The Hunt for the King 29) Two professors discuss the corrections in the Fieschi Letter

[As we continue reading Elena Corbellini and Stefano Castagneto’s conversation regarding the Fieschi Letter, we turn to the subject of the corrections present in the Letter, and what they mean. The gist of the conversation is this: both professors agree that the Fieschi Letter as we know it today is an ‘imitative’ copy of the antigraph. In other words, it was meant to be as close a representation of the antigraph as possible, in all its aspects – including corrections. In an age before photocopiers, this had to be done by hand. However, since fresh human errors would inevitably be made in the copy itself, there had to be a way of distinguishing between corrections and variations already present in the antigraph – and so intentionally recreated in the copy – and any mistakes made in the copying process. Thus, according to Stefano Castagneto, the scribe most likely used expunction marks – dots beneath words – to indicate where the correction was already present in the antigraph, while his own mistakes were struck through. Insertions in the interlinear space may be either reproductions of insertions in the antigraph, or the scribe’s own insertions, we cannot be sure. There is also a brief discussion of the word ‘vacat’ in the right-hand margin, which Castagneto believes simply indicates the absence of the authentification markings that are present for most of the other documents copied into the chartulary. Ed.]


2. Corrections present in the text: different hypotheses.

During our long conversation on the telephone, Stefano Castagneto and I discussed the part of my analysis of the Fieschi Letter that regards the corrections contained in the manuscript (see ….) which have, until now, been all but ignored by other scholars.

I shall begin with my hypothesis to explain them, and Castagneto’s opinion.

Elena Corbellini – As you read in my analysis, I proposed the hypothesis that the copy of Maguelone (M) [the artefact now known as the ‘Fieschi Letter’ and today preserved in the archives of Montpellier, Ed.] was derived from an antigraph which already contained corrections and possible variants, which were diligently reproduced in M by the copyist, who may also have added some of his own. The antigraph may therefore have been a minuta [draft, Ed.] of the definitive text, therefore a near-final ‘work in progress’, of the kind that were, in those years, often used in place of originals. Such a text may well have been in the hands of Arnaud de Verdale, and copied at his behest into this section of the Maguelone chartulary.

Stefano Castagneto – Absolutely! Why else would the copyist who made M have indicated some cancellations by striking them through, and others with expunction marks [dots beneath the words, Ed.]? I, too, believe that it was in order to distinguish the corrections that were already present in the manuscript from which he was copying, the antigraph, as you call it in your most precise analysis. This is true for the corrections indicated the with expunction marks, in my opinion. On the other hand, the additions made in the interlinear space are due to uncertainty or mistakes on the part of the Maguelone copyist, perhaps caused by unclear writing in the antigraph he was copying from.

EC – In the notes you sent Ivan you wrote: “a distracted copyist, who perhaps sometimes incorrectly read the text he was supposed to reproduce; or then again it may be that someone was dictating the text to the copyist, and that person made mistakes from time to time which were then corrected, which would also explain the corrections and cancellations. For example, at the end of the third line: after the pause, caesura, he wrote et perdidit when he suddenly realised he had forgotten an ibi, and inserted it in the interlinear space, either because his eye had outpaced his hand, or because he then mentally went back over the sentence, following the narration, and noticed the mistake. And when he was ready to start the new line and found himself about to write a long word (ad requisitionem), he realised something was missing to understand the text: exactness, precision, documentation, certainty, the need to leave no room for doubt or false readings of a text’s meaning… these are the first duties of every Notary.”

SC – Yes, I confirm what I wrote. This is the case also for the regine in the interlinear space at l.18, which seems to be another ‘final’ addition: in the sense that the copyist, after writing, reread the line and – considering the evident interest and curiosity the narration presents – noticed that the sense of that phrase did not run clearly in that point, and added that regine (‘to the queen’), almost as though ‘in brackets’. Even if she did not effectively order the assassination herself, she was the queen, and lover of Mortimer for some time. And in a hasty reading, or dictation, it is natural to read continuando (‘continuously’) instead of cum dimidio (‘and a half’) in the closing stages of a letter, as you rightly noted in your analysis. Above all because this was a rhetorical form of the gerund that was in customary use, and is by no means out of place in the closing stages of important and relevant documents.

EC – I find your hypothesis of dictation very interesting. Would distracted or hurried dictation explain, in your opinion, the ‘double reading’ at l.22 fuerat mortuus… decapitatus (‘he died… was decapitated’)? I’m inclined to see that as a variation already present in the antigraph – a text that was a ‘work in progress’, though nearly finished, with some final variations and corrections added. Among other things, this correction implies precise knowledge of what happened: the Earl of Kent was, in fact, decapitated, as befit his lineage and rank, as others indeed were not… drawn and quartered! Could the copyist in Maguelone have known about this decapitation?

SC – It was probably already present in the antigraph. In fact, there are expunction marks beneath the words. I completely agree that this is an ‘imitative’ copy, a copy that was designed to be a ‘photocopy’ of the original text, which was certainly a minuta (draft). And that it was in the possession of Bishop Verdale is absolutely plausible, for the reasons you wrote in your analysis, and given the situation delineated by the papal letters you examined. It may have been used in the negotiations of the period, just as other copies of documents perhaps were. It was precisely the papal legates [like Verdale, Ed.], and the officers and curates sent to them as messengers, who held copies of documents of this nature, which they received in order to present them, make declarations, or even just to hint at their contents, during discussions with the person they were sent to negotiate with. [In this case, the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV, Ed.] And they carried out these negotiations following orders given, mostly verbally, making use of their discretion, judgement, exploiting opportunities. This is where the true ability of a negotiator lay, in their savoir faire. These men had to be as trusted, as close to and trusted as possible, by those who sent them. [in this case, the Pope, Ed.] And so it is plausible that, according to how the negotiations were proceeding, they would use a given document in discussions, or decide not to; or they might hint at a given document, allude to it… on the basis of how the mission was going… As for how the negotiations actually went… it’s very unlikely that precise, certain texts exist: what we can do is compare the documents produced by the various stakeholders involved, and their intentions, (it seems to me above all the goals of the Pope and his court in Avignon…) in order to gain a better impression… And the fact that the addressee is missing may also be a case of prudence.

EC- And so it was missing in the antigraph. And speaking of ‘missing’, what do you make of that vacat in the right-hand margin? Does it indicate the absence of the addressee, the existence of another copy in the same collection, or the absence of the recognovi [the authentification markings, Ed.] which are in the same position in the other documents?

SC- To me the latter explanation seems the most likely: the authentification is missing.


[Castagneto’s final suggestion is to carefully examine and compare all the documents from the period of Verdale’s negotiation with the Emperor (autumn/winter 1338-9) produced by all the stakeholders in the negotiations: the Pope, Edward III, the Emperor, the King of France and the Bardi and Peruzzi banking houses, who were the financiers of all sides in the conflict. This is precisely what the Auramala Project will do. Ivan Fowler]



The Hunt for the King 27) The dangerous life of documents at the outbreak of the Hundred Years War

[Here continues Elena Corbellini’s analysis of the Fieschi Letter. In today’s post we have the discussion arising from the analysis of the hand-made corrections we posted last week. Our strong suspicion concerning the involvement of Bishop of Maguelone Arnauld de Verdale finds ever greater confirmation, and we even discover the origin of the word ‘secretary’ – but I think I’ll do a special post on that soon, it’s so curious! Ed.]

C. Considering that, following the perentorious orders of Bishop Arnauld and, later, Gaucelm de Deux, the transcriptions in all of the Chartulary were to be very precise, thorough and well ordered, it is possible in my opinion that the Fieschi Letter as we know it today is an ‘imitative copy’, so to speak, which in other words reproduces the text it was derived from also in its material form, with the corrections and expunctions present in it.

– What might the antigraph [the text copied, Ed.] have been? Not a definitive, final version, but a near-final draft (minuta) containing last-minute corrections and variants.

– We know that drafts of acts were made in large numbers, and that copies were also made of drafts and not just of the definitive versions, to be preserved and used as ‘back-up’ of the authenticated final versions. Above all when there hadn’t been time or the chance to make spare copies of the definitive document. And in any case, authenticated, official documents [then as now, Ed.] were to be kept safe from any risk of damage, during journeys and missions.

– Furthermore, precisely during the papal reign of Benedict XII, there was an increase in the use of ‘near-final’ drafts of the secretae [confidential documents, Ed.], which were transcribed directly into parchment registers when necessary to save time. Often, indeed, documents were sent out very quickly, and there was little time to make extra copies… Drafts were therefore not always eliminated. Therefore, we may suppose that, in those years of extremely intense diplomatic activity [due to the outbreak of the Hundred Years War and the ongoing unease between Emperor and Papacy, Ed.], there was a proliferation not just of unregistered authenticated documents but of drafts and of copies made from drafts, such as, probably, this version of the Fieschi Letter.

– From the papal letters, as well as from other documents, there emerges a situation of considerable agitation and of diplomatic incidents in France, in the years 1338-1339, above all around Avignon. Pope Benedict XII expressed his disappointment about one such unfortunate episode on November 23, 1338. Secret instructions for the two cardinals sent as legates to negotiate with England (Peter, cardinal of Santa Prassede and Bertrand, cardinal deacon of Santa Maria in Aquiro) had been leaked to outsiders with grave consequences. The inquest demonstrated that a member of the Curia was to blame for the leak. The Pope therefore decided that letters for legates, or at least the most confidential parts of these letters, from then on would be communicated to no-one outside the circle of his scriptor [scribe, Ed.] and fideles secretarii [faithful secretaries – where ‘secretary’ literally derives from ‘secret’, see note, Ed.] (1)

In a letter of May 1339, edited by Fierens, the Pope ordered Robert de Pomayo, castellan of Beaucaire (and seneschal of the king of France) to free Robert de Licelburs, a messenger of King Edward III of England, who had been returning from the Curia carrying a letter from the Pope when he was waylaid and robbed of his horses and the letter. Robert Swinfen and Egidius de Brabante were prisoners with him. There must have been considerable comings and goings of messengers in the area around Montpellier, as revealed by the many documents of the Chartulary of Maguelone. (2)

– Among the Papal letters, therefore, the letter from Benedict XII to Arnaud de Verdale, legate at the court of the emperor, dated January 23, 1339 (see the transcription and translation) stands out. In it are mentioned two texts marked A and B to be presented to Emperor Ludwig IV. Also mentioned are secret letters written shortly beforehand by Master Arnauld, and examined by the Pope together with his trusted brothers. As we mentioned before, in other documents from the same period there are often cryptic allusions to other letters sent or received, and others that were stolen, or had otherwise disappeared.

With the originals lost, the copies became important – even copies made from drafts…

– If an accessorial copy (made from a draft) was entered into Register A of Maguelone, in whose possession might it have been, if not someone who had used it for a diplomatic mission in those years? Arnaud de Verdale, for his mission to the Imperial court – the definitive, authenticated copy/copies having been delivered to either Edward III, or Ludwig IV, or both…?

Cardinals Peter and Bertrand in during this period seem to have been engaged in negotiations between France and England. In early April, 1339, in a letter in which Arnauld de Verdale is referred to as electus magalonensis, and is therefore already bishop of Maguelone, he receives orders to give King Philip of France information too secret to commit to writing… On April 19, 1339 the Pope received the conditions proffered by Richard de Bury on behalf of King Edward III of England, and found them acceptable and opportune. He exhorted cardinals Peter and Bertrand to work towards a truce and convince the king of France to accept.

– In my opinion the crucial period to confront for any hypotheses must be summer 1338 to summer 1339.

I anxiously await from readers any objections, suggestions and hypotheses to discuss.


(1) Introd. ed. Fierens cit. 1910, p.XIII. A curiosity: secretarius, a term which has had continuations in many languages, including non-romance tongues, occurs for the first time here. Ivan reported to me that he found this fact discussed even earler by Michael Tangl, Die paplischen Register von Benedikt XII, 1898, p.85. It was a delicate diplomatic negotiation, featuring secret information and instructions. This is surely another line of research to follow (has Ian Mortimer written of it?). The Cardinal Bertrand in question was almost certainly Bertrand du Pouget, once right-hand-man of Pope John XXII and for some gossips – including Giovanni Villani and Petrarch – not his nephew but his son. He was famous for the hatred he nurtured towards Dante, and was highly active in northern Italy in the years preceding 1338.

(2) The bishops and the canons of Maguelone were well connected with the Pope, who often had to intervene in order to curb abuses of power and invasions perpetrated by the seneschals of the king of France and by the counts of Provence. There was a kind of Avignon-Montpellier-Maguelone axis. There is no space here to speak of it, but what with the kings of Aragon and Majorca, the House of Anjou, the kings of France, the emissaries of the English, Genoese merchants with their monopolies and privileges and the great families of the Spinola, Doria, Fieschi, …. the situation was extremely complex in the area. To be discussed another time.

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.

The Hunt for the King 25) Back to the Verdale Hypothesis, with new evidence

Today once again we return to Elena Corbellini’s fascinating analysis of the Fieschi Letter, and finally we also return to the “Verdale Hypothesis”, which emerged from the study of the letters of Pope Benedict XII, all the way back in December 2013. In our last post Elena demonstrated that the Fieschi Letter most likely came to be where it is today thanks to having been in the possession of Arnaud de Verdale, bishop of Maguelone. She now continues to look at the significance of this in the wider geo-political context of the time, and anyone reading these last two posts and those on the Verdale Hypothesis (Verdale Hypothesis 1 and Verdale Hypothesis 2) together cannot fail to appreciate the importance of these discoveries. Which have come about by paying close attention to detail over a long period of time, and with enormous patience. Well done Elena, we really appreciate your work!

Some notes on the situational historical context: coming back to the “Verdale Hypothesis”…

Arnaud de Verdale became bishop of Maguelone after having been the private chaplain of Pope Benedict XII, his great friend and confidant, and above all plenipotentiary in the rather frenetic diplomatic negotiations of the years 1338-1339.

Maguelone Cathedral. Today a place of haunting beauty, in the Middle Ages a seat of religious and secular power.
Maguelone Cathedral. Today a place of haunting beauty, in the Middle Ages a seat of religious and secular power.

Maguelone 2

French historians, but strangely German ones even more so, underline his determining role in the negotiations aimed at reconciling Pope Benedict XII and the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV ‘the Bavarian’, convincing the latter to lean towards the king of France and away from Edward III, whose pretentions to the throne of France were at the time becoming ever more overbearing, thanks also to the title of ‘Imperial vicar’ granted him by the Emperor. These negotiations were complex, and conducted virtually alone by the Pope and his legates, in accord also with Robert of Anjou, king of Naples (from whom Provence depended). (1) The king of France seems to have been left in a relatively marginal position in the negotiations (in the papal letters of those years at times the Pope instructs to wait before making everything clear to King Philip…).

In any case, on January 14th 1340 at Vilshofen in Bavaria, the Emperor solemnly swore friendship and alliance to his nephew the king of France until death, and promised to withdraw the title of vicar of the Holy Roman Empire from Edward III.

“Arnaud de Verdale had wrought the dissolution of an alliance [between England and the Empire, Ed.] that would have been catastrophic for the history of France.” Fabrège).

  • We now have, I believe, more grounds to re-propose our “Verdale Hypothesis” (see Verdale Hypothesis 1 and Verdale Hypothesis 2), and perhaps the theory that there was diplomatic blackmail, with more solid motivations, and to a greater and more complex degree than previously imagined by some historians. But let’s wait a moment.

– I continue to believe that a more precise definition of the ‘identity’ of the Fieschi Letter through the analysis of the document and its text is fundamental in order to understand how, by whom and why it may have been written: such a definition is, I maintain, absolutely necessary before advancing any hypothesis concerning the truthfulness of the contents of the Letter.

For this reason in the next part of the analysis I will attempt to interpret an aspect of the Letter that seems not to have been taken into consideration by scholars before now: the corrections in the manuscript. Might they add some pieces to the research puzzle?

(1) In the Roman de Pierre de Provence et de la Belle Maguelone (XII century.) by the canon Bernard de Tréviez (author also of the inscriptions on the portal of the cathedral) the damsel is the daughter of the king of Naples and it was she who desired to create the first site of hospitality for pilgrims at Maguelone. Traces of history reflected in an etiological fable, which may be familiar to some music lovers thanks to the cycle of 15 lieder it inspired in Brahms. Critical edition: A.M.Babbi, 2003.

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.

The Hunt for the King 23) the analysis of the Fieschi Letter continues…

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. We look at one further observation on the letter, and a relative hypothesis, and then comment on the presence of other documents of an intriguingly similar nature to the Fieschi Letter in the same chartulary of Maguelone.

The analysis continues

Observation c) The ‘irregular’ way in which the document was copied was made clear by the compilers of the codex themselves. Almost all of the documents in the chartulary feature a rubrication in the margins beside the beginning of the text, with references to the place and type of recognitio each text represents. I am not sure we can call this a true signum recognitionis, but in any case it seems to be a form of validation, meant to attest to the copy’s conformity to the original it was copied from – just as a ‘commissioner of oaths’ puts their stamp and signature on true copies of original documents today. The rubrication in the margins is, perhaps, in a different hand, and was logically added subsequent to the copying of the documents themselves, in a different coloured ink (see photograph 1). The page bearing the Fieschi Letter bears no such rubrication, and instead in the right margin, towards the top of the page, there is the word vacat, meaning ‘it is missing’, ‘it is vacant’. (see photograph 2).

Example of rubrication. Right hand margin of document 6.
Photograph 1: Example of rubrication. Right hand margin of document 6.
The word 'vacat', right hand margin of the Fieschi Letter page.
Photograph 2: The word ‘vacat’, right hand margin of the Fieschi Letter page.

I nurture some doubts as to the meaning of this word in this context. What is missing? Does it simply mean the date is missing? Or was the original missing? If the latter, it explains why the rubrication is not present: the copy of the Fieschi Letter that we know today could not be authenticated as a true and faithful copy, because it could not be compared with the original, as this was missing – vacat. As we shall consider later in the analysis, this leads us to the intriguing possibility that the Fieschi Letter was actually a copy of a copy.

There is another possible meaning of vacat, of which an example is to be found in the Registrum Magnum of the medieval Comune of Piacenza. Here, the word vacat is broken up into its two syllables, on either end of a vertical line in the margins of some documents (va- line –cat) to indicate when a document had been transcribed twice or more times within the same chartulary by mistake (1). The excess/extra copy might be in the immediate vicinity of the first copy of the document, or elsewhere in the compilation.

If this were the case of the Fieschi Letter, it would be necessary to check every last document contained within the six enormous volumes of the chartulary. Or at least start with those edited by Roquette and Villemagne, who state in the Preface of their enormous undertaking that many of the documents were, in fact, transcribed more than once.

As far as the originals of the documents are concerned, there is no possibility whatsoever to make a comparison, and this is true for the entire chartulary. This is due to the destruction of the ecclesiastical archives of Montpellier in 1566 and the following years, and then again in 1621 and 1623 (3).


A fact that I think is very interesting and should be born in mind is evident from three other documents in the chartulary and transcribed by Germain in his 1878 edition of the Fieschi Letter (p.7, note 1). This is the particular care shown by both Arnaud de Verdale and Pope Urban V that all documents pertaining to the diocese of Maguelone or its bishops should be sought out wherever they were, ordered and transcribed with the greatest possible diligence and fidelity to the originals.

Arnaud de Verdale even went so far as to threaten with excommunication whoever unrightfully withheld privilegia, letters, acts, proceedings, or any other documents, failing to consign them by a given peremptory deadline of 10 days. This was in an article of the Synodal Statutes of October 20th, 1339. The same is reiterated in a papal bull of May 15th 1367, and in a letter from Bishop Gaucelm de Deux to Pope Urban V in 1368 in which the compilation of the chartulary is declared to have been scrupulously completed, and all documents faithfully registered word for word (fecit de verbo ad verbum diligenter et fideliter registrari). (2)

Therefore it seems to me quite improbable that something ‘random’ or ‘unchecked’ could have occured in this compilation. Thus, some documents seem to us to be ‘foreign’ to the chartulary, but perhaps this is because we are not aware of certain connections between places and people that would explain their presence. Among those documents which appear foreign, in Register B we find (numbered 429) a text of May 14th 1340 relative to the kidnapping of Nicolinus Fieschi, Genoese ambassador to King Edward III of England (Photograph 3). Pope Benedict XII had launched a bull excommunicating those responsible for the crime.

Document 429 of Register B.
Photograph 3: Document 429 of Register B.

A. Germain also named a “set of important documents concerning the plan to liberate King Jean (II) of France … by means of an incursion into England, a coordinated effort that was backed by King Waldemar (III) of Denmark. Germain found these documents in the archives of Montpellier and published them in 1858 (4).

Though prudent, we cannot deny that there is some ‘kinship’ between these other ‘foreign’ documents and the Fieschi Letter!



(1) Il registrum Magnum del Comune di Piacenza, critical edition by E.Falconi and R.Peveri, Milan, 1984, Introd.pp.CXVIII- CXIX.

(2) Documents contained in registers B, F, and A del chartulary, respectively.

(3) M. Gouron, Rèpertoire numérique des Archives Dèpartèmentales … Hèrault, archives ecclésiastiques, Ser.G 1123*, Montpellier, 1970.

(4) A. Germain, Lettre inedite de M.F. , concernant les dernières années du roi d’Angleterre Eduard II, in Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 1877, vol.21, n.3, pp.282-288.

The Hunt for the King 4) The Verdale Hypothesis

A double tip-off

The research contained in this post was triggered by a curious tip-off that came from a 2003 review of Ian Mortimer’s The Greatest Traitor on the Guardian. The review was written by Jonathan Sumption, author of a series of histories of the Hundred Years War, who observes of the Fieschi Letter: “Its explanation almost certainly lies in the fact that the bishop of Maguelone, in whose register it was found, was in Germany at the time. He had been sent there by the pope, who strongly disapproved of the Anglo-German alliance, and his instructions were to disrupt it.” Up until July of this year, I had only come across this explanation here, and in the Wikipedia article on the Fieschi Letter (and in pages that quote the Wikipedia article), first posted in 2007, which appears to have taken the theory from Sumption’s review, as I have found no mention whatsoever of the theory anywhere else, not even in Seymour Phillips’ most thorough précis of the literature. Then, in July I visited Berkeley Castle and had a very pleasant lunch (ham, eggs and chips, with a wonderful, aromatic, local pale ale) with, among others, a member of the Berkely family and the castle archivist, David Smith, who mentioned this theory again. By that time, Auramala Project researchers were already trawling through Papal letters concerning the bishops of Maguelone, and this is what we found:

1338: Edward III is in Flanders with his army, courting Imperial allies at the beginning of the Hundred Years War

Europe in the 14th century. The Holy Roman Empire is in the centre, in white.
Europe in the 14th century. The Holy Roman Empire is in the centre, in white.

In September, 1338, King Edward III received the status of Vicar-general of the Holy Roman Empire from Emperor Louis IV. This was a part of his opening strategy at the beginning of the Hundred Years War. A month later he used his new position to issue a summons to the various dukes, counts and princes of Flanders that came under the overlordship of the Emperor. Among these rulers there was a bishop: the Bishop of Cambrai. This is because Cambrai was, at that time, a form of miniature state known as prince-bishopric, where the bishop was not only a spiritual ruler but also a secular one. But the secular borders of his rule did not coincide exactly with the spiritual dioceses pertaining to Cambrai. Indeed, the spiritual diocese of Cambrai extended  into the neighbouring Duchy of Brabant as far as Brussels. The secular state based around Cambrai, known as the Cambrésis, was much smaller. As a diocese, Cambrai was under the archbishop of Reims, in France, and of course under the Pope. But as a secular state, it was under the overlordship of the Holy Roman Emperor. Cambrai became a hotspot at the beginning of the Hundred Years War, in part because it lay on the path towards France.

Brabant and Cambrai in medieval times

Edward III knew that the Bishop of Cambrai leant strongly towards the Papacy and France, and would never answer his summons. It seems he probably wanted to lead his new Imperial allies of Flanders against Cambrai, but needed a good excuse to do so. By summoning the bishop Edward III may have been deliberately creating a diplomatic incident in order to have an excuse to invade the Prince-bishopric. Soon afterwards, when the deadline for the summons came and went and the Bishop did not come, Edward III and the Emperor accused the Bishop of Cambrai of treason against the Empire.

One of Edward III’s Flemish allies was the brother of his wife Philippa, Count William II of Hainaut (another sister was married to the Emperor himself: it was a close knit, family affair). In december, Count William made a short-lived raid into the territory of the Cambrésis, seizing several castles and destroying farmland. This incident set off a flurry of Papal letters. Let’s pick up the thread at the beginning of the year 1339.(1)

The Pope’s letters

Pope Benedict XII’s tomb in Avignon

January 12th: Pope Benedict XII(2) establishes that the charges made against the Bishop of Cambrai by the King of England and the Emperor are null and void, and warns both rulers against invading Cambrai, on risk of excomunication. Note: Emperor Louis IV ‘the Bavarian’ had already been excomunicated by the previous Pope, John XXII, in October 1327, for siding with the Franciscan Order in a controversy with the Papal Curia in Avignon concerning the dogma of the Poverty of Christ (this controversy lies at the heart of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (Ed.))

January 13th: the Pope sends letters to the Bishops of Tournay and Liege, exhorting them to excommunicate the soldiers who had invaded Cambrai a month earlier, and on the same day dispatches another letter to William of Hainaut, ordering him to pay damages to the Bishop of Cambrai for what his troops did.

January 23rd: the Pope writes to his legates (a legate is essentially a Papal ambassador (Ed.)) Cardinals Bertrand de Montfavence and Pedro Gomez de Barroso, who are engaged in talks with French and English ambassadors at Arras in an attempt to broker a peace treaty between France and England  and avert war. He orders them to pursue peace for the good of all Christianity, or at least truces that give the impression of peace, and to go to the King of France in person, if necessary, to persuade him of the importance of the peace talks.

January 23rd: the Pope sends a littera clausa (‘closed letter’, or confidential letter (Ed.)) to Arnaud de Verdale, a highly trusted associate of the Pope’s, who had carried out extremely delicate work for the pontiff in the past(3). The letter is sent to Verdale at the court of Emperor Louis, where he is the Papal legate. Among other things (it is a very long letter) the letter informs Verdale that “to him (the Emperor) We will write with two letters together, in the manner of the attached cedula. First you must present him one of the two (letters (Ed.)) that We send, marked A on the back, and, once you have received his response, concerning those things for which We have sent you, and in the form in which We have spoken to you, and then written to you by letter, without any observed transgression, the other letter, marked B on the back, you shall present to him, and obtain, if you can, an answer from him concerning what it contains. Having received a definitive answer concerning this, or not having received it, hurry back to Us to refer to Us about the aforesaid business, and about any detail you have noticed and to inform Us fully and with the greatest clarity.” (Neither ‘letter A’ nor ‘letter B’ are transcribed among the papal documents Ed.)

There follows the cedula, another extended document, of which we report the following passage: “the secret letter which earlier you sent Us, We have examined, and We have deliberated in secrecy upon its content with certain brothers of ours, and it is apparent to all of us that no honorable, useful or pursuable option is offered to us by him (the Emperor (Ed.)). ”

Three months after these events, Verdale became Bishop of Maguelone. During his time as bishop there, cathedral officials began work on the register in which the Fieschi Letter was found.

In the next blog post we will explore some of the possible implications of Pope Benedict XII’s letter to Verdale. In the meantime we would like to allow readers to ponder the matter without ‘interference’ from our own interpretations.

(1)  de Sturler, J, Paris, 1936, Les Relations Politiques et les Echanges Commerciaux entre le duche de Brabant et l’Agnleterre au Moyen Age and Sumption, Jonathan, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999, The Hundred Years War 1: Trial by Battle

(2) Daumet, Georges,  1899-1920, Benoit XII (1344-1342) ; Lettres closes, patentes et curiales se rapportant à la France

(3) Fisquet, Honoré, Paris, 1899,  La France pontificale (Gallia christiana), histoire chronologique et biographique des archevêques et évêques de tous les diocéses de France