The Hunt for the King 21) General Characteristics of the Fieschi Letter

1. General Characteristics

The letter in which Manuele Fieschi writes to King Edward III about the latter years of the life of King Edward II (Fieschi Letter) is a manuscript (hand-written) folio in a Chartulary of the Bishop of Maguelonne (also spelt Maguelone or Maguelon). Archives dèpartementales de l’Hèrault, Series G 1123: Cartulaire de l’eveché de Maguelone, register A, f. 86r.

1.i. All things considered, some very few facts concerning the chartulary seem very solid to me, so I will report these facts first of all. In this part I make reference to certain studies that I have read and compared (1), with some necessary clarifications.

-The arrangement of the chartulary into six volumes was carried out by order of Gaucelm (also spelt Gaucelin) de Deaux (also spelt Deux), treasurer of Pope Urban V, professor of law at the University of Montpellier and Bishop of Maguelonne from 1367 to 1373. The chartulary consists of six very large volumes (A-F), of bound parchment signatures. The original/contemporary Index follows (G1129).

Register A, which contains the Fieschi Letter, was compiled by order of Arnaud de Verdale, Bishop of Maguelonne from 1339 to 1352. He also seem to have been the substantial ‘editor’ of the entire chartulary, in so far as the documents it contains generally do not go beyond the date of his death.

It must be specified that the bishop in question was Arnaud and not Jean de Verdale, as Seymour Phillips mistakenly reports in his description of the codex “according to the Répertoire numérique … ed. M. Gouron”, in which I believe he simply repeats an error made in precedence.

-The first document in the volume is dated 1293 (Libertates Ville Nove). The last datable documents seem to be of the yeras 1351, 1352, 1359, and in any case there are extremely few documents from the years after 1340.

Register A contains 356 acts on 317 folios. The individual acts bear modern numeration in arabic numerals. The folios bear double numeration, one modern, in arabic numerals, and the other original/contemporary in roman numerals.

(1) I have chosen from among the earliest and most recent accounts that give the most complete information concerning the chartulary:

A. Germain, Lettre inedite de M.F. , concernant les dernières années du roi d’Angleterre Eduard II, in Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 1877, vol.21, n.3, pp.282-288.

M. Gouron, Rèpertoire numérique des Archives Dèpartèmentales … Hèrault, archives ecclésiastiques, Ser.G 1123*, Montpellier, 1970.;

Seymour Phillips, in Edward II in Italy, 2005, pp. 214-215 and in Edward II, 2010, pp.583-584.

J.Roquette et A.Villemagne published 1,623 acts of the Chartulary (out of roughly 2,400) up to the year 1330 (Cartulaire de Maguelone, 5 voll., 1912-1922.) I began examining these volumes, but the edition is not easy to consult, because the editors altered the order of the documents from the orginal, replacing the geographic criteria with a chronological one. Furthermore, they made a series of ‘haphazard’ alterations to the texts (cutting out some passages, making corrections…), as was often the case with such early 20th century editions.

1.ii. The ‘container’ of this large number of documents is a ‘chartulary’ (in Latin cartularium, in French Chartulaire) or Codex diplomaticus. In other words, it is a collection of copies of documents received by a particular institution, which are obviously relevant to the said institution in some way.

Most medieval chartularies concern ecclesiastical institutions, and the number of chartularies grew over the centuries (from the 10th century onwards) due to the necessity of keeping order and guaranteeing ownership, rights and priviledges. Above all from the 13th century onwards, beginning with France itself, the number of chartularies increased greatly, and those which survive are probably far fewer than those which were created.

Numerous copies of the documents themselves were also made (they could be necessary at different times for different occasions), so as not to wear the originals with use. Copies of documents were kept both in the registers of those people or institutions who created and sent the documents, and in the registers of those people or institutions who received them (chartularies).

These were authenticated copies, checked, verified and certified through careful comparison with the original by notaries, in order to present these copies at trials and other occasions in place of the originals.

Can we therefore assume that chartularies do not contain false documents? If this were the case, there would never have been any need to doubt the authenticity of the Fieschi Letter, or many other ‘suspect’ documents, simply because they are contained in chartularies.

On the contrary, however, as an authoritative scholar of the late 19th century said: ‘The fact that an act is transcribed in a chartulary does not guarantee nor allow us to presume its authenticity. It requires critical analysis to establish authenticity, case by case. However (and viceversa) certain irregularities that we encounter in the transcriptions of acts in chartularies do not necessarily indicate hoaxes: the creators of the chartularies often, particularly regarding the more ancient acts, took consideral liberties with the texts.’ (2) As did most medieval copyists.

Given that the Fieschi Letter is to be found among documents received by the Cathedral of Maguelonne and copied by that same institution, certain questions arise:

a) Might it have been ‘inserted’ among the existing copies of other documents afterwards, perhaps in order to hide it? Or, on the contrary, in order to give it a semblance of authenticity?

b) Might it have been inserted into the chartulary ‘by chance’?

c) How did it get into this chartulary?


(2)A.Giry, Falsi e falsari, in Manuale di Diplomatica, Ed. E.Barbieri, Acireale-Roma, 2009, p.37. We will return to this topic in the part of the analysis concerning the text, because the type of transformations and alterations made by copyists are very interesting, and may be relevant to the Fieschi Letter.

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