The Hunt for the King 35) Manuele Fieschi, the bare facts (part three)

Continuing our perusal of the career of Manuele Fieschi, in a papal letter dated 05.10.1329 (21) we find him exchanging his canonry in the diocese of Pisa (we have no record, however, of when this was assigned to him) with a canonry and prebend in the diocese of Liege, in what is now Belgium, which is described as being ‘in the hands of Cardinal Luca (Fieschi) of S. Maria in Via Lata’ (in manibus Lucae, cardinalis S. M. in via Lata). Needless to say, Luca Fieschi was a member of the same family as Manuele, and it is almost certain that Manuele was his ‘protégé at the papal court.

A papal letter dated 20.12.1329 confers on Manuele provision to the archdeaconship of Nottingham (22), vacant by the consecration of former holder John Grandisson as bishop of Exeter. (23) A further papal letter dated 15.02.1330 confirms the provision while specifying that it should be resigned in the event the provision formerly granted for the canonship and prebend in the diocese of Maastricht became effective. (24) A papal letter dated 10.09.1331 confers on Manuele a canonry in the diocese of Lincoln, obtained by exchange with Annibaldo Caetani, Cardinal of S. Lorenzo in Lucina. (25) To highlight the mechanism by which Prebends were frequently exchanged among friends or associates, we should mention that it was another illustrious member of the Caetani family (another extensive and syndicate-like clan with members in the church, commerce, finance and the landed nobility, in the same vein as the Fieschi family) who created Luca Fieschi cardinal, and guarded his early career: Benedetto Caetani, Pope Boniface VIII. (26) On 29.02.1332 Manuele was made provost of Maastricht (27). On 01.12.1333 he was granted provision for a canonry in the diocese of Cambrai, freed for him by the resignation of one Sadono Saylvagio of Genoa, perhaps an associate of the Fieschi family. (28) On 08.08.1334 Manuele was granted provision for a canonry in the diocese of Thérouanne, by virtue of an exchange with one Martinus de Pluteo de Iporegio (probably of Ivrea). (29) On 24.06.1335 his canonries in Maastricht and Liége were conferred on Manuele, thereby making his archdeaconship in Nottingham vacant. (30) From this moment on Manuele does not appear to receive further benefices and prebends until his appointment as Bishop of Vercelli in 1343, therefore it appears that his salary as papal notary was complete. We cannot really know how much these prebends were worth when put together, but if we assume that the Salisbury prebend worth approximately 18 pounds sterling was representative, his ten or more prebends may have represented an annual income of something in the order of 200 pounds sterling, though this is a gross approximation.

To finish with the period 1330-1343, we note two curiosities from the papal letters of Benedict XII: on 16.05.1336 Manule received permission to compose his testament and the Pope conceded permission to a confessor that Manuele could choose for himself to grant him full indulgence for all of his sins. (31) We cannot know if this was simply forward thinking, or whether it indicated an illness or other risk of death, or perhaps the committing of some canonical sin that a confessor could not normally pardon without papal concession. Much later, on 17.02.1342 Manuele received a handsome payment from one Francesco Piattola de Manfredis of Florence, of 160 saumatae (approximately 44,000 litres) of grain and 320 (approximately 88,000 litres) of oats for the price of 320 florens, which had already been paid. (32) We cannot know what this was for, but it is just possible that it represents the amount of grain consumed over one year by Manuele’s household (i.e., his personal staff and servants) in Avignon.

Before going on to discuss Manuele’s later career as Bishop of Vercelli, we must consider another extremely important aspect of his career as papal notary and high-ranking member of the Curia. This is his role as executor.

At this time, it was standard practice to name three executors whenever a church appointment was made, when a testament was drawn up (just as we do today) or when special permission was given to perform some action, for example when permission was given for two individuals related by blood to marry. The most common documents requiring an executor in the Catholic church were assignments for church benefices, as readers by now probably imagine. The person receiving the prebend would name three executors. One of these was, by custom, either a bishop or abbot within the archdiocese in which the prebend was assigned, though not of the same specific diocese. One of these was a free choice on the part of the assignee. The third was a high ranking member of the Curia, whose role was to speed up the procees of assignation if it was held up, typically a member of the Papal Chancery (such as a papal notary, like Manuele). This executor in the Curia was generally someone already known or connected to the person receiving the benefice. (33) During his period as papal notary Manuele was named executor no less than 232 times, in a total of 104 European dioceses. The more than 200 people receiving these benefices were well-connected members of noble families from across Europe, who all had some connection with Manuele or with his vast and powerful family. Through his role as executor, Manuele was in contact with them, either directly or indirectly, and they were tied to him if they wanted to receive their benefices, and therefore had reason to be grateful to him.

The dioceses where these benefices were assigned are not spread out evenly across Europe – far from it. They cluster around regions where the Genoese, and specifically the Fieschi family, had commercial interests, held land, or had family relations with the land owners. Naturally, the majority fall within what is now Italy, but there is a high concentration also in England, Flanders and Cyprus, all locations where the Genoese had significant trading colonies and therefore commercial interests. (34)

We must therefore see Manuele Fieshi as a professional power-networker on a vast scale, operating within the political, ecclesiastical and commercial spheres of his time, following the extensive Genoese trading routes.

In our next post we will further investigate this aspect of Manuele’s career, and publish a map showing the exact locations across Europe where he was a stakeholder. Needless to say, the map is essentially a summary of the geography of Genoese politics and business of the period, and comprehensively covers the entire itinerary attributed to the ex-king Edward II in the Fieschi Letter.

(21) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 46836

(22) Helena M. Chew, Hemingby’s Register, Salisbury 1962, pp 198-199 (original manuscript also consulted)

(23) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 47843 Helena M. Chew (see note 22) states that Manuele should resign in the event of receiving ‘the benefices outside England of which he had expectation’, but the papal letter in question (No. 48463, see note 24 below) refers only to the Maastricht benefice

(24) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 48463

(25) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 54885

(26) Hledìkova Zdenka, Raccolta praghese di scritti di Luca Fieschi, Prague, 1985

(27) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 56544

(28) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 62202

(29) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 63741

(30) Georges Daumet, Benoit XII (1334-1342); Lettres closes, patentes et curiales se rapportant а la France, Paris, 1899-1922, No. 362

(31) Georges Daumet, Benoit XII (1334-1342); Lettres closes, patentes et curiales se rapportant а la France, Paris, 1899-1922, No. 3381 and 3444

(32) Georges Daumet, Benoit XII (1334-1342); Lettres closes, patentes et curiales se rapportant а la France, Paris, 1899-1922, No. 9367

(33) Wipertus Rudt de Collenberg, Le choix des exйcuteurs dans les bulles de provision au XIVe siиcle (d’aprиs les bulles accordйes а Chypre par les papes d’Avignon) in Mélanges de l’Ecole francaise de Rome. Moyen-Age, Temps modernes, Année 1980, volume 92, pages 393-440

(34) see the following essays: Angelo Nicolini, Commercio marittimo genovese in Inghilterra nel Medioevo (1280-1495) in ATTI DELLA SOCIETÀ LIGURE DI STORIA PATRIA NUOVA SERIE XLVII (CXXI) FASC. I , and Angelo Nicolini, Commercio marittimo genovese nei Paesi Bassi Meridionali nel Medioevo in ATTI DELLA SOCIETÀ LIGUREDI STORIA PATRIANUOVA SERIE XLVII(CXXI) FASC. II.

 

Advertisements

The Hunt for the King 14) Just who were the Fieschis?

INTERVIEW WITH MARIO TRAXINO, SCHOLAR OF THE FIESCHI FAMILY

A symbolic illustration of the House of Fieschi from Federici's history of the illustrious family, 1645
A symbolic illustration of the House of Fieschi from Federici’s history of the illustrious family, 1645

Ivan Fowler: How did you first find out about the mystery surrounding the death of Edward II?

Mario Traxino: At Sant’Alberto di Butrio, by sheer chance. I was there with some friends, who’d asked me to show them around the lands of the Malaspina family, so we went to Oramala, and then on to Sant’Alberto, and there I discovered the tomb of Edward II. And when I started investigating, I found that the Fieschis were involved. And when I read the Fieschi Letter, I thought ‘This must be the truth. It’s his cousin, for goodness sake, he wouldn’t send a monumental lie to England. I quickly verified that everything the Letter says coincides with what we know of the Fieschis and their role in Europe at the time, and all the dates… There’s nothing implausible about it. It is absolutely perfect.

IF: But most British scholars have simply dismissed it as a lie.

MT: What can I say? They obviously have no idea who the Fieschi were… But… But… Well, perhaps it’s not easy for them. You know, for a king of England to say ‘well, here is his tomb, but my ancestor actually isn’t here.’

IF: Do you confirm that you have never read Ian Mortimer’s investigation of the case?

MT: Unfortunately I haven’t, but you’re going to lend me the book soon, I hope.

IF: Of course. So you quite independently concluded that the places mentioned in the letter coincide…

MT: Of course, it’s a jigsaw puzzle. Edward II goes precisely where the Fieschis were. It’s absolutely clear. If you know about the Fieschi Family and what it represented at the time.

IF: I think we all need to understand the Fieschi Family, to get to the bottom of this. How would you describe the Fieschi Family, in a nutshell?

MT: The Fieschi Family owed everything to generations of below-the-surface networking that led to the papacy of Innocent IV (Sinibaldo Fieschi, Ed.), who started the Family’s era of glory. He made his nephews cardinals, and so on. But behind him there were generations of churchmen whom nobody knows anything about. For example, Innocent IV’s uncle was Archbischop of Parma, just ot give you an idea. With Innocent IV’s papacy, the family entered the world of international politics, and he ensured they married into the great ruling houses of Europe, so that in France and England and Germany the name ‘de Flisco’ (the medieval Latin form of ‘Fieschi’, Ed.) took on great importance. They were the cousins of kings and princes everywhere. In fact, that’s why Genoa always used them as ambassadors, because at the time family relations, being kin, were very important in political affairs.

IF: Were the Fieschis patriotic Genoese? What came first for them, Genoa, or the Family?

MT: The Family first and foremost, without a doubt. But often that coincided with the interests of Genoa. The Fieschis were an international Genoese family. In particular, they were from Lavagna (a small town East of Genoa, Ed.) where they constructed the magnificent Basilica of San Salvatore. To be Genoese was to be international, in some ways. For example, Sinibaldo Fieschi, who became Pope Innocent IV, was the son of Ugo Fieschi and of the daughter of Amico Grillo. The Grillo Family was a family of bankers, and this particular Grillo was banker to the king of Castile. So a Fieschi could go to the court of Spain and say ‘I’m kin to Amico Grillo.’ and they would say ‘Ah, welcome!’. You see? They were everywhere.

IF: So they were a family that specialized in international networking.

MT: Exactly. Whilst never forgetting that they were Genoese. But you see, being Genoese in and of itself meant being international.

IF: Another Fieschi scholar, Marina Firpo, calls the Fieschi Family a ‘consortium’. Do you agree with this description, and why?

MT: She’s right. How can I put it… The Fieschis had links with the Orsini, the House of Savoy… everywhere. Honestly, I believe they were one of the most important families of Europe of the time, of the world. I’m not joking, it’s not easy to find a family with such a vast network of connections.

IF: But the word ‘consortium’ to me means also economic power. Business.

MT: Just think, the first gold coin in the west was the Genoese pound, not the Floren, which came out a year later. Now, the gold used to mint the Genoese pound came from the mines of Palola, on the Atlantic coast of Marocco, and it was mined and shipped by the Fieschi. They had a company, Societas, the brothers Niccolò, Tedisio and Opizzo Fieschi, who held a near-monopoly on the gold of Palola. Naturally, this was at the time of Pope Innocent IV. But it turned out that their business was based on extremely fragile economies at the time. The Fieschis had invested all of their capital in two banks, firstly the bank of the Leccacorvo family of Piacenza, but above all the Gran Tavola of Orlando Bonsignori of Siena. But both of these banks became insolvent, the Leccacorvo almost immediately, just after the death of Innocent IV, and the Gran Tavola towards the end of the 13th century. And nobody knew where all the money had gone… Then, in some periods, they invested in land, and they bought up fiefs. In this way, they controlled important toll roads across the Apennines, by which goods came to Lombardy (at this time in history, the term Lombardy generically means the north of Italy, Ed.) from the sea, where they arrived by ship. For example, the fief of Savignone and Crocefieschi, and the roads that lead to Pavia, Tortona and Piacenza, or Pontremoli and the Cisa Pass, that leads from Tuscany to Parma and Verona. From Genoa to La Spezia, practically everywhere, if you arrived with your goods in the mountains to take them into Lombardy you would always find a Fieschi toll collector saying ‘One pound, please’. So they controlled the toll roads of the Apennines, and I don’t actually think they needed to rely a lot on the banks.

IF: So they were a land-based family, more than a sea-faring one, even though they were Genoese.

MT: Both. For example, and this is something few people remember nowadays, from 1400 to 1500, many of the admirals of the Genoese fleet were Fieschis. But even back in the time of Edward II there were Fieschi admirals. Like Andrea, the father of our friend Manuele Fieschi, the author of the Fieschi Letter. He wasn’t very lucky though, because while he was in command of some galleys he lost against Venice.

IF: So, bearing in mind what the Fieschi family represented at the time, if you had been a fugitive king, to whom would you have turned for protection, and a peaceful life far away?

MT: The Fieschis. Also because, Edward II already knew Luca Fieschi in person (Cardinal Luca Fieschi was the undisputed head of the family both at the time of Edward II and during most of the period we presume the Fieschi Letter represents, Ed.). Luca had been to England as a Papal Legate, but they were also cousins. Luca wasn’t the pope, but almost. He was the cardinal who carried the most weight at the papal court. He was extremely influential.

IF: In what way were they cousins?

MT: Luca Fieschi’s aunt, Beatrice Fieschi, married Tommaso II of Savoy, and thereby the Fieschis became kin of all the ruling houses of Europe. In particular, the sister of Tommaso II of Savoy, Beatrice of Savoy, married Raimondo Berengario IV of Provence, and their daughter, Eleanor of Provence, married Henry III of England, and Edward I of England was their son, so Eleanor was the grandmother of Edward II. So Luca Fieschi and Eleanor were ‘first cousins by marriage’. If you then follow the family tree of Luca Fieschi and see how his nephews and relatives have power over the places mentioned in the letter, everything becomes clear.

IF: Thank you, it’s been a fascinating experience.

MT: Thank you.

 

Connections between the Fieschis, the Plantagenets, the House of Savoy and the Malaspinas, the key to understanding the Fieschi Letter.
Connections between the Fieschis, the Plantagenets, the House of Savoy and the Malaspinas, the key to understanding the Fieschi Letter.

 

Intervista con Mario Traxino, studioso della famiglia Fieschi

IF: In quale modo hai scoperto il mistero attorno alla morte di Edoardo II?

MT: A Sant’Alberto di Butrio, casualmente. Accompagnavo alcuni amici nelle terre dei Malaspina, e siamo stati ad Oramala, e quindi a Sant’Alberto. Ed ecco che scopro la tomba di Edoardo II, e comincio a informarmi su di lui, e scopro che in mezzo ci sono i Fieschi. Appena leggo la Lettera Fieschi, penso ‘ma questo sta dicendo la verità. Erano cugino, caspita, non manderebbe in Inghilterra una bugia mostruosa.’ Ho verificato in poco tempo che tutto coincide con quello che sappiamo dei Fieschi, e del loro ruolo in Europa all’epoca, e tutte le date… Non c’è niente di implausibile qua, lo trovo perfetto.

IF: Ma la maggior parte degli studioso inglesi non esitano a dire che si tratta di una bugia.

MT: Boh. O non hanno capito cos’erano i Fieschi… Ma… ma… Ma, magari, sai, certe volte non è facile. Sai, per un re d’Inghilterra dire ‘ecco la bara, ma mio antenato in realtà non è dentro.’

IF: Mi confermi che non hai letto le indagini su questo caso di Ian Mortimer.

MT: Purtroppo no, me le farai leggere al più presto.

IF: Certo. Quindi tu, indipendentamente, hai notato che i luoghi della lettere coincidono…

MT: Ma certo, è un grande puzzle. Va nei posti dove c’erano i Fieschi… è chiarissimo.Conoscendo la Famiglia Fieschi e quello che rappresentava all’epoca.

IF: Credo che abbiamo tutti bisogno di conoscere meglio la Famiglia Fieschi, per venire a capo della questione. Come descriveresti la famiglia Fieschi, in poche parole?

MT: La Famiglia Fieschi deve tutto a un lavoro sotterraneo che porta poi al papato di Innocenzo IV, perché è lui che da, poi, la gloria alla famiglia. Fa cardinali i suoi nipoti… Me dietro di lui ci sono tantissimi uomini di chiesa che nessuno conosce, ad esempio lo zio di Innocenzo IV, che era Arcivescovo di Parma, tanto per dire… I Fieschi diventano grandi con Innocenzo IV, che li fa entrare nel mondo della grande politica, e li fa imparentare con le grandi case regnanti, per cui in Francia, in Inghilterra, in Germania, per cui il nome ‘de Flisco’ ha un’importanza notevole, erano cugini dei re e principi ovunque. Infatti, Genova li mandava nelle ambascerie proprio per questo motivo, perché all’epoca le relazioni familiari, essere uno di famiglia, contava molto nella politica.

IF: I Fieschi sono appassionati genovesi? Cosa viene prima per loro, Genova o la famiglia?

MT: La famiglia prima di tutto. Assolutamente. Poi, hanno fatto anche spesso gli interessi in parte della città. Direi che la famiglia Fieschi era una famiglia genovese internazionale. In modo particolare, Lavagna, perché loro erano Conti di Lavagna, dove hanno costruito quella meravigliosa Basilica di San Salvatore. Essere genovese voleva dire in qualche modo essere internazionali. Ad esempio, Sinibaldo Fieschi, Papa Innocenzo IV, era il figlio di Ugo Fliscus e della figlia di Amico Grillo. La famiglia Grillo era una famiglia di banchieri, e questo Amico Grillo era banchiere del re di Castiglia. Quindi un Fiesci poteva andare alla corte di Spagna e dire ‘Io sono il nipote di Amico Grillo.’ e direbbero ‘Ah, benvenuto!’. Vedi, erano ovunque.

IF: Erano dunque una famiglia specializzata nella creazione di una rete di contatti familiari.

MT: Esatto. Pur non dimenticando di essere genovesi. Ma vedi, essere genovese voleva dire già essere internazionale.

IF: Un altro storico dei Fieschi, Marina Firpo, descrive la famiglia come ‘consorzio’. Sei d’accordo con questa descrizione, e perché?

MT: Ha ragione. Come posso dire, i Fieschi sono alleati con gli Orsini, i Savoia… hanno agganci ovunque. Sinceramente credo che sia una delle famiglie più importanti dell’Europa del tempo… del mondo. Non è una battuta. Non è facile trovare una famiglia con questi agganci.

IF: Ma la parola ‘consorzio’ mi parla anche di potere economico, di business.

MT: Tu pensa che la prima moneta d’oro in occidente fu il genovino d’oro, non il fiorino, che esce un anno dopo. Ora, l’oro usato per zeccare il genovino d’oro veniva dalle miniere di Palola, sulla costiera Atlantica del Marocco, veniva estratto e trasportato dai Fieschi, avevano una società chiamata Societas, i fratelli Niccolò, Tedisio e Opizzo Fieschi, che avevano il quasi monopolio sull’oro di Palola. Naturalmente all’epoca di Innocento IV. Ma poi si è visto che il loro business si basava su economie molto fragili. I Fieschi avevano investito i loro beni in due banche, la banca dei Leccacorvo di Piacenza, ma soprattutto avevano i loro capitali nella Gran Tavola di Orlando Bonsignori di Siena. Ma tutti e due poi faliranno. I Leccacorvo quasi subito, dopo la morte di Innocenzo IV, e la Gran Tavola alla fine del 1200. E non si sapeva dov’erano finiti i soldi…Poi in certi periodi investivano in terra, e si compravano i feudi. E così loro controllavano grandi strade a pedaggio che portavano in Lombardia dal mare, dove arrivavano le merci via nave. Per esempio, Savignone e Crocefieschi, e le strade dal mare verso Pavia, Tortona, e Piacenza. Oppure Pontremoli e il passo della Cisa, dal mare e dalla Toscana verso Parma e Verona… Praticamente da Genova fino a La Spezia, ovunque tu attraversavi le montagne con le tue merci, trovavi un esattore fliscano che diceva ‘un fiorino, per favore’, e addirittura credo che in questo periodo non dipendesse nemmeno troppo dalle banche, dal momento che controllavano le strade apenniniche.

IF: Quindi, una famiglia più di terra che non di mare, al contrario di quello che si potrebbe pensare, dato che sono genovesi.

MT: Tutt’e due. Per esempio, e pochi lo sanno questo oggi, dal 1400 al 1500 gran parte degli ammiragli della flotte genovese sono Fieschi. Ma fin dai tempi di Edoardo II c’erano ammiragli Fieschi, ad esempio Andrea, il papà di nostro amico Manuele Fieschi, l’autore della Lettera Fieschi. Solo che non era molto fortunato, perché comandava delle gallee quando ha perso contro i veneziani.

IF: Quindi, considerando quello che rappresentava la famiglia Fieschi in quel momento storico, se tu, re fuggito, ti dovessi affidare a qualcuno per protezione e una vita tranquilla lontano, a chi ti saresti affidato?

MT: I Fieschi. Anche perché Edoardo II li conosceva già. Non solo Luca Fieschi era stato in Inghilterra come legato papale (Cardinale Luca Fieschi era l’indiscusso capofamiglia all’epoca di Edoardo II e durante gran parte del periodo presumiamo descriva la Lettera Fieschi, Ed.) Ma erano anche cugini. E Luca Fieschi non era papa, ma quasi. Era il cardinale più ascoltato alla corte pontificia. Era davvero potentissimo.

IF: In quale senso erano cugini?

MT: La zia di Luca Fieschi, Beatrice Feischi, sposa Tommaso II di Savoia, e così facendo i Fieschi realizzano rapporti di parentela con tutte le case regnanti di Europa. Innanzittutto, la sorella di Tommaso II, quindi la cognata di Beatrice Fieschi, sposa Raimondo Berengario IV di Provenza, la cui figlia, Eleonora di Provenza, sposa Enrico III d’Inghilterra, padre di Edoardo I, quindi era la nonna di Edoardo II. Quindi, Luca e Eleonora erano cugini acquisiti di primo grado. Seguendo poi l’albero genealogico di Luca Fieschi, e come i suoi nipoti occupano i luoghi della lettera, tutto diventa chiaro.

IF: Grazie, è stato affascinante.

MT: Grazie a te.

The Hunt for the King 11) The People Hiders

What are the characteristics of great people hiders?

 

In our last post, we answered this question by saying: organizations that can count on discipline, hierarchy, and resources spread out over many countries. Such organizations, we stated, include the military, the Catholic Church, and disciplined organized crime syndicates – Mafia.

 

Of these three, the Catholic Church and family-based crime syndicates have the most pertinence to the case of the Fieschi Family and Edward II. The former because the Fieschi Family boasted enormous influence within the Church. The latter, because a family-based organized crime syndicate is perhaps the closest parallell we have today to a great medieval clan like the Fieschi Family, even though the two differ in terms of social legitimacy: the Mafia operates on the wrong side of the law, whilst in the middle ages, the great noble families were the law. They were the very definition of honourable.

 

Do the Church and the Mafia have a history of hiding people? And if so, how do they do it? Are their methods pertinent to the fate of Edward II, and the interpretation of the Fieschi Letter?

 

The Church

 

The English word ‘sanctuary’ comes from the Latin ‘sanctus’, meaning ‘holy’. Indeed, it has the same origin as the word ‘saint’. But in modern English, ‘sanctuary’ no longer means simply a ‘holy place’, but also a place of refuge, where a person can find protection. This is because the church and monastic communities, since at least AD 392, during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Great, gave refuge so often and so widely in medieval times that ‘holy place’ became a synonym for ‘place of refuge’, and the word ‘sanctuary’ took on it’s modern meaning. In different lands, and at different times in history, there were different laws defining exactly who could seek refuge in abbeys, how, and for how long. For example, in 14th century England most places of sanctuary could only hide people from the law for 40 days, whilst a Chartered Sanctuary like Beaulieu Abbey in the New Forest, Hampshire, could shelter people for life, in some cases. (1) (2) However, it is not an exaggeration to say that in every age, in every country in Christendom, the church and monastic communities could and did offer a place of sanctuary for those in need. In Italy, one classic tale comes from Saint Clare of Assisi, a friend of Saint Francis of Assisi. Her father disapproved so much of her desire to follow Saint Francis’ teachings that she ran away from home in 1211 or 1212, and found refuge in the Benedictine Convent of Sant’Angelo di Panzo, in Umbria.

Saint Clare of Assisi
Saint Clare of Assisi

 

The Mafia

 

A friend of mine was working as an intern at the Italian national newspaper Il Corriere della Sera on April 11, 2006. He remembers well how, just fifteen minutes before the end of his shift, the phones started ringing in a frenzy. What was going on? Soon, a cry of triumph went up: ‘They’ve arrested Provenzano!’ After no less than 43 years on the run, the top boss of the Sicilian Mafia had finally been captured. He had been one of the world’s most sought-after criminals for decades, before being captured in a farmhouse just a few kilometres from his family home. How had he managed to evade capture? He had counted on a tightly disciplined family-based, hierarchical structure, and had placed his life and security in the hands of his wife, his brother-in-law, his nephew and, according to prosecutors, an entire family of accomplices, mother, father and children all. When it comes to hiding people, as the case of Provenzano shows, such family-based organizations are second to none. In the face of simple family ties, the highest-tech gadgets in the world, and thousands of hours of investigation by the finest intelligence officers around, may all be to no avail for literally decades.

 

In fact, the word ‘family’ is one common synonym for an organized crime syndicate, and the term encompasses not just kin, but the trusted underlings working for the family. Similarly, medieval noble families, and in particular the Fieschi Family, not only counted on a close-knit family network to organize and perpetuate their power, but also considered their most trusted and valued servants part of their ‘familia’ (the Latin word for ‘family’). Cardinal Luca Fieschi, head of the family at the time of Edward II, counted as his ‘familia’ a group of 79 people, all of whom held positions of power within the Catholic Church, and were the brothers and cousins of lords holding fiefs throughout the Apennines between Liguria and Lombardy – exactly where the Fieschi Letter says Edward II went to live as a hermit. (3)

 

Familiar Ground

 

Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano was not just hidden by family and trusted associates: he was hidden just a few kilometres from his family home, in the countryside around Corleone, Sicily. The obvious advantage was familiarity with the terrain, and close control of the area by the family network. And here we find one more similarity between the way in which the Mafia hides people, and the way in which the Fieschi Family may have hidden Edward II.

 

If we follow the conclusions of Ian Mortimer, (4) the Fieschi Letter indicates that Edward II was hidden first in a remote sanctuary of the Catholic Church in lands where Bernabò Malaspina, Luca Fieschi’s nephew, was bishop, and where his cousins were feudal overlords. Then, later, he was hidden on lands where Percivalle Fieschi was bishop, and where Niccolò Malaspina, another nephew of Cardinal Luca Fieschi’s, was feudal overlord. Like an august, legal, honourable – and untouchable – Godfather, Cardinal Luca Fieschi could have elegantly provided Edward II with a network of people hiders that the Mafia could be envious of: church-based sanctuaries, on familiar gound that was under the control of the Cardinal’s relatives both in religious and in secular terms.

 

At this point in the research, having gone through these thought processes, I felt that that Mortimer’s case was good enough to warrant the focus of my attention. And so, while continuing to visit archives and photograph ancient documents, I also started investigating the Fieschi Family in greater depth. A particularly exciting part of this investigation was meeting the renowned scholar of the Fieschi Family, Mario Traxino, and interviewing him. The transcription of this interview will follow in the next post, and is the perfect introduction to the Fieschi Family.

 

References

(1) I. Bau, This Ground is Holy, New York, 1985

(2) J. Charles Cox, The Sanctuaries and Sanctuary Seekers of Medieval England, London, 1911

(3) R. de Rosa, Luca Fieschi alla Corte di Avignone, Edizione Firenze Atheneum, 1994

(4) I. Mortimer, Medieval Intrigue, London, 2010