THE SCOT WHO RULED OVER POPES AND KINGS; Friend and Confidante: His Most Eminent Highness Fra Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie with Pope Benedict XVI

Daily Mail (London), February 23, 2008 | Go to article overview

THE SCOT WHO RULED OVER POPES AND KINGS; Friend and Confidante: His Most Eminent Highness Fra Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie with Pope Benedict XVI


Byline: ANDREW COLLIER

HE was a shy, retiring eccentric with a love of children, judo andChinese meals. But Andrew Bertie commanded the obedience of kings andpresidentsand may even have possessed divine power. The quietly spoken aristocrat was theruler of an ancient religious blood network that made him head of the worldssmallest state, as well as the highest layman in the Roman Catholic Church.

Until his death earlier this month at the age of 78, Bertiedirectly descended from King Robert II of Scotlandoccupied one of the worlds most powerful positions. His influence almostequalled that of the Pope, whom he knew well, and he was feted wherever hetravelled.

To his closest friends, he was Andrew. To the rest of the world, he was HisMost Eminent Highness Fra Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie, Prince and GrandMaster of the Order of Malta, one of the worlds oldest religious and charitableinstitutions.

His pedigree was impeccable, his global recognition in aristocratic anddiplomatic circles enormous. The sovereign territory ruled by Bertiepronounced Bartyamounted to no more than a large villa, the Palazzo Magistrale, off Romesfashionable Via Condotti.

But the power of his empire was not measured in mere square feet. It was thedesirability of membership which counted. The Order of Malta, with nearly 1,000years of history and an astonishing network of connections, is still arguablythe worlds most exclusive gentlemans club.

It is thought to have been founded around 1100AD, in Palestine at the time ofthe crusades. Although dedicated to helping the poor, the sick and pilgrims,the Order took up arms to defend the Holy Land.

Its war against Islam continued over the centuries, firstly from Rhodes andlater from Malta, from where it was evicted by Napoleon in 1798. It has been inRome, within touching distance of the Vatican, ever since.

It was suppressed in Britain by Henry VIII and again by Elizabeth I, andofficially restored only in 1993. In the UK, it has more than 200 knights and40 dameswomen are allowed to joinof whom about 80 per cent are reckoned to be of noble blood.

As a sovereign state in its own right, the Order does far more than simplyissue its own passports and rather quirky postage stamps. It remains a deeplyreligious organisation and combines its aristocratic credentials with a massiveglobal commitment to charity.

It funds and runs hospitals, provides ambulance services worldwide and sendsrelief supplies to disaster areas. In total, it employs 13,000 doctors andcountless nurses and administrative staff.

The Order is the third oldest in the Roman Catholic church, behind theAugustinians and the Benedictines. Despite Berties immense powerhe was officially a cardinal deacon of the churchhe was one of 60 so-called professed knights who had taken a vow of poverty,chastity and obedience. His title Fra is a monastic one, meaning Frater, orbrother.

THE first Briton to head the order since Hugh De Revel in 1277, Bertie wasappointed to the position in 1988. His credentials for the job were perfect.Grand masters must, like the most exclusive level of knights, prove noblelineage going back two centuries. That was no problem: he was a descendent ofthe exiled Stuarts.

His father was James Bertie, a younger son of the 7th Earl of Abingdon, and hismother was Lady Jane Bertie, a prominent member of the Crichton-Stuart familyand a daughter of the 4th Marquess of Bute.

Born in London, Bertie enjoyed an immensely privileged childhood, during whichhe connected with his Scottish roots. He spent much of his time growing up atMount Stuart, the magnificently grand Victorian pile on the Isle of Bute, whichwas the ancestral home, as well as flitting between no fewer than threeproperties in Edinburghs Charlotte Squareone of them Bute House, now the official home of the First Minister.

Educated at Ampleforth and Oxford, Bertie served with distinction in the ScotsGuards before going on to become a financial journalist and then a schoolmasterat Worth School in Sussex, where he taught French and Spanish and drove aroundin a Rolls-Royce. …

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