The Hunt for the King Reply Post: Who Was Afraid of Edward II?

The following comment was posted by Esther on the post The King and the Countryside Wreckers some time ago. I’ve finally got around to answering Esther’s queries, which are extremely valid questions about our research. Here are the questions:

I am afraid that I don’t understand why someone might think that the Fieschi letter could be used as a diplomatic tool. After all, Edward III was crowned king after the forced abdication of his father — long before his alleged death — so the letter would not affect Edward III’s claim to the throne. Then, you seem to theorize that the letter would not have been used until after Edward III’s meeting with his father in Koblenz — in which case Edward III is perfectly sure that his father is alive — wouldn’t this make him more resistant to anything the Emperor might suggest, or able to explain why his father being alive doesn’t affect his claim to the throne?


Firstly, the context: Esther is referring to our theory that the Fieschi Letter as we know it today was presented to Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig IV in early 1339 by a papal legate, Arnauld de Verdale. Why was Verdale at the Imperial court? He was on a mission to convince the Emperor to help broker peace between England and France (this was during the early stages of the Hundred Years War). The Emperor had granted Edward III the right to summon princes and warlords of the Empire to his service in the war against France. This would potentially have brought great benefit to Edward III in his war effort. At the same time, however, as Edward III was making his first skirmishes towards northern France with the help of Imperial allies, Arnauld de Verdale arrived at the Imperial Court, with repeated orders to encourage the Emperor to aid in restoring peace. We believe the Fieschi Letter was among the diplomatic tools he employed. Our theory is based on the fact that the Fieschi Letter was copied into a chartulary which is a compilation of papers pertaining to Verdale’s diocese of Maguelon, in Provence, and the creation of this chartulary was ordered and organized by Verdale himself. There is no other connection between Maguelon and Edward II, nor with Manuele Fieschi, author of the letter. So, the best explanation of how the letter got there seems to be that Verdale brought it back with him from his diplomatic mission in 1339.

How might Verdale have used the Fieschi Letter in diplomatic terms? Most likely, in our opinion, he showed it to the Emperor as ‘proof’ that Edward III’s claim to the throne of England was open to attack, and that the Papacy had the possibility to divide the kingdom against him. This may have helped persuade the Emperor that the alliance with England was not worth his while. It was certainly worth a try, from the Pope’s point of view. How would the Pope have come into possession of the Fieschi Letter in the first place? Manuele Fieschi, the author, was one of his notaries (a notary was a high ranking official responsible for drafting and authenticating public and private documents).

Esther points out, however, that even when he was still unquestionably alive, back before his ‘official’ death in 1327, Edward II was no longer king, because he had abdicated in favour of Edward III. Therefore, he no longer represented a threat to Edward III’s kingship. Therefore, a letter revealing that he was still alive more than ten years later would not have affected Edward III’s claim to the throne. Therefore, such a letter (the Fieschi Letter) would not have constituted a meaningful tool of diplomacy, as it would have posed no threat.

However, after his abdication Edward II was kept in prison. This indicates that the de-facto rulers of England in 1327, Queen Isabella and Baron Mortimer, still believed he was a potential threat to their authority, and that of their ward, the young Edward III, in spite of having given up his throne. Indeed, for hundreds of years, the majority of people have believed the story that Edward II was subsequently assassinated in captivity. The ready acceptance of this version of events indicates that at the time, and ever since, people understood the threat the ex-king posed: that as along as he was alive there was a potential risk that he might gather followers and attempt to reclaim his throne (I’m not saying he would ever have succeeded, I’m saying he could have tried). Would this threat still have existed more than ten years later, in January 1339? I believe it would have indeed: any ruler has internal enemies, even Edward III. His foes within England could have used the ‘revived’ Edward II as a rallying cry to arouse rebellion. They would have simply said: the abdication was forced, and therefore not valid. What God gives, only God can take away, and it is God who annoints kings.

Coming back to Esther’s questions, she also asks why the letter would have been sent at all, given that Edward III was already aware at this stage of his father’s survival, given that the two had met in Koblenz in September of 1338. This has already been indirectly answered, but I will answer it again more explicitly: we believe this copy of the Fieschi Letter was taken to the Emperor, not Edward III: at that time it was the Emperor who was to be informed of the ex-king’s survival, in order to sway his political alliance with England.

In fact, as we explain, we think it likely that the Fieschi Letter in its current form was actually composed in two separate moments in time. The first when Edward II was actually in Avignon, in the presence of Manuele Fieschi and Pope John XXII. At that time, the text up until the ex-king’s arrival in Avignon was written. Later, in preparation for sending the letter to the Emperor, the rest of the text was added, up-dating the story of Edward II’s journey until the summer of 1338, when he left the ‘hermitage near Cecima in the diocese of Pavia’ for Koblenz. Thus, a letter originally intended for Edward III was ‘recycled’ for diplomatic purposes. This, at least, is the theory we believe best fits all the known facts.

Interestingly, even scholars who do not believe the contents of the Fieschi Letter suggest it may have been intended as a diplomatic tool, essentially for high-level blackmail. A case in point is Seymour Phillips in his 2010 biography of Edward II. I think there can be little doubt that the ex-king’s survival, real or imagined, could have represented a significant threat to Edward III.

History tells us that Edward III pretty much ignored the threat, and ploughed on with his war. History also tells us, however, that his friendship with the Emperor cooled off considerably after Verdale’s mission. Who knows whether the Fieschi Letter was the cause?

Thank you once again Esther for your questions, I hope I have been able to answer them in a satisfactory way.

Ivan Fowler.


4 thoughts on “The Hunt for the King Reply Post: Who Was Afraid of Edward II?

  1. I am sorry to do this in bits and pieces, but …. if Edward II had no interest in trying to re-take his throne, why wouldn’t Edward III have his father brought from Italy back to England to renounce the throne a second time? Wouldn’t this help preserve England’s help from the Emperor by showing that Edward II did not pose a threat? (IMO, it may also have helped Edward III’s claim to the French crown by showing that he is claiming through a wrongfully accused queen, not a murderous one).

    1. On the other hand, I think what you mean is, Edward III could have said: ‘ok, bring him on, I’m not afraid of my father, anyway, he doesn’t want the throne’. You’re saying that he could have called the bluff of the Guelph faction, safe in the knowledge that his father wasn’t really keen on making a comeback. In fact, I imagine this is precisely what he did, and at this point, their bluff called, the various Fieschis and bankers and Papal agents realized Edward II was no longer in any state to threaten his son’s reign, and the conspiracy failed. Unless, of course, the reeal bluff was that it was not the real Edward II, but if that was the case, why bring him face to face with his son, who would realise this immediately?

      In any case, in due course, we’ll discuss the events of Koblenz in much greater detail on the blog, once we have ‘set the scene’ by describing the rest of the research that is needed to understand what was going on, if that makes sense. Thanks again for your continued interest!

  2. When you say ‘why wouldn’t Edward III have his father brought back from Italy to England to renounce the throne a second time’ you are assuming Edward III had power over movements of his father, and could decide where to take him and what to have him do. In reality, all the documentary evidence points to Edward II being in the power of (this does not necessarily mean imprisoned by, just in the power of) a combination of forces belonging to the Guelph faction of European politics: firsty, the Fieschi family, secondy the banking societies of the Bardi and Peruzzi of Florence, and thirdly the Pope himself -Arnaud de Verdale was a close personal associate of the Pope, as well as his ambassador. When Edward II arrived in Koblenz – if that really was him, but let’s assume it was for the sake of speculation – he was in fact brought by a Peruzzi banker, Francesco Forzetti. It is likely Edward II was used by them for leverage in negotiations, and they would not simply hand him over lightly.

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