Translating non-European titles into European equivalents

In 1961, King Kigeli was in Kinshasa to meet Secretary General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld when Dominique Mbonyumutwa, with the support of the Belgian government, led a coup d’état that took control of the Rwandan state. The monarchy’s rule was formally overthrown on 28 January 1961. The coup resulted in the 1961 referendum about the fate of the nation’s royal system. The King resided in the Unites States for the rest of his life.

In February 2007, during a discussion on a Google platform devoted to heraldry, the question of titles being awarded by former King Kigeli of Rwanda (1936-2016) was heavely dicussed. Following these discussions, the eminent Dr. Pier Felice degli Uberti, 15th Baron of Cartsburn, president of the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry, an academic body, issued an invitation on 19 February 2007 as follows:

I offer this possibility to those who have something to say against the idea of the King Kigeli to grant “honours” using name of “European nobiliary titles” (but I repeat they are not nobiliary titles but only honours): prepare a true study supported by due documentation, historical precedents, footnotes which quote precedent studies on the matter to be published in one of my reviews or better to participate in the next III International Colloquium of Genealogy organized by Institut International d’Etudes Généalogiques et d’Histoire des Families in San Marino from 28 September to 1 October 2007.

In the Economist of 3 October 2013 (Noble titles. Honours and offers. People still yearn for aristocratic titles, Some buy them), Pier Felice degli Uberti, is cited:

[Felice degli Uberti] finds Kigeli V’s trade in titles “very sad”. He has warned the ex-king that the titles do not form part of his historical tradition and should not be awarded. His majesty declined to comment but his secretary-general responded: “Who has the right to question his authorities but God and his countrymen?”

In the same article, the Economist further states that:

(..) titles can be issued for personal or political motives, as well as pecuniary ones. Prince Davit Bagrationi, pretender to the Georgian throne (vacant since 1801) has revived dormant orders. Some go to fellow-royals, such as the late King of Tonga, others to Georgian public figures.

In order to see if Felice degli Uberti raises fair objections, it might be interesting to find examples of non-European monarchies that copy the European system.

Japanese nobility

The Prussian courtier Ottmar von Mohl from 1887 to 1889 taught Western court etiquette to the members of the Imperial Household Ministry.

Ottmar von Mohl (1846 – 1922) was a German diplomat and government advisor in Meiji period Japan. He was recruited by the Meiji period Japanese government as a foreign advisor from 1887 to 1889. He and his wife, Wanda Countess von der Groeben, served with the Japanese Imperial Household Ministry in Tokyo, Japan to introduce European Court ceremonials and protocols to Japanese Emperor Meiji and his court. In his work Am japanischen Hofe – At the Japanese Court (Berlin, Reimer 1904), Von Mohl describes the way the European noble traditions were incorporated in the ancient, complex Japanese system (Takenobu, Yoshitaro (1863?-1930), The Japan yearbook; complete cyclopaedia of general information and statistics on Japan and Japanese territories), which in turn was based on the Chinese traditions. Von Mohl explains (pp. 70-71) that this mixture (see: Jacques Papinot: Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie du Japon illustré de 300 gravures, de plusieurs cartes, et suivi de 18 appendices, Tokyo et Yokohama/Shanghai/Hongkong/Singapore 1906 and (Earl Roy Miner, Robert E. Morrell & Hiroko Odagiri, The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature) resulted in a kind of Napoleontic nobility with ancient and “modern” titles:

Wie mir erklärt wurde, haben schon von altersher in Japan Rang- und Adelstitel bestanden, welche dem Vorbild in allen Dingen, China, entlehnt worden waren und mit chinesischen Buchstaben ausgedrückt wurden. Von den Europäern lernten sie nun die in England und Frankreich gebräuchlichen Titel Prince, Marquis, Comte, Vicomte, Baron kennen und übersetzten nun die chinesisch-japanische erbliche Rangklassifikation in diese Titel, deren Anerkennung bezw. Verleihung auf kaiserlichem Patente beruhte.

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Die Japaner verbanden mit den europäischen Titeln ganz bestimmte geschichtliche Abstufungen und Anschauungen, und der Wunsch, diese den europäischen Titeln gleichwertig zu machen, veranlasste sie zur Annahme der uns geläufigen Bezeichnungen, was, ich läugne es nicht, auf Europäer zuerst einen komischen Eindruck machte. In neuerer Zeit sind die Kreierungen von Baronen, ja sogar von Marquis und Vicomtes, häufiger geworden, so dass eine Art napoleonischen Adels, eine Mischung von alten und neuen Familientiteln, in Japan entstanden ist.

Conclusions

In the case of Rwanda, the Royal Household officially states that (Guye Pennington, Guidance for Honors Publication):

Titles of nobility in the Kingdom of Rwanda historically consisted of the rank of Chief and Sub-Chief, but this was expanded by His Most Christian Majesty King Mutara III Rudahigwa. H.M. King Mutara III was in the process of revamping the honors system of Rwanda prior to his untimely death in 1959. As the fons honorum of the de jure Kingdom of Rwanda and an anointed King, His Most Christian Majesty King Kigeli V has the full legal right to create new traditions within his Kingdom and also finish the work previously began by his half-brother, Mutara III.

The example of Japan shows that such reforms are not uncommon. The choice of non-western monarchs (like e.g. the monarchs of Vietnam, Georgia, Ethiopia and Rwanda) to copy European nobility-traditions is sometimes criticized.

Nationaal Archief, Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Note the translated title of “Mesfin” to “Duke” of Harar. H.I.H. Prince (Le’ul) Pawlus Wossen Seged Makonnen, Duke of Harar (Mesfin Harar) was born at Addis Ababa on 21 August 1947. He was Imprisoned by the Dergue between 1974-1989 and is the Heir Presumptive since 17th January 1997. He is the son of Prince Makonnen Haile Selassie, Duke of Harar (baptismal name: Araya Yohannes; 16 October 1923 – 13 May 1957), who was the second son, and second youngest child, of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Empress Menen Asfaw. He was made Mesfin (or Duke) of Harar in 1934.

The case of Rwanda differs from the Japanese situation. If the King had created honours and awards during his very brief period as king (1959 to 1961), there would not have been a problem. They might have been unconventional but, in my opinion, they would have been widely accepted. There is no authority to forbid the King to style his nobility in a Europen manner. I think the King simply wanted to make his titles more attractive to westerners. Given his situation, I cannot disagree with him. Issuing original Rwandan titles to Americans would by unconventional as well.

Interesting comments by Mr Christopher Buyers (FB 11-12 March 2017)

The date of creation by special dispensation of the Crown Council was 9th May 1934. Please see http://gallica.bnf.fr/…/f5.image.r=%22Duc%20de%20Harrar… The installation took place on 19th May 1934 at the Cathedral of Medhane-Alem, Dire-Dawa, 19th May 1934. Please see http://gallica.bnf.fr/…/f3.image.r=%22Duc%20de%20Harrar… [Note that Le Courrier d’Éthiopie should be quite reliable as it was printed in Harrar]. I don’t know if you realise that there were earlier creations, though for Europeans. Duc d’Entotto for the former Governor of Djibouti and sometime French Minister and Envoy to the court of Ethiopia, Comte (Leonce) Legarde by Menelik II.

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Antoine Marie Joseph Léonce Lagarde (b. at Lempdes-sur-Allagnon, Haute-Loire, France, 10th October 1860; d. at l’Hôpital du Val de Grâce, Paris, France, 15th May 1936, bur. Lempdes), educ. LLB (1878), employed by the Holy Sea in Rome 1881-1882, Sec to Governor of Indo-China 1882-1883, Under-Sec of State for Marine & Colonies 1883, Special Cmsnr for the Delimitation of of the Obock Territory 1883-1884, Cdt of Obock 1884-1887, Governor of Obock and its dependencies 1887-1896, and of French Somaliland 1896-1899, Special Envoy and Minister Plenipotentiary to Menelik II 1896-1897, Ambassador to Ethiopia 1897-1907, Officer in Charge of Services to Sailors Killed or Prisoners of War 1907-1914, Dir of Special Mission for Naval Prisoners of War 1914-1918, Permanent Delegate for the Liquidation of Products and Prizes of the Sea 1920, retd 1929, Conductor of the French Negotiating Delegates at Geneva 1920, High Councillor to Ras Tafari Makkonen 1924-1930, General Delegate for Ethiopia at the League of Nations 1934. Author of “Le Comte Arakoff, nouvelle russe” (1880). Granted the papal title of Count Lagarde de Rouffeyroux by Pope Leo XIII in 1881 (after 25th August, apparently by purchase), and Duke of Entotto in March 1897 (on or before 28th March). Rcvd: GC of the Orders of Solomon, and the Star of Ethiopia, Cdr of the Order of the Legion of Honour of France, etc.

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Colonel Nikolai Stepanovitch Leontiev (b. at Novogrudok, Grodno, 30th May 1862; d. at Paris, France, 4th July 1910, bur. there at Montmorency Cemetary, later transferred to Tikhvin Cemetery, St Petersburg, Russia), educ. Nikaievsky Military Sch, St Petersburg, Russia. Cmsnd as Ensign Imperial Life Guards Grodno Hussaars, prom Lieut, Leader Russiaan Overland Riding Expedition from Tiflis to India through Persia 1891, transferred Kuban Cossacks 1892, prom Capt on the Staff 1894, Leader Russian Geographical expedition to Ethiopia 1894-1895, Attached to Ethiopian Mission to St Petersburg 1895, Military Adviser to Menelik II during 1st Italo-Ethiopian War 1895-1896, Special Envoy from Emperor Menelik II to Rome Feb 1896. Invested by Menelik II with the title of Count at Wallo in April 1896. The patent of nobility was subsequently delivered in present of Negus Mikael of Wallo at Dese. Special Envoy from Emperor Menelik II to Istanbul Dec 1896, second for Prince Henri d’Orleans in his duel with the Count of Turin Vaucresson Aug 1897, Governor-General of Equatorial Provinces 1897-1899 & 1901-1902, Colonel of Regt of Senegalese Volunteer Rifles 1899, served in Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 with Kuban Cossacks, Caucasian Dvsn. Mbr Russian Geographical Soc, Academy of Sciences, Russian Red Cross Society, etc. Leontiev also received at some point the rank of Dejazmatch, probably when placed in charge of the Equatorial Provinces July 1897. Rcvd: GC of the Orders of Solomon, and the Star of Ethiopia (1895), Knt 4th class of the Order of St Vladimir, 4th class Cross of St George of Russia, etc.

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There is no contemporary evidence for such title [Count of Abai], and there is no place in Ethiopia I can find called Abai. Rather it is the name of the father of an Ethiopian who was sent to study in Russia, Piotr Tekle-Hawariate Abai aka Petia Abissinetz. Some Russian writers confused Leontiev to be his father, then reconciled the obvious difference in supposed father’s name by assuming that Abai was Leontiev’s territorial title, and the whole thing appears to have spiralled out of control from there. As far as I can work out, 1) Leontiev was not conferred with the title of Count of Abai, 2) he was not Tekle’s father, 3) neither Tekle nor his actual father Abai received the title of Count, and 4) only one title of Count seems to have been conferred, i.e. Leontiev.

Important sources

  • Stefan Unterstein, website about the Japanese nobility
  • This post was inspired by the article “Granting of Orders and Titles by H.M. King Kigeli V of Rwanda, paper prepared by dr W.H. Jones, Sydney, Australia, BSc (Econ) London, MA, PGCertTESOL, EdD Macquarie, JP NSW, 16 March 2007”. This article was published by me on Nobility News. I have no copy of the original document.