The Hunt for the King 1) The Story So Far



This post is aimed at summarizing (in as few words as possible) the state of thhe art regarding the fate of Edward II in existence when the Auramala Project commenced research.



Historians fall into two broad camps regarding this issue. There are those who reject the idea that the standard accepted theory, that Edward II died at Berkeley Castle in 1327, may require revision. Up to a short time ago, the majority of the academic community certainly fell into this camp, and perhaps still does. Then there are those who urgently call for a re-examination of the standard theory, in the light of a series of pieces of evidence that seem to indicate the survival of Edward II well into the 1330s.

In the first camp, we feel that the most enlightened, thorough, and methodologically rigorous presentation of the evidence and its possible interpretations is the work of Seymour Phillips, who is also the leading biographer of Edward II in print. His biography of Edward II is by far the most complete and up-to-date treatment of the life and (supposed) death of the King among printed academic texts. He does not dismiss the evidence for the survival of Edward II out of hand, but engages with it, albeit with a strong stance to discount it. We profoundly respect Philips and his work, and are grateful to him and his research for a great deal of the detail behind both the novel Auramala and the work of the Auramala Project. Since the idea that Edward survived 1327 would place the end of his lifetime in the era of Edward III, we also recommend the work of Mark Ormrod, who also falls loosely into this camp, too. His biography of Edward III is nothing short of outstanding, and is an inspiration for historians, including all of us at the Auramala Project.

In the second camp, Ian Mortimer stands out as a vocal and combative adherent to the idea that the standard theory must be revised. His background is working with archives, and we here at the Auramala Project, after spending a lot of time in archives, can sympathize strongly with his background. He is also an outstanding communicator and philosopher of history.  Another outstanding person in this second camp is Kathryn Warner, who is also the leading biographer of Edward II in contemporary media. To Kathryn I, personally, owe a great deal, as much of the characterization of leading characters in my novel Auramala is based on her research (though at times we disagree on the interpretation, but that is only natural). And Kathryn neatly summarizes the evidence and arguments for and against the survival of Edward II on her blog. It is our hope that both Ian Mortimer and Kathryn Warner, and all other interested historians, will interact with the Auramala Project blog over time. In particular we invite Ian Mortimer to share his views on how our work has extended, confirmed, criticized and corrected his own. It would be a wonderful experience, and a stimulating variant of what Mortimer himself calls ‘Free History‘.

The crux of it is this: contemporary chronicles from England, and all over Europe, state that Edward II died in 1327, probably murdered in Berkeley Castle. As time passed after his death, the chronicles embroidered the story with more and more layers of interpretation. However, against this there exist a number of pieces of evidence (summarized and discussed hereherehere, here and here (just for a start) on Kathryn Warner’s blog) that indicate Edward II did not indeed die. These include a letter written by the Archbishop of York of the time, William Melton, addressed to the then mayor of London, and a letter (the Fieschi Letter) purported to be written by a papal notary (who later became bishop), which appears to be addressed to Edward III himself. Other contemporary events cast doubt on the death of Edward II, such as a plot to free him from captivity when he was supposedly long dead.

The Auramala Project decided to directly tackle the trickiest piece of evidence of all, the Fieschi Letter. One of our main motivations in making this choice is that the Letter also deals with our part of Italy – the Province of Pavia. With the notable exception of Mortimer, English speaking historians have been loathe to engage in detail with the portion of the letter that deals with the latter days of Edward II’s life (if, that is, he did survive) and look for further evidence that may either confirm or deny what is written in it. This may simply have been due to the sheer difficulty of it: logistically speaking it is extremely costly, difficult and time consuming to go after the various threads implicit in the Fieschi Letter. But that is what we have done. And from now on, we will gradually be publishing the results of our work.

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