Response to comments by Guy Stair Sainty, November 2019

The Abbey-Principality of San Luigi wishes to respond to comments made by Guy Stair Sainty in a video uploaded to YouTube by the Real Asociación de Hidalgos de España.

Mr Sainty takes as his topic “Noble titles granted by royal pretenders: genuine or false, legitimate or worthless vanities?” The historical aspects of the grant of titles by royal pretenders, whether dethroned monarchs or their descendants, remains one of the most interesting aspects of nobiliary law and is capable of academic investigation at length. Mr Sainty discusses in turn the titles bestowed by, inter alia, the exiled monarchs and pretenders of Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Georgia and Vietnam, as well as making comments concerning the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi.

Unfortunately, although there is some academic content to Mr Sainty’s speech, it is rather more concerned with his polemical opinions concerning what he regards as legitimate or not. One topic that he returns to, having previously published similar opinions, is his views concerning King Peter II of Yugoslavia. King Peter in exile, as an unabdicated sovereign and impeccable fons honorum, granted several titles of nobility and bestowed the Royal Yugoslav Orders, amongst other nobiliary actions. In 1962, King Peter, who had previously accepted the Grand Cross and High Protectorate of the Order of the Crown of Thorns, issued Letters Patent recognizing the Prince of San Luigi and bestowing upon him the Royal Yugoslav Marquisate of Valjevo.

We have discussed elsewhere the position of King Peter II of Yugoslavia regarding the Yugoslav Constitution and the granting of titles of nobility. To restate the position, we refer the reader to the comprehensive discussion by Stephen Kerr y Baca, JD, FAS, King and Constitution in International Law in Chivalry, vol. IV no. 1, no. 13, 2001, pp. 48-54 (reprinted from The Augustan, vol. XVIII, no. 4, no. 80, 1977, pp. 125-132). Kerr y Baca’s discussion of the status of former sovereigns and governments-in-exile concludes “Therefore, under International Law the legitimate claims of a de jure Sovereign or Government-in-Exile continue indefinitely and are kept alive by protest against the usurper.”

Kerr y Baca goes on to consider in some detail the charges laid against King Peter by his opponents, who held that in his nobiliary actions he was acting in violation of Article 4.3, which is contained in Part II of the Yugoslav constitution promulgated by King Alexander I on 3 October 1931. Part II is concerned with “Fundamental Duties and Rights of Citizens” and in Article 4.3 it is stated that (in literal translation) “Nobility, titles and all the other privileges of birth are not recognized.”

The language of this provision makes it clear that it applies solely to Yugoslav citizens. Furthermore, it is equally clear that it does not prevent the King from granting or recognizing titles of nobility and other honours, but simply states that such titles do not grant any special precedence within the country.

In practice, the use of titles of nobility in Yugoslavia, though usually deriving from foreign sources, was a common practice during the reign of both King Alexander and King Peter II. That King Alexander did not grant any titles of nobility himself is irrelevant; he certainly bestowed the Royal Yugoslav Orders and other decorations. And those Royal Yugoslav Orders, at least so far as Serbia is concerned, date back at least to 22 May 1865 when Prince Mihailo Obrenović III instituted the Order of the Cross of Takovo. Even before this, the 1816 portrait of Karađorđe Petrović as Grand Vozd of Serbia depicts him wearing a breast star, and other contemporary portraits of Serbian leaders feature chivalric insignia.

It should be added that there is also a provision in the same Constitution – Articles 116:1 and 116:2 – that permits the King to rule by decree in emergency situations. This states, in translation, “Article 116:1 – “In case of war, of mobilization, of civil disorder, or of disturbances that might compromise public order and the security of the state, or when, in general, the public interest is threatened, the King may, in these exceptional cases, order by decree the adoption of any exceptional measure which is absolutely necessary, in all the territory of the Kingdom, or only in some one or several of its divisions, independently of constitutional rules and of laws.” Article 116:2 – “All the exceptional measures which are adopted will then be submitted to the National Assembly for ratification.” It is obvious that the position after 29 November 1945 could be considered to invoke this provision.

Mr Sainty’s attacks on the late Thomas Shannon Foran de St Bar (1925-2005) seem to us to be unwarranted. Foran de St Bar was King Peter’s aide-de-camp and published several works concerning King Peter and the Royal Yugoslav Orders that remain standard references for anyone seeking information on King Peter’s actions in exile. As well as having received the title of Duke de St Bar from King Peter (and numerous other Royal Yugoslav honours) he was a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Malta. His Royal Yugoslav title was recognized by, amongst others, the Spanish Cronista Rey de Armas and the Chief Herald of Ireland.

The Reverend Father Deacon Hadzi Nenad M. Jovanovich has published an article entitled “A few notes about grants of titles of nobility by modern Serbian monarchs” which discusses the recent historical position on those issues – and indeed mentions the grant to Prince-Abbot Edmond II de San Luigi with an illustration of his Letters Patent. Curiously, this discussion does not include any mention of the Yugoslav constitution promulgated by King Alexander I on 3 October 1931, referring instead only to the Constitutions of 1901 and 1903. The conclusion of the author, however, is at one with our own view,

Regardless of any possible remarks to such actions of the late King [Peter II], the fact remains that he was a recognized and legitimate fons honorum, and that he actually didn’t violate the said constitutional provision, since he didn’t bestow any of the mentioned titles to Yugoslav subjects…

It is worth mentioning that, also today, Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna Romanova of Russia, and her close cousin, His Royal Highness Prince Davit Bagrationi Mukhran Batonishvilli of Georgia, grant their supporters with titles of nobility. Such is the case also with His Majesty King Jean-Baptiste Kigeli V Ndahindurwa of Rwanda (in exile), His Imperial Highness Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie of Ethiopia (as The President of The Crown Council of Ethiopia in exile), with the pretenders to The Imperial Throne of Vietnam (also in exile) etc…

Against this we have the opinion of Mr Sainty, who refers to the position of Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia (now of Serbia) who has repudiated the acts of his father. As is pointed out by Sir Rodney Hartwell in Some Notes for Supporters of His Late Majesty King Peter IIInternational Chivalric Institute Members’ Newsletter, Issue 30, October 2001, p. 453, such a repudiation has no validity in international law. This is because the legal positions of King Peter and of his son are quite different. King Peter exercised the fons honorum as an unabdicated monarch and retained in his person the full rights of sovereignty. Crown Prince Alexander is the dynastic head of the House of Karađorđević and would be the heir to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in the event both of the reunification of that country and of a monarchical restoration, but he has never been a reigning sovereign and has no legal right to abrogate the acts of his father. That he may choose not to recognize those acts is, of course, a matter for him; however, we cannot but concur with Sir Rodney when he opines that “the Prince’s repudiation of the acts of his father the King serves only to tarnish the memory of his father.”

The difficulty with Mr Sainty’s position is that he places himself even above sovereignty in his criticisms. Sovereigns possess sovereign power to act as they see fit within their constitutions and laws. They do not need to listen to self-appointed experts who want – mostly for their own ends – to lecture them on how they “should” act and what they “should” do.

And it must also be accounted that the number who are listening to Mr Sainty is getting smaller. The issues raised by his talk are of interest to many people who are engaged in the worlds of nobility and chivalry today. However, they do not conceive those worlds as being as closed and exclusive as Mr Sainty does, aware that if such a direction is followed, it leads more likely to stagnation and even to extinction than to the preservation of nobility and chivalry as living traditions. Nor are they likely to accept his opinions without question, any more than they would accept those of any other commentator on such topics.

One of the questions that Mr Sainty raises early on in his talk, “Without official recognition, what are [titles granted by pretenders] worth?” is well worth answering. In respect of San Luigi, we have addressed this issue by humbly seeking and being graciously granted the Royal Protection of a reigning monarch, H.M. the Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara, who is fully recognized by the Ugandan constitution and whose connection with our organization dates from a similar grant of protection by his grandfather (then an absolute monarch) in 1885. This does not in any sense negate our High Protection from King Peter II of Yugoslavia, but it means that our organization does not rest, pace Mr Sainty, purely upon the late King’s authority. We therefore do indeed hold official recognition – and as such our organization is necessarily of a different character from some of the other fontes that Mr Sainty discusses.