The Hunt for the King 26) The hand-made corrections present in the Fieschi Letter

[Today we continue with Elena Corbellini’s exhaustive analysis of the Fieschi Letter. Elena takes a close look at the hand-made corrections in the text, and concludes that the Fieschi Letter as we know it today is most likely the copy of a preparatory draft probably made just before the definitive, official ‘original’ of the Letter was written. In order to keep these concepts clear in our minds, let’s label the three different versions of the Fieschi Letter we now believe existed:

1) Draft (minuta) made as preparation for the writing out of the definitive, official document (in the analysis below this is referred to as a, or antigraph);

2) Definitive, official version of the document, bearing the author’s seal, signum tabellionis or other form of authentification;

3) Copy made from the preparatory draft (this is the document now preserved in the archives of Montpellier, the Fieschi Letter as we know it today, in the analysis below this is referred to as M for Maguelone).

Does this conclusion fit in with our Verdale Hypothesis (see here and here)? While it may seem strange to us today that a draft could have been used for weighty diplomatic purposes, we know for a fact that drafts were widely used in this way at the time, and specifically we know that this was happening at the papal court. As Corbellini explains in the next post in the series (following this post, in which the corrections themselves are analysed) the definitive and official originals of documents were extremely precious, and to be kept safe at all costs. As we shall see, this was an era in which messengers were regularly waylaid and imprisoned, and robbed of all they were carrying, including letters.

This section of the Analysis is quite long, so I have broken it into two parts. What follows is the first part of Elena’s text: Ed.]

A. I believe that, at this point in the analysis of the Fieschi Letter, it is necessary to insert some observations concerning an element that, neglected by Germain in his transcription, has never since been taken into consideration by scholars. If I am not wrong it has been mentioned only (in a note) by Cuttino and Lyman in their transcription (1)

The element in question is the corrections visible in the text of the Letter. In my opinion these, when interpreted and related to relevant data from the examination of the Chartulary, to the historical context (see our next post, coming soon), and to the structural and formal characteristics of the Letter (2) lead to the following hypotheses:

a) The corrections may indicate that the Fieschi Letter is a copy made from a preparatory draft (minuta) of the original.

b) This makes it ever more likely that the draft in question was taken to Maguelone by Bishop Arnaud de Verdale, and copied, by mistake or on purpose, among the papers pertaining to one of his new aquisitions (see here).

c) This, in the light of information concerning the use of drafts of papal letters starting in the year 1338 (see our next post, coming soon) recalls the possibility that the Fieschi Letter was one of the documents mentioned in the complicated and cryptic letter from Pope Benedict XII to Arnaud de Verdale during the latter’s delicate diplomatic mission at the court of Emperor Ludwig IV (see here).


B. In this section I transcribe and put into context the corrections in the text, with references to the lines of the manuscript (corresponding to our transcription of the Fieschi Letter), with photographs as kindly authorized by the Archives Départementales de l’Hérault, Montpellier. I have tried to keep it concise, but this is only possible up to a certain point, as it is important to include every step in the analysis so that other scholars can criticise, make objections, and give suggestions. Readers who find what follows tedious can skip it, and wait for the next post in the series, which will be published soon.

I will use the following abbreviations:

M = Maguelone copy

a = antigraph (the text the Maguelone copy was made from)

CL = Cuttino and Lyman’s transcription.

1. line 7 :(et duxerunt ipsum in castro Chilongurda, et alii fuerunt alibi ad loca diversa et) – ibi – written in the interlinear space, with an insertion mark ( perdidit // r.8: coronam ad requisicionem multorum.)

Correction 1

Observations: the space between the abbreviation et and the following word (perdidit) is much greater than usual. At times in M the conjunction is even tied to the following word. One therefore has the impression that ibi was not forgotten by the scribe, but that space was left in which to insert a correction that was already present in a. This is a crucial moment in the story told by the Letter: the capture of Edward II and of his companions, the dispersion of some of them in various places, the imprisonment of the King in Kenilworth. The insertion of ibi (‘here‘) makes it plain that Kenilworth is the place where the abdication took place, practically immediately, and by force. This correction therefore gives the reader important information.

From the syntax and style point of view, one may note how here begins a series of instances of ibi in the text, outlining in rapid succession the events connected with Edward II’s downfall and the rise of his son…

In a insertion of ibi may have been to correct where the word had simply been forgotten, or the deliberate insertion of a decisive adverb. The latter hypothesis seems the most likely. Therefore, it is not the correction of an error but is a variant.

2. From line 15: ( Videntes dicti milites qui venerant ad interficiendum ipsum quod sic recesserat, line16: dubitantes indignationem regine ymo periculum )  – there follows, struck through once, Regni (or Regine? Regium? [being struck through it is difficult to tell the exact word, Ed.]) substituted after with personarum (deliberarunt istum predictum, end of line 16….)

Correction 2

Observations: If one cannot exclude a mistake by the scribe in M, facilitated by the presence just before of regine (too near, however) or a mistake made in a for the same reason, in this case too one might imagine a variant. Is the reference to danger for the kingdom (regni) or for the people (personarum)…? We are in the most dramatic phase of the escape story: the soldiers sent to kill the ex-king discover that he has fled. Their first thought is of the queen’s (regine) indignation (thereby explicitly implying that they had come to kill Edward II on her orders). Their second though is of the danger that could come of it – but for whom? First was written Regni or Regine (or Regium, according to CL), it was then struck through (the choice of the scribe? Or was it struck through also in a?) and substituted with with personarum. This second term is all inclusive, but perhaps above all it refers to them, the people charged with the ex-king’s murder, who had let their victim get away. Therefore, they make amends as the Letter describes…

3. beginning line18 ( ut cor) pus patris vestri maliciose the word regine is in the interlinear space, with an insertion mark below, but also another marking before regine – lower case and abbreviation after maliciose –er? Maliciositer? (Presentarunt et ut corpus regis dictus porterius in Glocesta(ri) fuit sepultus).

Correction 3

Observations: The would-be assassins trick the queen by presenting her the body and heart of the dead guard in place of the ex-king, to be buried in his stead at Gloucester. This seems to be a case of correcting an omission (or did the scribe re-read it and correct it?) Once again here the importance of the queen is reiterated, and the fact that proof that the assassination had been carried out was supposed to have been presented to her.

4. line 22 (secrete fuit per annum cum dimidio postea audito quod comes Cancii ) (above there is a faint marking – ‘01′, more recently made with pencil, perhaps ) fuerat mortuus – ‘he had died’ – expunction dots beneath – (quia dixerat eum- // line 23: vivere ) fuerat decapitatus – ‘he had been decapitated’ – (ascendit unam navem…)

Correction 4

Observations: the reference is to the execution of the Earl of Kent (comes Cancii), the half-brother of Edward II, executed by Roger Mortimer because he claimed that Edward II was still alive. Indeed, the Earl of Kent was decapitated.

Here one preceding legitimate form (legitimate according to the meaning and the standards of the Latin of the time) is expunged, and in the following line is substituted, following the motivation for the execution (quia dixerat eum vivere… because he said he (Edward II) was alive) with a more precise form. This seems to be a true substitution as variant. I would exclude it being the choice of the scribe who wrote M. The fact that a more generic verb (die) substituted with a more precise verb (decapitated), makes me think that the substitution must have been made in the course of the composition of a by the original author (by choice, therefore, not error).

5. line 31 (secrete tenuit honorifice ultra XV dies. Finaliter post tractatus diversos consideratis) – omnibus – in the interlinear space with insertion mark below – (… or is it sibi?..) – (recepta/ r.32 licencia …).

Correction 5

Observations: The passage refers to Edward II’s sojourn at the papal court at Avignon. Consideratis omnibus (all things considered) is a typical expression in notarial language of the time, which probably came automatically to the author. Strange that the second part of a set-phrase like this should have been forgotten. But it is possible. Unless originally it was not omnibus but sibi, therefore linked to recepta licentia, meaning therefore ‘he received leave (to go) for himself ‘. In that case, however, should it be read post tractatus diversos consideratos, meaning ‘after considering various courses’? Given the writing and the abbreviations, both hypotheses seem possible. In both cases, however, it is plain that a contained corrections, and was probably not easy to read.

6. line 37: (milasci (or milasti) in quo heremitorio stetit per duos annos) continuando – with expunction dots beneath, afterwards substituted with cum dimidio (et quia dicto…)

Correction 6

Observation: The king remains at the sanctuary near Melazzo/Mulazzo for two and a half years. This could be a true reading error of the scribe looking at a, given that it is indeed possible to mistake cumdimidio with continuando, and the latter is by no means a nonsensical reading. On the other hand, there is no reason to exclude that this mistake was not already present in a, and merely reproduced in M by the scribe.

[I wish to add an observation to what Elena Corbellini has written in this last case. The mere fact that the castle/town referred to in the text is spelled ‘milasci’, an orthography that has no corresponding examples in documents of any historical period, and therefore implies a mistake either in a or in M, further confirms that the document the scribe was copying from was itself difficult to read, and may well have contained mistakes. From the observations on this series of corrections, indeed, Elena Corbellini goes on to conclude, in the next post, that the Fieschi Letter we know today was indeed copied from a preparatory draft (minuta) and not a definitive, official original. Ed.]


(1) Where is Edward II? G. P. Cuttino and Thomas W. Lyman, Speculum Vol. 53, No. 3 (Jul., 1978), pp. 522-544

(2) Indications of the addressee, date and place of writing are missing from the Fieschi Letter. I believe that the place of writing is indicated by the fact that venit – meaning ‘he came’ – is used only for Avinionem – Avignon, while movement toward other places is indicated with different verbs such as ivit (‘he went’), intravit (‘he entered’), perresit (‘he proceeded/went on’), ecc, indicating that the document was written in Avignon. Could it have been written by a papal notary of his own accord, with the pope knowing nothing of it? It seems rather unlikely. I suggested some time ago that the formal analysis of the composition of the text, above and beyond the signature, could confirm the profession of the author. This analysis has been performed by Prof. Castagneto, and will be posted shortly on this blog, translated as always by Ivan Fowler.


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