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HISTORY OF THE GRECO COAT OF ARMS - ITALIAN TO ENGLISH

 

From the Enciclopedia Storico-Nobiliare Italiana (Historical Encyclopedia of the Italian Nobility) by Marchese V. Spreti, Milan, 1925-1928, 9 volumes), courtesy of Heraldry Today, Ramsbury, U.K.

 

ARMS:  Blue with a silver comet “waving in the pole” (i.e., with a waving tail), accompanied by three of the same seashells - two in the field (of the coat of arms), and one in the point.

                                                           

“DWELLING” (i.e., locality/ place of origin):  Palermo, Acireale (eastern seacoast of Sicily).

 

Sicilian provinces: Agrigento (AG), Caltanissetta (CL), Catania (CT), Enna (EN), Messina (ME), Palermo (PA), Ragusa (RG), Siracusa (SR), and Trapani (TP).  

 

The following ancestors are only the ones of note.  While the listing is thought to be lineal (i.e., direct from father to son), not every generation is represented - hence the wording in the original Italian: “a Baldassarre, a Giuseppe”, meaning one man of his line of that name.

 

1.         Baldassarre (Balthasar) - fiscal procurator of the tribunal of the Royal Patrimony [1](1682).

 

2.         Vincenzo (Vincent) - judge of Regia Udienza[2] in Messina (1693); of the military court of Palermo in 1995-1696, and of the tribunal of the Grand Court of the Realm (1697).

 

3.         Filippo Greco e Piazza, from Bivona (AG) (SW seacoast of Sicily) - obtained[3], with its privilege(s), the title of Baron of Santa Margherita (NE seacoast of Sicily, south of the city of Messina, in Messina province [ME]) on January 7, 1710.

4.         Ignazio Maria, Baron of Sta. Margherita, acquired the title of the Marquis of Valdina when he was invested on August 8, 1752.[4]

 

5.         Giuseppe Greco e Giacomazzi, Ignazio Maria’s son, was invested with the title of Marquis of Valdina on February 6, 1764, and was the Governor of Monte Pietà di Palermo[5] from 1767-1768.

 

6.         Antonino, from Melilli (AG) [6], obtained, with its privileges, the title of Baron of the Tower on December 23, 1775.

7.         Gaetano - judge of the military court of Palermo in 1779-1780 and of the tribunal of Concistoro[7] in the years 1795 through 1797.

 

8.         Luigi Greco e Settimo, son of Giuseppe Maria and of Emanuela Settimo e Settimo, who was (attested to as) noble by the Senate of Palermo on March 16, 1799, and was invested with the title of Marquis of Valdina on December 12, 1799.

 

9.         Giuseppe Greco e Pennisi - a noble of the people (atacapano nobile) in Acireale (east-central seacoast of Sicily, south of Messina and north of Catania) in 1804-1805.[8]  As of September, 2001, there are no Grecos at all listed in the comuni of Valdina or Sta. Margherita.  For whatever reason, the family left was displaced from their feudal lands, and there is now a gap of 19 years between Giuseppe in Acireale in 1805, and Rafaele’s (Angelo’s uncle’s) birth in Pratola Serra, Avellino in 1824.

 

A final note on Sicilian peerages:[9]

 



[1] According to Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (Book the First - Chapter the Eighth:  Of the King’s Revenue), the King’s Patrimony means, essentially, the revenues and assets of the King’s realm, not his personal assets.  While the term “procurator” in Italian now means a financial and/or legal proxy or administrator acting for another person, in 17th century Sicily, a procurator collected rents for his lord and took action against those in arrears; so, Baldassarre appears to have been the equivalent of the head of the Internal Revenue Service for the Crown.

 

[2] A demesnial town, which no longer exists in modern Sicily.  Demesnial means belonging to the Crown, as opposed to feudal - i.e., lands granted to a noble from which he would derive feudal rights to tax and control.

 

[3] The literal translation of ottense is “obtain”.  To “attain” is raggiunto, and “inherit” is ereditato.  In 17th century Sicily, demesnial (Crown) property could be  bestowed on a good servant of the Crown as a feudo - a fief, giving the individual both a title and feudal rights.  Conversely, if a hereditary title died out, that title and the fiefdom attached to it could be given to a favored person, whether already titled or untitled.  Filippo Greco was both untitled and landless until he was enfeoffed with  the barony of Sta. Margherita.  Fiefdoms could also be sold by a noble family to another, although the Crown was known to revoke such transactions, preferring to dispense such favors as rewards or for political gains - or to sell Crown lands itself.  As for Filippo’s surname, it is not unusual in Italy (and other Latin countries) for a person to use both his father’s and mother’s surnames, especially if a family name was in danger of dying out - not unlike Maurizio Morra Greco’s.

 

[4] There was, in fact, also a  Prince of Valdina.  There is nothing inherently contradictory about there being a Prince of Valdina as well as a Marquis - the title relates more to rank than actual territory size, although, obviously, one would expect a prince to have far greater holdings than a marquis.  Princes and dukes could also expect to have estates and property well outside of their feudi. For instance, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa was not only the last prince of the island of Lampedusa off Sicily’s west coast, but also the Duke of Palma; he spent his childhood, however, in the Lampedusa palace in Palermo and his mother’s family’s palace in Sta. Margherita di Belice (AG).   The Princes of Valdina, therefore, were probably overlords not unlike those of Great Britain, with a percentage of the taxes and rents appertaining to the Marquises of Valdina probably being paid over to them - as, no doubt, a percentage of their princely taxes and revenues had to be paid over to the Crown.   It is interesting to note in the history of the Grifasi family that Giustiniano (“Justinian”) Vigo, Baron and Lord of Gallidoro, was invested as Marquis of Valdina on April 12, 1751, with the final notation:   “. . . continua con un’altra famiglia” (“continued with another family” - i.e., the Grecos), when Ignazio Maria was invested with the title a scant 16 months later.

 

Briefly: the hamlets of Rocca and Valdina date from the time of the Roman tribunes.  In medieval times, the two villages were given to two knights for services rendered against the Saracens - Giovanni Rocca, who named his hamlet Rocca, and Giovanni Mauro, who named his Maurojanni.  In 1509, Maurojanni was sold to Andrea Valdina, head of an aristocratic Aragonese family.  Rocca stayed Rocca, but Maurojanni  then became Valdina, in honor of the family who protected it against incursions by numerous would-be invaders and brought it to its apogee.   Peter Valdina, a very able peer and administrator, was Andrea’s great-grandson and became the first Prince of Roccavaldina and Marquis of Valdina.  In  1776, the Valdinas sold the Marquisate of Roccavaldina to another family (the Marquisate of Valdina had already passed to the Grifasis and, later, the Grecos), but they remained Princes of Valdina until the abolition of  feudalism in 1812. However, by 1848, there was a new Prince of Valdina - Pietro Papé e Vanni, who was also Duke of Giampelieri.  After the Unification of Italy (1861), Valdina (which had also been known as Torregrotta) became Valdina again and became independent of Rocca; Rocca became Roccavaldina in 1863 (for reasons still not quite clear to me), but became an independent comune (municipality) in 1948.  The last known Papé, Don Francesco Paolo, Prince of Valdina and Barone di Vallelunga, was born in 1942, the Valdina family’s last known male member, Rocca Camerata, Barone di Casalgismondo, was born in 1946, and the current Prince of Sta. Margherita, Barone della Martini don Francesco Paolo Sabatini, was born in 193.   However, a female Valdina seems to have survived her brother, and married a commoner, now ennobled to Baron Nasatasi de Spruches.  The de Spruches are the current owners of the baronial palace in Roccavaldina - but, naturally, none of these titles are  recognized by the Italian government.

 

[5] A small town overlooking Palermo - a number of Monte Pietà governors were marquises.

 

[6] Regardless of where an heir to a title was born - Mellilli (AG), Bivona (AG)  (southwestern Sicily), etc. - he succeeded to the title of a given place.  For example, the son of the Earl of Northumberland could just as easily have been born in London as Northumberland.  Antonino’s diminutive (“Little Anthony”) implies that his maternal grandfather was an Antonio, too.  (In Sicily, first-born sons were always named after their paternal grandfather, and second-born sons after their maternal grandfathers in a practice aptly termed “papanomy”.)  Here again, Antonino “obtained” a new title - Baron of the Tower - on his own, without necessarily inheriting his father’s existing ones.  It is likely he was a second- or third-born son, not the first-born.

 

[7] Another 17th/18th-century town in Sicily which no longer exists.

 

[8] Atacapano means, according to my Roman-born Italian teacher, as “of the people”.  This is not so much a title as a job description.  It literally means “hook” or “link”.  The atacapano acted as a liaison between the people of a town or village and the local lord - usually a prince, duke or the King himself.  He was there to listen to and report the problems of the people back to the powers that be.  It could well be that Giuseppe was not a first-born son, since the incumbent baron or marquis and his heir would normally be busy with the family’s property (which, in our family’s case, was at the other end of Sicily).  However, being dispatched to Acireale as the king’s representative in a fairly large demesnial town wouldn’t have been a bad career option at all for a son that would never inherit his father’s property.  The atacapani were the working people who did the laundry of the rich and titled.  In medieval and Renaissance times, those workers also were expected to listen to and report back everything they saw and heard to their masters - hence the origin of the term.  By Giuseppe’s time, however, it probably had less to do with spying on people than acting, in this case, as the King’s representative. 

 

[9] In 1812, a constitution was established and feudalism was abolished in Sicily, much to the dismay of the noble Sicilians.  Between 1812 and 1848, Peers of the Realm were chosen from among those whose predecessors had held parliamentary seats before 1812, or from those predecessors who held a certain level of taxable assets, or who had held extensive feudal rights before 1812.  Excluded from the peerage were those non-noble families who had bought their feudal property and became ennobled, ipso facto.   According to the list of Sicilian Peers of the Realm in 1848, no Grecos were entitled to vote, nor were any of the family holdings (the original baronial hamlet, Sta. Margherita, nor the farm village of the marquisate of Valdina) listed in the noble territorial designations.  This simply means that the incumbent marquis - probably still Luigi Greco e Settimo - simply wasn’t entitled to a seat in Parliament; it did not mean, however, that the family were not nobles.  Peers were simply nobles entitled to a seat in Parliament and sundry other legislative privileges, just like Great Britain’s House of Lords.  In addition, the Peers of the Realm in 1848 were “elected” to Parliament by the Senate, provided they had signed the declaration of April 13, 1848 deposing Sicily’s king, Ferdinand II.  The Grecos had already been ennobled, titled and enfeoffed for a while by 1812, so one can only assume that their holdings were not extensive enough to “earn” them a seat in Parliament - or that they had lost their feudal property by then.  The Grecos of our family had left Sicily for Pratola Serra by 1824; it is possible that the abolition of feudal rights in 1812 left them unable to support their feudal lands and lifestyle, forcing them to either sell or abandon their property.  Either never having vast amounts of taxable assets or significant feudal political rights to begin with (or being dispossessed of those rights and that land) would certainly be a death blow to a coastal baron of a small fiefdom, whereas a baron of the interior lands - with more arable land, a bigger “tax base” and more political clout - would certainly have been able to survive the abolition of feudalism far better.  Even the princes of Lampedusa, as wealthy as they were, experienced not only a decline in the family fortunes  (mostly because of a family inheritance feud, but also because of the abolition of feudalism); by the 20th century, they had only their palace in Palermo, and by 1943, even the palace was gone - bombed into ruins by the Allies.

 

To have been a Peer of the Realm in Sicily meant very little after 1860; the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy became the upper house of the new, united nation, and although many senators were noblemen, senators were not created on the basis of blood.  Italy’s College of Arms (Consulta Araldica, now defunct), did not recognize Sicilian peerages even as honorary titles, though it recognized the noble rank on which those peerages were based - at they might recognize a person as a baron or count, but his title counted for nothing, politically or legally speaking.

 

Most of this was excerpted from articles written by Dr. Luigi Mendola, one of the more prominent Italian genealogists and heraldic experts, who is based in Palermo and is himself a cavaliere eraditario (hereditary knight) .  Two of his own ancestors sat in the Sicilian Parliament of 1812, and he is widely considered by both Italian and other European researchers to be an expert in his field.  This excerpt is from his article at http://www.knightlyorders.org/sicpeers.html