Recognition of Titles
of Nobility in Italy
A frequent question is posed as to whether an Italian title
of nobility can be "recognised" in Italy. In almost
every case, the answer is negative. The Italian state has not
recognised titles of nobility since 1948, and affords such titles
no legal protection except in very rare cases of civil law where
both impersonation and financial fraud are involved. In certain
cases, the predicato (territorial designation) of a titled family
may be recognised as part of one's legal surname, but this requires
a court decree.
The various Italian heraldic and genealogical agencies and
societies cannot grant legal recognition to a title of nobility,
though many would have you believe otherwise. Yet, accurate genealogical
research is the only mechanism that can prove a valid claim.
Numerous Italian families descend from the untitled nobility,
members of the landed gentry entitled to historical coats of arms,
but in practise this form of ancestral nobility has not usually
been recognised in Italy, where heraldic (armorial) regulation
has always been rather lax compared to that of England and Scotland.
There are, however, several institutions which occasionally
recognise Italian nobiliary titles in some way, albeit not on
behalf of the Italian government.
The Royal House of Italy
The House of Savoy recognises titles of nobility in its orders
of chivalry. These orders do not have nobiliary grades or ranks,
but knights and dames of recognised noble families may have their
diplomas of investiture inscribed with their titles. Unless the
title was recognised by the Consulta Araldica (College of Arms)
before 1946, or subsequently created or recognised by the King
of Italy (between 1946 and 1983), a certification by the Corpo
della Nobiltà Italiana (a association of nobles organised
under the patronage of King Umberto II in the Italian Republic
in the absence of the Consulta Araldica ) submitted to the Duke
of Savoy may be considered.
Other Italian Dynasties
The royal houses of Naples (Two Sicilies), Parma and Tuscany bestow
honours and recognise titles of nobility in that context. Certain
of their orders of chivalry have nobiliary grades. In theory,
titles should be recognised based on the nobiliary regulations
in force in these realms before 1860, but this is not always the
case. However, historical titles (those recognised before 1860)
are accepted as legitimate if genealogical descent is clear.
The Sovereign Military Order of Malta
Apart from the courtesy acceptance of titles (in correspondence,
for example), the Order of Malta concerns itself primarily with
nobility of birth for its knights and dames, rather than the titles
themselves. The Order of Malta has nobiliary ranks.
The Holy See
Though it rarely creates titles, the Holy See (and the Vatican)
may recognise these, and sometimes indicates such titles in diplomas
issued for Papal knighthoods.
The membership of certain clubs in Italy (La Caccia in Rome comes
to mind) are exclusively reserved to titled noblemen or those
listed in the Libro d'Oro published by Collegio Araldico. The
Libro d'Oro is not an official or infallible record, but bases
its inclusion of certain titles on the determinations of the institutions
A number of factors enter into the fray:
If some institutions recognise titles, it is clear that certain
social practises unforeseen in Italy until the republican era
have influenced the situation of titular claims. In Catholic families
(the majority), divorce, in particular, creates problems where
there is no ecclesiastical annulment of marriage. For example, a count wed in the Catholic Church divorces without regularising his position with the Church (through annulment of the marriage). He then remarries. Is the son by the second marriage a legitimate heir to the title of nobility? There is no precedent in the legal structure of the Kingdom of Italy, which recognised Catholic marriages but also civil ones, to address the matter; divorce was legalised in Italy quite recently. Today, the Italian state recognises ecclesiastical marriages, and recognises church annulments as divorces, but the Catholic Church does not recognise divorce.
In principle, nobiliary law should govern matters such as inheritance
of titles, but varying practises in different regions create difficulties.
In the Two Sicilies, for example, succession through female lines
was not unknown, but in the Kingdom of Italy, where it was not
automatic, a decree or rescript was necessary to permit it. Today,
the heirs to the kings are reluctant to issue decrees in matters
of this kind.
Some Italian citizens bear post-war titles from foreign sources.
In times past, the assent of the sovereign of a subject's home
country was required for official use of the foreign title at
home. This law cannot be applied today. Italian citizens ennobled
in the Republic of San Marino or the Principality of Monaco claimed
nobility in Italy, but beginning in 1918 the Consulta Araldica
ceased to record these titles as though they were Italian ones.
Henceforth, only a special decree could establish such recognition
This ironic and arcane principle of Italian law (translated literally
from the Italian legal term) describes a legitimate title of nobility
decreed or recorded but for some reason, perhaps through oversight,
never listed in subsequently published official regstries. This
creates a problem because, in the absence of the original record
(the chancery's copy) in the royal archive, there is no way to
guarantee the record in the nobleman's possession today. The greater
part of the royal archives of the pre-unification kingdoms has
been lost, though something has been preserved in the Italian
state archives. Fortunately, cases of "absent recognition"
are quite rare.
Which dynasty has jurisdiction to recognise nobiliary titles in
the city of Naples? Is it the House of the Two Sicilies or the
House of Savoy? In the often metaphysical world of noble titles,
it's not just a rhetorical question. Unlike the Vatican, which
formalised its relations with the Kingdom of Italy in 1929, the
dynasties of Naples, Parma, Tuscany and Modena (the last now extinct
in the male line) did not sign such accords. This makes it possible
for a title to have been recognised by the kings of these states
but not by the kings of a united Italy. Today, when there is no
king, the solution is not clear.
Unfounded pretensions to titles of nobility are not unknown. Indeed,
they are numerous. There is no way to control this phenomenon,
as there is no governmental authority empowered to recognise any
title of nobility. Furthermore, titles are not illegal in Italian
law, merely "unrecognised." Most bogus titles are granted
by equally bogus founts of honours --"princes" and the
All things considered, a fascinating field.