Saturday, 25 August 2012

Problems with the Present System of Noble Proofs in the SMOM

There are several problems that have arisen in the present, largely republican era. The first is that the nobility is frozen in size in almost all of Europe, with a cut off date between 1870 (in France, or as some argue, 1789) and 1918 (most of the rest of Europe). Italy’s nobiliary jurisdiction ended in 1946 although her former king continued to confer and confirm titles and nobility from the 1960s until his death in 1983. Belgium is the only country which has consistently conferred membership in the untitled and titled nobility. The United Kingdom confers life titles, but these are largely political honours; the heralds may affirm what they claim is gentility through the grant or confirmation of arms. Nobility ceased to be conferred in the Americas at the end of the colonial period, although Brazil maintained a system of titled nobility until the end of the Empire in 1883 (most Brazilian titles were only granted for life however). The nobility in Japan was abolished by the post-war constitution of 1946. Since conferrals of nobility have ceased, the number of (genuine) noble families has steadily declined, and will continue to do so. The genuine nobility, therefore, is rapidly diminishing as a percentage of the overall population.

There are many families which have risen to prominence in the modern era and that for several generations have provided notable figures in politics, the military, law, academia and business but which have never been (and never will be) ennobled, although they would probably have been the beneficiary of a grant of nobility during their national monarchies. Such families may often be discouraged from joining the Order of Malta because their eminence in society cannot be recognised by the Order and because in those Associations which restrict offices to nobles, they cannot serve in any official capacity.

The New World countries in which there are associations of the Order, however, have in most cases never had national nobilities or, if they did, it was closely associated with the former colonial power. Thus adjudging qualifications for the higher classes of Honour or Grace and Devotion on the basis of a family’s colonial links may not be widely supported unless there is some means for those families who achieved their status subsequently to independence to be advanced. Furthermore, the representatives of European noble families who settled in the New World may not have any particular standing among the elites of the country in which they now live. There is only the slender argument of European historical links to justify admitting a recent immigrant whose family is of ancient nobility in a New World national association into the noble grades – and such a policy may well contribute to the hostility towards the concept of noble proofs held by the leadership of some of these associations.

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