The Hunt for the King 34) Manuele Fieschi, the bare facts (part two)

Manuele Fieschi, Canon of York

On 08.06.1329 a papal letter (15) grants Manuele a canonry and relative prebend in the archdiocese of York. This letter states that the canonship was swapped for his existing canonship of Arras with Theobaldus Rotarii of Troyes, who was probably the physician of Queen Isabella of England. From this time on until he became Bishop of Vercelli in 1343, the papal letters, and the majority of other documents that mention him, refer to him as canon of York, papal notary, or both. These were clearly the two most prestigious and important titles he bore.

Canonries and prebends

When we read that Manuele Fieschi was a canon of various dioceses at various stages of his career (the list of canonries actually conferred on him runs: Pisa, Arras, Salisbury, York, Maastricht, Liège, Cambrai) and archdeacon or provost of others (Genoa, Lavagna, Salisbury, Nottingham) we must not think that he was ever necessarily physically present in any of these places. As we mentioned in the previous post, as a papal notary he, like other employees of the papal chancery, did not receive a fixed salary from the Curia, but rather was paid through prebends. (16) Prebends were essentially yearly earnings derived from lands owned by the diocese, where tenants lived, worked the land, paid their rent to the cathedral, and the produce of the land generated profits. Each diocese in Europe possessed numerous prebends, for example, Salisbury alone had 53. (17) Some were richer than others, and the actual amount of earnings varied from prebend to prebend. Each prebend was attached to an office or dignity within the diocese, for example canon, deacon, archdeacon, percentor, treasurer, and so forth. So, in order to receive a prebend, it was necessary to be appointed to one of these offices within the diocese.

The offices and prebends, often referred to as ‘church benefices’, were theoretically appointed by the bishop, however both the pope and the king put great pressure on the bishop to appoint people they preferred, and since the pope was the bishops direct superior, to whom the bishop owed allegiance, the pope often had the upper hand. (18) Thus, the pope was using prebends across Europe to pay the wages of people working in the Curia, like Manuele Fieschi. Indeed, a papal letter dated 24.08.1330 (19) awards Manuele the right to enjoy the incomes deriving from his various prebends even though he is resident at the papal court in Avignon. By contrast, we have no document whatsoever that indicates Manuele Fieschi was ever outside of Avignon until he first visited his new diocese of Vercelli in the 1340s. Before that, as far as we know, he was always in Avignon. We cannot exclude that he travelled to the places where he held prebends, but we cannot prove it, and it was by no means necessary for him to physically go to these places. Indeed, the day-to-day functioning of the diocese was in the hands of the resident canons, not the absent ones. For Manuele, being canon of York represented prestige (York was not just a diocese, but an archdiocese) and income. However, it does imply that, should he have wanted to, he could have initiated correspondence with the Archbishop of York at any time, and of course that the Archbishop of York could have initiated correspondence with him. Given that the Archbishop of York in this period, William Melton, was the author of another important letter claiming that King Edward II did not die in Berkeley Castle in 1327 (20), this may be an important fact, although we have no reason to believe that there ever was any correspondence between the two regarding the ex-king. On the other hand, it is entirely plausible that there could have been.

In our next post, we will follow the career of Manuele Fieschi from 1330 to 1343, in his role as papal notary, and find out what this meant in terms of power and influence.


(15) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 45333

(16) Harry Bresslau, Manuale di diplomatica per la Germania e l’Italia, Rome, 1998, pages 293-308

(17) Christopher Ross The Canons of Salisbury, Salisbury, 2000, preface, page iv

(18) Helena M. Chew, Hemingby’s Register, Salisbury 1962, pages 7-9

(19) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 50640

(20) See Kathryn Warner,


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