Saturday, 25 August 2012
The Present System of Noble Proofs in the SMOM
While the histories of the different nobiliary structures varied across Europe, there are certain constants; members of the more ancient noble families are likely to be found in the class of Honour and Devotion while those families more recently ennobled are probably to be found in the class of Grace and Devotion. This division has become clearer since the antiquity of the paternal line as one of the criteria has largely displaced the older proof of four, eight, or sixteen noble quarterings. This reform was introduced because the social gulf between noble and non-noble families in many countries has been eliminated, or substantially diminished, so there is no social penalty for members of the old nobility marrying non-nobles. The consequence of this has been that fewer individuals are now capable of proving the qualifications by quarterings.
Since official nobiliary jurisdictions have been almost entirely abolished (although occasionally replaced by private bodies that claim to be qualified to determine nobiliary successions), the SMOM officers charged with determining whether a candidate’s noble proofs are sufficient are generally unable to turn to official sources for guidance. Records have been destroyed and in some countries the use of noble titles has been made illegal. In other nobiliary jurisdictions there were considerable differences in status between national, urban and provincial nobilities which co-existed but could not properly be equated. The increasing distance in years from the time when the nobility was regulated, intermarriage with non noble families, and national legislation which has conflated nobility with the name, have served to complicate the determination of nobiliary status.
The SMOM is still primarily nobiliary in character and the statutes of the Order and of many European national associations limit the tenure of the highest offices (Grand Master, Grand Commander or Association President or Vice-President) to nobles. The first class, of Justice, for the professed members is no longer limited to knights admitted into a nobiliary grade and an increasing proportion of members of this class were admitted as knights of Magistral Grace. Meanwhile, as the proportion of members in the class of Honour and Devotion is in an escalating decline, so are the numbers of postulants for Justice. This means that the pool of candidates for those offices limited to knights admitted in Honour and Devotion is also becoming ever smaller. At the same time the non noble members, with their talents, financial power and skills, makes the SMOM more dynamic than – for example – those Orders which are limited exclusively to the nobility. Its nobiliary character, however, provides a constant and essential link with its historical past and traditions.