Decree number 1489 of 16 August 1926, first published 7 September of that year, signaled a landmark event in Italian heraldic-nobiliary law, which in the Kingdom of Italy was quite complex, reflecting to some extent the varying norms of the sovereign states that had existed in Italian territory prior to the unification period (1859-1870). It is unsurprising that it took the various regional heraldic councils, acting on the authority of the Consulta Araldica, some five decades to formulate policies adequate to address these eclectic conditions. Therefore, while liberal Piedmontese tradition is seen to have exercised the single greatest influence on twentieth-century Italian nobiliary law, statutes pertaining to such matters were not always uniform in their formulation or application, specific rules sometimes having been established for the benefit of noblemen of particular regions, as in Article 10 of the decree translated herein. (Italian titles of nobility are considered elsewhere.)
In the Kingdom of Italy, the special prerogatives of "titolati," as titled noblemen were frequently referred to in official documents issued between 1860 and 1946, amounted to little more than the official use of a title and territorial designation ("seat") in legal documents, the recognition of a coat of arms, and a few purely ceremonial court privileges described in the Order of Precedence. Although the following decree constitutes the framework of nobiliary succession law in Italy, it should be observed that this was only enforced for some twenty years. After 1946, usually as the result of circumstantial exigencies unique to each case, some nobiliary creations and matriculations of the exiled King of Italy, Umberto II, were made at variance to particular prescriptions of Italian statute as established by King Vittorio Emanuele III. Furthermore, certain historically independent entities based in Italy that make determinations regarding the recognition of ancestral nobility rule according to their own traditional norms, which in some instances may differ somewhat from those promulgated by the King of Italy in this and other decrees: The Sovereign Military Order of Malta bases its nobiliary rulings on criteria which date from the days of medieval feudal law, without recourse to any outside authority, while the Royal House of the Two Sicilies recognises exclusively the body of heraldic law enforced in that realm until 1860 which, for example, ascribed considerable importance to the rights of female succession ("Sicilian Succession"), a practice all but abolished in the Kingdom of Italy.
The following decree should be viewed in the context of the Lateran Treaties ratified a few years afterward (1929), terms of which resolved a longstanding dispute between the Kingdom of Italy and the Roman Catholic Church which had resulted in Catholic marriages not being recognised as legal by the Italian state, thereby necessitating civil marriages to ensure legitimacy of issue. The Consulta Araldica was abolished by the Constitution of the Italian Republic in 1948; all royal decrees pertinent to heraldry and nobility, as well as numerous other laws decreed between 1922 and 1946, eventually were abrogated ex post facto, this abolitive legislation being upheld by subsequent decisions rendered by Italian high courts in the early 1970s. Were Italy still a monarchical state today, additional heraldic legislation might well be required to address such matters as widespread divorce, marital annulment and subsequent remarriage among the nobility, as well as the emergence of more egalitarian attitudes towards the rights of adopted children, conditions unforeseen in 1946. Its publication here marks the first appearance of this remarkable document in the English language.
In view of the ancient dispositions based upon various laws in each region of Italy, the order of succession regarding titles and nobiliary attributes [i.e. ranks, territorial designations, etc.] created by the Sovereigns of the ancient States prior to political unification shall be abrogated in favor of the following set forth herein.
The succession to nobiliary titles and territorial designations shall favor the lineal male descendants in the agnate line of the last individual invested, according to primogeniture, without limitation as to degree of kinship or consanguinity but nevertheless in favor of the direct line of descent.
The lineage of those qualified to succeed to such ranks must ascend patrilineally to the first individual invested with the title.
Titles of nobility shall not be transmitted to females, nor through a female line, except under the conditions set forth in the first section of article 4.
Natural children, even if they be recognised, as well as those children legitimised by Royal Decree, shall not qualify to succeed to titles of nobility or familial territorial designations.
An adopted child shall not qualify to succeed to the right to a title of nobility or familial territorial designation of his adoptive parent except in the event of the exercise of the Sovereign Prerogative for titles of new creation in conformity to Article 79 of the Fundamental Statute of the Kingdom.
Titles created by any prescription whatsoever, and with special reference to those legally recognised in the persons of male heirs general, are succeeded to from the day of birth of the heir.
Those titles created with the provision of succession by, in addition to male heirs general, female heirs general as well, shall be borne by the ladies only until marriage, and do not entail rights to succession.
No modification is made to the rights of both sexes relative to the use of the qualification "Nobile" as set forth in Article 42 of the Regolamento [Regulation] approved by Royal Decree number 314 of 5 July 1896.
At the time that the present decree becomes law, titles which have been inherited by females shall be transmitted to their male heirs, and shall in the future devolve to the heirs of the same in conformity to the terms established with Article 2.
In the event of extinction of heirs in the male lines, in which case a female has come to inherit a title, said title, with the attached territorial designation, shall, by authority of Letters Patent of Royal Assent, be granted to the senior male descendant of the agnate line of the family to which it appertained on the day of promulgation of the laws abolishing feudalism, in compliance to the terms established with Article 2.
A title which, except under the provisions of the first section of Article 4, is at the time of ratification of the present law borne by a nubile female shall, on the day of her marriage or, in the absence of marriage, on the day of her death, devolve to the senior male in the agnate line of the family to which the lady appertains [i.e. into which she was born], in conformity to Article 2, except under the conditions described in Article 9.
If a title is vested in the person of a lady in the state of marriage when the present statute is ratified, her title shall upon her death devolve to the senior male in the agnate line of the family to which the she appertains, any prior Letters Patent of Royal Assent recognising rights of succession in her favor and in favor of her heirs according to any other prescription being null and void.
In the event of more than one title being vested in the person of a lady in the state of marriage when the present statute is ratified, there may be issued, upon the request of the the titled lady, a Decree of Royal Assent establishing that upon her death one of these titles, and the associated territorial designation, shall devolve to the firstborn son of her marriage, provided that this does not coincidentally include the territorial designation attached to the name of the family into which the titled lady was born.
The husband of a titled lady, even if he be a widow, may under terms of the present statutes legally may bear by courtesy the masculine title analogous to the title of nobility of his spouse. However, his use of said title shall not include the territorial designation, and shall cease upon his remarriage.
The rights of those invested with one or more title shall be hereby preserved, in consideration of the legally prescribed means of transmission of same.
Subsequent succession to the title shall conform to the conditions described in Article 2.
If , before or after the ratification of the present law, the male agnate line of a family that, in conformity to the first or second sections of Article 5, had the right to titular succession, becomes extinct, the title may, with an act of the Sovereign, devolve to the firstborn female issue of its last bearer, from whence to her firstborn male issue. In that event, the lady's male issue may legally be permitted to assume the surname of their mother.
In exceptional cases, acting upon the request of the bearer of more than one nobiliary title, there may be issued a Decree of Royal Assent according to which his firstborn daughter or, in default of which, his nearest sister, may, in the absence of male heirs, succeed to one of his titles and the attached territorial designation, insofar as the latter is not attached to the surname as used by other members of the family in the male agnate line. Upon the death of the said lady who succeeds to the aforementioned title, it shall devolve to her respective male issue. This condition shall be applicable only in compliance with ancient concessions that were made regarding Neapolitan, Sicilian and Sardinian transmission.
Upon the request of the bearer of more than one nobiliary title, a Ministerial Decree issued on the advice of the Consulta Araldica may be made permitting the firstborn male issue, or in default of which the next heir in the line of succession, to use during the entire course of his life one of the aforementioned [secondary] titles.
Pre-existing laws and practices relative to the succession to titles of nobility which are contrary to the conditions set forth herein are hereby abrogated.
The terms of the present decree shall be applicable to matriculations and creations made following political unification, as well as to decisions regarding future matriculations and creations, which in particular cases have not been rendered, or have not explicitly been recognised, or which are governed by special conditions relative to the successors.
The present decree shall take effect from the date of its publication in the Gazzetta Ufficiale of the Kingdom.
We order that the present decree, bearing the seal of the State, be placed in the official registry of laws and decrees of the Kingdom of Italy, to be made available to whomever shall seek to view it.
Given at Racconigi this 16th day of August 1926.
[signed] VITTORIO EMANUELE
Seen by the Keeper of the Seals, Rocco
Deposited with the Corte dei Conti 4 September 1926, in the Registry of Government Acts, volume 252, page 23.