Today we continue with Elena Corbellini’s diplomatic analysis of the Fieschi Letter, picking up where we left off, looking at the extrinsic characteristics of the document. Here, Elena analyses the handwriting of the letter, and compares it with those of the surrounding documents in the chartulary of Maguelone, to further investigate the possibility that it might be a forgery.
The Analysis Continues
2. Analysis of the document
2.1. Extrinsic characteristics
(We have already spoken of the material characteristics and of the markings and marginalia, numeration and revision markings).
The document occupies one page only (86r), for a length of 39 lines. Incipit: In nomine Domini amen. Ea que audivi… Explicit: …Devotus servitor vester.
“Chancery ductus, commonly used by 14th century notaries: orderly and elegant handwriting, quite clear and easy to read, once the eye has become accustomed”. (SC=Stefano Castagneto).
As can be seen from the photographs, the handwriting is not really so easy to read… for those who are not expert in Paleography and Diplomatics like Prof. Castagneto.
Specifically, it is the so-called ‘notarial cursive’, with alphabetical structures firmly established and recurring by approximately the end of the 13th century. Among the most visible characteristic features we may note the ‘trunk-like’ form of the last downstroke in h, m and n, where these are the final letters of a word, and the system of scribal abbreviations which is still quite articulated and complex.
According to some scholars, this style of writing may have been adapted in some places for use in chartularies, in the sense of an ‘aesthetic fine-tuning’ (‘chartulary hand’) making the handwriting even more stylized – and thus making falsification easier to achieve.
[From the non-expert point of view, what all this means is that the Fieschi Letter, like all the other documents in Register A, is written in a type of handwriting that was so stylized, so widely used and with such uniformness, that it was relatively easy to forge. By comparison, would-be forgers have a much tougher task today, faced with the incredible variety and relatively idiosyncratic nature of handwriting that now exists. I.F.]
In any case, my modest paleographic analysis of the document, and the comparison between the graphic rendering of certain structures in the Letter and in surrounding documents in Register A, confirms the impression that these documents were written not only using the same type of handwriting, but by the same notary/scribe, and that it cannot be a forgery.
Below I report some examples, with photographs, of how the handwriting of the Fieschi Letter is the same as that of the documents before and after it in Register A, followed by some observations of Prof. Castagneto which I feel are important.
a) The light-brown ink is of the same density, with obvious variations over the course of this document, as in the others.
b) The handwriting is of the same dimensions, moderate both in terms of light and shade effects and of the ascenders and descenders.
c) There is the same general look of strong fluidity in the writing, which leads also to some alterations in the shapes of letters. For example:
– the uncial d is executed in one stroke, with the ascender which loops anti-clockwise and is at times used to link with following vowels (especially e, and o) within words, but also with the following word in the case of the preposition ad;
– the lower case f and s are practically identical, thinning as the descend below the base-line. When s is the final letter of a word it is executed in a single stroke, bearing a resemblance to the number 6, with the tendency for the ascender to loop in on itself;
– the letter g most often executed in three, and no longer four, strokes, which has therefore lost its angular appearance;
– the double form of u/v… etc. Such oscillations in forms used might be explained if the scribe was influenced by the texts he was copying.
d) The same abbreviation signs are used, and executed in the same way, for example:
– the horizontal line, of notable size, seems to be executed without raising the pen following the last letter of the abbreviated word, and doubles back in a downward arc above the letters it refers to;
– the markings for –us and –(q)ue at the end of words are executed in one stroke in a shape that recalls a number 3, descending below the base-line;
– the shorthand signs for et and cum/con present a rounded, trunk-like form (above all the latter) which sometimes conjoins with the following word.
e) Adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions are abbreviated in the same way.
Concerning abbreviations, Prof. Castagneto makes an observation that is useful in narrowing down the historical period in which the scribe/notary may have copied the letter into Register A. He notes that:
“Towards the end of the first line, we find vri = vestri, and at the fifth word of the third line vre = vestre. In the early years of the 14th century the abbreviation vr was used; in the middle of the 14th century vri: the two forms mentioned above are therefore datable to the 1340s or 1350s (approximately). The same is true for the vestro in the tenth line, sixth word.” (SC)
– Furthermore, Prof. Castagneto suggested an extremely important element, which I would say is almost decisive, for the comparison between the Fieschi Letter and the other documents in Register A:
“The initial I of the text is almost a signum tabellionis, almost corresponding to the seal/monogram that distinguished notaries from one another.” (SC)
It is, indeed, a highly characterised, almost illuminated initial, covering three lines of writing in height (four or more witht he flourish), with a decorative motif inside the body of the letter and flourishes at either end. The comparison with the same initial in other documents of Register A confirms that it is the initial used by the same notary.
What follows is that which we can now state concerning the Fieschi Letter.
– It is not a subsequent forgery, a ‘diplomatic hoax’. Though forgers may have been very talented in their misdeeds, in the light of our analysis it would have taken a genius to forge this document.
– It was not ‘inserted’ by chance into this chartulary, if anything it was inserted into the papers coming from Corconne, and then copied, though exactly how and by whom is unknown at present.
– Given the type of abbreviations used, this document may be a transcription made in the years of Arnaud de Verdale’s reign as bishop (1339-1352), not necessarily in 1368 as many scholars suppose. In fact, 1368 is the date of Gaucelm di Deaux’s letter (cit.), in which, however, the bishop says he had completed the act of registration (fecit de verbo ad verbum diligenter et fideliter regstrari) of the various texts. Therefore, it alludes to the final ordering into registers and perhaps other transcriptions. The year 1368 is not a starting date, but the end date in the long process of creating the chartulary.
– In order to draw up further hypotheses it is first necessary to establish what kind of copy it is, whether a copy made from the original or from a copy of the original, or even made before the original [from a draft, I.F.].
Only the analysis of the document, together with verifiable historical information, can be of assistance. The analysis of the manuscript, that is, and not of the few transcriptions that have been made of it, which present divergences, and above all notable ‘lapses’, starting with that of Germain.
For this reason, before proceeding with the analysis of the intrinsic characteristics of the document, I have produced a reliable and faithful transcription, which integrates and corrects those used so far, with observations and suggestions, as precious as always, from Prof. Castagneto.
I would like to point out that, by choice of Ivan who is ‘orchestrating’ our research, Prof. Castagneto and I have always worked separately, in a ‘double blind’. We have never even met.