The Hunt for the King 24) The Fieschi Letter was part of Bishop Arnauld de Verdale’s “personal archive”

Today we continue with Elena Corbellini’s formal analysis of the Fieschi Letter and, particularly, of the chartulary in which it was found. In order to proceed better with this analysis, Elena made a week-long visit to Montpellier and the surrounding area, including Maguelone, the medieval cathedral town to which the chartulary belonged. She had the chance to meet the very friendly and helpful staff of Hérault archives, and gather more of the many details necessary to interpret the document and its collocation. Here is what Elena wrote after this visit:

1. A note on my visit to Montpellier.

In March I visited Montpellier and Maguelone and over the course of one week I was able to read a number of documents of the Cartulaire at the Archives départementales de l’Hérault, and at long last gain a greater understanding of the structure and the characteristics of this remarkable collection, about which catalogues and published articles give often imprecise and sometimes contradictory indications.

I found two doctoral theses of same years ago, which however related to problems in dating or highly specific documents, and so were not useful for our ends. Contacts at the University of Montpellier confirmed that there are no recent studies in France concerning the chartulary, much less the Fieschi Letter.

On the other hand, some works by local historians (even older than the doctoral theses, alas), proved very interesting, including three large and dense volumes by Fabrège (Histoire de Maguelone, 1900) as well as those works by Germain that can still be found. More recent studies do not seem to exist, but it must be said that the Bibliothèque della Société d’Archéologie, adjacent to the Musée Languedocien in the Jacques Coeur building, is practically a high security zone. I left my name and an application to gain access in a future visit.

On the other hand, at the Archives dell’Hérault in the Pierresvives centre, which Ivan Fowler had already visited two years ago, the staff was extremely kind. They gave us permission to reproduce our photographs of the manuscript and scanned the Fieschi Letter for me, so that we are now able to include a good quality photograph of it.(inserire foto )

I shall now attempt to edit and summarise my notes and observations from many hours spent at the Pierresvives archives poring over the six enormous volumes of the chartulary, and relate what I found to the Fieschi Letter.

2. Important update on the collocation of the Fieschi Letter in the Maguelone chartulary

As described previously, the examination of the few surrounding documents supplied to me in photographic form by Ivan after his brief expedition to Montpellier had already allowed me to state that the Fieschi Letter is to be found in the Maguelone Chartulary, among documents relating to Corconne (and not Cournonterrail, as I had read in Seymour Phillips (2010). I wondered if this could be due to chance, or if there was some link between Corconne and people/events related to our research. No help came from the difficult examination of Roquette and Villemagne : when they undertook the work of transribing the chartulary they chose to exclude documents relating to the barony of Sauve, the very region of Corconne. And there are only 800 documents in their transcription, by comparison with roughly 2,500 in the chartulary itself. (1)

In the Hérault archives, as indicated by the works on local history that I was able to consult, and confirmed by direct examination of the documents, I found an inequivocable link: the castle of Corconne (Corcona) was purchased together with other castles of the barony of Sauve for the prince-bishopric of Maguelone by Arnaud de Verdale. (2)

Indeed, Register A, containing the Fieschi Letter, and Register B, preserve documents dated from the late 12th century up to approximately 1350 (not in chronological order) from those areas purchased by Verdale, and which were collected and transcribed first of all by his order. These documents (the acquisitions by purchase or by donation to the prince-bishop, the various relations concerning the management of fiefs, letters to and from the Pope and local lords, the installments of canons, etc, etc) constitute a sort of personal archive of Bishop Verdale within the general archive of Maguelone. Direct examination of Register A allows me to state furthermore that that the group of documents pertaining to Corconne, where the Fieschi Letter is collocated, is quite conspicuous and compact, with few insertions. It consists of documents 88 (c.69r) to 130 (c.92r-v), dating from the years 1176 to 1347, though I repeat they are not ordered chronologically. (3) Verdale, a professor of jurisprudence and a man of decisive character, had even threatened with excomunication whosoever failed to deliver to him documents relevant to Maguelone, or failed to transcribe such documents rigorously de verbo ad verbum. (3) It is therefore legitimate to imagine that he paid particular attention to the ordering and transcription of the acts that concerned the lands he himself had purchased for the prince-bishopric.

Therefore, the fact that the Fieschi Letter is to be found precisely among the documents of this ‘personal archive’ should indicate that Arnaud de Verdale was the person in possession of the Letter, and it was he who brought it to Maguelone when he became bishop in 1339. Therefore, the document was most probably transcribed into Register A in either 1339 or soon afterwards. In any case, in the light of these results, the thesis put forward from Germain’s time onwards, right up until the most recent English studies, that the transcription must have occured during the re-ordering of the chartulary at the time of Bishop Gaucelm de Deux (1368), is highly improbable, and therefore also the idea that the Letter itself may have been written at that time, as some have asserted.

Did the Fieschi Letter come to be among the documents relating to Corconne by mistake, and was then ‘automatically’ copied into the register along with the others? Or was it Verdale’s intention to have it transcribed there, both to preserve it and hide it at the same time? Personally I prefer the latter hypothesis.

  1. Roquette and Villemagne had chosen chronological order for their transcription, following the dominant criteria at their time for historical reconstruction. Chronological order, however, disrupts the ordering of the documents into separate registers. Perhaps they had set aside the documents relating to Verdale for a later volume. In fact, they transcribed documents up to the year 1336, and then the project came to a halt due to the death of the Abbot Roquette.
  2. Some of these acquisition, such as the largest, Montferrand, were probably re-purchases: it seems in fact that the barony of Sauve had already been assigned to the prince-bishops of Maguelone by Philip IV of France in 1293. However the exact history of these places in that era, though certainly interesting, would be too complicated to outline here.
  3. Some acts and documents concerning these places, and indeed Arnaud de Verdale, are naturally also found in other registers. Redacted and/or transcribed later.
  4. See our posts of 28/11/14, 19/12/14 and 07/02/15 for a description of the type of codex (‘chartulary’) and for the way it was constructed: these observations were made before my visit to Montpellier, but have been largely confirmed.
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