Malta does not recognise titles of nobility, even though the government set up an Office of the Chief Herald of Arms of Malta to allow anyone to register their coat of arms.

The office, which falls under Heritage Malta, has been the target of some international criticism for registering ‘nobility’ against a fee.

Last month, the UK satirical magazine Private Eye poked fun at the Office of the Chief Herald of Arms of Malta for charging money to register titles of nobility (like duke, marquis, count or baron), arguing that, apart from being futile and old-fashioned, the titles may also be illegitimate or plainly made up.

The article claimed the office may have been set up to launder titles just like Malta launders “dodgy money” through the golden passports scheme, among others.

The UK's Private Eye poked fun at Malta's Heraldry initative.The UK's Private Eye poked fun at Malta's Heraldry initative.

“The purpose of the operation became clear: to allow the international clique of holders of fake titles to pay to register their coat of arms – and so, hey presto, transform themselves from imaginary princes to ones recognised by an EU member state,” the article said.

Well, not really.

A two-person operation 

Times of Malta established that, under its seemingly glorious name, the Heritage Malta heraldry branch only has a small office in Fort St Elmo, employs two people and last year cashed in a grand total of €24,576.16 in profits.

The office, which opened in 2019, employs medicine lecturer and author Charles Gauci as Chief Herald of Arms and pays him €6,000 annually and a registrar, who gets €4,800 annually.

The saddest news for anyone who aspires to become a count or baron in modern times is that the office cannot recognise any title of nobility. Rather, it only recognises the image of the coat of arms.

“The Chief Herald does not grant or confirm titles, nor does the Chief Herald have the legal power to recognise or confirm any titles of nobility,” Heritage Malta explained in a reply to questions.

“What the Chief Herald is specifically allowed by law, following a review, is to mention and record titles for historical purposes in the letters patent and documents of registration. This mention does not constitute any form of recognition of the said title(s) either by the Chief Herald or the Republic of Malta.”

The state only recognises a picture as your coat of arms - but even that is no proof of nobility.

Malta’s office has also been dismissed by the European Nobility and Orders Registry and Commission (EUNORAC), which said: “The Office of the Chief Herald of Malta is a false title of authority, lacking the fons honorum right onto which it possesses offices which could grant heraldic titles and arms represented on or by a national or international level.”

But Heritage Malta fired back, saying that EUNORAC “is not an official state-authorised entity but [rather] a private body”.

The coat of arms of the Office of the Chief Herald of Arms of Malta. Photo: Heritage Malta WebsiteThe coat of arms of the Office of the Chief Herald of Arms of Malta. Photo: Heritage Malta Website

Why do people register their coat of arms?

Heraldry experts told Times of Malta that the clients usually just want recognition, as a sort of vanity project.  

There is a small but passionate market of foreign individuals who seek to have their coat of arms registered in Malta because they want their family crest to be associated with a country that has fought many battles and became the melting pot of many cultures and civilisations. It is mostly about prestige.

“Malta has a rich and glorious European tradition of heraldry which is evidenced in many different forms, whether architectural (say, houses, tombs, monuments), art (like paintings and flags) or in books and documents,” a Heritage Malta spokesperson explained.

“Heraldry is a means not only to preserve memories but also to act as a living permanent monument to people’s history.”

So far, heraldry seems to be more popular with foreign nationals than with Maltese people and, recently, individuals from France, Italy, Norway and Uruguay sought Maltese recognition for their coat of arms.

This is not to say that nobility was always fake. Up until a few centuries ago, if you were not born into nobility, you could still be granted a title of nobility from the king or queen for some glorious or momentous deed; if you fought bravely in a battle, for instance.

Depending on the ranking of your nobility and the monarch who granted it to you, the title could either die with you or be inherited by your descendants. That is why some people still boast of their inherited titles to this day.

So, what can you do?

If you intend to walk into the Office of the Chief Herald of Arms of Malta and be registered with a title of nobility, you will need to provide some documentation proving that you are the noble you claim to be.

If you already have a coat of arms, you may register its description in specific, and quite fancy, language called blazon. If you are a Maltese resident, that will set you back €450 + VAT. If you are not, €850 +VAT.

If you already possess the picture of your coat of arms and want it registered, it will cost you €750 + VAT if you are a Maltese resident and €1,250 + VAT if you are not.

If you do not have the picture, the office will be more than happy to create a coat of arms for you, for €1,100 if you are a Maltese resident and €1,600 if you are not.

You will get your documents and coat of arms nicely coloured in an embossed leather journal or in large format printing, which would be suitable for framing, if you intend to flaunt it.

The Office of the Chief Herald of Arms of Malta was created following unanimous approval in parliament and Heritage Malta said that,  since its inception, the office has so far provided 117 services.

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