Quella volta che in cui Edward ha lasciato a casa le catapulte

Probabilmente la cosa più nota di tutto il regno di Edoardo II è la sua sconfitta da parte degli scozzesi, alla grande battaglia di Bannockburn, nel 1314, che rese la Scozia a tutti gli effetti un paese indipendente per diversi anni. In fatti di guerra, Edward era il contrario di suo padre, Edward I, il cosiddetto ‘martello della Scozia’, che effettivamente sottomise gran parte di quel paese, e anche di suo figlio, Edward III, che avrebbe intrapreso con successo la Guerra dei Cento Anni contro la Francia, portando i suoi eserciti a vittorie leggendarie come le battaglie di Sluys, Crécy e Poitiers. Il nostro Edward non era un grande generale, e a parte qualche battaglia minore, perse quasi sempre. Addirittura, nel 1319 per liberare Berwick-upon-Tweed dagli scozzesi, cinse la città d’assedio – dimenticandosi di portare le macchine d’assedio! Sicuramente, avrebbe preferito mantenere sempre la pace, su questo non ci piove. Più volte rimandò campagne contro la Scozia, e le poche volte che mostrò grandi abilità politiche e diplomatiche per lo più o cercava di aiutare un suo favorito di corte oppure cercava di evitare scontri bellici. Tutto questo contribuì a creare la pessima fama che ha perseguito Edward attraverso i secoli. Nel medioevo, ci si aspettava da un re soprattutto capacità militari, e la sua popolarità sia con i contemporanei che con i posteri dipendeva soprattutto dai suoi successi sul campo di battaglia. Basta pensare a Re Riccardo I, Cuor di Leone. Lasciò suo regno nei guai economici e politici più profondi, ma in quanto grande combattente viene ricordato da tutti. Infatti, c’è un lato positivo di questo aspetto del carattere di Edward: fare la guerra era costosissima, e mentre suo padre gli lascio l’Inghilterra con gravi debiti, Edward alla fine del suo regno lasciò le casse della corona in ottimo stato. Certo, da buon pacifista, la vita da eremita tra le verdi colline dell’Oltrepò Pavese in Italia, come viene descritto nella Lettera Fieschi, gli sarà sicuramente piaciuta…


The Search for Edward II’s Descendants 6) – Lady Elizabeth Plantagenet

With this post I’m going right back up the tree to Elizabeth Plantagenet (7 August 1282 – 5 May 1316). She was the youngest daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and two years older than her brother, Edward II. For a short careful and detailed biography by Kathryn Warner, click here. For the Auramala project, what we want to know is not the details of Elizabeth’s day to day life, but simply who her daughters were, and dates of when she lived. However, even that creates a story! Firstly, thanks to her royal status, we actually can date both her birth and death, unlike most women of her age. We have that rare gift to medieval historians, a source! A fragment of the roll of daily expenses in Queen Eleanor’s household shows that she was churched on Sunday, 6 September 1282 (P.R.O. E 101/684/62 m.1). Since we know queens were usually confined for thirty days following the birth of a daughter, Elizabeth’s birth may be dated c. 7 August 1282. 1 We also know the location of her birth, Rhuddlan Castle, in Wales, as the Chronicle of Bury St. Edmunds states: “1282. Alienora regina Anglie apud Rothelan filiam peperit quam uocauit Elizabeth.”2 (Eleanor, queen of England, gave birth to a daughter at Rhuddlan, whom she named Elizabeth.) Moving on to her children. Elizabeth first married in 1297 (aged fourteen) the twelve year old Jan I, Count of Holland. It was a short lived marriage, and they did not spend much time together, Elizabeth choosing (of her own will, yes, that’s right, important medieval women could make some decisions!) to remain in England rather than go to Holland with her husband. She did go there for a few months in 1299, but Jan, now fifteen years old, died there on 10th November 1299. No children were born of the marriage, and a combination of distance, youth, and Jan’s ill health make it unlikely that it was ever consummated. No Dutch relations of Edward II to be traced from this line then, but fortunately, Elizabeth’s story doesn’t end here. Our seventeen year old widowed princess returned to England, and she would have known that she would be marrying again, probably fairly soon. Women of high status families, particularly when at a fertile age, were incredibly useful and powerful in politics, cementing alliances. This time she married an Englishman, Humphry de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, 3rd of Essex, and Constable of England, at Westminister Abbey on 14 November 1302. The fruits of this marriage are a goldmine for us. Eleven children in thirteen years! Including four daughters, who we will be looking into in future posts. Sadly, this state of almost constant pregnancy and childbirth must have taken its toll on Elizabeth’s health. On 5 May 1316 she went into labour, giving birth to another daughter, Isabella. Both Elizabeth and her daughter Isabella died shortly after the birth, and were buried together in Waltham Abbey. A sad end to the story, but don’t worry, there’ll be another one. Enrica Biasi (The following information is courtesy of Craig L. Foster. Mr Foster is a research consultant at FamilySearch’s Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah (www.familysearch.org). FamilySearch collects digitized records and other information to assist people around the world searching after their ancestors. FamilySearch does not normally perform research on DNA and to search for living descendants.) Generation 2

  1. Elizabeth Plantagenet

Lady Elizabeth Plantagenet was born in August 1282 at Rhuddlan Castle, Rhuddlan, Denbighshire, Wales.2 She was the daughter of Edward I ‘Longshanks’, King of England and Eleanor de Castilla, Comtesse de Ponthieu. She married, firstly, Jean I Graaf van Hollant en Zeeland, son of Florent V Graaf van Hollant and Beatrix de Flandre, on 18 January 1297 at Ipswich Priory Church, Ipswich, Suffolk, England.2 She married, secondly, Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, son of Humphrey de Bohun, 3rd Earl of Hereford and Maud de Fiennes, on 14 November 1302 at Westminster Abbey, Westminster, London, England.1 She died on 5 May 1316 at age 33 at Quendon, Essex, England, childbirth.3 She was buried at Walden Abbey, Essex, England.3 From 14 November 1302, her married name became de Bohun. Children of Lady Elizabeth Plantagenet and Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford

  1. Edmund de Bohun1
  2. Margaret de Bohun+1 d. 16 Dec 1391
  3. Hugh de Bohun1 b. c 1303, d. 1305
  4. Eleanor de Bohun+1 b. 1304, d. 1363
  5. Mary de Bohun1 b. 1305, d. 1305
  6. John de Bohun, 5th Earl of Hereford1 b. 23 Nov 1306, d. 20 Jan 1336
  7. Humphrey de Bohun, 6th Earl of Hereford1 b. 1309, d. 1361
  8. William de Bohun, 1st Earl of Northampton+ b. c 1311, d. 16 Sep 1360
  9. Edward de Bohun1 b. c 1311, d. 1334
  10. Eneas de Bohun1 b. c 1314, d. b 1343 – Died without issue.
  11. Isabella de Bohun3 b. 1316, d. 1316


  1. [S11] Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy (London, U.K.: The Bodley Head, 1999), page 84. Hereinafter cited as Britain’s Royal Families.
  2. [S11] Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families, page 83.

[S11] Alison Weir, Britain’s Royal Families, page 85. 1 John Carmi Parsons, “The Year of Eleanor of Castile’s Birth and Her Children by Edward I,” Mediaeval Studies, 46, 1984. 2 The Chronicle of Bury St Edmunds, 1212-1301, Antonia Gransden (ed.), Nelson Medieval Texts (London: 1964).

The Hunt for the King 13) The Fieschis and the Plantagenets – a beautiful friendship

The start of the beautiful friendship between the Fieschi Family and the Plantagenets was the wedding between Beatrice Fieschi and Tommaso II of Savoy. Most likely Pope Innocent IV, Sinibaldo Fieschi, arranged this marriage in order to ensure his family’s pre-eminence in European international affairs, and it certainly worked. For a start Beatrice Fieschi thus became the aunt-by-marriage of Eleanor of Provence, wife of King Henry III of England, making the Plantagenets and the Fieschis kin. But this is only the beginning.(1)


Beatrice Fieschi’s brother-in-law, Boniface of Savoy, was promoted by Innocent IV to Archbishop of Canterbury, with the approval of his nephew, King Henry III. Thus, a kinsman of the Fieschi Pope Innocent IV was primate of the church in England. (2)


In 1252, while Sinibaldo Fieschi was still Pope, the succession to the throne of Sicily came under dispute. The Pope intervened politically, sending his nephew Cardinal Ottobono Fieschi, brother of Beatrice Fieschi, as papal legate (essentially a papal ambassador). Ottobono Fieschi promptly attempted to give the throne of Sicily to his sister’s grand-nephew, Edmund Crouchback of England. Edmund Crouchback was the son of King Henry III, and the little brother of future King Edward I. He was the ultimate ancestor of the House of Lancaster. It may strike British historians as funny to imagine him in Palermo ruling Sicily. In fact, the negotiations fell through, and he remained in England. Nevertheless, this is a clear sign of how close the Fieschis had become to the Plantagenets in international politics. The Fieschis were kingmakers, and had attempted to give the crown of Sicily to Edward II’s uncle. (3)

Sinibaldo Fieschi, Pope Innocent IV, political mover and shaker. In this manuscript, we see him excommunicating Emperor Frederick II.


Years later, in 1265, Beatrice Fieschi’s nephew, King Henry III of England, found himself in trouble when Simon de Montfort and a group of fellow rebels started the Second Baron’s War. The Pope, now Clement IV, sent a delegation to England to sedate the conflict. The leader of the delegation was again Cardinal Ottobono Fieschi. It was only natural to choose him for the mission to England: after all, his sister’s brother-in-law was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his sister’s nephew was king of England. Ottobono Fieschi took with him a member of his ‘familia’ (practically his personal staff), a young man called Benedetto Caetani. They went through some difficult experiences together in their three-year-long mission to England, and a lasting bond grew up between them. At one point, the rebel barons imprisoned Cardinal Ottobono and the young Caetani in the Tower of London. They were rescued by the young English Prince Edward – the future Edward I and father of Edward II. And thus, we see how the Fieschis had cause to be grateful to the Plantagenets, while the Plantagenets had cause to be grateful to the Fieschis. (3)


A decade later, in 1276, Ottobono became Pope Adrian V – for just 38 days. His papacy was brought to a brusque close by his untimely death. But his mentorship of Benedetto Caetani paid off for the Fieschi Family in 1294 when Caetani became Pope with the name of Boniface VIII. This Pope was, in turn, mentor to the young Luca Fieschi, whom Boniface VIII elevated to the rank of Cardinal in 1300, at just 27 years of age. I will later devote another post to Luca Fieschi, one of the key players in the story of Edward II. For now it is enough to say that he, like his uncle Ottobono and his grand-uncle Sinibaldo, was a major player in international diplomacy. He was one of a group of three Cardinals who crowned Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII in 1312. In 1317 he was papal legate to Edward II in England, in an attempt to defuse the conflict with Robert the Bruce of Scotland. He thus knew his kinsman Edward II personally. Furthermore, Mario Traxino tells us that a young Percivalle Fieschi was with Luca in England during that mission. In that case he, too, would have met Edward II in person. It is deeply significant that Percivalle Fieschi became Bishop of Tortona, the Diocese in which we find Cecima, the last destination of Edward II in the Fieschi Letter*. (3) (4) (5)

Cardinal Luca Fieschi and two other cardinals crown Emperor Henry VII in 1312.

Lastly, Manuele Fieschi, the author of the Fieschi Letter, was not just a notary of the Pope, but also Canon of York. Is it a mere coincidence that the Archbishop of York, William Melton, with whom he must have been in contact for his ecclesiastic duties, wrote to the Mayor of London in 1330 claiming that Edward II was alive and well? (6)


In the light of these close and long-standing Fieschi-Plantagent ties at the very highest levels of international medieval politics, we must ask ourselves: is the idea that Edward II – if he was still alive – could have confessed his story to Manuele Fieschi in Avignon really so strange?


It is by now becoming clear just how immensely important the Fieschi Family was in international affairs at the time of Edward II. But perhaps the full scope of this family’s vast power network can best be understood by chatting with Mario Traxino, Fieschi scholar. Indeed, our next blog post will be a revealing interview with Traxino.


*The Fieschi Letter states that Cecima was in the Diocese of Pavia. In reality, it was a fief belonging to the Bishop of Pavia, but was within the Diocese of Tortona, where Percivalle Fieschi was Bishop. It seems likely that Manuele Fieschi made a simplification, wanting to mention Pavia as the nearest famous city, to help identify the location for King Edward III who knew well where Pavia was, but would not have heard of Cecima.


(1) Firpo, Marina, La Famiglia Fieschi dei Conti di Lavagna. Strutture familiari a Genova e nel contado fra XII e XIII secolo, Genoa, 2006.

(2) Greenway, Diana E. Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300, 1971

(3) Ameri, Gianluca and Di Fabio, Clario, Luca Fieschi, cardinale, collezionista, mecenate (1300-1336) Genoa, 2011

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

(5) Personal communication, Mario Traxino, June 2014

(6) Haines, Roy Martin, Sumptuous Apparel for a Royal Prisoner: Archbishop Melton’s Letter, 14 January 1330, English Historical Review, 2009

The Hunt for the King 12) Mario Traxino, Fieschi Scholar, enters the scene

In december 2013 I was presenting Auramala at one of Milan’s historic bookshops, Il Trittico, just around the corner from the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, where the 4th century Bishop and patron saint of Milan, Saint Ambrose, lies. While I was speaking a tall, robust gentleman with the air of a professor burst in, whose already sizable presence was doubled by a spectacular, expansionist beard and moustache. With the unmistakeable accent of Genoa he boomed “Mister Fowler, Mister Fowler, I must speak to you, and I must read your book!”

This had a wonderful impact on the other people in the bookshop. I guess the astonished expression on my face made them feel like the mystery of Edward II had leapt out of the Middle Ages, right into the middle of the bookshop. “Traxino,” he shook my hand vigorously “Mario Traxino”.

Mario Traxino

Ah! His reputation preceded him. Mario Traxino, born and raised in Genoa, with a Degree in Literature from Genoa University, had taught for a time in Argentina before coming back to Italy and becoming one of the most knowledgeable scholars of the Fieschi Family alive today.

Traxino siezed a copy of Auramala, and in the tone of a time-travelling detective, interrogated me: “Mister Fowler, what exactly can you tell me about Manuele Fieschi?“

Everyone held their breath: I was well and truly in the hot-seat.

“Well… he was sort of a man in a grey suit… Like the anonymous men and women you see in G8 conferences and the like, hanging around in the background talking in hushed tones, making big decisions that will never get into the newspapers…”

Traxino looked at me shrewdly for a moment.

“Very well, very well. I shall read your book, and if need be, we shall speak again. Thank you.” And then he swept of the bookshop as suddenly, and mysteriously, as he had come.

Piazza Cavagneria, Pavia

Towards the end of January Traxino contacted us again, through the more conventional Italian approach of a friend of a friend of a friend. We arranged a meeting in Loft 10 cafè in one of Pavia’s picturesque old squares, Piazza Cavagneria – in the shadow of the palace where Emperor Barbarossa had anti-Pope Victor IV appointed in 1160.

He brought with him a large folder containing a series of large family trees, and photocopies from ancient books concerning the Fieschi Family. With great academic generosity, he shared with us his own original research into the Fieschi Letter, which he had deliberately conducted without reading Ian Mortimer’s work, or any other historian’s comment on the letter for that matter. He had thus, independently, come to the conclusion that the Fieschi Letter must be telling the truth, based on comparative analysis of medieval family trees. Here, in a nutshell, is the result of his research. Out of a maze of family ties, he had distilled the connections which made the Feischi Famly the logical choice to give sanctuary to Edward II, if he survived the night of 21st September 1327.

Fieschi Family connections related to the Plantagenets and the Fieschi Letter
Fieschi Family connections related to the Plantagenets and the Fieschi Letter. Click to enlarge

The first thing to point out is just why Edward II and Cardinal Luca Fieschi referred to each other as ‘kinsmen’. Luca Fieschi’s aunt, Beatrice was married to the brother of Beatrice of Savoy, Edward II’s great-grandmother. This marriage was probably sponsored by Pope Innocent IV, Sinibaldo Fieschi, and tied the Fieschis to the House of Savoy, and through them to all the royal families of Western Europe – including the Plantagenets. As far as we know, no British scholars are aware of this tie, and its implications. For now, we leave readers to examine this family tree for themselves. In our next post, we will trace the long association between the Fieschi Family and the Plantagenets, which may well have reached its climax with the ‘afterlife’ of Edward II. Following that, we will post a full interview with Mario Traxino, in which the scholar exposes the full splendour and power of the House of Fieschi.