Saturday, 25 August 2012

Reforming the rank of Grace and Devotion of the 3rd class of the SMOM

The class of Grace and Devotion is a relatively recent innovation; one of the principle reasons for its introduction was to enable individuals who could prove an ancient paternal line but could not provide the necessary additional quarterings to be admitted in a nobiliary grade, rather than Magistral Grace (at a time when several of the principal national associations only permitted proofs of 4, 8 or 16 quarterings).  This was also extended to enable representatives of lesser or more recently ennobled families to be admitted in a nobiliary grade without being accorded Honour and Devotion. More recently, however, the replacement of the quarterings requirement with an alternative proof of ancient paternal nobility has meant that Grace and Devotion has been accorded largely to persons of recent ennoblement and not to representatives of ancient families whose parents or grandparents had married outside the circle of noble families.

It has been questioned whether the Order can or should establish new and different criteria for the class of Grace and Devotion, in addition to the existing criterion, to determine whether families or individuals might be qualified even though they cannot prove nobility (or gentility by possession of hereditary arms for several generations).

The United States, Canada and the States of Central and South America have historic hereditary elites which have for a number of generations been sufficiently established to justifiably claim the equivalent status of gentry in the UK; hitherto there has been no way to recognise their status (although there was a short-lived, but ill-thought out experiment in Canada with such a policy). While in the US such families are predominately Protestant, there are many convert families among them and the old Spanish land grant families still survive in numbers (although rarely associated with the SMOM).

In every Western European state prominent families have emerged in the post-monarchical period which have provided leaders in society, the military, the law, academia and business but who have not been ennobled; the question arises whether these families should be recognised by acceptance into Grace and Devotion? Some of these families have provided several generations of Magistral Grace members of the Order of Malta; a similar question arises as to whether generational family support of the Order should be accorded any special recognition.

Eastern Europe provides different challenges. The nobilities have lost their position, wealth and often nationality and in only small handful of cases have returned and recovered their properties or status. The newly enriched families are still first generation and it would be impossible to make an assessment which could establish any kind of representative nobiliary equivalent class today. There is not much of a case to be made for extending such a reform to these states at present since any families that have achieved prominence in the last 60-90 years can only have done so within the communist system.

It is possible, by considering those offices whose tenure under the ancien regime conferred hereditary nobility, or were limited to hereditary nobles, to draw up definitions of offices that today may be considered their equivalent. If a candidate descends from someone who held such an office more than, for example, 100 years ago and since then his or her family has maintained its social position, then it could be argued that such a candidate might qualify for Grace and Devotion under a revised criteria.

Outside Europe and the Americas it is possible to identify Catholic families in the Middle East who have for generations been among the nation’s leaders, and may by life style and status be considered the equivalent of nobles even though such rank may never have been formally recognised. Many of these families were, under the Ottomans, given life time offices of such standing that they may be considered the equivalent of those offices in Western Europe which conferred hereditary nobility. Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia (and in the pre-communist era, China, Vietnam and Laos) each had families which represented the equivalent to European nobilities – many of these today still enjoy particular rank or status, even though few if any have converted to Catholicism.  There are also African Catholics who descend from local tribal chiefs and kings; such individuals may also, perhaps, be candidates for a reformed Grace and Devotion.

1 comment:

  1. Why did you suddenly stop updating the site with no explanation?