In december 2013 I was presenting Auramala at one of Milan’s historic bookshops, Il Trittico, just around the corner from the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, where the 4th century Bishop and patron saint of Milan, Saint Ambrose, lies. While I was speaking a tall, robust gentleman with the air of a professor burst in, whose already sizable presence was doubled by a spectacular, expansionist beard and moustache. With the unmistakeable accent of Genoa he boomed “Mister Fowler, Mister Fowler, I must speak to you, and I must read your book!”
This had a wonderful impact on the other people in the bookshop. I guess the astonished expression on my face made them feel like the mystery of Edward II had leapt out of the Middle Ages, right into the middle of the bookshop. “Traxino,” he shook my hand vigorously “Mario Traxino”.
Ah! His reputation preceded him. Mario Traxino, born and raised in Genoa, with a Degree in Literature from Genoa University, had taught for a time in Argentina before coming back to Italy and becoming one of the most knowledgeable scholars of the Fieschi Family alive today.
Traxino siezed a copy of Auramala, and in the tone of a time-travelling detective, interrogated me: “Mister Fowler, what exactly can you tell me about Manuele Fieschi?“
Everyone held their breath: I was well and truly in the hot-seat.
“Well… he was sort of a man in a grey suit… Like the anonymous men and women you see in G8 conferences and the like, hanging around in the background talking in hushed tones, making big decisions that will never get into the newspapers…”
Traxino looked at me shrewdly for a moment.
“Very well, very well. I shall read your book, and if need be, we shall speak again. Thank you.” And then he swept of the bookshop as suddenly, and mysteriously, as he had come.
Towards the end of January Traxino contacted us again, through the more conventional Italian approach of a friend of a friend of a friend. We arranged a meeting in Loft 10 cafè in one of Pavia’s picturesque old squares, Piazza Cavagneria – in the shadow of the palace where Emperor Barbarossa had anti-Pope Victor IV appointed in 1160.
He brought with him a large folder containing a series of large family trees, and photocopies from ancient books concerning the Fieschi Family. With great academic generosity, he shared with us his own original research into the Fieschi Letter, which he had deliberately conducted without reading Ian Mortimer’s work, or any other historian’s comment on the letter for that matter. He had thus, independently, come to the conclusion that the Fieschi Letter must be telling the truth, based on comparative analysis of medieval family trees. Here, in a nutshell, is the result of his research. Out of a maze of family ties, he had distilled the connections which made the Feischi Famly the logical choice to give sanctuary to Edward II, if he survived the night of 21st September 1327.
The first thing to point out is just why Edward II and Cardinal Luca Fieschi referred to each other as ‘kinsmen’. Luca Fieschi’s aunt, Beatrice was married to the brother of Beatrice of Savoy, Edward II’s great-grandmother. This marriage was probably sponsored by Pope Innocent IV, Sinibaldo Fieschi, and tied the Fieschis to the House of Savoy, and through them to all the royal families of Western Europe – including the Plantagenets. As far as we know, no British scholars are aware of this tie, and its implications. For now, we leave readers to examine this family tree for themselves. In our next post, we will trace the long association between the Fieschi Family and the Plantagenets, which may well have reached its climax with the ‘afterlife’ of Edward II. Following that, we will post a full interview with Mario Traxino, in which the scholar exposes the full splendour and power of the House of Fieschi.