|Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta|
|Reign||11 March 2008 – 28 January 2017|
|Predecessor||Giacomo dalla Torre (Acting)|
|Successor||Ludwig von Rumerstein (Acting)|
|Born||30 November 1949|
|Died||12 November 2021 (aged 71)|
|Burial||3 December 2021|
Saint John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta
|Father||Sir Francis Festing|
|Mother||Mary Cecilia Riddell|
Robert Matthew Festing GCStJ OBE TD DL (30 November 1949 – 12 November 2021) was an English Roman Catholic official who was the Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta from 2008 until his resignation on 28 January 2017, following a dispute with the Vatican.
Festing was the youngest of four sons born to Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, a Roman Catholic convert who became a Knight of Malta, and Mary Cecilia (née Riddell), the elder daughter of Cuthbert David Giffard Riddell of Swinburne Castle, Northumberland. His father was the grandson of Colonel Sir Francis Worgan Festing. His mother was from an English recusant family, descending from the Throckmorton baronets and Blessed Sir Adrian Fortescue, martyred in 1539. His three elder brothers are John Festing (a former High Sheriff of Northumberland), Major Michael Festing, and Andrew Festing (formerly President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters).
Education and career
Festing attended Ampleforth College, before going to St John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated in Modern History. He was sponsored by the British Army in the rank of second lieutenant on a university cadetship whilst at Cambridge before being commissioned, on 23 July 1971, as an Ensign in the Grenadier Guards; his service number was 486330. Until 2008, he was Sotheby's auction representative in Northumberland and held the rank of colonel in the Territorial Army.
Festing was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Northumberland in 1994 and in the 1998 Queen's Birthday Honours was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). He also served as the County Cadet Commandant of the Northumbria Army Cadet Force and was Patron of the Sandhurst Foundation and a Trustee of Northumbria Historic Churches.
Order of Malta
Festing was admitted to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in 1977. In 1991, he took perpetual vows, becoming a Knight of Justice. From 1993 to 2008, he served as Grand Prior of England, the first in this office since 1815.
On 11 March 2008, Festing was elected Grand Master following a conclave-style meeting at the order's villa on the Aventine Hill in Rome. Only the third English Grand Master of the Order of Malta, he was the immediate successor to the second, Fra' Andrew Bertie, the first being Hugh de Revel in 1258–77.
Festing and the Holy See had been in dispute since December 2016, when Festing had dismissed the order's Grand Chancellor, Albrecht, Baron von Boeselager, for not adequately reporting on the distribution of contraceptives, including abortifacients, in a medical project for the poor. Von Boeselager was viewed as an obstacle to Raymond Cardinal Burke’s vision of the order, while the German Grand Chancellor’s reform-minded approach to the order’s governance clashed with that of Fra’ Matthew. Festing revealed he consulted closely with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, including its then Prefect, Gerhard Cardinal Müller. Knights say the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was consulted about the case but never presented the order with any documentation nor did they meet with the Grand Chancellor.
Boeselager appealed to Pope Francis, who appointed a five-member commission to look into perceived judicial irregularities in the circumstances of the dismissal. Festing refused to cooperate, describing the commission as an illegitimate intervention in the order's sovereign affairs, accusing its members of a conflict of interest, and setting up his own internal commission. The Vatican, in turn, rejected what it said was an attempt to discredit members of the commission and ordered the leaders of the institution to cooperate with the inquiry.
In January 2017, Pope Francis asked Festing to resign, with the latter submitting his resignation on January 24. Cardinal Burke, the patron of the order, tried to convince Festing to withdraw his resignation and keep fighting the Vatican. On 28 January 2017, the Order's Sovereign Council accepted Festing's resignation and re-instated Boeselager. Fra' Ludwig Hoffmann von Rumerstein was chosen as Lieutenant ad interim and presided over the Sovereign Council that annulled the decrees establishing the disciplinary procedures against Boeselager as well as the suspension of his membership in the Order. Boeselager resumed his office as Grand Chancellor immediately.
In April 2017 Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the temporary papal delegate to the order, instructed Festing not to travel to Rome for the election of his successor. He wrote that many of the Order had "expressed their wish" that Festing not travel to Rome for the election as they felt his presence would "reopen wounds" and prevent a return to harmony. As it appeared that Festing ignored this order and arrived in Rome just before the meeting to elect a new Grand Master, the Vatican reconsidered and annulled the order. According to sources within the order, this was because his absence as a professed knight could have invalidated the ballot.
Festing suddenly collapsed after attending the profession of vows of Fra Francis Vassallo, in Saint John's Co-Cathedral of Valletta on 4 November 2021. He died eight days later at hospital at the age of 71. His funeral Mass took place on 3 December at Saint John's Co-Cathedral, presided over by cardinal Silvano Maria Tomasi and then he was buried in the crypt of that church next to his predecessors.
|Ancestors of Matthew Festing|
- Sovereign Military Order of Malta:
- Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) (12 June 1998)
- Bailiff Grand Cross of the Order of St John (GCStJ) (5 May 2009)
- Territorial Decoration (TD) (1991)
- Collar of the Order of the Star of Romania (6 September 2008)
- Commander Grand Cross of the Order of the Three Stars (14 October 2008)
- Knight Grand Cross with Collar Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (27 October 2008)
- Grand Cross with Chain of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary (6 February 2009)
- Grand Cross of the Order of St. Charles (14 October 2009)
- Grand Collar of the Military Order of Saint James of the Sword (23 November 2010)
- Grand Star of the Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria (2012)
- Member of the Grand Order of King Tomislav (12 October 2008)
- Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George (Franco-Neapolitan branch):
- Bailiff Grand Cross of Justice with the Collar (2010)
- Knight Grand Cross of Justice (1994)
- Knight of Justice (1991)
- Knight of the Order of St Januarius (2010)
- House of Romanov:
- Knight Grand Cross of Justice of the Holy Military Order of St. Stephen Pope and Martyr
- Grand Collar of the Order of Sikatuna, Rank of Raja (3 March 2015) 
- Grand Collar Of the Order of Makarios III (25 October 2012)
- Knight of the Collar of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (31 July 2015)
Crown appointment of the United Kingdom
Honorary academic degrees
|United States of America||10 October 2009||Catholic University of America||Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) |
|Italy||12 May 2014||John Cabot University||Doctor of Public Service |
|United Kingdom||—||Northumbria University|||
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