THE EMPEROR OF PALM BEACH

by

Derk Kinnane Roelofsma

 

His Imperial and Royal Highness Prince Henri de Vigo Aleramico Lascaris Paleologo is heir to the emperors who ruled Byzantium until Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453. As such he retains the royal power of his ancestors to raise commoners to the nobility and to confer knighthood through membership in his chivalric orders. So he says.

And there are many in Europe and America, the knights and dames and counts he has created, who believe he is indeed the head of a once ruling house and retains the royal capacity of fons honorum, of being a fountain of honors.

On November 29 1997, Prince Paleologo turned seventy-nine, but a young seventy-nine. Although short and slight of build, he is well proportioned with handsome features and silver hair swept back from a high forehead. He exudes confidence, charm, authority. His companion, the attractive Princess Françoise, appears perfectly happy and at ease with him. So when in his immaculate evening dress, he raises a glass of champagne or in his gold trimmed full dress tunic, wearing all his orders he dubs a newly made knight, people just know they are in the presence of the scion of an ancient and truly imperial race.

It is not just ordinary people, people otherwise ignorant of royalty and its ways, who are impressed by him and seek his company. In Germany, members of the highest aristocracy have publicly embraced the Prince as one of their own. In 1977 the German weekly Stern reported how Joachim Prince zu Furstenberg, a Serene Highness and wealthy landowner in south Germany, enjoyed picking up the bill, as well as the entertainment at a banquet for the Prince at the Castle Hotel Fuschl, near Salzburg in Austria. Another playmate, Johannes Count von Schonburg, son of another ancient and socially prominent family, also clearly enjoyed making merry with the Prince.

Furstenberg and Schonburg were powerful social magnets. They drew the socially ambitious into the prince’s circle; industrialists, entrepreneurs, bankers, German film stars and starlets flocked to parties over which the Prince presided. Some came not so much for the merry making as for that moment of magic when with a touch of his sword, the Prince changed them from ordinary folk, or folk who saw themselves as ordinary, into something ineffably better, into ennobled men and women, now entitled to wear the outward signs of ancient distinctions, distinguishing marks of those whom for eight centuries and more their civilization celebrated as superior beings. According to Stern, it costs Germans 10,000 marks to be admitted to one or the other of the Prince’s orders.

What took place some twenty years ago in Europe continues to take place there and in America. In April 1993, seven members of the Palm Beach community were invested with the prince’s orders of chivalry at St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church.

That was the solemn part if what happens when Prince Henri comes to town. The other, fun part was the Imperial Byzantine Ball. These have been held annually, one Palm Beach pal of the Prince says, since 1986. In 1989, there was an additional ball at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas as a result of a deal struck between the Prince and the local branch of the American Cancer Society. The Society did well out of the ball, says a former associate of the Prince, and the latter picked up $42,000 in fees paid by those joining his orders.

The 1993 Palm Beach ball was held as usual at the Flagler Museum and attended by close to three hundred followers of the Prince, their spouses, friends and assorted other paying guests, including likely prospects for ennoblement. If the occasion was not quite as brilliant as in other years, if there was a certain caution in the air, this was because of the threat of unwelcome publicity. Prince Henri is not one to grab publicity indiscriminately. A television team from the show Inside Edition was in town and after him. As the prince’s friends judged the matter, the kind of people who work for Inside Edition and similar programs are not the kind who best understand about the prince. So, some of his dearest friends had chosen to stay away. They discovered some compelling reasons for being out of town on the day of the ball. When Inside Edition broadcast its report, in May of 1993, with the glimpse of the investiture and the ball, these fears were confirmed. The Prince and his friends were made to look, well, ridiculous.

One of those absent, with the prince’s deepest understanding, was the daughter of a quite well-known 1940’s English band leader, herself once an aspiring vocalist. More significantly she became the widow of the man who invented the milk carton. The estate gets royalties on all those wax paper containers you see in every supermarket and 7/11. So when Celia Lipton Farris opens he purse to do good, whole hospital wings rise where nothing stood before. It is understandable, then, that the Prince chose to honor her some years ago by making her a Dame Grand Cross.

He, too, as he will tell you, has given generously to assist medical causes. If there is some confusion about what happened to all the money, this may be because, in the opinion of his former Princess Marieluise née Petersen, the organizations and people he helps, "like in Africa", do not make good use of the money .

We do not know what contributions, if any, the Prince made to charity during his 1993 visit to the United States nor what funds he received from the seven new members of his orders. We do know that from America he flew to Malta, the little island of golden stone that rises out of the Mediterranean between Sicily and Africa.

The prince has visited Malta many times and has a devoted band of supporters there. His Constantinian Order of St.George has thirty-five knights and an equal number of associates presided over locally by a retired Maltese army major, a thoroughly honorable man, if somewhat of a romantic.

As usual the Prince stayed at the Malta Hilton, where his good friend Marquis Anthony Buttigieg de Piro is general manager. The title of marquis is not recognized by the Committee of Privileges of the Maltese Nobility. The Committee, set up in 1882 by the British Crown, when Malta was a British colony, sets the standards in nobiliary matters. But the title is confirmed by Prince Henri.

The prince was in Malta at the behest of a certain Count Lucio Musizza. Musizza and the Prince are well-known to one Maltese, himself a count (not recognized by the Committee of Privileges) and a Grand master of an order "revived" he freely admits, a quarter of a century ago.

According to this gentleman, Count Musizza, who is now in his fifties, began his career around the age of seventeen, supplying people with prizes and awards for sporting and other civic activities dear to their hearts. From this he moved on to providing honorary doctorates and senior military ranks, then membership in orders of knighthood and finally titles of nobility.

The Count is tall and thin, elaborately gracious in manner and affects a silver knobbed walking stick. He lives in Rome, but he had no difficulty finding friends to arrange a black tie dinner for two hundred in honor of the Prince at the casino Maltese. Casino in Italian means among other things what in English we call a club. So the Casino Maltese is not a place for gambling; chess is the preferred game played under the lofty ceilings of its spacious rooms. It is Valletta’s gentlemen’s club founded in 1853 and housed in what had been the Knights of Malta’s treasury.

The Prince arrived at the Casino in a Rolls Royce, especially brought over

from Italy. At dinner, he, Princess Françoise and the other guests were entertained by a talented Italian tenor, a remarkable Sicilian conjurer and picturesque Maltese folk dancers. Everyone had a delightful time, as always when the Prince presides. Before leaving Malta, he held a discreet investiture again avoiding publicity.

It appeared the prince, who combines refined sensibilities with acute perception, did not wish to have to cope with a certain hostility he could sense troubled the soft Maltese air. In August 1992, Malta’s English-language daily, The Times, had carried a letter highly critical of the newly published second volume of "The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta". The letter said there were serious flaws in this work by Dr. Charles A. Gauci, a Maltese anaesthetist who rose to the rank of colonel in the British Army Medical Corps. The letter dismisses the Prince as not what he claims to be and his titles as worthless, including that of count proffered on Dr. Gauci by another fantasist Paleologue. It was an unprecedented public attack on the good doctor and the Prince in Malta.

Then in March 1993, a rebuke far worse than a letter to the editor befell Dr. Gauci and thus indirectly the Prince, the former having done so much in his writing to promote the latter. Dr. Gauci’s term of office as Overseas Secretary of the Committee of Privileges had expired. Instead of being automatically renewed as in past years, the Committee informed him he had not been re-appointed. The Committee was displeased that Dr. Gauci had contrived to have his view, that titles obtained through the Prince are authentic, published as part of the Committee’s entry in the Malta yearbook for 1993.

The early efforts by the energetic anaesthetist were esteemed by the Maltese nobility. His interest in genealogy had stimulated them to take a fresh interest in their own family history and in their role in society at a time when British colonial rule was coming to an end and Malta was on the path that led to its becoming a republic. But obsessed with sources of honors like Prince Henri and with elevating himself into the world of nobly titled, the doctor had gone too far. There were lengthy and emotional telephone calls from the aspidistra-rich London district of Leystonstone to aristocratic dwellings in Valletta, "the city built by gentlemen for gentlemen". To no avail. The good doctor had lost his niche in contemporary Malta’s one indisputably authentic noble institution. In the small world of Malta (population 360,000), the dislocation suffered by Dr. Gauci was felt all the more deeply and all the more widely remarked upon that it would have been on a greater stage.

As for Prince Henri, his life has been touched by events played out on that greater stage, when a whole nation’s future was in play. Such a moment came for the Prince in the wake of the military coup d’état in Greece in April 1967. In December that year, King Constantine II, head of a line of the Danish royal family that had ruled Greece since 1863, attempted a counter-coup against the colonels. When it failed, he and his family had to flee the country. For Prince Henri, it seemed that the hour of destiny had struck. He packed his bags, got on a plane to Athens and put himself at the disposal of the Greek people.

Now the old Greek dynasts, including Paleologi, who settled in Italy after the fall of Byzantium, had adopted the Catholic faith. Born a Catholic like 99.6 percent of his fellow Italians, Prince Henri converted to the Orthodox religion. For someone pursuing his chosen career, Orthodoxy offers certain advantages over Catholicism. First it permits divorce and remarriage, then its clerics have little if any knowledge or understanding of Western European systems of royalty, nobility and chivalry. Consequently they never seriously question, as better informed Catholic churchmen sometimes do, the activities of people conducting ceremonies in their churches, especially people who give proof of their generosity. But in 1968, in the context of the future of the Greek state, the Prince’s conversion could be seen as statesmanlike, like that of countless royal princesses called by politics or marriage to adopt the mores of a new homeland.

Moreover for his baptismal name, the Prince chose Constantine, in memory, it was said, of the last Paleologus to rule in Constantinople and not in imitation of the deposed King of the Hellenes. The latter, although in exile was still a problem for the colonels. He was, after all, internationally recognized as the legitimate head of the Greek state and the Athens regime was painfully aware that what it lacked was legitimacy, or at least an appearance of legitimacy.

One of the politicians supporting the colonels, Mayor Ritsos of Athens, had an idea of how to give the regime legitimacy and at the same time arouse nationalist sympathies in a sullen population. The idea was to sweep away the foreign princeling and install another prince possessing the superior legitimacy of being the heir to the never forgotten splendors of the Greek empire. So, in 1972 Ritsos and elements of the Greek National Party met with the Prince. Further talks followed. But the hour of destiny passed. Eventually the Greeks got rid of the colonels and then of the monarchy. Constantine never returned to the Tatoi Palace outside Athens. Henri Constantin never got past its front door.

Had things gone differently, how would the Prince have dealt with the Macedonian question, one wonders. But it is painful to dwell on what might have been. So let us pass on to what should be the tranquil domain of more distant history.

In 1987 a gentleman, then on close terms with the Prince, brought together the accounts of the prince’s family and the arguments in support of his pretensions in a book called "The Grand Sovereign Dynastic Hospitaller Order of St.John Knights of Malta." In the book and elsewhere the Prince makes three major claims. One that the prince’s pedigree reaches back to Emperor Nero, passes through Anna Paleologina, a niece of Constantine XII, last emperor of the East, then through the Paleologo Marquesses of Montferrat, an important territory where Italy bordered Germany.

By virtue of this pedigree, the Prince has inherited the royal power to create nobility. He has also inherited the world’s most ancient order of chivalry, the Constantinian Order of St.George, founded by Constantine the Great himself in 324, not to mention the Orthodox Order of Knights of Malta.

The third point is that these claims have been repeatedly confirmed over the centuries and most importantly in 1869 by the Capitoline Heraldic Congregation, the body of the Roman Senate concerned with such matters, and starting in 1961 by the decisions of various courts of law in Italy. The most recent decision invoked by the prince was handed down by a French court in 1991, and so came after the publication of the book. Let us take a look at the arguments presented on the Prince’s behalf.

The Prince’s pedigree published in the book comes from a work by Dr. Gauci and Peter Mallat, "The Paleologus Family: A Genealogical Review", brought out in Malta in 1985.

Having looked at the pedigree, one eminent expert in the history of Byzantine families, says, "Everything in it before 1790 is blatantly invented". This Roumanian expert is the (authentic) Prince Mihai Dimitri Sturdza, author of a monumental scholarly work, "Les Grandes Familles de Grèce, d’Albanie et de Constantinople". Discussing the Gauci-Mallat book in the British journal "The Genealogist", Morris L. Bierbrier, wrote, "In their book, Gauci and Mallat have brought together a collection of dubious pedigrees that cannot be taken seriously by any genealogist or historian of the period."

But what of that august body, the College of Arms in London? It is composed of the Queen’s officers of arms in England, each of whom is, in his personal capacity, a member of the Royal Household. The College is renowned for its archives and for the outstanding scholarship of many of the heralds. It maintains a register of foreign arms and in 1992, the Prince was letting it be known that his pedigree and coat of arms had been accepted for the register. Dr. Gauci went so far as to specify in the second volume of "The Genealogy and Heraldry of the Noble Families of Malta" that the pedigree was registered on November 20, 1990 by a junior officer of arms. Dr. Conrad Swan, who was the Registrar of the College at the time and who was later Garter principal King of Arms, that is the chief executive officer of the College, demurs. He says flatly that neither the Prince’s arms nor pedigree are in any of the College’s official records. One may note in passing that in the same book, Dr. Gauci also writes that a Michele Angelo-Comneno, calling himself Sovereign prince of Thessaly and Epidaurus, had his arms and pedigree registered in 1953 by the heraldic authority in Scotland, the Lord Lyon King of Arms. Mrs. C.G.W. Roads, Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records, says she can find no trace of any such registration or petition to register.

Most damning, the prince’s claimed inheritance is not accepted by a single expert body advising any ruling or deposed monarch or the president of any republic. No official or semi-official expert body recognizes the Prince as a Paleologus, let alone as heir to the crown of Byzantium.

But, as we have suggested, the Prince is no stranger to life’s harsh realities. It would seem that they have given him a conviction, so to speak, that while princes and their honors are glamorous, nothing speaks to the contemporary citizen with such authority as the judgments of courts of law. So it is on the decision of courts that the Prince takes his stand. In a similar vein, Dr. Gauci, setting forth his views on the practice of genealogy, says that rather than try to evaluate the conflicting views of experts in that field he prefers the "unequivocal decisions" of law courts, or as the Prince prefers, courts of justice.

From the courts of justice, then, to "The Court Journal" of the House of H.I. &R.H. Prince Henri Constantin Paleologue and his Dynastic Orders of Knighthood for October 5, 1992 . Distributed from Cannes, where the Prince lives, it says in sometimes bumpy English:

"The father of Prince Henri, Prince Cesar, was recognized on October 31, 1961 by the Italian Court of Justice as head of an ex-reigning house having the right to confer titles of nobility and chivalry ("Fons Honorum"). On March 24, 1964 the Italian Court of Justice recognized prince Henri and his right to confer honors. In 1978 the german(sic) and austrian (sic) Court of Justice had to recognize the full legality of prince Henri (sic) rights and other recognition was obtained in 1989 by the italian (sic) Court of Justice.

"A few months ago Prince Henri obtained a really historic victory in France where, as you know, laws are very strict about nobility. The French (sic) Supreme Court (Cour Surprême de Cassation) and the Appeal Court of Nimes did recognize by judgments dated October 9, 1990/April 16, 1991, that Prince Henri, Head of a former reigning House has inherited the right to confer honors. In the last 40 years, the french (sic) Supreme Court did recognize only 3 Royal Princes, i.e. on January 9, 1963 His Royal Highness Prince Mircea Carol Hohenzollern, as legitimate son of King Carol of Roumania, on December 21, 1988 His Royal Highness Prince Alfonso de Borbon, Duke of Anjou, Cousin to His Majesty the King of Spain, as pretender to the Throne of France and now His Imperial Highness Prince Henri as Emperor in Exile".

Heady stuff. Let us look at it more closely and begin by clearing away the distortions by the prince of just what the courts said about Mircea Carol Hohenzollern and Prince Alfonso.

Mircea Carol was born in 1920, after the Roumanian courts found that the marriage of his father King Carol to his mother Zizi Lambrino, was invalid. Legally the son was known as Carol Lambrino. The French court accepted that he was indeed the King’s son and, in French law, entitled to use his father’s family name, Hohenzollern. But the court treated him as plain Mr. Hohenzollern and said nothing about Mircea Carol being a prince and a Royal Highness.

As for Prince Alfonso: The Bourbon family is divided into two political factions, supporting rival pretenders to the French throne. One faction, the legitimists, supported Prince Alfonso, Duke of Anjou, because he was the senior male representative of the senior family line that, passing through Louis XIV, goes back to Hugh Capet, French King in 987. Like his cousin, King Juan Carlos, prince Alfonso descended directly from Louis XIV through that King’s grandson, Philippe, Duke of Anjou, who became King of Spain in 1700.

Now the last member of the senior line to rule in France was Charles X, toppled in 1830. He was followed on the throne by Louis Philippe, Duke of Orleans, who in turn, had to flee in 1848. Louis Philippe was not directly descended from Louis XIV but from a brother of the Sun King. The head of the Orléans branch of the family, Prince Henri, Count of Paris, claims the French throne as the descendant of the last reigning king.

The Orléans faction went to court over a point in heraldry. Whoever is King of France, or claims the right to be King, uses as his coat of arms simply three gold fleurs de lys on a blue ground. Princes of other lines of the family are obliged to add something to these arms to make them different. The Count of Paris used the undifferenced arms as did Prince Alfonso and asked the court to stop the latter from doing so. The court, however, decided that Prince Alfonso is by descent the head of the senior line of the House of Bourbon (in fact senior within the family to King Juan Carlos) and so had the right to use what in heraldry is called the full arms, that is the arms with no differencing mark. The legitimists can and do take the court’s recognizing Prince Alfonso as head of the House of Bourbon as strengthening their cause. But the court in fact had nothing to say as to whether Prince Alfonso was the rightful pretender to the French throne.

Another instance of the Prince’s way with facts is his treatment of the history of the Constantinian Order of St.George. In a communique dated September 29, 1987, the Prince said his so-called Constantinian Order was "the original one founded in the year 324 by Constantine the Great and no other order can claim such an ancient documented origin".

Indeed not, for the simple reason that orders of chivalry did not come into being until the twelfth century. Under the Byzantine emperors, there were prestigious elite military units such as the Varangian guard, a regiment of Vikings sent by Prince Wladimir of Kiev to serve Emperor Basil II at the end of the tenth century. And Constantine’s army, the imperial Christian standard was certainly guarded by a crack unit. But as we show above, that unit could not have been a chivalric order. Nor did any Byzantine military institution enjoy an existence down to the present.

The prince admits that in Italy there is a Constantinian Order that admits only Roman Catholics. But, he continues, it "cannot claim the same ancient origin as ours because it is historically proved that in the year 1697 a false Prince Angeli de Drivasto sold his bogus Constantinian Order to the naïve Duke Francesco Farnese of Parma…" Exactly so, except for the implication that Prince Henri’s order existed before he created it, not more than forty years ago. For this creation he copied the insignia of the real order, which belongs to the head of the House of Bourbon Two Sicilies. More than that he copied the myth of a Constantinian origin that had been devised in the sixteenth century, by a wily Albanian adventurer.

The real order became highly esteemed after it passed into the hands of the Farnese and then to the Bourbons who ruled in Naples. It makes no claim to date back to the reign of Constantine. Here is how Hervé Pinoteau describes the beginning of the Constantinian Order in the 1991 edition of "Etat Présent de la Maison de Bourbon" (The Present State of the House of Bourbon): "Founded in the sixteenth century by Angeli of Drivaste (near Scutari), who claimed Byzantine origins and who had gone to Venice, the Constantinian Order of Saint George was recognized by the Pope from 1575 and 1576 (and perhaps as early as 1551)"

Baron Pinoteau, widely accepted as the foremost living authority on the genealogy of the French royal house and its various branches, is also an internationally recognized expert on orders of chivalry and heraldry.

So while the myth of a Constantinian origin has been dropped by the real order, the Prince has resuscitated it to provide a literally incredible antiquity for his do-it-yourself order. Of course, he does claim that an Orthodox Constantinian was "revived" in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1861 by Great-grandfather Gerolamo. There is no independent evidence of such a revival, however, and even if an Orthodox Constantinian Saint George had been set up by Gerolamo, it would not have merited recognition from any royal, nobiliary or governmental agency except perhaps the fraud squad.

Sticking to the discredited myth and combining it with his own untenable claims, apologists for the prince produced this pearl of historical nonsense: "In 1869, Prince Gerolamo sought and was granted full recognition of all his rights to the throne of Byzantium by Pope Pius IX. It is indisputable that Prince Gerolamo had the power to revived that [Constantinian] order owing to the fact that the Emperors of Byzantium had been Imperial protectors of the Order."

But there is nothing in the Vatican archives to indicate that Pius IX ever recognized anybody as enjoying rights to the Throne of Byzantium. The opinion of the Capitoline Heraldic Congregation applied to Gerolamo’s request to be regarded as a Roman noble and did not involve Papal support for claims to an imperial crown.

As the order was invented by Albanian refugees in Venice in the sixteenth century, it could never have been under the protection of the Emperors of Byzantium, the last of whom, as we have said, died fighting when the Turks took Constantinople in 1453.

The Prince next invokes historical fantasies to support his claims to possess a dynastic Order of St.John Knights of Malta, a so-called order as spurious as his so-called Constantinian Saint George. "Prince Gerolamo", the text continues "was also descended from Aleramo of Montferrat through the Kings of Jerusalem who had granted the Hospitallers land, protection and privileges."

The Crusader Kings of Jerusalem did indeed grant the Knights of St.John land, protection and privileges. And there was a King Baldwin V of Jerusalem who was a Montferrat. But Baldwin died at age 9 in 1186, not surprisingly without descendants; and the family of the Marquesses of Montferrat into which Emperor Andronicus II Paleologus married in 1284, belonged to another family line.

As Prince Sturdza points out, to establish Montferrat Paleologi as his ancestors, the Prince would have to prove his descent from Theodore, second son of Andronicus, whose mother was Yolanda de Montferrat. This the Prince cannot do. The line of Paleologi rulers of Montferrat ended in 1553 with the death of Gian Giorgio who had resigned as Bishop of Casale in 1530 in order to become ruler. Although he married, his only child, Flaminio was illegitimate. So Montferrat went to his niece Marguerite, and her husband, Frederico Farnese, Duke of Mantua. And that was the end of Paleologi claims to Montferrat.

Let us turn from the courts of the Renaissance princes to those of the French republic and their judgments involving the Prince. Again this story is not quite what it seems, if we read only the Prince’s version. In 1983, a witty French rogue by the name of Dominique Ivan Calzi who wrote under the pen name of Patrice Chairoff published a book called "Faux chevaliers, vrais gogos" (Fake knights and real suckers). In it he wrote that the Prince was not really a prince and sold worthless titles and orders. The Prince sued Chairoff and his publisher, Jean Cyrille Godefroy in 1986. When the court found for the defendants, the Prince appealed. In 1987, the court of appeals aat Aix-en-Provence also found for the defendants. The Prince’s lawyer took the appeals court decision to the cour de cassation also in Aix. This is a court which reviews the legal procedure of trials, not the substance of the charges nor the evidence. The cour de cassation , that the Prince calls the French supreme court, found faults in the procedure and ordered a second trial before another appeals court, this one at Nimes. This time the court found for the plaintiff, imposing a fine of ten thousand francs (roughly $2,000) on both Chairoff and Godefroy.

The prince had good reason to be pleased. In its verdict the Nimes court recognized the right of descendants of former ruling houses to confer distinctions; it accepted the Italian court’s finding that the Prince belonged to such a former ruling house that kept its right of jus honorum; and, that the defendants had not proved the Prince was trafficking in honors.

A lawyer in a top Parisian law firm, having read the verdicts in the several trials, concluded that the prince had indeed proved to the satisfaction of the French legal system his claim to his title and to Byzantine descent. Nor, said the lawyer, did the legal system deny the prince the right to confer titles. The lawyer did note one other thing, however: that in the final trial the defense offered nothing of any substance to contradict the evidence presented by the plaintiff.

Indeed, the Nimes court described the evidence presented by the lawyers for Chairoff and Godefroy as "photocopies of passages from un-named works whose authors could not be established, nor their credibility". The description of the evidence presented by the defense at the first appeal trial was strikingly different. The Aix appeals court referred to "a file with numerous publications and a letter from the Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor", the top French official for matters of orders and decorations.

The Grand Chancellor, the court said, had written that the prince had "handed out decorations [his orders of chivalry] for money and that these decorations may not be worn in France under penalty of the law as they are not the creation of legitimate authority." The court also found "that the prince's claims concerning his ancestry which are the basis for his insolent claim to possess the right to create and confer decorations are doubtful."

We do not know why the defense in the second appeals trial failed to present the same evidence shown at the previous trial, why it failed to present any acceptable evidence at all. Perhaps the reason is connected to reports that about the time of the second appeals trial Chairoff was in a French prison for another offense unconnected with the Prince. Chairoff, who became a celebrity in France by exposing French politicians’ use of strongarm squads in the 1960s, is no stranger to jail. He says he likes it there as it gives him time to write. As for Godefroy he had gone bankrupt after publishing "Faux chevaliers vrais gogos".

It is tempting to ask what the effect on the verdict in the second appeals trial would have been if the same evidence had been presented as was at the first. But, the fact is that in the end the Prince obtained recognition of the French courts just as he had of the Italian courts and, he says, German and Austrian ones. But we may reasonably ask what the recognition of these courts is worth in establishing the historical facts and the truth about the Prince, the titles he gives out and his financial affairs?

When an innocent man is found guilty, we speak of a miscarriage of justice. Yet the phrase does not come to the tongue when we learn a court has found in favor of someone who is guilty. What do we call that? Also, what does one call the legal condition when some courts accept an individual’s claims while other courts reject them? Because there are courts that have rejected the Prince’s claims.

In 1990, an appeals court in Milan, after hearing the evidence brought by the plaintiff, prince Pietro Donato Paleologo Mastrogiovanni di Bizanzio, confirmed his claim to be the heir of the Byzantine empire and convicted our Prince of usurping the name Paleologo.

It must be noted, by the way, that these two gentlemen are far from alone in claiming the right of succession to Constantinople. Nor are they alone in going to court to support their claims. Over half a century ago the famous Neapolitan clown, Toto, won court recognition as heir to the Sacred Throne. In 1955, an expert on noble pedigrees, Enrique Carlos Count Zeininger de Borja, recalled in the Madrid journal "Hidalguía" a number of other instances in which courts had approved historically impossible claims. Citing a 1909 Italian count’s approval of the pedigree of a certain Nicolas Capone who included the Paleologi in his ancestry and who claimed to be "Duke of Durazzo, Prince of Macedonia, Dyuke of Old Serbia, Prince of Valona, descendant of former Despots of Epirus, Albania, etc." Count Zeininger observed, "it must be repeated yet again that the value of such a court judgment – all the more so where there is no adversarial process and no hearing of the opinion of serious experts - is rather problematical in establishing the existence or non-existence of historical fact."

"Unfortunately", he noted, "Italian courts appear to excel in handing down such verdicts." Little has changed and the prince’s recourse to the courts should be seen in the context of a well-established practice which, when it comes to getting historical facts right, risks making the look very much like an ass.

The second trial that concerns us now took place in Genoa, the Prince’s home town, in 1986. Petitioning in his legal name of Enrico Vigo, the prince asked the court to allow him to add the particle "de" suggesting nobility, in front of Vigo and after it the three dynastic names Aleramico, Lascaris and Paleologo. If allowed, this would have turned his name into the same as that of one Gerolamo de Vigo Aleramico Lascaris Paleologo who in 1869, as the Prince loves to repeat, successfully petitioned the Capitoline Heraldic Congregation of the Roman Senate to be recognized, as had his ancestors , as a member of the Roman nobility. The Congregation recommended be so recognized with, it said, "all the honors enjoyed by his ancestors." For the Prince, that means Gerolamo was recognized as heir to Byzantium. Other point out that the Congregation;s competence extended only to expressing views on the nobility of Rome and not in determining claims to head former ruling houses.

Another element in the Prince’s claims is another Prince Lascaris Paleologo who also in 1869 persuaded the same Congregation to recognize his rights to the same throne. When Prince Giovanni Antonio died in 1874, he bequeathed those rights to his cousin Gerolamo. However, sceptics say, an examination of Giovanni Antonio’s pedigree shows he was not even in the senior line of his already junior branch of the family. The prince presented a copy of the Congregation’s finding supporting Gerolamo along with other evidence to show Gerolamo was accepted as a prince. But after examining the evidence the Genoa court decided that while Gerolamo Vigo was sometimes titled a Prince, other times he was not. The court seemed particularly impressed by the fact that when he died in 1901, his death certificate showed him as plain Gerolamo Vigo.

So the court concluded by instructing the Prince that he remained plain Mr. Enrico Vigo. Out of respect for the court’s wishes, that is how we will henceforth refer to him.

The Genoa court also had something important to say about the decisions reached by the courts in Floridia and Syracuse of which Mr. Vigo makes so much. The verdicts by the two courts were based on documents that were never submitted in evidence…

The hometown court’s decision in 1986 must have hurt, but Mr. Vigo soldiered on, if that is the right expression, his imaginative plans for the future unimpaired. 1987 saw the launching of a campaign to provide him with a residence more suitable to a prince of his standing than the apartment he inhabited in Golfe Juan, a seaside suburb of Cannes. In a message distributed by one of his close collaborators, Mr. Vigo’s followers were told that a chateau that had once belonged to the Marquise de Pompadour, the politically influential mistress of Louis XV, was on the market near Chaumont in the Haute Marne department of France. If acquired, it would serve as international headquarters for Mr. Vigo’s orders. Its chapel would be used for annual investitures and its ballroom for a Grand Ball "in the manner of ancient times". Moreover, those knights who wished to be cremated could have their ashes interred at the chateau. Provision would also be made for a ten-minute video tape of the deceased to be placed in the chateau’s archives and each would have a page with a photograph in a Scroll of Honor, "so that a hundred years after your passing your descendent (sic) will be able to visit the chateau and see who their illustrius (sic) ancestor [was]. Remember that Emperors and Kings throughout the ages have spent the fortunes of the Empires to have their achievements remembered. You can have the same privilege."

The idea was that Mr.Vigo’s followers would buy shares in a company that would own the chateau. "On the practical side" the announcement advised, "the Chateau is a magnificent investment as it is priced far, far below its actual value and the furniture is included". As a lagniappe, shareholders, if they wished, might lawfully bear a coat of arms that appears on the chateau. "Lawfully" under whose laws, one wonders; certainly not the laws of heraldry.

One million shares were to be issued with a par value of one dollar each and the owning company was to be a chartered and administered in the Cayman Islands. Four hundred thousand shares would go for the purchase of the property. A board of four directors was to be formed consisting of owners of the first 400,000 shares. Some people were borrowing funds to buy shares according to the announcement which described such action as "in the true spirit of knighthood and the advancement of the Orders."

Others were not so sure and not enough money was raised to acquire the chateau. As one of Mr. Vigo’s knights from South Orange, New Jersey wrote to the promoter in November 1987:

"Let us forego all this fraternal bullshit and start talking straight…The entity who(sic) will actually own the chateau will be you and a few friends who have set up a Cayman Island company…You admit buying the chateau for 400,000 shares with a par value of $1. This obviously does not mean you put up the $400,000, all it means is that you get awarded shares for administration, etc.etc…The corp. allows the Orders to have use of the chateau, but with six-month notice can boot out both orders [Mr.Vigo’s St.George and St.John], thank you- very-much…NET RESULT: you and 3 friends now own a chateau in France…"

The letter goes on to tax the Grand Chancellor of the Prince’s orders with not following through on a number of promises regarding the activities of the orders. At one point the writer asks, "What happened to this great plan with the Japanese and the selling of titles for $1,000,000 - sounds like enough money there to buy a chateau or 2".

The writer admits that he has not been very generous in contributing to the works of the orders. The reason, he says, is "I put my money into things that make sense and I donate to charities with a track record, neither one of which I have seen much evidence of as concerns this organization." He threatens to write to all the members of the orders urging them to halt donations "until a list of charities, amounts intended for each charity, and amounts used for administration are delineated." The writer has told us he did not carry out the threat. Nor, he says, did he ever receive a satisfactory breakdown of where money donated went. He has quit the Vigo order to which he belonged.

Towards the end of his letter, the disillusioned knight wrote, "Maybe I am the only one who has bothered to notice the Emperor’s new clothes do not exist – I am beginning to wonder."

One person past wondering was Marieluise Ficker. A very attractive German, she was married to Mr. Vigo, but separated from him, when on January 7, 1977 her home in an apartment house, La Croix du Sud, in Golfe Juan, was burgled. In a statement to the French police she blamed Mr. Vigo for the burglary and denounced him as having "usurped his title..created the Sovereign Military and Dynastic Order of the Knights of the Cross of Constantine of which he says he is Grand Master…For between 5,000 and 40,000 francs (roughly $1,000 and $8,000) he installs people in a grade in keeping with what they pay."

The daytime burglary took place while Mrs. Vigo was out of the apartment. Nothing of value was taken she said, although every drawer had been gone through and its contents dumped on the floor. What was missing were documents connected to Mr. Vigo’s order. But, she said, probably what he was really after were other official documents concerning his birth and parents.

Marieluise met Mr. Vigo in her native Germany after returning from New York where her marriage to a Mr. Ficker, an American, had ended in divorce. She was living in Munich. She had her family there and was working as a beautician. The Italian charmer and the German beauty, for such she was, were married in a civil ceremony on 13 April 1964 in the town hall of Strasbourg, the pleasant capital of France’s Alsace. She was then thirty-nine and he forty-five.

Mr. Vigo succeeded in charming not only Marieluise Petersen, as she was born, but also her father, Heinz, a draper, and her two brothers, Heinz and Michael. While she became Princess Marieluise, the men became Barons von Petersen. As sometimes happens, the Petersen men appear to have remained on good terms with their ex-brother-in-law. Stern reported in 1986 that at least one of them was still using the phony title Mr. Vigo had bestowed and was attending a Vigo banquet at the Palais Montgelas, the banqueting side of the luxurious Hotel Bayerischerhof. Petersen’s fiancée was taking money for the dinner at the dining room door. In 1993 the Grand Master of another fantasy order, discussing his coming ceremonies, told us he expected Baron von Petersen of Munich to attend. He did not specify which of the three barons he had in mind.

The breakup of the marriage, it appears, occurred when Marieluise Vigo discovered her Prince was becoming friendly with a neighbor in Golfe Juan. This was Françoise Faure, a considerably younger French blonde. Raised in her turn to the status of princess, Françoise Faure has never married Mr. Vigo.

In a letter to us written in 1992, the former Mrs. Vigo did not refer to another woman. Instead she wrote that "for personal reasons which today will be considered almost normal but at that time were not accepted by most people, I left the Prince…"

She subsequently met and married a physician and now lives happily in the elegant resort town of Baden Baden. Time and, it seems, fear of making trouble for herself have tempered her sentiments. Not knowing her whereabouts, we wrote her at her brother Heinz’s address. Heinz was not pleased by our writing to him. He told her, she says, to tell us, "he does not wish to receive any further mail from you and will not supply any information." As for herself, she wrote, "I am very happy with my husband and the daughter I had in the States, therefore I dont (sic) wish to spoil my life and have new problems."

"I made a big mistake. I gave an interview to a journalist who wrote just the opposite of what I had told him," she said. Other newspapers picked up the journalist’s article and, she says, the prince sued and won. One would like to know more of this case. Did it cause her to lose the apartment in Golfe Juan where Mr. Vigo continues to live? In her statement to the French police in 1977 she is described as its owner.

The former Mrs. Vigo's letter is peppered with statements which seem hard to credit in view of past statements to the contrary. She says, among other things, that Mr. Vigo "is very wealthy and uses most of his revenues to help peoples (sic), he has an Order but all donations and fees goes (sic) to charity."

Mr. Vigo, she continues, was a widower with two daughters. She also says that it was years before Mr. Vigo and she divorced as he was opposed to divorce. Whether his opposition was out of regard for the sanctity of the marriage bonds, she does not say.

Let us take up three of these points: Mr. Vigo’s generosity, his being a widower with daughters and his dislike of divorce. The last is certainly true, but Mr. Vigo is not a widower, although he has been a bigamist. His first wife was a Milanese woman, Emma Porzani, five years his senior. He was twenty-one when he married her on September 9, 1940, just three months after Italy’s rickety Fascist regime set out on the path to its own destruction by declaring war on Britain and France. In 1948, a year after the birth of their second daughter, Graziella, and amidst the hardships of defeat and the looming threat of a Communist seizure of power, Mr. Vigo, deserted Emma and the children.

Emma Porzani told the respected Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera in 1979 that Mr. Vigo had abandoned them to poverty. She stated that the court had ordered him to pay maintenance of seventy thousand lire, about seventy dollars a month. He did so for a few months but then stopped all payments. Finally, in 1973, the first Mrs. Vigo obtained a divorce, eight and a half years after Mr. Vigo had married Marieluise Ficker. "Di quell’uomo, e chiaro, ora non voglio piu sapere," Emma Panzani said: "I really do not want to hear anything more about that man."

Graziella Vigo remembered that one day he father pointed out a well-known Milanese landmark to her, the Castello Sforzesco. This imposing castle built by the ducal Sforza family, the city’s Renaissance rulers. "Vedi" he told her, "questo castello e tuo, un giorno verremo ad abitarci." That is, "Look at that castle, one day you are really going to live there."

The failure of Mr. Vigo’s generosity toward his wife and children, if failure to pay maintenance may be so dignified, resulted in his going to prison in Naples in 1959. Mr. Vigo, who has taken the imperial eagle as his emblem, is, it turns out, a bird of a different feather, a jailbird. In 1951 a Milan court convicted him of fraud. In 1953 it was discovered that he had stolen 9,464 cases of canned tomatoes, worth fifteen million lire from a Genoese business.

In 1956, a court in Salerno convicted him of theft and in 1960 a Naples court convicted him of slander. In 1972, he was wanted again for non-payment of support to his wife and children. In most of the cases the prison sentences were suspended. Perhaps that is why he has shown such boldness, one might say contempt, for the legal system in so often successfully exploiting the courts to obtain a show of legitimacy for his spurious claims.

It must be admitted that Mr. Vigo acquired as a kind of sinister birthright his hunger to assert phony claims. He was born not even a Vigo. His birth certificate states that his mother, 20-year old, unmarried Adalgisa Paci, declared her child the result of "una unione naturale con uomo che non consente di essere nominato," of a natural union with a man whom she chose not to identify.

On July 14, 1926, when little Enrico was seven years old, the Genoese authorities altered his birth certificate to show that, at their request, Enrico was recognized as the son of Cesare Vigo and Adalgisa Evangelisti. Cesare and the second Adalgisa had married in Naples exactly five years earlier, on July 14, 1921.

Was Cesare Vigo really Enrico’s father? It seems likely but not certain. One may perhaps hazard a guess, though, that his father was no one de Vigo Aleramico Lascaris Paleologo.

If one is no one, which is an intolerable condition, then one will feel impelled to create a fiction making one into someone or anyone. Enrico Vigo did so by a creating a fiction which is also a falsehood. He then went on to spin many other falsehoods about the histories of individuals, families, ancient institutions. He has used all kinds of people and even courts of justice to falsify history itself. The result is that the real Enrico Vigo has become the wrongdoing of historical truth as the mythical Don Giovanni was to the wronging of women.

Meanwhile the Imperial Byzantine Court continues to function, although Mr. Vigo has had a falling out with some of his principal collaborators. His current second-in-command is Mr. George King, created Prince of Santorini several years ago. Mr. King, an Englishman born in Wellington, Shropshire in 1919 lives in California. More exactly he has been living in Hollywood right at the heart of that Southern Californian realm where fantasy and reality are sometimes so difficult to separate.

For as well as being a prince and Count de Florina, His Eminence is a Cardinal. This ecclesiastic rank does not derive from the Vatican but from his being the founder in 1955 of the Aetherius Church of which he is Metropolitan Archbishop.

His spiritual powers extend to the extraterrestrial, so that the Aetherians consider him capable of leaving his corporeal body and travelling to the farthest ends of the universe where he consults with Elders who inhabit other planets and who control mankind’s destiny. His associate Dr. Richard Lawrence informed us of the Prince-Cardinal’s curriculum vitae in 1987. At that time, he had been Professor of Metaphysics at the Barthasarathy Cultural Academy in Madras, India and received a doctorate of Divinity from the Bodkin Bible Institute of West Virginia.

In his simplicity, the Prince Cardinal is often known as just Sir George King. A great joiner, Sir George is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and the Royal Institute of Journalists, among other things. "In all these bodies, which come directly under the Crown of Great Britain, he does not use the style of "Sir" as a matter of protocol." Dr. Lawrence explained. But Sir George is "fully entitled to do so in other contexts." He added. As we have pointed out elsewhere, the title "Sir" before a first name is allowed only to those given knighthood by the British monarch and Mr. King is not entitled to be called Sir George.

Those familiar with London life will note that the bodies to which Mr. King belongs have names with a familiar ring. This is not surprising. The Royal Society, for instance, is the most prestigious scientific body in Britain. The School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene is a well-known part of London University. And the Institute of Journalists is one of two national trade unions for journalists. However, a Royal Society of Tropical medicine and Hygiene? A Royal Institute of Journalists? No one in London, it seems, has ever heard of them.

Naturally, writes. Lawrence, the Prince-Cardinal’s titles do not appear in Debrett’s Peerage since they were not given by the Queen "and this work only details titles which come under the British Crown." Quite true, but then all titles of honor used by British subjects (which Mr. King admits to being), including titles not British in origin, are under royal control, otherwise they are not recognized and not allowed. Mr. King, like Mr. Vigo and many others is comparable to a piece of big, flashy Versace costume jewelry: fake, but certainly colorful.

In addition to their Hollywood address of Afton Place, Mr. King and Mr. Lawrence have one in London, at 767 Fulham Road, and it is there that they have established the headquarters of the Byzantine heraldic Society.

Like Mr. Vigo, Mr. King knows that a coat of arms held by the authority of the College of Arms confers prestige and legitimacy in the eyes of those who take an interest in such matters. So he applied for a grant of arms. The same junior officer who would later assure Mr. Vigo that his arms had been registered, succeeded in getting a grant for Mr. King. This the young man took to America where he was photographed in court dress (scarlet coatee, black breeches and hose, silver buckled shoes and sword) handing it to Mr. King. The latter was vested and mitred in his full episcopal dignity.

Mr. Vigo also developed an acquaintance with people involved in buying and selling lordships of the manor, those relics of feudal property holding that to the uninitiated appear to make the purchaser into a noble lord, not just a landlord without the land.

Through the good offices of Robert Smith, Chairman of the Manorial Society of Great Britain, "Prince Paleologo" was guest of honor at the Society’s 1991 reception at the House of Lords, "the most exclusive club in London" as it has been called. The host was a peer who is a member of the Manorial Society which exists to promote interest in lordships of the manor. These are currently selling for $10,000 to $100,000 each and Mr. Vigo’s followers, especially in the United States, include people susceptible to the appeal of such picturesque survivals of the Middle Ages. So it only be natural for him to help them make wise purchases.

Mr. Vigo’s ceaseless quest for recognition and prestige was also being assisted by his apparently cozy relationship with the College of Arms. His clientele in Florida and Malta were being provided with renderings of the titles and arms he had given them, beautifully executed by a Herald painter employed by College and signed and impressively sealed by Mr. Vigo’s pet junior officers of arms. Naturally such exquisitely prepared documents do not come cheaply.

Early in 1992, the special relationship was over. The College realized what the wayward junior officer of arms had been up to and obliged him to resign. It expunged George King’s grant of arms from its records and did not register Mr. Vigo’s pedigree and arms. It had nothing more to do with the Byzantine Heraldic Society.

Mr. Vigo was taking a bufetting. But he stayed on course. The 1992 Imperial Byzantine Ball commemorated the quincentenary of of Columbus’ "voyage to the Americas". The next year there was another ball and the triumphant, if discreet, visit to Malta. In London the Byzantine Heraldic Society continued in business providing for $5,000 coats of arms granted by Mr. Vigo.

By now Richard Lawrence had been elevated to the dignities of Baron of Syracuse, King of Arms of the Royal House of Byzantium and Mr. Vigo’s "Ambassador in Great Breitain".

In a transportation that covered a far greater distance than the miles between the Heralds’ Queen Anne mansion in the City of London and Mr. Vigo’s quarters in the aspiring western reaches of the Fulham Road, the junior officer of arms, once a member of Her Majesty’s Household, now labored under Baron Lawrence of Syracuse, doing Mr. Vigo’s heraldic work.

Down on the Cote d’Azur, Mr. Vigo, it was said, was fending off demands by Françoise Faure that he find a larger, more regal resicence than the modest eighty square meter (850 square feet) apartment in la Croix du Sud in Golfe Juan.

Approaching his seventy-ninth birthday, Mr. Vigo seemed well set to continue in his comfortable bourgeois life. According to a former associate, after travel expenses, Mr. Vigo nets over $50,000 a year. But in years when he sells a few titles of nobility, his income can rise to $150,000 or more. Of course, given the cost of living on the French Riviera, this is not really adequate to sustain a princely indulgence in luxuries or open-handed hospitality.

But Mr. Vigo’s tastes are not princely, they are frugal. He eats and drinks moderately. If he has to go to a restaurant, he finds one that is not expensive. His choice in cars runs to small Fords and Minis without the extras. You will not see him at the paddock at Long Champs for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, nor with a party of guests in a box at Covent Garden, nor at the gaming tables at Monte Carlo. No, certainly you will not see him gambling for pleasure.

As a good businessman, he knows the good sense of charging what the market will bear. So a rich American may pay $30,000 to be ennobled by Mr. Vigo while a European from a society of more modest fortunes pays only $7,500 for the same service. But, says a man who has known him many years, "one thing you will never see him is giving anything away." So Mr. Vigo, with his penny-wise ways, is reckoned to have provided well for the future.

Still, he continues to work at snaring likely pigeons for the next investiture, the next Imperial Byzantine Ball, the next sale of a countship with a Greek place name. It is not just the money, although getting money off people is certainly a way of confirming their belief in you. It is more an obsessive need to act out his claims to be, by inherited right, an emperor who can raise other men out of the darkness of the pedestrian, the undistinguished mass of humanity and, into more brilliant company. He does it again and again because Enrico né Paci of uncertain heritage, is as far as ever from being at home in the Castello Sforzaesco or perhaps anywhere else.

 

Derk Kinnane-Roelofsma