The Hunt for the King 20) Introduction to the Critical Analysis of the Fieschi Letter

Critical Analysis of the Fieschi Letter


In order to carry out the analysis which will follow over the coming posts, I have compared the general descriptions of the codex containing the Fieschi Letter (1. general characteristics) made by various authors, and verified the information given on the basis of approximately one hundred photographs of the codex made by Ivan at Montpellier. In spite of the thoroughness of the present analysis, some observations may be of a provisional nature, awaiting further research.

Concerning the Fieschi Letter, significant confusion has arisen over the years as a result of differing interpretations, transcriptions, translations, and citations and references made second-hand or even third-hand without specifying on the basis of which particular transcription/translation they were made. Some imprecisions and errors concerning the letter derive from simple material causes, but have been repeated ad lib. and used as the basis for reasoning and hypothesis, which is a risky procedure. One simple example is the identification of Bishop of Maguelonne Arnaud de Verdale as Jean de Verdale in Seymour Phillips (1). Readers can imagine the confusion that can ensue when such errors are repeated, referenced, and then compounded with further small errors which in turn are repeated, referenced…

I quickly realised that if I was to analise the Fieschi Letter correctly I would have to avoid all such confusion by wiping the slate clean, tabula rasa, by putting aside all that has been written on the subject and analysing the letter as an artefact. The physical artefact known today as the Fieschi Letter is the heart of the question, and this artefact must not be confused with what other people have written about it. The only worthwhile observations, hypotheses and, only afterwards, conclusions, are those made starting from the analysis of the Fieschi Letter itself using the consolidated techniques of diplomatics, linguistics and philology. I have integrated and inserted into my analysis suggestions and contributions from other scholars, in particular Stefano Castagneto (SF), and also from Patrick Ball (PB) and Kathryn Warner (KW).

Still today the hypothesis is put forward that the Fieschi Letter is a forgery. This seems to me a way to cut a long (difficult and complex) story – the fate of King Edward II – short with little effort. Indeed, this analysis has proved more time consuming and tiring than I ever imagined.

Elena Corbellini

Plan of the Analysis:

  1. General characteristics of the document
  2. Analysis of the document:
    1. Extrinsic characteristics
    2. Intrinsic characteristics
  3. Analysis of the text:
    1. Language and style
    2. Content

Following on from point 3.2 of the analysis, the Auramala Project blog will publish a biography of the author, Manuele Fieschi. We will then follow the journey of King Edward II, as described in the Fieschi Letter, stop by stop, debating the plausibility of what the Fieschi Letter states and analysing all available evidence that may support or negate the story it tells.

Ready for the journey?


(1) Seymour Phillips, Edward II, 2010

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