Matthew Festing

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Matthew Festing
HMEH Fra' Matthew Festing, 79th Prince and Grand Master, SMOM.jpg
Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
Reign11 March 2008 – 28 January 2017
PredecessorGiacomo dalla Torre (Acting)
SuccessorLudwig von Rumerstein (Acting)
Grand Commanders
Born(1949-11-30)30 November 1949
Northumberland, England
Died12 November 2021(2021-11-12) (aged 71)
Valletta, Malta
Burial3 December 2021
Robert Matthew Festing
FatherSir Francis Festing
MotherMary Cecilia Riddell
ReligionRoman Catholicism

Fra' 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,[1] 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.[1] 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[edit]

Festing attended Ampleforth College, before going to St John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated in Modern History.[1] 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 personal number was 486330.[2] Until 2008, he was Sotheby's auction representative in Northumberland and held the rank of colonel in the Territorial Army.[1]

Festing was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Northumberland in 1994[3] and in the 1998 Birthday Honours was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).[1] 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[edit]

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.[1] 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 from 1258 to 1277.


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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

In January 2017, Pope Francis asked Festing to resign, with the latter submitting his resignation on January 24.[4][7][8] Cardinal Burke, the patron of the Order, tried to convince Festing to withdraw his resignation and keep fighting the Vatican.[citation needed] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[4]


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.[11] 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.


Chivalric orders[edit]

Arms of Matthew Festing as knight of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (Spain)

National honours[edit]

Crown appointment of the United Kingdom[edit]

Honorary citizenship[edit]

Honorary academic degrees[edit]

Country Date School Degree
 United States of America 10 October 2009 Catholic University of America Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL) [23]
 Italy 12 May 2014 John Cabot University Doctor of Public Service [24]
 United Kingdom Northumbria University [25]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Owen, Richard (11 March 2008). "Knights of Malta elect Englishman as new leader". The Times. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 11 March 2008. (Archived: 12 May 2008)
  2. ^ "No. 45465". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 September 1971. p. 9657.
  3. ^ "No. 53845". The London Gazette. 10 November 1994. p. 15750.
  4. ^ a b c "Vatican Reverses Decision, Allows Festing to Take Part in Order of Malta Election". Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  5. ^ "New revelations as Knights of Malta square up to choose new leader".
  6. ^ Pullella, Philip (23 June 2016). "Knights of Malta head resigns after dispute with Vatican". Reuters. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  7. ^ "Fra' Matthew Festing convenes a Sovereign Council to formalise his resignation from the office of Grand Master - Order of Malta". 25 January 2017. Archived from the original on 28 January 2017. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  8. ^ "The Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing resigns from office Archived 27 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine" (Order of Malta, 28 January 2017)
  9. ^ "The Grand Master Fra' Matthew Festing resigns from office". 28 January 2017. Archived from the original on 27 January 2018. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Vatican Orders Matthew Festing Not to Travel to Rome for Order of Malta Election". Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  11. ^ "Grand Magistry announces death of the 79th Grand Master Fra' Matthew Festing". Archived from the original on 12 November 2021. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  12. ^ "Order of St John". 5 May 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  13. ^ "Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary". Magyar Közlöny (17). 2009.
  14. ^ Nomination by Sovereign Ordonnance Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine n°2405 of 14 October 2009 (French)
  15. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question about the Decoration of Honour" (PDF) (in German). p. 1923. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
  16. ^ a b The Constantinian Order and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta - website of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George
  17. ^ Members of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George - website of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, Delegation of Great Britain and Ireland
  18. ^ a b c d e "Новости". Archived from the original on 20 April 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  19. ^ "Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire". Retrieved 22 February 2015.
  20. ^ "Statement of President Aquino during the courtesy call of Fra' Festing of the Order of Malta | Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines". 3 March 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  21. ^ "Real Decreto 754/2015, de 31 de julio, por el que se concede el Collar de la Orden de Isabel la Católica a Su Alteza Eminentísima Frey Matthew Festing, Príncipe y Gran Maestre de la Soberana Orden Militar de Malta". Boletin Oficial del Estado. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  22. ^ "The Grand Master honorary citizen of Rapallo - Order of Malta". 18 September 2008. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  23. ^ "Honorary Degrees Conferred by The Catholic University of America" (PDF). Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  24. ^ "Honorary Degree for Fra' Matthew Festing - Order of Malta". 13 May 2014. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  25. ^ "Grand Master - Order of Malta". Retrieved 20 November 2017.


External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
Succeeded by