The Grand Master is elected for life from the Professed Knights by the Council Complete of State. According to the Constitution, as the religious Superior and Sovereign, he must fully dedicate himself to the development of the works of the Order and to set an example of living by Christian principles, to all the members of the Order. He is vested with supreme authorities. Together with the Sovereign Council, the Grand Master issues the legislative measures not covered by the Constitution, promulgates government acts, manages Common Treasure assets, ratifies, international agreements and the summoning of the Chapter General. The States with which the Order has diplomatic relations recognise the Grand Master with the prerogatives, immunities and honours reserved for Heads of State.
The title of Most Eminent Highness is bestowed on the Grand Master, and the Holy Roman Church confers him the rank of Cardinal. The Grand Master resides at the Order’s seat of government the Magistral Palace in Rome.
Fra’ Matthew Festing, an Englishman, was elected Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta on 11th March 2008 by the Council Complete of State of the Order of Malta. He succeeds Fra’ Andrew Bertie, 78th Grand Master (1988-2008), who died on 7 February 2008.
Born in Northumberland on 30 November 1949, educated at Ampleforth and St. John’s College Cambridge, where he read history, Fra’ Matthew Festing, an art expert, has for most of his professional life worked at an international art auction house. As a child he lived in Egypt and Singapore, where his father, Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, had earlier postings. He is also descended from Sir Adrian Fortescue, a knight of Malta, who was martyred in 1539.
Fra’ Matthew Festing served in the Grenadier Guards and holds the rank of colonel in the Territorial Army. He was appointed OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen and served as one of her Deputy Lieutenants in the county of Northumberland.
He became a member of the Sovereign Order of Malta in 1977, and took solemn religious vows in 1991, becoming a Professed Knight of the Order. Between 1993 and 2008 he was the Grand Prior of England. In this role, he led missions of humanitarian aid to Kosovo, Serbia and Croatia, and headed the British delegation at the Order’s annual international pilgrimage to Lourdes.
As well as his passion for the decorative arts and for history, his encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of the Order of Malta is well known.
Honorary citizen of the city of Rapallo in Italy and of Pompeii.
He has been awarded Honorary Degrees by the Catholic University of America, the Northumbria University and the John Cabot University.