Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Fra’ Matthew Festing

Northumbrian, Art Expert, Veteran of the Grenadier Guards is Seventy-Ninth Prince & Grand Master of the Order of Malta

FRA’ MATTHEW FESTING, the Grand Prior of England, was today elected Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta. The new grand master was chosen in a secret ballot by the Complete Council of State. After receiving the approval of the Pope, His Most Eminent Highness swore the Oath before the council and the Cardinal Patronus of the Order, Cardinal Pio Laghi. Fifty-eight years old, Fra’ Matthew was, up to this point, an art expert for the auction house Sotheby’s. The Prince is the son of Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing who, as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was the effective head of the British Army. Sir Francis converted to Catholicism and married a member of the Riddells of Swinburne Castle, a prominent recusant family. Through his mother, Fra’ Matthew is descended from the Blessed Sir Adrian Fortescue, an English Knight of Malta who was martyred for the Faith in 1539. The grand master’s brother Andrew Festing, RP is a noted portraitist.

As a child, Fra’ Matthew lived in Egypt and Singapore where his father held army postings, and was educated at Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire and St. John’s College, Cambridge. Passing out from Sandhurst, he was commissioned an officer in the Grenadier Guards, Britain’s most senior infantry regiment. (The Coldstream Guards are actually older, but their seniority was reduced for backing Cromwell in the Civil War). Currently holding the rank of Colonel in the Territorial Army, Fra’ Matthew served the Queen as Deputy Lieutenant for Northumberland for many years, and was appointed OBE.

“The new Grand Master affirms his resolve to continue the great work carried out by his predecessor,” an official statement from the Order of Malta said, noting Fra’ Matthew’s “wide range of experience in Order affairs”. Having joined the Order of Malta in 1977, Fra’ Matthew took solemn vows in 1991 and was appointed Grand Prior of England in 1993, when the Grand Priory was resurrected after 450 years in abeyance. In that post he led humanitarian missions to Kosovo, central Serbia, and Croatia, and has attended the annual British pilgrimage to Lourdes with the handicapped and the disabled. “As well as his passion for the decorative arts,” the official announcement continued, “and for history, for which his encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of the Order is legendary, as is his very British sense of humour, Fra’ Matthew spends any free time possible in his beloved Northumberland countryside.”

This election is a most welcome one, and I would go so far as to say the councillors have chosen very wisely. It is an immense honour for we English-speaking Catholics that yet another Grand Master has been chosen from our ranks. But of course Fra’ Matthew was not chosen for being an Anglophone but rather for being Matthew Festing. Like Pope Benedict, he is a friend of the old rite of the Mass, and he was among the many prominent British Catholics (whose number included James MacMillan, Michael Ancram, Damian Thompson, Jamie Bogle, and others) who signed the ‘Appeal from the British Isles’ to Pope Benedict imploring a liberalization of the restrictions on the Tridentine rite (duly granted by the Holy Father in his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of July 2007).

While certainly an ardent respecter of tradition, Fra’ Matthew is by no means a stuffy man but rather, as the Order’s official statement noted, is known for his sense of humour. On the only occasion on which I met Fra’ Matthew, I introduced him to Mrs. Burke (then Fraulein Hesser). Upon discovering that Abby hailed from the great state of California, Fra’ Matthew regaled us with his memories of driving from Denver all the way to the Pacific coast of California. Upon reaching the great ocean (the Grand Prior very enthusiastically informed us), he took off his shoes, rolled up his trousers and went straight in!

The Order of Malta has been remarkable in that it has had no qualms about modernization while at the same time unabashedly keeping to its ancient traditions. In this, it is a shining beacon in a world which too often and too easily disregards the time-tested ways of our ancestors. The very prompt election of Fra’ Matthew shows that the Order is of a firm mind and on a sound footing. We have no doubt that Fra’ Matthew will continue the great centuries-long tradition of the Order of Malta: to defend the Faith, to serve the Poor.

May God Grant Long Life

Matthew Festing
Prince and Grand Master
of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John

of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta
Most Humble Guardian of the Poor of Jesus Christ

Category: Order of Malta

This post was published on Tuesday, March 11th, 2008 8:08 pm. It has been categorised under Great Britain Order of Malta.
Robert Thornton
12 Mar 2008 4:54 am

Well, it’s been almost a month since you last posted, but I was pretty sure this would stir you.

Liz Smith
12 Mar 2008 7:13 am


12 Mar 2008 11:42 am

Gesta Deî per Anglo!

12 Mar 2008 3:44 pm

Totally off topic, but I came over here to see whether you had posted any observations concerning the soon-to-be-ex Governor of the Empire State. Perhaps you have decided it’s best to ignore the whole tawdry episode . . .

12 Mar 2008 5:11 pm

Many thanks for what is the best post I have seen on our new Grand Master! (I am a member of the Malta Auxiliary.) Please keep him in your prayers, as the Order is facing many challenges.

Robt Zacher
13 Mar 2008 8:27 pm

I hope Fra Matthew ditches that grandiose, Ruritanian, red and gold uniform worn on occasion by his predecessor. If a uniform is required, something less Gilbert & Sullivanesque and less comic to the modern eye might be in order.

Liz Smith
13 Mar 2008 9:59 pm

Pchaaa! If you think THAT uniform is “grandiose” you must not get out much!

L Gaylord Clark
14 Mar 2008 9:11 am

On the contrary, Mr Zacher. All right thinking and therefore traditionally minded people will now be hoping that the very traditional Fra Matthew will insist that the uniform be used more frequently than before. The Order of Malta is an order of chivalry; its members are knights; why should they not dress as such?
And what, pray, is wrong with Ruritania?

Rob Harrington
14 Mar 2008 10:38 am

Hear! Hear!

J. Michael Dwyer
16 Mar 2008 11:50 pm

Praise God! I too hope he will keep the traditional uniform. Some other orders, such as the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, have abolished their uniforms and I think that is very, very sad.

18 Mar 2008 9:19 pm

To the best of my knowledge the EOoHS has not abolished their uniform.

Barbiconi still makes them to fit, but few knights, especially in the US, bother to order them. Probably due to the noxious egalitarian and anti-aristocratic sentiments so prevalent here.

A friend of mine is a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre and he and I were just discussing his uniform the other day.

William A. Cubbedge
18 Mar 2008 11:03 pm

I would add, that the tailored EOHSJ uniform is a very expensive outlay for something that hardly ever gets worn. This is mainly because the American Lieutenancies hardly ever do the sorts of things one would wear a military uniform to do. Normally they dress up for religious functions, and therefore just stick with the Church robes (and I don’t think that most of the Knights and Dames in the U.S. are laboring under any kind egalitarian burden. Trust me.)

Same thing goes for the SMOM uniform, at least for Americans-you practically never see it (though the SMOM does tend to party a bit more than the EOHSJ, in my experience, so you think you would see it more often.)


19 Mar 2008 11:58 am

This might interest the readership here:



John Fitzgerald
19 Mar 2008 1:43 pm

Though I cannot claim to have any knowledge of what this organization does for the poor — of which it is self-appointed guardian — it nevertheless strikes me as ironic that its leader should, judging from your description, move in a world, a “class,” as far removed from the poor as possible. And if helping the poor is really the order’s mission, perhaps its emblem should be something other than a jewel-festooned crown. The fact that the discussion in the comments centers around expensive ermine robes rather reveals this whole charade for what it is.

L Gaylord Clark
19 Mar 2008 4:27 pm

Alert! Blog incursion from somewhere in Ireland, or, more likely perhaps, an unusually adventurous part of old Irish Boston (not to be confused, and indeed it never is, with the gracious Boston of my Brahmin ancestors).
Mr Fitzgerald disgraces his fine old Norman Irish name. It is the historic role of the aristocracies of this world to care for those over whom it has pleased an all-wise God to place them. That at the same time they keep to their traditions of dress and decorum is surely no one’s business but their own.

Andrew Cusack
19 Mar 2008 7:05 pm

Hooray! John Fitzgerald returns! And we thought you were beginning to stop loving us!

I cannot claim to have any knowledge of what this organization does for the poor

I mentioned a mere snippet of the Order’s activities in my post on the late Grand Master:

The operations of the Order today are astounding. With the collapse of the Iron Curtain in the early years of Fra’ Andrew’s reign, the Order of Malta rapidly expanded its charitable works in Central and Eastern Europe. Irish knights founded an ambulance corps in the 1920s and since that time the Order has become a major provider of first-aid training, ambulance transport, and community care services. In Scotland, the Order supports Dial-A-Journey, a charity that helps to keep the elderly mobile and help them get around. Hospitals were, of course, the very first work of the Order, and it maintains hospitals today throughout the world. The hospital in Rome specializes in neurological treatment and rehabilitation. “John & Lizzies”, the Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth in St. John’s Wood, London, has a unit specializing in the treatment of the terminally ill.

Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem is the only provider of Western-quality health services for pregnant women in the Palestinian West Bank. The French Association of the Order of Malta runs hospitals in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Madagascar, and Togo. The Order runs leprosy care centers in Senegal and Cambodia, as well as Brazil. In France there are nine specialized centers for the disabled, and there are similar institutions run by the Order in Hungary, Poland, Lebanon, Ecuador, and the United States. One of the most prominent works of the Order with the disabled is their help in bringing the disabled to Lourdes. (Andrew Bertie was Hospitaller of the Sanctuary of Lourdes). These are just a sample of the works carried out under the auspices of the Order of Malta; there are also orphanages, centers for youth and adolescents, kindergartens for the poor, shelters for the homeless, rehabilitation centers for drug addicts, and rapid reaction humanitarian relief teams to care for the survivors of natural disasters and war, and for the accomodation of refugees.

Now you know!

it nevertheless strikes me as ironic that its leader should, judging from your description, move in a world, a “class,” as far removed from the poor as possible.

So you would be of the opinion that those who happen to be wealthy or noble should not be involved in helping the poor? This seems rather harsh on both the rich, for it robs them of the opportunity of doing good, as well as harsh on the poor, as it robs them of the opportunity of being helped.

The fact that the discussion in the comments centers around expensive ermine robes rather reveals this whole charade for what it is.

Or perhaps the fact that you disregard 900 years of service to the poor based on the conversation of less than a handful of people on a blog rather reveals your way of thinking for the charade it is.

Nonetheless, welcome back! I knew you couldn’t keep away for long!

Will Cubbedge
20 Mar 2008 1:01 pm

Leaving aside the fact that the Grand Master, along with the rest of the religious members of the order, is, not withstanding his ancestry, a poor knight (bound to Lady Poverty,) and that his work is best accomplished in going to the people who HAVE MONEY in order to turn it over to the poor (which is a nutshell description of what the Order has done for the last 900 years,) I can speak anecdotally as to the merits of the Order’s work with the poor.

Should Mr. Fitzgerald ever wish to look me up in Washington, I am sure we could go see the members of the Order, the Catholic “elite”, consoling the crippled orphans down at the Children’s Home, or up to their elbows bedpans and human excrement at the AIDS hospice.

Does he not see that this work proves as well as enhances his noble status?


L Gaylord Clark
21 Mar 2008 1:54 pm

“Assure everyone”? What makes you think that the readers of Mr Cusack’s esteemed blog would find assurance in the knowledge that the Grand Master of the SMOM was neither rich nor elitist? That he is not rich is certain, given that he is not only a knight, but also a monk in solemn vows.
But not elitist? Of course he is, and in the proper sense of the word: striving for the best in both himself and others, not pardoning mediocrity, and cherishing superiority in all that man can make and be. Neither has one heard that he disparages titles or belittles pride of ancestry.
That he strives at the same time to help the poor and the sick contradicts none of this. The blending of the two attitudes is after all not unknown in the saga of our race – we call it chivalry.

Daniel F R Filho
4 Jan 2010 5:42 pm

May God bless Frater Matthew Festing on his journey.
The Order is not only a humanitarian Organization but a vehicle of God to help poor people around the world.

Jamie Russell
21 May 2011 10:50 pm

I am so pleased to see so many lovely posts on this site. I have known the Grand Master since I was a young boy. (I am now 37)! and I can not say, nor will I hear a bad word spoken of him. I grew up on his estate in Northumberland and looked on him as a living encyclopaedia and authority about pretty much everything that has stood me in good stead since. I have had the good fortune to meet people who I would never have met, been educated in what makes a healthy tree and how to sharpen a chainsaw. I know, thanks to the Grand Master, how to recover a tractor when it is stuck in deep mud and what type of wood will burn well on an open fire. Ray Mears will teach you many skills, Matthew will teach you just as many an he will do so in such a way as to make you laugh.
I think of the Grand Master as a friend, as a father figure and as a shining example of tolerance, patience, kindness and everything else that makes a person great.
Thank You.

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