A long-promised letter
Months have now passed since I promised to publish a full translation of Pope Benedict XII’s letter to Arnauld de Verdale in January 1339. This document speaks of a letter which may well be the Fieschi Letter. To remind readers, Verdale was the Pope’s ambassador (legate) at the court of the Emperor, Louis IV (Louis de Bavaria in the letter). Edward III of England had just forged an alliance with the Emperor in aid of the coming war against France. The Pope was trying to prevent this war, and the Fieschi Letter would have represented a powerful diplomatic tool for him in this context. The Fieschi Letter was found among in a register of papers of the Cathedral of Maguelone, where Verdale became bishop just a few months later. We therefore believe it is possible that the Fieschi Letter was used in the context of these diplomatic negotiations with the Emperor, and that Verdale kept a copy of it when he went to Maguelone. Indeed, as you will read, the Pope’s letter mentions two letters, marked A and B, that Verdale was to present to the Emperor. Was one of them the Fieschi Letter? If so, perhaps one day, searching among the papers of the Imperial court of the time, traces of the Fieschi Letter could emerge.
Here follows the translation of the letter and the attached cedula, followed by a comment
NOTE – The Pope refers to himself in the first person plural (We/Us/Our), always given capital letters, while pronouns referring to the Emperor (He/Him/His) are similarly given capital letters.
560 Avignon 23/01/1339 Benedict XII – that which Arnauld de Verdale, his legate, shall reply to any requests made by Louis de Bavaria. (Close Letters, Vatican Register 134, no cccxciv [414 verso]
To our beloved son, Master Arnauld de Verdale, dean of the church of St Paul of Fenouillet, diocese of Alet, our chaplain.
Having fully understood those letters that you and the Magnificent Lord Louis de Bavaria recently sent to Us, We will write two letters to Him of the same form contained in the attached document [cedula] enclosed with the present documents, and We desire that firstly you present Him the letter marked ‘A’ on the back, and having received from Him an answer about that for which we sent you, and about the substance of that which We told you in person and then later in letters, without any transgression observed in anything, then, presenting him the other letter marked ‘B’ on the back, you shall obtain from him, if you can, an answer concerning its contents. Truly, therefore, having obtained or not obtained in some way this second answer, if you will have awaited it, hurry back to Our presence, to make Us aware of said answer and of everything concerning the above, and every singular fact, you shall inform Us fully. Nevertheless, should you require anything, for which accordingly with Our intentions you deem it necessary to remain some days further, make sure to let Us know, so that you can receive Our answer as to this, so that you will know whether you must remain further for this or return, thus We desire that you do not in any way remain to concern yourself with other dealings with Louis or any other person of His following without Our special mandate to do so. Concerning the rest, since it is neither fitting nor honorable for the Roman Curia to place its trust in wicked men, those [men] of whom you made mention in your letters, we will make no concessions to them, if however, solicitous of their own wellbeing these men, who have most need of the Lord’s forgiveness, freely and willingly come to the Holy See to most humbly beg pardon and mercy, We will kindly and honorably, in the degree to which they are worthy, deal unto them strict justice, tempered by the unguent of pity.
Redacted in Avignon, ten days before the Kalends of February, in the Fifth Year [of Our reign]
++Here follows the gist of a certain paper cedula in which is given an answer to the content of a letter that Master Arnauld de Verdale sent the Pope, and which was included with the copies of the two Papal letters sent to Louis de Bavaria, and the letter sent to Arnauld de Verdale, transcribed above.++
Together with certain Brothers of Ours, rightly just a few, We carefully examined the secret letters which you recently sent us by … Our courier, and deliberated upon their contents, and when that deliberation was had, neither to Us nor to Our Brothers did it seem that any honorable, useful or indeed feasible course of action is offered to us by the Emperor.
Firstly, where touching upon, above all things, those things both arisen and yet to arise that are disputed between Him and … the King of France, Our desire is to be prepared for everything, though this may seem absurd and inconvenient, when every dispute is born between them, if not the issue of the Empire, concerning which Ludovicus himself does not admit to have no right, and concerning which He desires reconciliation with Us and with the Church, for which fact before said reconciliation is made, We will benevolently receive His submission, there being no prejudice nor indecency in this for Us or for the Church. And it follows in said course of action, that as soon as He has been welcomed into Our graces, and the said King [of France] on his part will want to choose Us … and the King of England will choose Louis, and a compromise is reached concerning all the things disputed between them [the King of France and the King of England] and thus the war is stopped by a truce, as it will be seen must be done, it would not be honorable for Us should we restore that war between these kings, as we were able to, as behooved us, avoid it [war] and, saving our good conscience, we intend to avoid it. However, though this course of action seems feasible, when the King of France asserts that the King of England is his vassal, and the King of England has the havit of negating this, it is not easy therefore for the King of France to have good judgement concerning this fief over which the dispute between them has arisen, nor desire to reach a compromise, in fact, in general, according to that which We have understood, and which the King of France knows, in every discussion the said King of England makes great requests, and it cannot be thought that the King of France will make a compromise. Thus, if this course of action will come to pass, in this a just usefulness will be had in the reconciliation of said Louis, and a great force and deliberation will it carry. And if in the interim the wars do not cease, it will be seen to be of too little benefit, on the contrary, though there be doubt as to the outcome of the battle, in the meanwhile other acts of war may occur that will prove difficult to defuse, and should all these cease and a compromise, as stated, be reached, it will not be easy for Us nor for Louis to arrive at the same place. So, bearing in mind the above, and many other considerations made and deduced, we omitted to explain this course of action to the King of France. But if Louis sends his ambassadors to us to accord reconciliation, and the King of England sends his, with full powers to accord peace with the King of France, We will write most effectively to the King of France, convincing him to agree on this peace, and we will make every effort so that peace and reconciliation achieve their positive effects, so that all that is grave and hostile in this matter, war, and the uncountable ills that come of it, disappear and end immediately and Our course of action will be seen to be feasible and honest. You, bearing in mind what is said, will realize what you must say in answer to Louis, and how [you must say it], and no other course of action being worthy, with the prudence lent you by God in his grace, do not allow yourself to become involved in other matters, and as soon as you have an answer to that which We sent you for, hurry back to Us.
Interpreting this letter, and in particular the cedula that follows it, is extremely difficult. Firstly, the language used is highly convoluted and diplomatic. Furthermore, these documents often refer to previous communication by word of mouth, which was obviously far more secure than written correspondence. Since we can only guess at what other information was exchanged in the private conversations mentioned, at times it is difficult to interpret the meaning of this letter, so we are essentially limited to conjecture.
Regarding the two letters, A and B, since the Pope writes ‘present Him the letter marked ‘A’ on the back, and having received from Him an answer about that for which we sent you,’ it would seem that letter A related to the matter for which Verdale had originally been sent to the Emperor, presumably the coming war and how to prevent it (as the entire document, especially the cedula, concerns this issue). Concerning letter B, the Pope writes ‘you shall obtain from him, if you can, an answer concerning its contents. Truly, therefore, having obtained or not obtained in some way this second answer, if you will have awaited it, hurry back to Our presence, to make Us aware of said answer’. That ‘if you can’ makes one think of a letter concerning a matter that the Emperor may or may not a) be aware of; b) have information concerning; c) have an opinion of. The story told in the Fieschi Letter could fit the bill. It seems probable to us that, if one of these letters truly was the Fieschi Letter, it was letter B.
Concerning the cedula, from this rather long and convoluted document it seems that Pope Benedict XII hoped to initiate a course of action (‘via’ in the original Latin, which literally means ‘road’ or ‘way’) that was two-fold. First, he wished Louis de Bavaria to seek reconciliation with the Holy See. After which, if the King of France ‘chose’ the Holy See, and Edward III of England ‘chose’ the Emperor, he hoped to negotiate a peace accord between France and England, with the help of the Emperor. We might infer that ‘choosing’ the Pope for France and ‘choosing’ the Emperor for England meant choosing a ‘higher authority’ to represent them in negotiations. It is clear that Verdale was not there to disrupt the alliance between England and the Empire, but to use it in order to avoid war. It is clear that avoiding war is, in fact, the Pope’s main concern in this document, and that he hopes the Emperor will assist him.
If one of these letters was the Fieschi Letter, how would it have helped the Pope avoid war? We believe his message may have been: ‘Edward III of England is vulnerable, and could be dethroned in favour of his father. Why don’t you try to make him see sense and back down, before this comes to pass?’