lack the force of the Maltese Law. The courts cannot make decisions pertaining to any titles of Nobility with the exception of disputes over succession to property.


The Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility strictly controls succession to Maltese Titles of Nobility.





A guide to Maltese Nobility - Count Charles A Gauci
Malta's Nobility and the winds of change 1886-1986 Stephen D G Giles Ash
The Nobles of Malta 1530-1800 The Hon. Baron Dr John Attard Montalto MEP
The Malta Genealogy ( and the Libro D'Oro Di Melita - Count Charles Said Vassallo
Outlines of Maltese History - Rev. R.Laspina
History of Malta - Judge P De Bono
Outlines of Maltese history - A C Aquilina
Nobility in Maltese History Count S. Sant Fournier 

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