Pier Felice degli Uberti: born in 1955, resident in Bologna, president of the International Commission for Orders of Chivalry (ICOC), the Confédération Internationale de Généalogie et d’Héraldique (CIGH), the Italian Heraldic Genealogical Institute (IAGI), president of honour of the International Association for Italian Genealogical Studies… Considered a national and international expert in areas such as noble law, genealogy, heraldry, orders of knighthood, noble titles… And he is. But the Uberti’s interest in all these ancillary sciences of history is due, as in almost all cases of experts in these fields, to a passionate desire to prove that he himself is noble. In general, President of the ICOC is presented as ‘the noble Pier Felice degli Uberti, Count of Cavaglià, 15th Baron of Cartsburn (Scotland), feudal lord of Benham Valence (England)’. But is this really the case? In what follows, we will demonstrate the opposite; because enthusiasts of history, noble law, heraldry, genealogy, orders of knighthood, noble titles… – have a right to know. And our demonstration will be based, to a large extent, on the Uberti president’s own words.
However, we would like to make two clarifications at the outset: we do not dispute Mr Pier Felice degli Uberti’s expertise in the fields he deals with, nor do we accuse him of imposture. His claims to nobility are due neither to incompetence nor to a desire to deceive, but to a false family tradition and to his personal and ardent desire to convince himself that he is noble. It is not so and we shall prove it. The following article is intended as a scientific demonstration and in no way an attack on the person.
We begin with an article entitled “The surname: differences between change, addition and rectification (a simple correction that does not change it)”, published by the President of the ICOC, in 2020, in “Nobiltà” (issue 159, November-December), the magazine of the Italian Heraldic Genealogical Institute (IAGI). Leaving aside the differences invented ad hoc by him – “cambio”, “aggiunta”, “rettifica” – and the word games, in this article, the author acknowledges that, in 1977, he changed his surname from “Ubertis” to “degli Uberti”, because this would be the real Italian name of the family, while “Ubertis” would only be a “Latin mutilation”. In reality, the real reason that prompted Pier Felice Ubertis to change his surname was the fact that – as the article itself says – family tradition and public rumours claimed that the Ubertis family descended from the famous Farinata degli Uberti, mentioned by Dante in Canto VI of the “Inferno”, among the Florentines “ch’a ben far puoser li ‘ngegni”, and later encountered in Canto X, among the heretics, in particular, among the Epicureans who did not believe in an existence after death. But, as the Uberti himself admits, historical evidence of the descent of the Ubertis monferrini (his family) from Farinata degli Uberti of Florence does not exist; this genealogy cannot be proven!
The similarities between the surnames “Ubertis” and “degli Uberti”, between the original coat of arms of the Ubertis family of Monferrato – shielded in gold and azure – and that of the degli Uberti family of Florence – party: in the 1st gold, with an eagle in black, coming out of the partition; in the 2nd shielded in gold and azure -, prove absolutely nothing. The case of the Milanese patrician family of the Medici di Marignano is well known, who also gave birth to a pope, Pius IV (1559 – 1565), and who boasted family ties with the more famous Medici lords of Florence, whose arms they bore (surely usurped), although there is no evidence to support the historicity of this link. The historian and writer Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672 – 1750) reports that the lineage had completely different origins and that, in its time, it was inscribed in the register of Ottone Visconti. Moreover, a coat of arms identical to the original one of the Ubertis family (gold and azure escutcheon) was also worn by the Giorgi family of Asti, the Sordini family of Florence, the Capetian (French) house of the Counts of Dreux, etc.
Now, with regard to the nobility of the Ubertis da Monferrato family and its right to the title of noble (here, we must make a distinction between nobles without a title and the title of noble, which only existed in the Holy Roman Empire and in Italy, a distinction that the president of the ICOC does not seem to make), we will quote an article entitled “Appunti genealogici sulla casata degli Uberti”, published by Pier Felice degli Uberti in 1986, in the Spanish magazine “Hidalguía” (numbers 196-197). Desperate to prove at all costs that his family is noble, the author obtains an effect diametrically opposed to the one he wanted: from the article it fully emerges that the Ubertis family is not noble!
Thus, on pages 397-398, the coats of arms to which the family would be entitled are described: the first one – shielded in gold and azure, the original coat of arms of the Ubertis family – is of assumption (self-confirmed), possibly usurped; the coat of arms of the Counts of Cavaglià – gold, with three lilies in azure, two and one, with the head in azure, charged with a golden prancing horse, harnessed and saddled in red – is certainly usurped (we will prove this later); as well as the coat of arms currently used by Pier Felice degli Uberti – : in the 1st gold, to the eagle in black, exiting from the partition; in the 2nd shielded in gold and azure -, stolen, centuries ago (as, perhaps, the first one), from the Ubertis family of Monferrato, to the Uberti family of Florence, on the basis of a presumed relationship with this one, as the author himself admits: “This weapon is similar to the one used by the Uberti of Florence and was used [by the Ubertis of Monferrato] in the mythical conviction of being related to that stock”.
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In the same article “Appunti genealogici sulla casata degli Uberti” (Genealogical notes on the Uberti family), from the magazine “Hidalguía”, in note number 34, to which he sends the statement: “The [Ubertis] family moved, in the sixteenth century, from Valmacca to the neighbouring Frassineto, where they enjoyed the noble status”, the three types of nobility of Monferrato are defined (of which the last two – typical for Italy – are very vague): de feudo, de commune, rurale. From the first category – families with titles such as count or marquis, who sometimes lived at the sovereign’s court -, the president of the ICOC himself admits that he was not a member. The nobility de commune ended – according to the article – in 1565, ‘when the commune clashed with the Gonzaga’s absolutist form of government’. Regarding the rural nobility, it is stated that it was composed – among others – of “the possessors of very modest portions of feudal jurisdiction” and that, “in Monferrato, it is not well delineated and even less studied, often causing inaccurate interpretations” (in other words, anyone can claim to be part of the rural nobility, if they feel like it, on condition that the family had some land in the countryside; as I said, typical for Italy).
In the same footnote 34, other revealing clarifications are also made: it is stated very clearly that, “unlike the neighbouring Duchy of Savoy, no delivery of coats of arms or demonstrations of membership of the noble class were ever made in Monferrato”; that ‘the title of noble [throughout the article, the president seems to confuse nobility without a title with the title of noble, but let us not go into detail], in this land, was attributed to some families not by sovereign concessions, but was slowly formed and consolidated as a general and lasting recognition of a particular standard of living and high public esteem’ (crossed out zero); that “maxim number 21, on noble matters, contained in an opinion rendered to King Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy [Monferrato became part of the Savoy dominions in June 1708], on noble law, by a special consultative body, formed by the first presidents of the Senate of Piedmont, the Chamber of Accounts and the Advocate General of the Senate of Piedmont, on 20 July 1738, states: The title of noble used in ancient deeds by families, even for a long time, was never believed to attribute nobility, being given, in the 17th century, to all those who lived nobly and without personal subjection to a feudal lord’ “; and Pier Felice degli Uberti himself concludes: “the attribution of the appellation of noble, rather than a real noble title, legally recognised, denoted, more simply, the distinct civilisation of the family to which this title was attributed. Therefore, the title of noble was not a real noble title, endowed with a specific juridical recognition, but only a qualification related to a family that lived its own ancient and distinct civilisation of life” – therefore, as in the case of rural nobility, many could or, looking back, could claim to be noble, if they had/had the will, including the Ubertis.
All the more so as, in the same report made to King Carlo Emanuele III of Savoy, three other types of nobility were distinguished in the Kingdom of Sardinia – by prince’s privilege, by blood, by offices held – and Mr degli Uberti claims (because now he no longer quotes, interprets as he sees fit) that “the authoritative writers of that opinion, with regard to nobility of blood, explicitly declared that people who were born and lived nobly, from their own income, without exercising a mechanical or vile art, were to be considered noble, and that they were also considered noble by public esteem and concept. To make up this nobility, it was necessary […] to have three generations who had lived nobly. […] … if, in a family, for three consecutive generations, from father to son, one lived nobly, the representative of the third generation could [it was not, therefore, a sure and automatic thing] be recognised – and, we add [as we said, it is Mr degli Uberti’s personal interpretation], legally – as noble”.
However, that opinion had a strictly consultative role (as Mr. degli Uberti himself writes, in the aforementioned syntagma, “a special consultative body”); nowhere does the article state that the opinion was converted into law. And – again – it is absolutely certain that the Ubertis have never been formally, legally recognised as belonging to the nobility of the Kingdom of Sardinia. They are not even listed in the “Libro d’oro della nobiltà italiana” (Golden Book of the Italian nobility), which included the families recognised as noble after the full unification of 1870, i.e. belonging to the nobility of the Kingdom of Italy, despite an effort in the 1920s by the Ubertis to be included in this prestigious list, an effort that failed due to their inability to provide the necessary historical documentary evidence. With regard to the Ubertis family’s belonging to the nobility of the marquisate, then duchy of Monferrato, prior to the kingdoms of Sardinia and Italy, Pier Felice degli Uberti himself writes, as we have shown above, that “the title of noble, in this land, was attributed to some families not by sovereign concessions, but was slowly formed and consolidated as a general and lasting recognition of a particular standard of living and high public consideration” (therefore blah, blah, blah…. ); that “the title of noble was not a true noble title, with specific legal recognition, but only a qualification relating to a family that had its own ancient and distinct way of life” (blah, blah, blah…). ); and Pier Felice degli Uberti again quotes the opinion of 20 July 1738, according to which “The title of noble used in ancient deeds by families, even for a long time, was never believed to attribute nobility, being given, in the 17th century, to all those who lived nobly and without personal subjection to a feudatory”.
So, in the final analysis, the Uberti’s arguments in favour of his family’s nobility boil down to the fact that, for centuries, the family lived nobly (this lifestyle boils down, in turn, to the fact that, as Michelangelo’s father repeated in “The Torment and the Ecstasy”, the famous novel by the American writer Irving Stone, from a certain point onwards, no one in the family worked with their hands; we must not imagine any great luxury at any time). No one, ever, neither in the marquisate (later duchy) of Monferrato, nor in the kingdoms of Sardinia and Italy, conferred or officially recognised nobility on the Ubertis. Nobody, never, neither in Monferrato, nor in Sardinia, nor in Italy, granted the Ubertis any noble title (not even that of nobleman). But, you see, they were noble for the simple reason that they lived like nobles.
Of course, no one disputes the fact that the Ubertis were a noble family, who gave, over the centuries, notaries, town councillors, consuls of the Magnifica Comunità di Frassineto. But such positions could only be ennobling, at most, in a republic like Florence, not in a monarchy like Monferrato. Even websites, such as the “Annuario della nobiltà” (Yearbook of Nobility) or the “Studio araldico Pasquini” (Pasquini Heraldic Study), which, among other things, print and supply coats of arms for a fee, make the difference between noble families and those that are notable or of distinguished civilisation; one advertises: “Colour coats of arms of noble families, of distinguished civilisation or notables and bourgeoisie on commission. You only pay € 250.00”; the other one invites us: “Check if one of your ancestors had a noble title or belonged to a notable or distinguished family”. Exactly in this last category fall also the Ubertis: a notable family or one of distinguished civilisation (as Pier Felice degli Uberti himself writes, countless times, in the cited article). Nothing more.
Having said this, we will deal in the following with the noble titles held by the President of the ICOC: Count of Cavaglià, 15th Baron of Cartsburn (Scotland), feudal lord of Benham Valence (England). Pier Felice degli Uberti’s claims to the title of Count of Cavaglià are based on the marriage that took place in the mid-16th century between Antonio Ubertis, one of his direct ancestors, and Catalina Cicugnone, the last descendant – the Uberti president claims – of a branch of the Counts of Cavaglià. And, starting from here, Mr. degli Uberti builds a whole scaffolding of extravagant statements, difficult, but very difficult to believe, expressly intended to lead to the conclusion that he, personally, has the right to the title of Count of Cavaglià, although none of his ancestors has ever claimed or carried it.
Thus, again in the article “Appunti genealogici sulla casata degli Uberti” (Genealogical notes on the Uberti family), the author speaks of a bushy family, with five branches with as many surnames (including “Cicugnone”) and with many dozens of members, and maintains that “all the consorts enjoyed the title of Count of Cavaglià” and that the succession of the title “was allowed to males, females and even their husbands”. In other words, a small fiefdom – Cavaglià – was held not by a single man, but – collectively – by dozens and dozens of people, all bearing the title of Count of Cavaglià! At the apex of the family ramification, there were no less than 50 counts of Cavaglià (wrote the president in a topic, on the forum ‘Our ancestors’, corresponding to the organisations he heads)!
On the other hand, in the cited article, Pier Felice degli Uberti himself writes that, from the end of the 13th century onwards, we see a “decline” of the Counts of Cavaglià, a “slow and progressive impoverishment of the lineage, due to the secular and continuous division of the fiefs among all the descendants”. Moreover, from the end of the 14th century onwards, the author can no longer cite any historical document that mentions the Counts of Cavaglià. The Cicugnoni of the 15th and 16th centuries, mentioned by Signor degli Uberti, no longer appear as Counts of Cavaglià: ‘From 1446 to 2-II-1476, he was provost vicar foraneo of the parish and collegiate church of S.. Ambrogio di Frassineto Guido de’ Cicugnoni”; “The last remnant of the past splendour was the noble tomb ‘Illorum de’ Cicugnonibus’, in the parish and collegiate church of S. Ambrogio, as can still be seen in the will of Francesco Cicugnone of 1530” etc. Under these circumstances, we can naturally ask ourselves how Catalina Cicugnone could have passed on to the Ubertis family, around 1550, the title of Count of Cavaglià, which her ancestors no longer held.
Let us assume, however, that everything that Pier Felice degli Uberti writes in the article quoted above is true; even so, he has absolutely no right to the title of Count of Cavaglià. The proof is childishly simple: as throughout Europe, noble titles in the Holy Roman Empire were not transmitted through women. It is very true that, again throughout Europe, there were cases in which, in the absence of male heirs, certain noble titles were transmitted through women, but only when the titles in question accompanied a fief, a territory, for the simple reason that these landed estates could not disappear into thin air, with the death of the last lord, but had to be inherited by someone. In such cases, the husband of the eldest daughter of the last lord inherited the land and the title, but this was not a rule, but, on the contrary, an exception to the rule of male primogeniture, necessarily requiring the express agreement of the sovereign. Without this agreement, the titles and fiefs in question could not be inherited automatically, as in the case of male heirs.
On the other hand, the president of the ICOC himself admits that none of his ancestors asked for imperial investiture, because they did not own any fief in Cavaglià. For this reason, we add, if they would have asked for it, they certainly would not have received it. And, even if, absurdly, they would have had the possibility of receiving it, the fact is that they did not ask for it. In these circumstances, it is absolutely absurd to assume, today, the title of Count of Cavaglià, based on the presumption that, if the investiture had been requested, it would have been granted in due course. The investiture was not requested and granted, therefore the title cannot be inherited, and this is what happened.
In support of our assertions, we quote the book “Count Umberto I and King Ardoino”, by Baron Domenico Carutti, published by the Accademia dei Lincei in 1888: “The Counts of Cavaglià, which we must believe to be a branch of the Counts of Lomello, prior to all the above, divided into many branches and died out in the 17th century”.
Moreover, if anyone had the right to ask for the investiture of the title of Count of Cavaglià, it would certainly have been the husband of the eldest daughter of the last Count, who died in the 17th century, or his female descendants, and certainly not the descendants of a Cicugnone married, around 1550, to an Ubertis. Or, if the last Count of Cavaglià, who died in the 17th century, had no daughters, the descendants per done of a previous Count, but after the marriage between Antonio Ubertis and Catalina Cicugnone.
As for the “recognition” of “his” title of Count of Cavaglià by a judge, in a libel trial, and the registration of the coat of arms by the heraldic authorities of Spain and South Africa, invoked by the Ubertis’ president in support of his rights, this proves absolutely nothing and such a competent expert as he is knows this very well. Just as he knows very well that we are right in everything we say; and this is why, on the most serious websites, such as, for example, that of the Scottish barony of Cartsburn, of which he is the owner, Pier Felice degli Uberti does not dare introduce himself as “Count of Cavaglià”, but, more simply, as “heraldic heir of the Counts of Cavaglià” (in the sense that he has appropriated, by his own power, their coat of arms).
As regards the British titles of the President of the ICOC – feudal lord of Benham Valence (England) and baron of Cartsburn (Scotland) -, it is sufficient to mention only this: as he himself admits, these titles were bought, therefore, regardless of their legal validity, from a moral point of view they have no value.
With reference to the acquisition of the title of feudal lord (lord of the manor) – whose holder, moreover, “is not to be considered noble according to our European concept”, as Mr. degli Uberti himself admits -, a member of the forum “Our ancestors” wrote: “a noble title is a heritage closely linked to the history of a family, and not a commodity and even, perhaps, a useful investment, with its own market quotations”; and: “buying a noble title is ridiculous and very snobbish”.
Another forum member added: “Living in the UK for 22 years and always watching, with particular attention, the news concerning nobility and monarchy, in a country where the class system is still noticeable, rather than a personal opinion, I notice how the press reports on these sales: ‘when it comes to titles carrying real estate and other real rights, they are always treated as serious and interesting news, but when it’s just lord/lady of the manor titles, they report it almost as a gossip/comic news, with comments like: ‘all they can do with the title, is asking for it to be added to the passport and credit card! ‘. For example, and not least, when an old middleweight boxing champion had his title of lord of the manor seized and auctioned off…’.
The authors of these comments were perfectly right: the purchase of noble titles is obviously vulgar and in bad taste, and the way in which the Uberti president wrote in the sight of everyone, right on his forum, with what sums he bought his titles and what a profitable deal he made, being cheaper than those of San Marino and, unlike the latter, being able to be resold, made us ashamed in his place: it was as if we were really at the market!
Moreover, the way in which the President of the ICOCi allows himself to be presented, in various publications, as “the 15th Baron of Cartsburn”, consciously misleads readers, who, on reading these words, understand, of course, that the title of Baron of Cartsburn has been in the Uberti family for 15 generations.
In conclusion, Pier Felice degli Uberti has no real title of nobility. Two of his titles – nobleman, count of Cavaglià – are assumed, the other two – feudal lord of Benham Valence, baron of Cartsburn – are bought. He is not a nobleman at all, not even one without a title. He is an artificial nobleman, fabriqué de toutes pièces, made of all pieces, as the French say. On the other hand, this was obvious, because those who are truly noble do not need to make an effort to prove it; it is clear from the beginning and is known, it is more or less of public and historical renown. But the President of the ICOC has no need of noble titles or coats of arms, because his real titles and coats of arms are his unquestionable expertise in the fields he deals with. We will always retain a sincere affection for his dear and distinguished person.