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 ( 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 10) The Military, the Catholic Church, or the Mafia…?

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.

Godiasco in the Staffora Valley, in winter
Godiasco in the Staffora Valley, in winter

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.

They tanned a poor kid's hide 650 years ago, and here it is.
They tanned a poor kid’s hide 650 years ago, and here it is.

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.

The Hunt for the King 5) The Verdale Hypothesis Part Two

Just a coincidence?

The catalogue of the Montpellier Archives states that the cathedral register of Maguelone, containing the Fieschi Letter, was compiled under the episcopate of Arnaud de Verdale (1339-1352) and completed under Gaucelm de Deaux (1367-1373).

Our last post shows that, in January 1339 (some few months before becoming bishop of Maguelone), Verdale was exchanging ‘secret letters’ with Pope Benedict XII. This occurred in the context of the beginning of the Hundred Years War between France and England, a new alliance between England and the Holy Roman Emperor, and strong disapprovement on the Pope’s part of the actions of England’s king, Edward III.  Indeed, Verdale was at the court of the Emperor as papal representative at the time.

Pope Benedict’s letter to Verdale (the full letter is reported at the end of this post) mentions at least three secret letters. In chronological order: Verdale had already sent one secret letter to the Pope, and with his reply to Verdale the Pope in turn sent two secret letters, one marked A and the other marked B, which Verdale was to show to the Emperor one after another. Verdale’s instructions in the rest of this particular letter were not, as Sumption states, to ‘disrupt’ the alliance between the Emperor and King Edward III, but to work towards peace between England and France.

At this point, it is difficult not to imagine that at least one of the these secret letters may have been the Fieschi Letter. After all, it would be an incredible coincidence that the Fieschi Letter was subsequently copied into a register initiated by Verdale himself. It is tempting to think that Verdale carried the letter back with him when he returned to become bishop of Maguelone, and that years later it somehow ended up in a pile of unrelated papers, and was copied into the register along with all the others.

Maguelone Cathedral. It was here that the Fieschi Letter was copied into the register where Alexandre Germain found it in the 1870s.

Royal Blackmail?

What could have been the purpose of sending the Fieschi Letter to Verdale, if indeed one of these secret letters was the Fieschi Letter? Some commentators on the Fieschi Letter have proposed that it was a tool of blackmail. If we simply read the Pope’s letter to Verdale, in which his instructions are to encourage reconiciliation and the peace process, it is not immediately clear how the Fieschi Letter may have been useful to him. But if we consider the wider context of alliance between Edward III and the Emperor at the outbreak of war between Edward III and France, it seems at least possible that Verdale was either seeking to break off this alliance, or asking the Emperor to use his influence with Edward III to convince the English king to back down and go home.

To put it very simply, Fieschi Letter could have been used to tell the Emperor “your ally, Edward III, may not even be the legitimate king of England, given that his father, Edward II, is actually still alive. Why don’t you break off your dealings with him before the news gets around, or if you do want him as your ally, why don’t you convince him to back down and leave the French alone?”

Our research reveals that Manuele Fieschi, purported author of the Fieschi Letter, was present throughout this period at the Papal court, working as Papal notary (there will be future posts concerning Manuele Fieschi in detail) (1). It would have been perfectly possible for him to write the letter for the Pope, for this use.

Frustratingly, none of this tells us anything about the truthfulness of the Fieschi Letter itself.  Quite the opposite, it begs an unanswerable question: would the Pope bluff with a matter of such extreme importance?

The Question of Timing

Auramala Project researchers think it is fair to say that the Fieschi Letter in its present form – the document copied into the register of Verdale’s  See of Maguelone – may have been a tool of Papal diplomacy in January 1339. This means that the events it describes could have unfolded over the period September 1327 (‘death’ of Edward II) to December 1338 at the latest. This dos not fit in with the timing proposed by Ian Mortimer in Medieval Intrigue, who believes that the Fieschi Letter may have been delivered to Edward III in 1336 by the Genoese ambassador Nicolinus Fieschi. However, Mortimer’s comparatively shorter timescale is based on incorrect information about events occurring in the interim in Italy.

Over the next two posts we will start investigating the Italian side of the Fieschi Letter, and we will correct some misinformation in Mortimer’s book.

(1) Manuele Fieschi’s continuous presence at the Papal court of Avignon is attested by his role as guarantor of newly-conferred church benifices, as will be explored in later posts. As late as the mid 1340s, when he was bishop of Vercelli, Manuele Fieschi was writing to his diocese from Avignon. These documents are to be found in the archives of Vercelli and Biella.

Here follows the letter from Pope Benedict XII to Arnaud de Verdale, 23rd January, 1339. Daumet, Georges,  1899-1920, Benoit XII (1344-1342) ; Lettres closes, patentes et curiales se rapportant à la France

Pope to Verdale 1

Pope to Verdale 2Pope to Verdale 3

The Hunt for the King 4) The Verdale Hypothesis

A double tip-off

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

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

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

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

Brabant and Cambrai in medieval times

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

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

The Pope’s letters

Pope Benedict XII’s tomb in Avignon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letter to the editor of ‘The Gloucester Citizen’

Dear Editor,

concerning the article ‘Murder Cold Case‘ by Ben Falconer, which appeared on December 02, 2013;
all of us here at the Auramala Project wish to thank your paper for running a story on the work of the Project and the ‘cold case’ of Edward II. Thanks also to Ben Falconer, the author of the article, for quoting our blog and mentioning its main aims and ambitions.
Regrettably, a small amount of misinformation crept into the article.
The article states that there are believed to be two skeletons in the ‘Italian’ tomb. In truth, the tomb is open and is empty, though a single skull fragment seems to have been found in it when it was opened, sometime around the year 1900.
Mr Falconer’s article also extensively quotes Mr David Smith, Berkely family archivist. Since Mr Falconer did not seek our answer to Mr Smith’s comments directly, before publishing, we wish to reply here. I personally met Mr Smith for a very pleasant lunch at Berkeley in July of this year. We had a lively conversation, and in fact I heard all of the views he expressed to Mr Falconer on that occasion, directly from Mr Smith.
Concerning the idea that virtually everybody believes the Fieschi letter is a forgery, a quick look around internet will tell readers this is highly debatable.
Mr Smith claims that, had the king really lived on after his ‘official death’, news of this would have traveled. But, if Edward II did live (and we do not claim to know the truth, you would need a time-machine to find out for sure) the evidence points to him living out the rest of his days in small monasteries as an anonymous hermit, possibly under the protection of an extremely powerful and well organized family, the Fieschi family of Genoa. Their influence ran very deep at a truly international level, and they had a long-standing association with the Malaspina family, who controlled the area indicated in the Fieschi letter, a valley in the Apennines of the Province of Pavia. Readers should know that this is exactly the same family and the same location chosen to hide another high ranking fugitive from would-be assassins in 1512:  Cardinal Giovanni de Medici, who later became Pope Leo X. Such families, in control of locations like these, were probably able to keep just about anything quiet, if they really wanted to.
Mr Smith continues by stating that the Latin of the Fieschi letter is ‘corrupt’, and that a papal notary like Manuele Fieschi, the purported author of the letter,  would never have used corrupt Latin. However, Medieval Latin was ‘corrupt’ (actually, I prefer the term ‘erratic’)  by its very nature. Auramala Project researchers have examined literally hundreds of papal letters: written, that is, by papal notaries or by the pope himself, from the era of the Fieschi letter. All of them, without exception, use ‘corrupt’ Latin. The Latin of the time was corrupt, everywhere, and that’s all there is to it. Let me give you an example that is close to home for Gloucestershire readers: in October 1330, Thomas, Lord Berkeley, was brought before parliament on charges of being ultimately responsible for Edward II’s well-being on the night he was (supposedly) murdered. He made a statement to parliament in his native tongue, Anglo-norman French, which was written down by the minute-taker in Latin. The minutes record that he said he had “heard nothing of his (Edward II’s) death until this present parliament”. The exact words in the parliament minutes are “nec unquam scivit de morte sua usque in presenti parliamento isto”. The use of ‘sua’ for ‘his’ is incorrect, by the standards of Latin grammar. It should be ‘illius’ or ‘eius’, not ‘sua’. But in Medieval Latin, such questions of form and grammar are largely ignored. Are we to conclude that the medieval English parliamentary rolls are forgeries?
Lastly, Mr Smith goes on to claim that the letter only survives as a copy that was created 30 years after Edward II died. This is partially true, however, the correct window of opportunity for the creation of the copy is from 1339 to 1368, so from 12 to 31 years after the king supposedly died. If the story of his survival were correct, however, it would mean the letter was actually possibly copied while he was still alive, or soon after.
Thank you once again for running the article on theAuramala Project, and for bringing our hard work to the attention of the Gloucestershire public.
Yours sincerely,
Ivan Fowler.

The Hunt for the King 3) Reception of the Fieschi Letter

Reception of the Feischi Letter

An excellent, no-nonsense review of the reception of the Fieschi Letter is contained in Seymour Phillips’ biography Edward II (2010), and at page 585 we find a summary of the most important recent theories on the Letter, before Seymour Phillips continues to note his own feelings from page 589 onwards.

To summarise: Cuttino and Lyman (Where is Edward II? 1978) found the Letter impressive, but doubtful in its details concerning Italy. Doherty (Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II 2003) feels that Edward II may have survived, but that the Letter tells an untrue story, concocted by Manuele Fieschi in order to blackmail Edward III into recommending him for church benefices in England and abroad (this appears immediately implausible to scholars of the Fieschi family, as members of this family demonstrably did not need to resort to extravagant blackmail ruses in order to obtain church benefices). Haines (King Edward II, his Life, his Reign and its Aftermath 2003), who believes Edward II did die in 1327 at Berkeley, proposes an interesting theory that the Letter was created in an attempt to sanitize and sanctify the memory of Edward II (this seems to me a highly plausible medieval motivation for such a document, but does not explain why it was a secret, as one would expect such an operation to require the maximum level of circulation and exposure possible). Ian Mortimer (Medieval Intrigue, 2010) is the first English scholar to seriously look into the Fieschi family, its power structure and its operations, and concludes that the Letter is pretty much the literal truth. He feels that the Letter veils the fact that the wanderings of Edward II described in the closing section were, in reality, under the guidance/protection/custody of members of the Fieschi family. Seymour Phillips willingly takes much of Mortimer’s research into serious consideration, but interprets the evidence put forward by Mortimer as signifying that the Fieschis may have been guiding/protecting/holding an imposter, not Edward II himself.

A symbolic image of research at home: my kids have grown accustomed to their toy cars being used as bookmarks!
A symbolic image of research at home: my kids have grown accustomed to their toy cars being used as bookmarks!

The Auramala Project has taken the work of Ian Mortimer and Seymour Phillips as a starting point from which to move on to new horizons, informed and encouraged by the work of Kathryn Warner.

At this juncture, I want to repeat the basic concept at the heart of our research approach: all of the research conducted on the Letter and on the death/survival of Edward II is detective work, sleuthing, hypothesis, wherever it goes beyond the bounds of the texts and physical aspects of the documents that describe these events to us, across hundreds of years. This is not to say that the work of professional historians is to be dismissed as hypothesis disguised as fact. Well-informed opinion is a rare and precious thing in a world so full of uninformed opinion. However, let us never forget that it is opinion.

This is true, of course, of the work of the Auramala Project, too.

The Hunt for the King 2) Discovering the Fieschi Letter

Let’s be absolutely truthful about what we know for certain concerning the Fieschi Letter (see the text of the letter here). 1) we know the words contained in the text; and 2) the physical nature of the letter. In other words, we know the content of the text itself, and the fact that this text was copied into a register, which was completed in the 1360s. This register belonged to the Diocese of Maguelone, which has since become the Diocese of Montpellier, hence the the letter is in the archives there. That is all. Everything else is hypothesis, sleuthing and deduction. Everything else must be accompanied by expressions like ‘maybe’, ‘possibly’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘must be’.

The Archives of Montpellier today, with Auramala Project resident film maker, Giacomo Sardelli
The Archives of Montpellier today,  by Zaha Hadid Architects, with Auramala Project resident film maker, Giacomo Sardelli

In order to better understand the nature of this sleuthing, I want to pay homage to the discoverer of the letter, Alexandre Germain. I want to imagine seeing the letter for the first time, just as he did back in the 1870s. However, we will go through this process of discovery as though it was us looking at it for the first time. This way, some of the possible thought processes involved emerge. Alexandre Germain himself was a famous, distinguished professor of history and head of the department at the University of Montpellier, not a mere mortal like us. He may well have accomplished everything that follows in a matter of minutes, in a largely instinctive manner.

Discovering the Fieschi letter

The fine, beige, almost shiny pages of parchment crackle ever so slightly as we turn them over, one by one. At page 86 we pause. The margins are empty, giving this page a different appearance to all the others. The rest all bear the main text in reddish brown ink, with smaller texts in black ink in the margins, probably markings made by the scribe’s overseer to certify each copy as it was made. They are missing on this particular page. But actually, the margins are not quite empty: in the same ink as the main text, to the extreme right, the word ‘vacat’ (it is vacant/missing) appears, smaller than the main text. What is vacant? What is missing? In other contexts we have seen the word ‘vacat’ used to indicate where portions of text of the original are missing, or where the original itself has since gone missing. But we know that words like this are used in different ways in different times and places, so we can’t draw any firm conclusions. (1)

Vacat: 'it is vacant/missing' - but what does it mean here
Vacat: ‘it is vacant/missing’ – but what does it mean here?

Now we take a quick look at the first and last lines of the text. The first lines of medieval church documents generally contain a date, written out in words, whilst the last lines list the person who created the document, generally a notary, and the people who witnessed it, generally church officials of some sort. This document cites neither a date, nor a notary, nor witnesses. And it is signed like a letter: ‘Your Manuele Fieschi, notary of the lord Pope, your devoted servant’. How curious! What’s a private letter doing in a register of 13th and 14th century administrative documents relating to the Cathedral of Maguelone?

Let’s see what information we can glean by skimming through the letter for key words, such as names of people, their titles, and the names of places. But even skim reading is no simple thing! 14th century handwriting is a challenge in itself.

ex confessione patris vestri… if you can read it!

We soon realize that the writer never names the person he is writing to. He tells the intended receiver his/her father’s confession, but never names the father either. So who were the intended receiver and his father? What was their relationship to the writer? We now notice that the writer and receiver were not on intimate terms. The intended receiver is addressed  in a formal way, using the second-person plural, just like ‘Vous’ in French, but in Latin it is ‘vos’. So now we know that the writer and the intended receiver weren’t on highly intimate terms, such as half-siblings, foster brothers or childhood friends.

We are now faced with an entire document which essentially speaks formally to an unidentified ‘you’, and talks about ‘your father’, and the name of the father is never mentioned either. Let’s look again at the end of the document, there must be a clue somewhere. Yes, this Manuele Fieschi character recommends the letter to the attention of ‘vestre dominacionis’, so this was the title of the intended receiver. ‘Dominacionis’ comes from the same root as domus (house), dominus (which in its most essential meaning could be something like ‘master of the house’), and ‘dominatio’ from which derives our English ‘domination‘, to rule over. But we know that this expression in the Latin of the time could have been appropriate for a great lord, a duke or a prince, a King or even the Emperor. So, the letter is intended for a very important person, but we don’t know their specific rank.

Our eyes alight on a piece of direct speech. A servant is addressing the father, and calls him ‘dominus’. This is one of the few Latin words that English speakers are familiar with today, thanks to hymns and church music, but it doesn’t help enormously. This term could be appropriate address for everyone from a lower ranking but respected individual (a householder without noble rank) right up to the Emperor, the Pope and God. In fact, Manuele Fieschi identifies himself as ‘domini pape notarius’, notary of ‘dominus’ Pope. It’s vague, but there’s no help for it. It makes us think of the way that, today, one might tap a gentleman on the arm to get his attention and say ‘excuse me sir’. We don’t mean that the gentleman has been knighted, this is just a form of address. Indeed, we know that the female equivalent of ‘dominus’, which is ‘domina’, was used irrespectively of rank in what is now Italy to the extent that its derivative ‘donna‘ now generically means woman.

Now let’s look at the place names. Perhaps we can identify which corner of the continent the Letter talks about. And there, we find a great surprise. The letter begins by saying that the father understood that all of England was against him. England! The following place-names are unfamiliar, particularly with the erratic, unpredictable spelling that is typical of medieval documents. For example, where is this castle called ‘Berchele’? Then we find an interesting name: Henricus de Longo Castello. Isn’t ‘Longo Castello’ pretty much the Italian for ‘Long Castle’? Let’s Anglify it a little… Longchester? Longcaster… What’s ‘long’ in Old English? ‘Lang’… Langcaster, Lancaster!’

Seal of Henry of Lancaster, 3rd Earl

Next, our gaze falls upon another familiar-looking word – ‘coronam’. This is the accusative case for ‘corona’, or crown. We pause to translate the whole phrase, and are startled to learn that the father of the receiver loses his crown. He is a king! Now our attention is completely riveted on this letter. It’s not everyday you come across the confession of a king, after all.

We continue through the letter, until we reach the section describing how the two assassins presented the murdered gate-keeper’s body and heart to the queen ‘as that of your father, and as the king’s body it was buried in Gloucester’. Now we finally have an element that can tell us who the mysterious ‘father’ is. He was a King buried in Gloucester. We reach across to our tablet and swiftly search for… Oh, this is the 1870s. Um, we search back in our memory to our school days, when we were forced to learn the complete succession of the Kings of England,  and we remember that the only king buried in Gloucester was Edward II, after the infamous red-hot poker murder in Berkeley Castle (‘Ah!’ we think ‘so that’s the place the letter calls ‘Berchele’) After a little research, we realise that the letter goes far beyond accepted knowledge about the death of Edward II, claiming that he escaped death in Berkeley Castle and went on to become a pilgrim and hermit far away on the continent – after meeting the Pope in Avignon!

Upon discovering the letter, Germain no doubt believed that he was re-writing a page of history. And it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person: it took enormous preparation and special qualities to notice and identify the Fieschi Letter. Germain and his colleagues in France and Italy seem to have embraced the story told in the letter fairly easily. After all, the loss to the English of the bones of one of their kings was hardly a matter of concern to them. I wonder if the great Germain would have been put out by the way the English very calmly dismissed the letter as sheer falsehood for the following one hundred and twenty-odd years?

The main source for this blog post is Seymour Phillips biography of Edward II, 2010, chapter 12, Afterlives, pg 583-585. The Auramala Project verified this information, and expanded on it, during a visit to the Archives départementales de l’Hérault, where the Fieschi Letter is to be found, in early August, 2013.

(1) For example, we found ‘vacat’ used to mean missing portions of text and/or a missing original in: Cammarata, Italo, Cronache del marchesato. Documenti per la storia della rocca di Oramala, del Castello di Cella e dell’Abbazia di S. Alberto, Guardamagna, 2006

The Hunt for the King 1) The Story So Far



This post is aimed at summarizing (in as few words as possible) the state of thhe art regarding the fate of Edward II in existence when the Auramala Project commenced research.



Historians fall into two broad camps regarding this issue. There are those who reject the idea that the standard accepted theory, that Edward II died at Berkeley Castle in 1327, may require revision. Up to a short time ago, the majority of the academic community certainly fell into this camp, and perhaps still does. Then there are those who urgently call for a re-examination of the standard theory, in the light of a series of pieces of evidence that seem to indicate the survival of Edward II well into the 1330s.

In the first camp, we feel that the most enlightened, thorough, and methodologically rigorous presentation of the evidence and its possible interpretations is the work of Seymour Phillips, who is also the leading biographer of Edward II in print. His biography of Edward II is by far the most complete and up-to-date treatment of the life and (supposed) death of the King among printed academic texts. He does not dismiss the evidence for the survival of Edward II out of hand, but engages with it, albeit with a strong stance to discount it. We profoundly respect Philips and his work, and are grateful to him and his research for a great deal of the detail behind both the novel Auramala and the work of the Auramala Project. Since the idea that Edward survived 1327 would place the end of his lifetime in the era of Edward III, we also recommend the work of Mark Ormrod, who also falls loosely into this camp, too. His biography of Edward III is nothing short of outstanding, and is an inspiration for historians, including all of us at the Auramala Project.

In the second camp, Ian Mortimer stands out as a vocal and combative adherent to the idea that the standard theory must be revised. His background is working with archives, and we here at the Auramala Project, after spending a lot of time in archives, can sympathize strongly with his background. He is also an outstanding communicator and philosopher of history.  Another outstanding person in this second camp is Kathryn Warner, who is also the leading biographer of Edward II in contemporary media. To Kathryn I, personally, owe a great deal, as much of the characterization of leading characters in my novel Auramala is based on her research (though at times we disagree on the interpretation, but that is only natural). And Kathryn neatly summarizes the evidence and arguments for and against the survival of Edward II on her blog. It is our hope that both Ian Mortimer and Kathryn Warner, and all other interested historians, will interact with the Auramala Project blog over time. In particular we invite Ian Mortimer to share his views on how our work has extended, confirmed, criticized and corrected his own. It would be a wonderful experience, and a stimulating variant of what Mortimer himself calls ‘Free History‘.

The crux of it is this: contemporary chronicles from England, and all over Europe, state that Edward II died in 1327, probably murdered in Berkeley Castle. As time passed after his death, the chronicles embroidered the story with more and more layers of interpretation. However, against this there exist a number of pieces of evidence (summarized and discussed hereherehere, here and here (just for a start) on Kathryn Warner’s blog) that indicate Edward II did not indeed die. These include a letter written by the Archbishop of York of the time, William Melton, addressed to the then mayor of London, and a letter (the Fieschi Letter) purported to be written by a papal notary (who later became bishop), which appears to be addressed to Edward III himself. Other contemporary events cast doubt on the death of Edward II, such as a plot to free him from captivity when he was supposedly long dead.

The Auramala Project decided to directly tackle the trickiest piece of evidence of all, the Fieschi Letter. One of our main motivations in making this choice is that the Letter also deals with our part of Italy – the Province of Pavia. With the notable exception of Mortimer, English speaking historians have been loathe to engage in detail with the portion of the letter that deals with the latter days of Edward II’s life (if, that is, he did survive) and look for further evidence that may either confirm or deny what is written in it. This may simply have been due to the sheer difficulty of it: logistically speaking it is extremely costly, difficult and time consuming to go after the various threads implicit in the Fieschi Letter. But that is what we have done. And from now on, we will gradually be publishing the results of our work.

Introduction to the Hunt for the King 3) – Italian priests and English Kings

The sign of things to come…
It may seem strange, but churchmen born in what is now Italy have been regents of England on at least two occasions that I know of. The first was Lanfranc of Pavia. The second was Guala Bicchieri, during the time of King John and the boyhood of King Henry III. In this post I’ve chosen to tell the story (in brief) of Lanfranc, a native of my adopted town, Pavia. However, the story of Guala Bicchieri is just as important to the history of England. Born in Vercelli, where Manuele Fieschi (author of the Fieschi Letter) later became bishop, Guala Bicchierei became an important figure in English diplomacy and was instrumental in the circumstances leading to the Magna Carta. Indeed, copies of this great document signed in the time of Henry III bear Guala Bicchieri’s seal – as co-regent for the boy-king.
The coronation of Henry III. The ceremony was overseen by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri, co-regent of the boy-king.
The coronation of Henry III. The ceremony was overseen by Cardinal Guala Bicchieri, co-regent of the boy-king.
What is the point of this post? To reinforce what I have already said about medieval Europe as an international place, and to challenge an old mindset that sees English history only in relation to France in the south, and Scotland in the north. You never hear a cardinal with an Italian accent in Robin Hood movies, where it seems only the English and the French exist. But we must realize that the church was an intrinsic presence in medieval power-play, and people born in what is now Italy were such an important part of the church that they literally pop up everywhere in medieval history, acting decisively at the very highest levels, and influencing the course of history in many different countries. This is a fundamental realization if we are to truly understand the story of King Edward II and the Fieschi Letter. So now let’s take a step backward in time to the Norman Conquest.
William the Conqueror and Lanfranc of Pavia
Poor William must have had conflicting feelings about the institution of marriage. Before becoming William the Conqueror, King of England, he was Duke of Normandy and his nickname was William the Bastard – not because of his personality. His father never married his mother, and this certainly made life difficult for him when he inherited the duchy of Normandy in 1035 as a very young man. Later, his own marriage proved to be a source of trouble. He was betrothed to Matilda of Flanders, which was a very advantageous match at the time, due to the royal connections of her family. However, for some reason that historians cannot quite distinguish from contemporary documents, the Pope of the time opposed the match. And this is where Lanfranc of Pavia steps into the story.
Lanfranc was a brilliant young clergyman, born in the early years of the 11th century in Pavia. We know that he was highly educated, and may have studied at the prestigious Studium of Pavia. This famous  school of theology and law had existed since at least AD 825, when its status was confirmed by Lothair, the grandson of Charlemagne, and in 1361 was to be expanded into the University of Pavia we know today. There is by no means any documentary evidence that Lanfranc studied there, but since he was born in a city with an important centre of learning, it seems natural to assume that he received at least some of his education there.
Lanfranc went on to become Prior of Bec, in Normandy. At that time, Priors could be very powerful men indeed. Lanfranc was well known for his orthodox stance on theological matters, which he had argued to great success at the great Council of Vercelli in 1050. As Prior of Bec, in the Duchy of Normandy, Lanfranc was in a position to either help or hinder the young Duke William in his bid to marry his chosen bride, Matilda. According to tradition (and the later relationship between the two men seems to uphold this), it was Lanfranc who interceded with the Pope on William and Matilda’s behalf, and succeeded in having their marriage celebrated, probably in 1059. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship…
A few years later the Pope of the time, Alexander II (from Milan), gave Duke William his official blessing to invade England. I do not know whether or not Lanfranc was involved in persuading him to do so, but it is not unreasonable to think he was. After all, Alexander II was said to be a former pupil of his, and was certainly a personal friend. And indeed, Lanfranc was among the people who profited the most from the invasion, becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, and establishing the primacy of his see over that of York. William, now king and conqueror, not duke and bastard, continued to benefit from Lanfranc’s friendship. The archbishop from Pavia acted as co-regent of the kingdom in William’s absence in 1074, and helped thwart a plot against William the following year. He contributed to William’s program of subjugation of the English by consistently preferring Norman clergymen to English clergymen when there were important church posts in the offing. When William the Conqueror died, it was Lanfranc who secured the succession of his third son, William Rufus.
 Lastly, the heritage of England was to benefit from Lanfranc due to his building enterprise. The Norman cathedral of Canterbury was begun, and largely completed, during his reign as Archbishop, after a fire destroyed the Anglo-saxon cathedral in 1067.
Statue of Lanfranc on the outside of Canterbury a cathedral
Statue of Lanfranc on the outside of Canterbury a cathedral

Introduction to the hunt for the King 2) The nemesis of the church

Like the last one, this post is designed to help set the scene for the research into the Fieschi Letter, and help readers understand the forces at play in the complex world of politics, power and intrigue that surrounded the fate of Edward II. This is a look at a medieval institution that is crucial to fathoming what is going on in the story of Edward II’s ‘afterlife’: the Holy Roman Empire, the nemesis of the church.

Charlemagne started everything: back in the late 700s, he dreamt of re-creating the Western Roman Empire, but as a new, Holy Empire, with the approval and support of the Pope. The ironic thing is that this was a new ‘Roman Empire’ created and ruled by the descendants of some of the ‘barbarians’ who destroyed the original. It is also ironic, given its later history, that it started out in perfect symbiosis with the church. In fact, Charlemagne served the Pope well by conquering the kingdom of the Ancient Lombards, whose capital was Pavia, and removing their chokehold on Rome.

Charlemagne's Empire
Charlemagne’s Empire at its various stages of evolution

Charlemagne managed to unite much of what is now central and Western Europe, at least for a while. He also provided a legendary figure who, together with King Arthur, provided medieval Western Europe with a second set of universal reference points. Together with the Bible and Christian literature, the chivalrous tales of Charlemagne’s paladins and of Arthur’s knights were cultural constants across time and space in the latter middle ages. Still today, all-but-illiterate Sicilian puppet masters can recite Ariosto’s rendering of the deeds of Orlando (Roland) by heart – that’s thousands upon thousands of lines.

About six years ago I got a taste of this first hand when I spent a few days exploring eastern Sicily with my sister in December. For two people like us, with a pronounced sweet tooth, it was paradise. We literally rolled from one pasticceria to the next, from one round of cassata and Pantelleria passito wine to the next… One evening, in Siracusa, we rolled down a magical old alley, probably largely unchanged since the days the ancient Greeks ruled the island, and found ourselves in front of a colourful puppet theatre, where a line of parents and their young children were eagerly awaiting tickets for the next show, starting in ten minutes. Why not? We shrugged, and got in line.

Sicilian puppets of Charlemagne (left) and Orlando (Roland), from the Catania City Council website

It was a truly memorable experience. The puppets were exquisitely crafted, their costumes were worthy of Parisian catwalks, the music was captivating, and the story timeless. Evil magicians summoned up magic whirlwinds that transported paladins to remote castles where they challenged wicked knights to duels in order to rescue beautiful damsels in distress. When Orlando won his duel with a fell stroke, the head of his puppet-rival literally went flying off, rolling across the stage with a great noise, and we all jumped in our seats! Magnificent. And at the end of it all, Orlando bowed before his Emperor, receiving the thanks of Charlemagne himself. We could well imagine a medieval audience listening to those very same stories with the same sense of awe, seven hundred years ago.

Medieval Puppet Show
Three women watch a puppet show, from a medieval manuscript

After Charlemagne, no one ever quite managed to unite so much of Europe again. Nevertheless, all through medieval history a long series of Germanic kings attempted to re-create Charlemagne’s Empire, with varying degrees of success, and in so doing created an ocean of trouble that literally stretched from Sicily in the south to the Baltic Sea in the north. And what is right in the middle? Why, Rome, of course, and the Pope.  The Popes and the Emperors couldn’t really be expected to get along. Being the two most powerful men on the continent, how could they?

Things came to a head in the 1100s, when the Pope of the time backed one Germanic dynasty (Lothar of Bavaria) to inherit the imperial Crown, against another powerful Germanic family (Conrad of Swabia). The church-backed faction was based in Welf, and their rivals were based in Castle Wibelingen. The Italians of the time (Italy didn’t exist yet, so the term ‘Italians’ is actually out of place, but we will use it for simplicity’s sake) were the ones who suffered the most from the conflict, and they couldn’t pronounce either of the two Germanic names. Welf became ‘Guelfi’ and Wibelingen became ‘Ghibellini’, and this was the birth of the Guelph and Ghibelline factions, supporting the Pope and the Emperor respectively.  With the support of Pavia, Cremona, and Pisa and several other cities, Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa, or Redbeard) soon eliminated his Germanic rival dynasty and did his best to eliminate the Pope, too, for opposing him. How? By having a new Pope elected – naturally a personal friend of his. In his home-away-from-home, Pavia, Barbarossa called a college of Cardinals together and had an anti-pope appointed. Milan rebelled against his authority, and Barbarossa promptly annihilated it in 1162. He razed much of the city to the ground, destroyed its walls and towers and castle, and removed it’s most precious religious relics, the bones of the Three Kings in the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio, and delivered them to Cologne, where they remain in a magnificent shrine to this day. These relics, and their double shrine in Cologne and Milan, were later to play an important role in the story of Edward II. Also, the Abbey of Sant’Alberto di Butrio is not only legendary as the ‘other’ burial place of Edward II – but also as the keeper of the bell that called the Lombard League into battle against Barbarossa at Legnano, in 1176.  When Barbarossa was an old man, he allied with King Richard the Lionheart of England for the Third Crusade, but drowned in the Aleph River in the Middle East before seeing the Holy City of Jerusalem.

The Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio of Milan, where the shrine of the Three Kings was kept until Barbarossa sacked Milan.

The conflict between Pope and Emperor continued down through the generations.  Among the Emperors, my personal favourite (most people’s favourite) is Frederick II, ‘stupor mundi’ (the Wonder of the World), without a doubt one of the most fascinating personalities in world history. It’s no coincidence that the Pope he came into conflict with in the early 1200s was, yes, a member of the Fieschi family. This is the first lesson we here at the Auramala Project learnt about the Fieschi family: they moved at the very highest levels of international politics, power and religion. Two popes and a host of cardinals, bishops, abbots, feudal overlords, merchant princes, admirals and even princes all came from this family. As we shall discover, if anybody in 14th century Europe had the means, motive and opportunity to hide Edward II after 1327, it was the Fieschi family. But all this is to come…