The Revival of Nobiliary and Heraldic "Traditions" in the Republic of Albania
James J. Algrant
The recent appearance of a brochure the frontispiece of which reads:
The College of Arms of the Republic of Albania
Information & Services Provided by the Albanian College of Arms Concerning
Heraldry, Genealogy, Titles of Nobility and Chivalry
has prompted me to write the following article:
Thoroughly intrigued by the title, the first question that came to mind was, can this be an official body of the Republic of Albania or is it a private venture? The answer quickly became apparent. It was created in October 1992 by the Albanian Ministry of Culture, although the text states that it was "re-established", which would imply that it had had a previous existence. Looking at it more closely, I had the feeling, and I might have been wrong, that this had not originated as an Albanian government initiative, but rather as one proposed to the Albanian Ministry of Culture Youth and Sports by a non-Albanian. I also had the impression from the writing that English is not the author's mother-tongue. After a little further reading it was obvious that the person behind the undertaking intended to emulate the heraldic authorities of monarchies such as Spain, England, and Scotland, and those of the republics of Ireland and South Africa. Actually, the design goes much further than that in that it purports to grant, "rehabilitate", for a price in hard currency, alleged dormant Albanian feudal titles and to recognize feudal as well as honorific titles and coats of arms granted by other fountains of honor, some of which are of decidedly arguable authenticity. Another element which struck me was the similarity of contents, style and turn of phrase between the text of this brochure and that of another put out by the "Ecumenical Orthodox Jacobite Patriarchate of Antioch". This Church operates out of a post office box in London, and also purports to grant, and "rehabilitate" alleged dormant titles, but from the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. But to get back to Albania, it is hard to imagine the holder of a legitimate title or coat of arms seeking to get it recognized by the College of Arms of the Republic of Albania and paying a fee for the privilege!
Before going any further I must point out that the word and concept of "rehabilitation" of titles are strictly a Spanish phenomenon and apply nowhere else in Europe. Briefly, the principle is the following: In Spain a nobiliary title reverts to the crown when it can no longer be transmitted normally from father to son, or when an heir forgets or refuses to pay the applicable succession fees, or when the last holder has been shown to be unworthy of it. At this point any individual able to show a connection to the last holder may apply to the crown via the Ministry Of Justice to have the title revived or "rehabilitated" in his name. There is a strict procedure to follow and only after a year, if no one can show superior claim to the title, is it awarded to the new claimant. In order to prevent the many abuses which have arisen during the last few years, new Spanish laws were promulgated in 1988 which provide that only titles which have been vacant no more than forty years may be rehabilitated. Further, the relationship between the claimant and the last holder may be no more than six times removed. Why the Republic of Albania should follow in the footsteps of the Ecumenical Jacobite Patriarchate of Antioch by adopting the Spanish custom of "rehabilitation" is an interesting question which the architect of the scheme could probably answer. But let me continue.
That the Republic of Albania, a democratic, sovereign, independent nation is a bona fide fountain of honor is not at issue. Neither at issue is Albania's inherent right to grant and recognize titles if doing so is in accordance with its constitution or with that in effect before the Communist takeover. However, none of Albania's constitutions, beginning with the 1914 "Statuti Organik" which established Albania as a constitutional monarchy, then the expanded constitution of 1920, followed by the constitution which proclaimed it a Republic in 1925 and later the 1928 constitution which proclaimed it a "Hereditary, Democratic, Parliamentary Monarchy" with Ahmet Zogu as King of the Albanians (the last constitutions of Albania before the Communist takeover), provided for the establishment of a nobility or for the creation of titles of any sort, except, for the King and members of the royal family. Neither was there, in any of these constitutions, a provision for the establishment of a college of arms or heraldic authority. The actual constitution, which I understand is in the process of being amended, makes no provision for the recognition of nobility, nobiliary titles or coats of arms.
The history of Albania, has never witnessed an established, structured hereditary nobiliary system or heraldic authority as existed in other European countries, simply because before and even after the advent of George Castriota, known as "Skenderbeg", and until 1914, there was never an independent Albanian state, king or national leader. What existed in Albania was a loose feudal system made up of less than twenty leading families or clans; some would even call them principalities. Albanian clan chiefs became vassals of more powerful states such as Venice, Naples, the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and other neighboring kingdoms and these granted honors to the clan chiefs. Christian Albanian merchants, as well as Albanian mercenaries who left the country when it came under Turkish domination, established themselves and prospered in Austria, and other neighboring principalities. They obtained titles from the local princes and married into the local nobility. Heraldry as used in Western Europe and the lands of the Holy Roman Empire, Poland and later Russia never existed. As there was no Albanian fountain of honor per se before Albania became a sovereign state, any coats of arms or other honors held by Albanians emanated from the issuing principalities, and the recipients belonged to the nobilities of these principalities rather than to a strictly Albanian one. Another point that must be kept in mind is the fluidity of the borders in the Balkans, where villages had the habit of being at one time in Albania and later, following a clan raid, in Montenegro, or Macedonia or Greece. Ferdinand Schevill states that Albania was a mere geographical expression without precise limits. Further, individuals were known by their religion rather than by their place of birth. In other words an Albanian of the Greek Orthodox faith would be known as a "Greek", not an Albanian, a Macedonian Catholic was known as a "Latin" not a Macedonian, and a Bulgarian Muslim as a "Turk", not as a Bulgarian.
In short, the College of Arms of the Republic of Albania and its activities, though perhaps legal, have neither historical precedent nor historical legitimacy.
The press reports to which we are daily being subjected concerning the barbaric Serbian attempt to isolate the Muslim and Croat populations in order to create a "Greater Serbia" in the former Yugoslavia, and its possible extension to Kosovo and thence to Albania, reminds one of the conditions which reigned both before and during the five centuries the region was under Ottoman rule. At that time, entire populations were deported, troops of slaves were transported from one end of the empire to the other and Christian children were abducted to swell the ranks of the elite corps of Janissaries. In addition, Turkish harems were filled with women who came from all over the world which resulted in a veritable "stew of humanity".
The region on the Western part of the Balkan peninsula known as Albania or Shqiperi [land of eagles] was colonized in the 7th century BC by the Greeks who had an important cultural influence on the population for the next several centuries. One of Europe's smallest countries, it has a 225 mile coastline on the Adriatic and Ionian seas and is bounded in the north and east by what was Yugoslavia and on the southeast by Greece. The Albanians are made up of two main sub-groups the Ghegs in the north and the Tosks in the south. Their languages are mutually intelligible. In 350 BC there emerged an independent kingdom known as Illyria in the northern part of the region. In 168 BC the Romans conquered both Illyria and Epirus to the south. When the Roman Empire split into Western (Rome) and Eastern (Byzantium), provinces in the fourth century AD, both Illyria, which later became known as Albania, and Epirus became a part of what became the Byzantine Empire. Byzantine control was weak, however, and in the next centuries parts of Albania were occupied by the Goths, Bulgars, Slavs, Serbs, Normans and Angevins. In the XIIIth century they came under the Byzantine Greek Despotate of Epirus then briefly under the Serene Republic of Venice in the last part of the XIVth century and, eventually, under Turkish domination from the XVth to the XXth.
As a part of the Byzantine Empire, Albania was subject to the Byzantine system of honors. There were the archontes or government functionaries defined by Prince Michael Sturdza as "the totality of the imperial court, the Byzantine magnates and those of neighboring allied or vassal states, plus the bulk of the senior civil service. The title of archonte was also conferred on foreign princes whom the Emperor wished to honor such as the King of Armenia and the Grand Duke of Russia." Besides the archontes there were the pronoia or "grants to the office-holding class of populated lands or other revenue-yielding property as a reward for service done and on condition of discharging a certain military service from the grant." The pronoia was not an hereditary property held unconditionally; its possessor could neither sell, bequeath nor give away the granted land and upon his death it reverted to the empire. It was granted by the emperor or in his name by his ministers.
As an administrative province of the Ottoman Empire Albania was subject to a similar Turkish system. In his "Albania and the Albanians", Marmullaku Ramadan writes: "The Turks established throughout the Balkans a military and feudal system which became the cornerstone of the entire Ottoman empire. According to their law the state owned all the land. The Sultan granted fiefs to deserving members of his cavalry known as spahi. In return for their fiefs, the spahis were obliged to take part in military campaigns, with a force in proportion to the size of their fief. Although the fiefs were not hereditary, a spahi's son could inherit his father's land if he was fit for military service. A spahi could lose his fief if he failed to respond to a summons to battle, if he were disloyal to the Sultan, or if convicted of a crime. Thus, the feudal class structure of the Ottoman empire was based on a system of military land grants. Regional military and political units were called sanjaks whose rulers were usually of the high Turkish aristocracy. As a reward for loyal service, the Sultan gave them entire villages, whose inhabitants worked for them. There were smaller units known as vilayets headed by a subasha. In the sanjak and vilayet respectively, the sanjakbey and subasha were representatives of the supreme civil and legislative authority; but the highest authorities of all were the heads of the sheriat courts, the kadis. Sheriat law is the Islamic religious law based on the Prophet's teachings and religious practice. It reflects the social, economic, political and religious conditions in Arabia and encourages the feudalization of society. The law was also applied in the Ottoman empire."
The Turks converted over two thirds of the Catholic and Orthodox Albanian population to Islam. However, the Albanians, were not particularly religious and they switched religions when it suited them. Their main concern was their land. Blood feuds amongst themselves were common as was perpetual rebellion against the Turk.
The breakup of the Serbian Empire, of which Albania had been a part albeit briefly in the latter half of the XIVth century, resulted in a period of murderous rivalries between the various clans each anxious for territorial gains. Whilst in 1371 the Macedonians were subjugated by the Turks and twenty five years later by the Bulgarians, Venice was pursuing a strategy to gain control of the Macedonian littoral and occupied the Albanian towns of Durazzo and Scutari, then under Neapolitan rule. Some of the principal feudal families who resisted in the interior were the Dukagjin, Balsas, Shpatas, Muzakis, Komnenis, Arianis, Thopias, and Castriotas. The Balsas, a clan which had reigned supreme for many years in the north of what is now Montenegro is one such. When their strength began to wane, they were eventually replaced by the Castriotas, who belonged to the petty landed aristocracy and whose castle dominated Croia and the valleys of the Drin, Matja and Ismi rivers. As was so often the case in Albanian families, whether landowners or peasant, the Castriota's religion varied. Thus, the founder of the clan, John who had extended his lordship to the Adriatic and in 1411 had offered the Republic of Venice a troop of 2300 horsemen in exchange for a thousand ducats, had declared himself Catholic as a Venetian ally, but Orthodox when he signed an accord with the Serbian Tsar and finally Moslem as a forced ally and vassal of the Sultan of Turkey. When the Sublime Porte confiscated a part of his holdings and razed his castles, he once again reverted to the Catholic church, received the honors of the Republics of Venice and Ragusa and died a good Christian. At that time (1430) Albania, conquered by the Turks had been transformed into a turbulent minor Ottoman province.
When John Castriota was forced to declare himself a Turkish vassal he was not only forced to pay tribute but to send his two sons Constantine and George as hostages to Constantinople. George was raised in the seraglio, circumcised and enrolled in a Janissary regiment where he fought against the Persians under the nom de guerre of Skenderbeg until the day of his father's death. The name was given him by the Turks who compared him for his valor to Alexander the Great (Skander=Alexander, beg=lord). He was highly respected by the Sultan as a strategist, but never forgot his father and his own people in the mountains. The Turks had been making frequent incursions into Albania raiding and plundering the countryside. On one such occasion in 1430, the Turkish governor of Scutari seized a part of John Castriota's possessions. The Turkish forces, however, would eventually be beaten by an alliance of the leading Albanian clans. In 1443 a Turkish army, under Skenderbeg clashed with the Hungarians near the town of Nish. Initially the Turks were successful and stopped the Hungarians outside the town. Skenderbeg, however, had decided to return home to his mountains and, with his three hundred Albanian followers, he deserted the Turkish army. In November 1443 he entered Croia and proclaimed the independence of the "principality of Castriota". Albanian history books state that he took down the occupier's flag and hoisted the red Castriota flag with the doubleheaded black eagle which became the flag of all Albanian tribes and later that of independent Albania.
After liberating Croia he reverted to Christianity. The Turks were busy fighting against neighboring peoples and could not send reinforcements to Albania, which resulted in Skenderbeg continuing his offensive in a series of encounters and expelling the Turks from most of Albania. He realized, however, that his army, made up from different clans which, when they were not fighting the Turks were fighting each other, would be no match for a concentrated Turkish offensive against him. Thus, in 1444, he proposed and signed an alliance with the other Albanian feudal lords who promised him financial and military support. The alliance was successful in that it was able to repel the Turkish attacks on Croia. Heading troops from various Epirote and Albanian clans, Skenderbeg won a series of nineteen victories against Turkish forces, the last in 1450 led by Sultan Murad himself.
After a period of stormy relations with Venice, resulting from Skenderbeg's desire to annex for himself the town of Durazzo, which had been ceded to the Republic by the Albanian Thopia clan, he signed a treaty in 1448 with the Venetians and became their vassal, gaining their support, as well as the right of asylum in the Serene Republic for him and his family in case of military defeat. In exchange, he would pay a tribute to the Republic consisting of two greyhounds and two falcons. Three years later he declared himself a vassal of the King of Naples, signing the treaty of Gaeta to this effect; but the latter's promised aid never materialized. The name of Skenderbeg became legendary. Popes Nicolas V, Calixtus II, Pius II and Paul II conferred on him the titles of "Champion of Christendom" as well as "Captain and Defender of the Church." The Holy See chose him to head a crusading venture, which he accepted and solely with his Albanians once again defeated two Turkish armies, headed by Sultan Mohammed who had just taken Constantinople. He died in 1468.
Albania was exhausted and could no longer resist. In 1478 the Turks took Croia, ravaged the country and forced the people to place themselves under the suzerainty of the Porte. George Castriota Skenderbeg and his family had sought refuge in the kingdom of Naples. His son John had obtained the personal protection of Venice which, as of 1463, had exceptionally raised him to the nobility of the Grand Council, which is to say that it elevated him to the Republic's patriciate.
As the Turks returned to Albania after Skenderbeg's death, a large number of Albanians emigrated to islands in the Pelopponesus as well as to other states in the region, where they prospered and became wealthy merchants, eventually obtaining titles and patents of nobility from Naples, Austria, Hungary and the Holy Roman Empire. Some became high officials of the Sublime Porte. The Osmanli dynasty of Egypt, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, was of Albanian origin. It continued to rule until King Farouk was deposed in 1952.
Because of their legendary courage in battle the Albanians were much sought after and they hired themselves out as mercenary soldiers to anyone requiring their services. Very often honored by their patrons, they were given lands and titles. Some signed on to the Republic of Venice and Kingdom of Naples during their wars against the Turks. They were known as stradiotes. From the XVIth to the XVIIIth centuries, the reigning princes of Walachia and Moldavia took them on to fill the ranks of their personal guards. The Porte hired them for their Moslem Albanian Shqipetar companies, described by a French essayist as "undisciplined hordes with glittering weapons". The Turks also used them in their armatole units. These units, made up of Greek and Albanian Christians, were deployed to guard the mountain areas inhabited by their co-religionaries. They pledged allegiance to the Porte and were responsible for keeping the peace and collecting taxes which allowed them to insure the autonomy of the regions which they controlled. The heads of these units bore the title of Kapetano which was often hereditary. When they thought that their privileges were being infringed upon by the Turks they often rebelled and fought a guerilla war against their masters. When they did so, they became known as klephtes and their deeds of derring do gained them wide popular support. Legend, popular songs and traditions of heroism extolled only their virtues and ignored their savagery. They were often highwaymen but were considered by the people as knights without "fear or reproach", who were forced at all times to maintain their independence. The armatoles had all the qualities and the faults of their counterparts in the feudal system prevalent in the West. The hereditary character of their privileges and the uniform which they wore when they could afford it, do have a resemblance to that of a western privileged aristocratic class. Unlike their western peers whose rough ways eventually mellowed and gave rise to Christian chivalry and its respect for women, the weak and the poor, their rough way of life persisted and did nothing to refine their mores.
Albanian mercenaries served far and wide. They are known to have been recruited by Charles VIII, King of France during his campaign in Italy, and others served in France during the Wars of Religion (1560-1598). Charles V and his son-in-law, Alexander Farnese, hired some who fought under the Catholic kings in Spain, in Hungary and in Flanders.
Many of these mercenary officers married into noble families in southeastern Europe and became the progenitors of families from which the Greek aristocracy descended. Most of them, cavalry and infantrymen, came from Albania, Greece, Morea, the Dalmatian coast and occasionally from Cyprus.
The Albanians had no sense of national identity, they identified themselves with their clans and villages. It was only in the Roman Catholic schools in northern Albania that the Albanian language was maintained. Franciscan missionaries began in 1632 to found elementary schools in the villages. The first writers to use Albanian vernacular were Catholic priests. The first book, a prayer book entitled Meshari, was written in the Albanian language by John Buzuku in 1555. It can be seen in the Vatican library. The Ottoman authorities and the Greek Orthodox patriarchs collaborated to discourage the use of the Albanian language and the development of Albanian culture. So, to return to our original point, there was no Albanian state, nor king but only clan chiefs, the Albanian nobility was that of the occupier of the moment. Under Byzantium and the Turks it was a functional nobility, not an hereditary one. Under Venice's rule over the Albanian towns of Durazzo and Scutari, the Republic considered those Albanians raised to the nobility for services to Venice as "second class" nobles; very rarely did it elevate foreigners to its patriciate. The rest was made up of wealthy merchants who, having emigrated, had obtained their titles from foreign sovereigns. They, like the mercenaries, also married into foreign nobility and became absorbed by it. Thus, titles and coats of arms held by Albanians were in reality foreign honors.
Some will reject this thesis, comparing the Albanian situation with that which governed the status of the nobility of the kingdoms of Castille, Aragon, Leon and Navarre after the unification of Spain in 1492. They will affirm that when the unification took place, the Crown of Spain recognized the nobilities of the separate kingdoms and officially integrated them into the Spanish by royal decree.
This is quite different from the situation in Albania which had no nobility of its own. Others may compare it with that of the integration of Georgia into the Empire of Russia. Here again, Georgia seeking the protection of the Russian Empire agreed to become integrated into the Russian Empire along with its nobility by imperial decree. This is not comparable to the situation in Albania, because there, while individual large landowners were recognized as princelings by the occupying powers, there was no Albanian nobility per se to be absorbed. Some of those who had emigrated as merchants to neighboring kingdoms or who had volunteered as mercenaries were ennobled by their new sovereigns.
Albania achieved its independence from Turkey in 1912 at Vlore (Valona) following the defeat of the Turks in the Second Balkan War. At that time, it became a fountain of honor although for two years its juridical status was in limbo. Its independence was guaranteed and its borders delineated by the five great powers (Russia, Great Britain, France, Austria-Hungary and Germany) who were more concerned for their own interests than Albania's. In 1914 its Constitution declared it "an hereditary constitutional monarchy" and Prince William of Wied was invited by Austria-Hungary, to be ruler of Albania, a title he never relinquished although his reign only lasted a little over six months from March to November 1914. Since the Albanians had never had a king there was no word in the language to express kingship, so the word m'bret was devised and inserted into the language. Wilhelm was not popular among the Albanians because he had decided to rule hand in hand with the wealthy landowners. But even these landlords were unhappy with him. They had wanted a Muslim ruler and were even willing to accept a Turkish or Egyptian prince. A rebellion ensued in Durazzo and quickly spread to the entire country. Prince Wilhelm only controlled Durazzo while the rest of the country was controlled by many local tribes, assisted by Serbia, Greece and Italy, each of which had its own designs over Albania. He had hoped to gain the support of Austria-Hungary, which had originally proposed his assumption of the throne but he left the country finally on 3 November 1914.
As I pointed out, this 1914 constitution and subsequent ones made no reference to clan chiefs, heralds, or to nobility and titles in any of its articles. It is clear that the signatories considered there was no Albanian nobility to regulate, and they did not wish to create one. Albania never adopted any laws establishing or recognizing nobility; nor was an heraldic authority ever set up, heraldry being essentially alien to the country's historical culture. A situation much different from that of Spain and Georgia.
After this glance at Albanian history, let me now examine the contents of the brochure and go over it point by point.
The first page consists of a message from the Chief Jurist of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Albania, Dr. Virgjil Karaje, LLB. In it, he bemoans the recent Communist period of Albania's existence and states:
"Some of these periods were under feudal and monarchic democracies. The cultural and historic links between heraldry, chivalry and the nobility with the monarchist system posed a direct threat to the revisionist version of history the government sought to impose. Thus, like religion, they were forcibly suppressed and the entire common historical past which we shared with the rest of continental Europe was obliterated by a stroke of the Communist pen. Centuries of Albania's royal and feudal epochs of splendor ceased to exist."
With the possible exception of the period in Albania's history between 1912 and 1939, I can think of no time when Albania enjoyed a semblance of democracy. The feudal system under the Ottoman Turks and the other occupiers made no pretence whatever of democracy. While it is well-known that the Communists suppressed religion, to what epochs of royal and feudal splendor can Dr. Karaje be referring?
Next, we are told that: "A significant part of that history is inextricably linked to heraldry, chivalry, the feudal system common to most of Europe and to the nobility". What part and where is the link? Where does chivalry come in? We saw that individual Albanians obtained arms and titles from the various occupiers and also from the principalities to which they emigrated, but the fact that individuals obtained honors (these are not feudal titles but honorific ones), does not mean that there was a structured Albanian heraldic and nobiliary system. The next sentence strikes me as a complete non sequitur: "Thus, today, legally we consider feudal titles to be "incorporeal" property as in Britain and Ireland." Dr. Karaje, or rather, whoever wrote under his name now appears to wish to emulate English lordships of the manor and Irish and Scottish feudal baronies, many of which are indeed for sale, but they impart no nobility. Interesting is the word "today". It leads one to ask if this is a change from "traditional" Albanian custom. I am sure that the Castriotas would not have considered their lordship of Croia as "incorporeal" but would have been ready to die for its very "corporeal" nature. Perhaps the author of these lines is merely preparing the reader for a subtle sales pitch.
The following paragraph states: "In meeting its obligations and duty in this regard, the Ministry of Culture in October 1992 re-established the College of Arms of the Republic to be a major factor and the moving force behind the re-establishment of heraldry and its related arts and sciences....." If, as we have pointed out, the College was re-established in 1992 there is an implication that it had had a prior existence, but we are not told when that might have been. Nowhere have I found reference to an Albanian College of Arms. I would be grateful to hear about it from anyone who has.
Continuing along, we read: "The College of Arms has been empowered to carry out the full functions of a national heraldic college including the granting and rehabilitation of armorial bearings, the rehabilitation of vacant titles of nobility and the recognition of foreign titles of nobility. Indeed, the third Act (sic) of the decree establishing the College sums up the importance and purpose of the institution when it cites among the powers granted to the college "to act as custodian of the national feudal, noble, chivalric, heraldic and genealogical patrimony of the Albanian nation." I assume that what is referred to as the "third Act" means the third article or third paragraph of the decree. However, according to a certified translation by the Albanian embassy in Paris, of the decree issued by the Albanian Ministry of Culture Youth and Sports and signed by the Minister, Mr. Dhimiter Anagnosti, the third article or paragraph states nothing of the kind, but perhaps the author is referring to another document.
There follows a section entitled "The Functions and Constitution of the College of Arms" which is subtitled "Remarks from the Chief Herald, Dr. Krenar Haderi, GCStJ". I assume that the postnominal initials signify Grand Cross of the Order of St.John. While this has nothing to do with the College of Arms per se, I am curious as to which Order of St. John the Chief Herald belongs. Is it the Sovereign Military Order of Malta or to the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, or again to the Bailiwick of Brandenburg of the Knightly Order of the Hospital of St.John of Jerusalem, or to the Johanniter Order in the Netherlands or the Johanniter Order in Sweden? If it is to none of these, then I fear that someone may have hoodwinked him into accepting a questionable honor. But let me proceed.
Next: "The governing body of the College is the Council of Heralds. The Council is headed by the Chief Herald of the Republic. He is assisted by the Durazzo and Illyrian Kings of Arms. Initially, three Pursuivants have been appointed to assist in the work of the Heralds. These are Aigle Rouge, Aigle Noir, and Dragon d'Or Pursuivants. These are the historic Albanian heraldic offices (sic) that existed at various times during our history." It is curious as to why the Pursuivants have, French names, rather than Albanian ones. Also, out of heraldic curiosity, I would be most interested to know at what period in Albania's history these heralds and pursuivants exercised their functions.
Another function of the College is to "represent and administer orders of chivalry, both sovereign and related to the nation where appointed to do so." I do not understand this statement. Is the College seriously offering itself as a representative and administrator to extant non-Albanian orders of chivalry and to Albanian ones as well? To which orders specifically is the College referring? What this sounds like, on reflection, is that the College is in business to sell "independent orders of chivalry", but I could be wrong.
The College takes it upon itself to "revive Albanian chivalric orders and associations and research and promote the traditions of the same." Again, to which orders could the College be referring?
A summary of services points out, in the introductory paragraph, that the College does not receive government funding but that it operates with the private contributions it receives. It adds that the heralds do not receive state salaries but that they are paid by individuals commissioning their service. The services rendered are:
1) Grants of Arms
2) Genealogical research
3) Chivalric orders in which membership is available
4) Official recognition and "rehabilitation" of titles of nobility/domestic, foreign or feudal.
"The College follows the rules and practices particular to Albanian heraldry," we are told. It would be most interesting to know what these are and where the rules and practices can be found. Fees, for a grant of arms can be up to $2,500; for recognition of a non Albanian title between $3,000 and $5,000 is required. For "rehabilitation" of an Albanian title $5,000 and up. I understand that these fees vary with the means and position of the petitioner.
Under "Rehabilitations of vacant or extinct titles", the College concedes that the Zogu dynasty which reigned from 1928 to 1939 in Albania, in the person of King Ahmet Zogu I of the Albanians, is represented today by his son King Leka I. It points out that Article 98 of the royal constitution in effect at the time specified that no titles of nobility would be conferred on Albanians outside of the royal family. It also tells us that the College respects all of King Leka's prerogatives. However, it states: "most vacant titles of nobility created by the other royal houses which ruled Albania, or under whose rule Albania was at any one time, may be rehabilitated. Rehabilitation of titles that are at present extinct, dormant, abeyant, or otherwise vacant may be granted to successors and heirs of the last possessors by way of petition to the College." There is no point in commenting on the miraculous powers of the College to "rehabilitate" "extinct" titles. However the writer boldly states "the dynasties and kingdoms ruling Albania which granted fiefs and/or titles of one kind or another were the Illyrian kingdom, the Dalmatian Republic, the Molossian Kingdom, the Macedonian kingdom, the Roman empire, the Byzantine empire, the Bulgarian czars, the Shishman dynasty (of Bulgarian descent), the Byzantine Paleologus dynasty,the Norman dynasty of Robert Guiscard, a number of relatively ephemeral crusader dynasties, the Imperial House of Comnenus, the Latin Empire of Constantinople, the Roman papacy, the second Bulgarian empire, the Despotat of Epirus, the royal houses of Orsini, Hohenstauffen, Lascaris and the royal House of ANJOU which first unified Albania. This Angevin royal house (who derive from the French county of Anjou) besides being kings of Albania (sic) were the first to rule most of present-day Albania as a united country. They extended the feudal system granting numerous titles of nobility and fiefdoms and consolidating the country under Christianity......" Apart from pointing out that the Illyrian kingdom was only in existence for three centuries before the birth of Our Lord it is interesting to observe how many of the above former ruling houses are represented today by controversial "pretenders" and how many of these sell worthless pieces of paper as titles to anyone with sufficient funds to purchase them. Thus it would seem that Albania, through its College of Arms, is tacitly recognizing these pretenders and the wares that they sell, and capitalizing on them too! I understand that the Illyrian King of Arms of the College has recently had second thoughts about recognizing titles emanating from the pretender of the House of Anjou(Durazzo).
The writer explains the character of Albanian feudal titles stating that, contrary to custom in the British Isles, in Albania they include ranks of baron, viscount, count, marquis, prince duke and prince-of-royal blood. Below barons "are knights or chevaliers who held fiefs. Separately the Turkish titled system also includes the titles of "bey", "pasha" and other titles of modern derivation." These, we are told may be bought, sold or inherited according to the directions of the owner. I would be most interested to know where the codification of Albanian feudal titles can be found.
With respect to non-feudal or honorific titles, the brochure tells us that these cannot be bought or sold but must be "rehabilitated", which is, in effect the same thing. But let us go on. "Descent for the purpose of rehabilitation in Albania may be to the 8th degree of cousinship for an UNLIMITED number of generations; i.e. the offspring of cousins of the known historical possessors are eligible to rehabilitate titles." As is well known any competent but unscrupulous genealogist can draw up a pedigree for his client purporting the latter to be descended from Charlemagne. Given the 8th degree of cousinship for unlimited generations is tantamount to not having any requirement at all. Hence it is the same thing as selling the title which supposedly "cannot be bought or sold".
Returning to feudal titles, "it is estimated that no more than 70 to 100 will become available for rehabilitation, as records have been lost and have vanished". However, "the College maintains a list of feudal titles which have already been certified and legally recorded and are available for purchase with the prices of each. The College acts as representative of the owners. Purchases can be arranged and a form is attached with the list for doing so."
That about covers the main points of this intriguing brochure. After reading through it thoroughly, I can only lament what appears to me to have been a misjudgement on the part of the Albanian authorities. That is, the commissioning of a foreigner, with no background in heraldry, genealogy or in comparative nobiliary law, to create a national heraldic authority. As I have pointed out the Republic of Albania as a fully sovereign, independent, nation is a bona fide fons honorum. Had its intention been to create an Albanian heraldic office along with a set of statutes governing the tabulation, archiving, and granting of arms to Albanian subjects, to towns and villages, and to register and certify the use and display of foreign arms in Albania, as well as to undertake genealogical research for individuals of Albanian background, the international heraldic establishment, (i.e, the official state heraldic authorities of Spain, England, Scotland, Ireland and the Republic of South Africa), could only have lauded the initiative. I am sure one of these might have been honored to lend a hand and profer advice if called upon to do so.
If the government of Albania had intended to recognize titles, coats of arms and all the acoutrements of nobility, then it would seem to me that the constitution should have been amended to reflect this intention. At this point a proper heraldic authority with appropriate statutes could have been established, patterned on any one of the extant official bodies. Again, no one would have had a thing to say. Or, perhaps another way to proceed might have been first, to create an Albanian Heraldry and Genealogy Society, a private group made up of Albanian enthusiasts keen to share their knowledge. Later, if the government found that it had an interest in granting arms to townships, organizations and individuals it could have promulgated the necessary decrees to establish a national heraldic and genealogical entity similar to those found elsewhere.
After all, the Republic of South Africa, taking as its model the kingdom of Sweden, in 1955 established a Bureau of Heraldry headed by a State Herald and supported by a Heraldry Council. The Heraldry Act of 1962 officialized the Bureau, the Chief Herald and the Council. The purpose of the Bureau is to ensure that arms used in South Africa conform to the traditional rules of heraldry. Further, any citizen, corporation, club or social organization may request a grant of arms from the Bureau. The arms are registered and letters patent issued. The heraldry of South Africa, although it conforms to the fundamental rules of the science is quite different from European heraldry in that it blends in native African symbols with sometimes startling results.
To my mind, the Republic of Albania would have been better served to follow the South African example. Further, the recognition of foreign nobiliary titles or "rehabilitation" of "extinct" Albanian ones should not come within the purview of an Albanian "heraldic authority" but, if the government really wants to be involved in such activities, within the purview of the Albanian Ministry of Justice.
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