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Report on the Irish Registered Grants of Maria Pia, Styled Duchess of Braganza
Among the irregularities in the administration of the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland, the validation of false or dubious foreign arms deserves some attention. The Office formerly maintained a Register of Foreign Arms, which contains 35 entries covering the years 1982-95. All were signed by Chief Herald Donal Begley, who retired in the latter year, and were generally in the form illustrated below. While some entries cited an established heraldic authority granting the arms, for example, the Cronista Rey de Armas in Madrid, most did not. A number of the entries contain references to feudal baronies, but it is not with this trade that we are concerned at present. Some 6 of the registered arms were stated to have been granted by HRH Maria Pia, Duchess of Bragança, namely, Giordano 1991, Piccolo 1993, Zadnik 1994, Tasca 1994, Bernacci 1995, Corsi 1995. There may have been further documents issued which were never entered in the Register, one example being a certificate granted to Signoracci in 1988.
Who exactly was the Duchess of Bragança or Braganza? Maria Pia was born in 1907, and claimed to be a natural daughter of King Carlos I of Portugal, which may possibly have been true. However, in the 1950s she assumed the title Duchess of Braganza and claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne of Portugal. She attracted some support in Italy, where she resided, and also in England, admitting individuals to her Order of Vila Viçosa, and also issuing grants of arms as indicated. Maria Pia died in 1995, leaving her heirs to compete for her royal claims, including a certain HRH Dom Rosario, so-called XXII Duke of Braganza (http://www.royalhouseofportugal.org/html/project2.html). Most of Maria Pia's followers probably realised in time that she was not authentic, and in fact there is a genuine Duke of Braganza, Dom Duarte, who is generally accepted to have the best claim to the Portuguese throne, should the monarchy be restored (http://www.chivalricorders.org/royalty/gotha/portugal.htm).
Bogus royal and aristocratic claimants frequently seek out compliant heraldic authorities to underwrite their claims, and the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland gallantly came to the aid of Maria Pia, as we have seen. It happens to be the case that there was at least one objector to the Office's action in registering grants by the bogus Duchess of Braganza, namely, the equally bogus Terence MacCarthy 'Mór'. In October 1998, at a time when his own pretensions were increasingly being questioned, MacCarthy informed Chief Herald Brendan O Donoghue that 'bogus titles' granted by the Duchess of Braganza had been entered in the records of his Office. More than that, MacCarthy claimed that a serving Consultant Herald in the Office had been a supporter of the Duchess ('40 Questions', July 1999). Despite his own manifold sins, MacCarthy's allegations should have been fully investigated, as the allegations against him had been investigated - albeit this was done belatedly and for reasons that are now increasingly seen to be partial and politic.
The writer made several attempts over the past few years to discuss the Braganza grants issue with the Office of the Chief Herald, but to no effect. On the one hand, the Office dismisses our concerns as mere 'allegations', and on the other hand, it is stated that there are no plans to 'allocate scarce staffing and other resources' to investigating the charges made. Again, it has to be said that it seems pointless to pursue the matter further with an Office which is obviously incapable of dealing with the numerous bogus pedigrees, arms and titles which litter its files and registers. Once more, we conclude with a recommendation that all the matters raised in this and other sections of the present website should be made the subject of an official and independent enquiry, as it is not appropriate that the Office of the Chief Herald should be left to investigate its own irregularities.
Sean Murphy MA
Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies
30 September 2001, last revised 14 September 2002