Strickland heirs’ feud over Villa Bologna, Malta’s grandest of stately homes

De Trafford siblings in court after five-year feud since father’s death, who left €23 million estate to his youngest son, a London banker who now runs Villa Bologna

The grandest of Malta’s stately homes: Villa Bologna was the home of the redoubtable Gerald Strickland, interwar prime minister of Malta and the sixth Count of Catena
The grandest of Malta’s stately homes: Villa Bologna was the home of the redoubtable Gerald Strickland, interwar prime minister of Malta and the sixth Count of Catena

An inheritance battle has broken out among the heirs of the aristocrat Lord Gerald Strickland, one-time prime minister of Malta, which includes the magnificent Villa Bologna in Attard.

Once the seat of the Count of Catena, the 18th century country house in Attard became the property of Gerald Strickland in 1882 after a protracted litigation between the putative heirs.

Now the entire estate, as well as over €500,000 in precious furniture and works of art inside the grand home, is the subject of a court battle between siblings Jasper de Trafford, who lives in the house, and Aloisia de Trafford.

When their father Gerald de Trafford died in 2015 at 85, he bequeathed unto his son Jasper the vast contents of Villa Bologna as well as the entire property, today managed for wedding celebrations. His daughter Aloisia was left with a handful of furniture pieces, a Copley Fielding landscape, and a water-colour portrait of her father.

The elder daughter instantly renounced the inheritance upon learning of the will, and in November 2015 gave notice to her brother and the law courts that she was expecting that she inherit one-sixth of the estate as laid down at law.

A court now has to decide on whether Aloisia de Trafford will become part-owner not just of Villa Bologna, which is managed and lived in by her brother, but also to liquidate in her favour the value of the country house’s belongings as well as part of a loan or donation from her father to his son to acquire a Valletta home on Battery Street.

In an affidavit to the court, Aloisia de Trafford says her father had already drawn up a will in the records of notary Paul Pullicino, in which he held his estate – in equal portions – to the two siblings. “Unfortunately, my brother started working on my father and insisted that he would only come to Malta if my father were to leave him his estate to my exclusion,” de Trafford claimed. “My father was already weak and vulnerable and with my mother’s aid and assistance, he was convinced to do so. My father had previously told me that he did not want to change his will.”

Jasper de Trafford, a former City banker now living at Villa Bologna, runs the estate’s wedding business and has invested greatly in the villa’s renovation. The siblings disagree on the valuation of the Villa Bologna estate, with Aloisia de Trafford’s realtor, Benjamin Grech, valuing the home at €23 million, while Jasper de Trafford’s valuation from AP architect David Felice valuing it at €5.4 million
Jasper de Trafford, a former City banker now living at Villa Bologna, runs the estate’s wedding business and has invested greatly in the villa’s renovation. The siblings disagree on the valuation of the Villa Bologna estate, with Aloisia de Trafford’s realtor, Benjamin Grech, valuing the home at €23 million, while Jasper de Trafford’s valuation from AP architect David Felice valuing it at €5.4 million

But in 2008, at the age of 79, Gerald de Trafford changed his will and left everything to Jasper, a London banker. “As soon as the will was read out, I realised that I was completely done in,” Aloisia de Trafford said, claiming her brother had also been given some €90,000 from their father to finance the acquisition of a Valletta home which he split into three apartments for short lets to tourists. “I knew my father had sold land and as far as I know, also bonds, stocks and shares, to finance Jasper in acquiring the property... This can all be verified from my father’s accounts.”

The siblings also disagree on the valuation of the Villa Bologna estate, with Aloisia de Trafford’s realtor valuing the home at €23 million, while Jasper de Trafford’s valuation from an AP architect valuing it at €5.4 million.

His sister protested that the AP valuation is a market value for how much a third party would be prepared to purchase Villa Bologna and the gardens, while allowing the heir and vendor to live on the property and benefit from the weddings operations. “In other words the prospective purchaser would be buying into a property without any prospect of turning over any income.” She called the valuation ‘ridiculous’.

The house is currently leased out for receptions and weddings, while seven apartments from the estate are leased out to foreign lessees who live there, apart from a shop and café, and a pottery shop. “This has all rendered good income to my brother since my father’s death, which he has only kept for himself and I see no reason why I should not receive 8% interest on my reserved portion once he has enjoyed the income from the various leases to date.”

On his part, Jasper de Trafford has also doubted the validity of a 30-year, renewable lease his father would have given to his sister in 2013 on the garden home at Villa Bologna.

“As you know, I inherited Villa Bologna with no capital and considerable debt from restoration projects at the Villa. Villa Bologna is also very expensive to run with ever increasing staff and restoration costs. There is now also mounting interest on unpaid transfer duties and I need to be able to raise finance to settle these as soon as possible,” Jasper wrote to his sister in November 2019.

In a reply from her lawyers in January 2020, Aloisia de Trafford accused her brother of refusing to recognise the garden house lease as way of procrastinating in getting a reasonable valuation of the estate. “Despite Jasper having had almost five years to come up with a serious valuation of the entire estate, and payment of the portion to Aloisia.... Jasper and his legal team have hidden behind their non-recognition of the said lease as a reason to put the whole matter on hold.”

In the 1890s Villa Bologna was inherited by Sir Gerald Strickland, who at one point in his illustrious career was elected both an MP in the UK House of Commons and as the Prime Minister of Malta
In the 1890s Villa Bologna was inherited by Sir Gerald Strickland, who at one point in his illustrious career was elected both an MP in the UK House of Commons and as the Prime Minister of Malta

Villa Bologna

Described as “perhaps the finest privately owned 18th-century country house in all of Malta”, Villa Bologna was built in 1745 by Fabrizio Grech – an advisor to Grand Master Pinto – as a wedding present for his daughter Maria Theresa Grech and Nicola Perdicomati Bologna, who were married in April of that year.

In the 1890s Villa Bologna was inherited by Sir Gerald Strickland, who at one point in his illustrious career was elected both an MP in the UK House of Commons and as the Prime Minister of Malta. In 2009, Jasper de Trafford – the great grandson of Gerald Strickland – moved back to Malta to take over the management of the estate.

The house is a repository of 17th century Maltese furniture, Favray paintings, portraits of the Stricklands by Maltese master Edward Caruana Dingli, and 16th century silver artefacts.

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