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).
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.
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.
Posts 12, 13 and 14 of the ‘Hunt for the King’ category of this blog were concerned with research generously shared with the Auramala Project team by Mario Traxino, a scholar specialized in the Fieschi Family. Traxino independently (without having read Ian Mortimer’s research on the subject) came to the conclusion that the Fieschi Letter must be telling the truth because it subtly traces out fine, and little-known, details of the geo-politics of the Fieschi Family. This makes it seem, in his opinion, either the ‘perfect fake’, or the real thing.
In transcribing my interview with Traxino, and commenting upon it, some small mistakes and ambiguities crept in, so Traxino very kindly sent me an ‘errata corrige’ a short time ago. However, there is good news in this for supporters of the Fieschi Letter and the ‘Edward in Italy’ theory.
“…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.”
However, Traxino wrote to correct this statement, clarifying that: “Niccolò, Tedisio and Opizzo were not brothers. Opizzo came from the Savignone branch of the family, whilst Niccolò and Tedisio were from the Torriglia branch, and the gold mine was called Palalla, not Palola.”
Where I mentioned, in the interview, the fact that another Fieschi scholar, Marina Firpo, refers to the Fieschi Family as a ‘consortium’ and that this term smacks of business and finance, he comments: “Marina is probably referring to the fact that the Fieschis descend from the ‘consertium’ of the Counts of Lavagna, like the Ravaschieri branch, and the Scorza branch, etc. In any case, it’s best to ask for Marina’s confirmation of exactly what she means.”
Finally, in the post ‘The Fieschis and the Plantagenets – a beautiful friendship‘ (the Hunt for the King 13), I stated: “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.” Traxino very kindly sent me an exerpt from Ricardo de Rosa’s essay ‘Luca Fieschi alla Corte d’Avignone’ (Florence, 1994) confirming the fact that Percivalle Fieschi was in England with Luca Fieschi in 1317. Indeed, on page 48 we read: “Cardinal Luca Fieschi’s following [on the mission to England] included Federico Cybo, a prelate from Savona who temporarily forewent promotion to the rank of bishop in order to go, and Percivalle Fieschi, who had already been named bishop of Brescia before leaving for England.”
This is the same Percivalle Fieschi who, from the year 1325 onwards, was Bishop of Tortona, in which diocese lies the town of Cecima, named in the Fieschi Letter as Edward II’s last destination. The records show that Edward II generously helped and indeed defended Cardinal Luca and his staff during their mission. It seems certain that Percivalle met Edward II in England in 1317. Therefore the Fieschi Letter states that Edward II went to a location in the power of a man he had personally met and, as far as we can tell, was on good terms with.
Just another ‘coincidence’ that critics of the Fieschi Letter must, somehow, explain away.
Our sincerest thanks to Mario Traxino once again, for all his help.
“The scene was set for a kind of Renaissance – two hundred years early.” Professor Castagneto continues, shaking his head. “An enlightened ruler sat on the Imperial throne who was a poet, a great patron of the arts, and was doing his best to re-awaken interest in Greek and Arab learning throughout Christendom. What’s more, a friend of his, and another very learned man, had ascended to the Papal throne. But the Fieschi Pope threw away the chance.”
“How” I asked him “could the Pope have behaved differently?”
“The key to everything was the city-states of Lombardy. At that time Lombardy meant all of northern and most of central Italy. Dante even includes Tuscany in Lombardy in his writing. Well, the city-states had always defended their independence against the Emperor by siding with the Pope. That’s where the Guelph – Ghibelline divide comes from. The Guelphs supported the Pope against the Emperor, and in exchange the Pope safeguarded their independence from the Emperor in matters like taxes and military service. The Ghibellines, the pro-Imperial faction, often had their origins in the landed aristocracy, from the countryside beyond the cities. This was because they depended on the Emperor for the right to possess their fiefs. Every generation of the aristocratic families had to get their titles renewed by the Emperor, otherwise they were not legitimate. Well, the strange thing is that the Fieschis were originally one of these. The Fieschis were part of the family of the Counts of Lavagna, and Lavagna was an Imperial fief: the Emperors had given the Fieschis their title.”
“So why were the city-states the key? I don’t understand.”
“Because by the time of Frederick II, the city-states were more important than the landed aristocracy. They were richer, more influential, they were minting money in their own right, they were controlling more and more of the trade routes. In theory, they were still under the lordship of the Emperor, but only in theory. Frederick ruled in the south of Italy, and he ruled in Germany, but in the middle were the city-states of Lombardy, dividing his realm into two detached parts. He could not truly unite his Empire unless the city-states were with him. But the city-states traditionally sided with the Pope whenever an Emperor became too powerful, like the case of Frederick II. But here we had for the first time two friends on the two most important thrones of Christendom – and one of them was stupor mundi, the Wonder of the World. Can you imagine what could have happened had the Pope had worked with Frederick II, and persuaded the Lombard city-states to co-operate with him? His Empire could have truly been united, and he could have been free to foster culture, learning and the arts on a grand scale from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, for the first time since Charlemagne!”
“Sounds too good to be true.”
“Probably.” Castagneto sips from his glass of vermentino sadly. “After all, a Pope cannot be a Ghibelline, as Frederick himself said. But Fieschi should have tried!” He stabs at an imaginary Sinibaldo Fieschi in the air with his finger. “And he didn’t. He avoided every possible opportunity to make peace with Frederick II, and declared a universal crusade against him. That suited the Lombard city-states down to the ground.”
Truly, it must be said that Frederick II did not make it easy for the Papacy to work with him. In one dramatic moment, just before Sinibaldo Fieschi became Pope, he actually took captive two Cardinals bound for Rome on Genoese galleys, together with their retinues. The conclave that elected Sinibaldo Fieschi Pope was moved from Rome to Anagni out of fear of Imperial attacks, or so it seems. The chronicles say that Frederick II rejoiced when he heard that Sinibaldo had become Pope, but if this is the case, it was wishful thinking, in my opinion.
Research for the Auramala Project has led me and my colleagues deeper into the workings of the medieval church than we had ever expected. To be fair to Sinibaldo Fieschi, he was at the helm of an immense – and immensely complicated – ship that he could not turn around at whim. Even if he had wanted to side with Frederick II, it simply wasn’t his call to make. The church was just too big, with too many vested interests across all of Europe, and too interwoven with all other forms of power, both aristocratic, and city-based. The Church absolutely had to defend its own prerogatives against the Empire, whatever the Pope’s personal feelings about the Emperor in question. In fact, as we shall see over the next few posts, the power of the Fieschi Family to a large degree was built around the prerogatives of the medieval church, and Sinibaldo Fieschi’s own legal writings were all dedicated to preserving this status quo.
Even so, like Professor Castagneto, many have dreamt ardently of the Renaissance that might have been. I dream of it too, though I doubt it was ever anything more than a mirage, even – especially – at the time of Frederick II himself. This is a modern dream of ours that he couldn’t have even entertained at the time, when the very idea of ‘Renaissance’ did not yet yet exist.
INTERVIEW WITH MARIO TRAXINO, SCHOLAR OF THE FIESCHI FAMILY
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.
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.
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)
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)
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
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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)
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.
(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
I’ve finally found time to come back to the story of the archival and historical research of the Auramala Project. I’ll pick up the thread where I left off: my visit to Mulazzo and the ‘discovery’ of the sanctuary where King Edward II may have spent two and a half years of his ‘afterlife’ in Italy.
I got back from Mulazzo late in the evening, exhausted, and facing an early start the next morning, and my first real confrontation with one of the most challenging archives in our story. An hour south of Pavia there is the town of Godiasco, in the heart of the Staffora Valley, a stone’s throw away from Cecima, the town named by Manuele Fieschi in the Fieschi Letter, and from the Abbey of Sant’Alberto, where Edward II is supposed to have lived. By special arrangement, a member of the local town council, Monica Masanta, was going to assist me as I methodically photographed every single 14th century manuscript in the Malaspina Archive of Godiasco, for reading and examination by Auramala Project volunteers. That meant days of work for Monica and me, but weeks of work for the volunteers.
The Malaspina Archive of Godiasco is one of the great un-studied archives of the Malaspina family, the Apennine feudal lords who were close kin of the Fieschi family and controlled both Mulazzo and the area around Cecima and Sant’Alberto. The archive actually derives originally from Oramala Castle itself, the principle seat of the family at its origins. I was daunted by the size of the enterprise, with nearly 400 folders, each containing thousands of pages. We had only an approximate outline of which folders contain documents from which century to help us.
The documents that interested us the most were the 14th century parchments – sheets of animal hide carefully treated to make a writing material that can easily last centuries upon centuries. And unfortunately, as we opened folder after folder, the dust and faint but pervasive odour left no doubt that we were handling age-old skins.
Monica patiently helped me flatten out and photograph sheet after sheet. Papal seals lolled around on yellowed string, ancient kid and lamb tail-skins with notarial marks on them folded out, and brittle edges of half-burnt pages crackled. Hypnotically, my voice sinking more and more into monotone, I read out the year on each document to make sure we were photographing manuscripts from the right era. ‘Anno domini millesimo tregentesimo quadragintesimo quarto…’ Sometimes it took minutes to photograph the larger sheets (probably calf hides) piece by piece, so that the printed images could later be put together to reconstruct the original, bilboard-sized document. As we worked, we chatted.
“My head is too full of other researchers’ theories.” I complained to Monica. “We need to look at this conundrum with a fresh mind, from a practical point of view.”
“You should try and formulate everything in as simple a question as possible, then put it to someone who knows nothing about the project.” Monica suggested.
“Ok, let’s try.” I agreed. It was nearly the end of the day, and we were both fed up with parchment. We were only a fraction of the way through the archive, however. “What about your son? He’s smart, and not even vaguely interested in the Middle Ages. He’s bound to come at it from a fresh angle.”
“Ok.” She agreed. “What question should I ask him, though?”
“How about… If you had to hide an extremely important and famous person, and make him completely disappear, but keep him alive for years, what would you do?”
The next morning another hundred or so ancient skins greeted us. But Monica had put the question to her son.
“He says that you need to rely on the services of a disciplined, hierarchical organization that has members everywhere, and in which you can rely on members to obey orders and be absolutely discreet. He says there are three options. One is to use the military. The second option he said was the Catholic Church, and the third option is the Mafia, though he doesn’t recommend that, as you end up beholden to them for the rest of your life. What do you think?”
I began mulling it over. “The military, the Catholic Church or the Mafia…” The more I thought about it, the more I found the insight compelling. The Fieschi family featured elements of all three. It commanded military might, and it was a powerful lobby within the Catholic Church. Furthermore, the way the Fieschis (like all other great medieval families) perpetuated the transfer of power within the family structure, and used the family structure to perpetuate power, has perhaps its best parallel today in the Mafia. But let’s be clear about this: the activities of the Fieschi family were all legal, and indeed honorable, at the time. Medieval culture did not condemn nepotism as we do today.
“Thanks, Monica.” I told her. “I’m going to investigate the art of hiding people. I think there’s something in this.” And there was. In the next post we’ll look at the uncanny similarities between the Fieschi family and some of the best people-hiders in history.