by Kevin McKenzie
Today we are proud to publish a major new post by Kevin McKenzie, who has been making invaluable contributions to The Auramala Project over the last year. A wizard in genealogy and heraldry – a field of study that none of us at the Project knew anything about at all until Kevin enlightened us – he has helped us bring the family tree of Eleanor of Castile’s matrilineal descendants up to the 18th generation, and has applied formidable reasoning to many problems involving inter-family relations that have perplexed us for some time. Such as, for example, the question of Cardinal Luca Fieschi’s parentage, but more on that in another post. Here is his superb work on a totally unexpected connection between Edward II and the Genoese. Ed.
As a descendant of Edward II (many times over), of Hugh Despenser the Younger and of Thomas Lord Berkeley, when I came across the work of the Auramala Project I found it to be an imaginatively put together, utterly compelling and meticulously sourced piece of research, and the Project’s subject matter particularly appealed to me for these obvious personal reasons. (Because I am both a lawyer by profession and an amateur historian – who perhaps because of my training is never inclined to accept received wisdom unquestioningly or without careful verification in the primary sources – I also found the Project’s research methodology extremely attractive). Of course, if we look sufficiently diligently, it is inevitable that many of us in Britain will find these same individuals within their large pool of mediaeval ancestors (the statistical likelihood is that more than 99% of indigenous Britons descend from King Edward III), and it was only whilst carrying out genealogical research into another of my (at first sight less distinguished and to me therefore more interesting) family lines that I stumbled across information which I thought might prove a useful contribution to the Project. This was in fact basically a spin-off from my research into the ancestry of my great great great grandfather, Thomas Macdonough Grimwood, a grocer and law clerk, born in late 1817 in Sudbury in Suffolk.
Thomas’s father, Captain Joseph Grimwood (brother to a Suffolk rector and cousin of an admiral friend of Lady Nelson whose sister was an early gothic novelist), was a timber merchant and tea dealer who, having brought the family to London by the mid-1830s, seems soon to have ended up, after losing an Admiralty case relating to the enforceability of a guarantee of the cost of repairs to his ship (which had been wrecked on a voyage to Tasmania), in a debtor’s prison (probably the Marshalsea). By the early 1840s, Thomas and his younger brother were living close to the Marshalsea and appear to have become law clerks with the purpose of trying to rescue their father, but by 1842 their mother, the daughter of a wealthy packet captain (who in 1814 had helped restore the Bourbon monarchy by making a special voyage to return Louis XVI’s exiled brother Charles to the Continent so as to rule pending the return of the gout-ridden Louis XVIII, and who had funded Thomas’s clothing and education by means of a trust of monies which he had loaned to the poet Wordsworth’s cousin), was already in the Shoreditch workhouse. Their father, when at some point he left the prison, was living in the nearby squalid Mint Street, showing up in the 1851 census as a “waste paper dealer”; one brother Cornelius was to die of cholera; and Thomas himself, now a “dock porter”, was to die the next year, 1852, aged only 34, of tuberculosis.
But to see the relevance of Thomas’s family history to the Auramala Project we must leap back a few centuries, to the early 14th Century, and look at a member of the family who ironically was not an imprisoned debtor, but a money-lender – to the King.
It was in the Gascon Roll “for the 13th year of the reign of Edward, son of King Edward” [ie the 13th year of the reign of Edward II], when researching the likely mediaeval progenitors of Thomas’s Grimwood family ancestors, that I happened to stumble upon the following record (footnote 1):
“For Bertrand de Mur and other merchants
28 January, Westminster
Grant to the merchants of Gascony to whom the King is bound for wine bought in 1318 and 1319 …
The King was lately bound to the merchants of Gascony in the sum of 1545 l 18 s 3 d st, for wine bought to his use by Stephen de Abingdon, his butler in August 1318, whereof he is still bound to … [there then follows a list of names which includes:] to Johan de Latour and Bernat Grimoard in 72 l of 90 l …”.
Elsewhere, in fact in the National Archives at Kew, I found the same Bernat Grimoard – or Bernard Grimward – described in the contemporary records as “an alien merchant of Lincoln” who hailed from “Besace” or “Besaz”, Gascony. This latter is clearly Bazas, near Bordeaux. These are the entries from their catalogue:
Intrigued by the clear suggestion that one of the earliest known individuals possessing an obvious variant of the surname Grimwood had emanated from Gascony, I then turned to further possible clues, both as to Bernard’s origins and his possible connection to the Grimwood family. Part of this detective work led me to Rietstap’s Armorial in the British Library. It soon transpired from this that the coat of arms of the family of Grimal, of Guyenne, Gascony, shows not only in chief the three silver stars on blue of the Grimwood family but also the black imperial or Hohenstaufen eagle displayed of the Grimaldi. Guyenne corresponds to the archbishopric of Bordeaux and included the Bazadais, the territory of Bazas – where Bernard Grimoard, Edward II’s wine merchant based in Lincoln was “of”. Bernard is the German version of the Italian Bernabo and it immediately then struck me that Grimal/Grimald is in fact the surname as originally used by the Grimaldi dynasty, the name Grimaldi simply being the genitive form, so as to denote “of the dynasty of Grimal(d)”.
|Famille de Grimal
D’argent, à l’aigle éployée de sable, au chef d’azur chargé de trois étoiles du champ.
Origine : Guyenne et Gascogne
|Famille de Grimal de La Bessière
D’argent, au lévrier de sable, au chef d’azur, chargé d’un croissant d’argent entre deux étoiles d’or.
Origine : Rouergue et Languedoc
As can be seen, the Sicilian branch of the Grimaldi quarter their arms with the black imperial eagle, which features on a number of versions of Grimaldi, Grimm and Grimal arms which also use the same silver and blue and colours as the Grimwood arms. And here I found another apparent coincidence: what has been described by the family as a martlet appears, holding an oak leaf in its beak, as part of the family crest embossed on the silverware of George Augustus Macdonough Grimwood (first cousin of Thomas Macdonough Grimwood) and his wife Betsy Maria Garrett (herself a first cousin of Dame Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first female doctor, and of Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the early pioneer of women’s suffrage).
The coat of arms of the family of Grimal of Guyenne, as can be seen, contains three silver mullets (or stars) on a chief made up of a blue background. This is just like those of the Grimwood coat of arms as registered by a branch of the family (that of Jeffrey Grimwood Grimwood) at the College of Arms in 1851 – but clearly long held prior to that, because I found an unquartered version of the same Grimwood arms in the earliest edition of Burke’s General Armory, dating from 1842 and thus well before this registration – and George Augustus Grimwood who was only an extremely distant cousin of Jeffrey, with their most recent common ancestor living in no later than the 16th or 17th Century, bore the same motto as him of “Auxilio Divino“. This translates as by divine assistance. An alternative translation is “Deo Juvante”, which is the Grimaldi motto. It occurred to me therefore that a black bird, originally intended to depict a black eagle, could easily, over many centuries, have been corrupted into a “martlet”. As if this were not coincidence enough, I then found that the collar of the Monagasque Order of St Charles which surrounds the coat of arms of the Grimaldi Princes of Monaco is made up of oak leaves, and that the mantling of their arms is of ermine, which mirrors that used for the tincture, or heraldic colour, of the bend which appears in the first and fourth Grimwood quarters of the coat of arms, as registered in 1851, of Jeffrey Grimwood Grimwood.
It also seems clear that the 1851 registration was a registration of quartered arms with one quarter termed “Grimwood” – thus implying these latter arms already existed prior to 1851. Over ten years ago, when first researching my grandmother’s Grimwood family ancestry, a visit by me to the College of Arms and discussions with both the College’s archivist and Richmond Herald confirmed that the College does not possess any extant record of these arms as existing before 1851. However this is not surprising, since the College’s foundation only dates from the reign of Richard III and that it would inevitably have no record of arms more ancient than that unless subsequently registered there. The existence of an armorial record for a similar version of the arms of Grimwood in the 1842 edition of Burke’s General Armory and the fact of the individual quarterings which formed part of Jeffrey’s arms as registered in 1851 being styled in their registration as for “Grimwood” act as further confirmation.
GRIMWOOD (R.L., 1851). Quarterly, 1 and 4, azure, a chevron engrailed ermine between three mullets in chief and a saltire couped in base argent (for Grimwood) ; 2 and 3, or, on a chevron gules, between three wolves’ heads erased sable, as many oval buckles of the first. Mantling: azure and argent; Crests – 1. upon a wreath of the colours, a demi-wolf rampant, collared, holding between the paws a saltire; 2. upon a wreath of the colours, a lion’s gamb erased and erect sable, charged with a cross crosslet argent, and holding in the paw a buckle or. Motto – “Auxilio divino.” Son of Jeffrey Grimwood Grimwood, Esq., J. P.
The black eagle “displayed” features in many versions of the Grimaldi coat of arms. It is often shown as on a gold background and so may (as it often does when borne on a chief in Italian arms (footnote 3)) indicate Ghibelline (imperial) allegiance (contrary to the general support of the Grimaldi family – like the Fieschi – for the opposing Guelph (papal) faction – but some families were divided and the Doria for instance, who intermarried, were Ghibelline) or instead perhaps a marriage to an heiress with a descent from the Hohenstaufen emperors – which would exist for instance with any descent from Catarina da Marano. Catarina was an illegitimate daughter of the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II and wife of Giacomo del Carretto whose daughters Aurelia and Salvatica married Lanfranco and Rainier I Grimaldi respectively. Brumisan their sister married Ugo Fieschi and there appears to have been another sister who (as the Auramala Project shows elsewhere) was likely to have been Leonora the wife of Niccolo Fieschi – mother of Cardinal Luca Fieschi and grandmother of Niccolo Malaspina (“il Marchesotto”) of Oramala and his brother Bernabo with his connection to Bordeaux and Bazas.
Because of the similarity in terms of both names and their respective dates, and the heraldry, I had long supposed that this Bernard Grimward could be identical to Bernabo (or Barnaba) Grimaldi (fl. late 13th/early 14th Century) son of Lucchetto Grimaldi and progenitor of the Grimaldi lords of Beuil/Boglio. And I had already noted that Lucchetto’s brother Lanfranco Grimaldi married Aurelia del Carretto, a sister of Brumisan del Carretto – who appears (as is shown elsewhere by the Auramala Project) to have been the likely sister of Leonora, Cardinal Luca Fieschi’s mother.
Ian Mortimer, Ivan Fowler and Kathryn Warner’s ground-breaking research regarding the international connections of these prominent Italian families to Edward’s court now make our latter suggested identification of Leonora an even stronger possibility. Of course many of these people would have been wearing different hats and thus have been described in different ways in different contexts according to the purpose of any particular contemporary record. Thus it would seem we have Bernabo Grimaldi appearing in the Italian records as lord of Beuil or Boglio, as most likely the same person – or at least closely related to – the Bernat Grimoard (or Bernard Grimward) but who later (apparently first recorded in English records in 1286, thus some time considerably after the Grimaldi family’s flight from Genoa in 1271) crops up in the contemporary English records as Edward’s wine merchant and money-lender, trading between Lincoln and Bazas near Bordeaux – and apparently as progenitor or one of the earliest members of a family who established a line of descendants there, that of Grimal of Guyenne, and of a line descendants in East Anglia, the family of Grimwood.
When sharing this genealogical research with Ivan and Kathryn, in order to assist as part of our research to determine precisely how Cardinal Luca Fieschi’s mother Leonora’s family background could have made him a kinsman of Edward – and more particularly upon my sharing the fact that Bordeaux, a city so close to Bazas, appeared on Ivan’s map tracing the Europe-wide influence of the Fieschi against Edward’s travels as noted in the Fieschi Letter – Ivan then gave me an amazing piece of information. He told me that the individual who named Manuele Fieschi executor for his canonry in the diocese of Bordeaux was none other than Bernabò Malaspina, son of Niccolò Marquess of Oramala and Fiesca Fieschi. The canonry was conferred on 24th June 1335; the last executor was the abbot of Saint Croix of Bordeaux and another executor was the bishop of Bazas (Ep.o Vasat. = Episcopo Vasatensis = Bishop of Bazas).
The connection between Bernabo Malaspina and Bazas, and hence to Bernard Grimward, Edward’s wine merchant, was an “eureka moment” because not only do we have the name Bernabo (aka Bernard) cropping up here again (itself indicative of a possible relationship through family naming traditions), but also it is a known fact that Bernabo Malaspina’s mother was Fiesca Fieschi – a sister of Cardinal Luca Fieschi, the very man whose mother Leonora appears through independent research to have been the sister of Brumisan del Carretto. And Bernabo Malaspina would have been the great nephew of Lanfranco Grimaldi, who on the above basis was Bernabo Grimaldi’s uncle.
As Ian Mortimer writes, setting out here a tentative reconstruction of Edward II in Fieschi custody to the end of 1335: “After arrival in Avignon, he passed into the guardianship of his kinsman, Cardinal Fieschi, who sent him by way of Paris and Brabant … to Cologne … and then to Milan (ruled by Azzo Visconti, nephew of Luca’s niece, Isabella Fieschi). From there he was taken to a hermitage near Milasci, possibly Mulasco, where he would have been under the political authority of one of Cardinal Fieschi’s two nephews in the region, either Niccolo Malaspina at Filattiera or Manfredo Malaspina at Mulazzo itself, and the ecclesiastical authority of another nephew, Bernabo Malaspina, bishop of Luni. However, in 1334 troops began to gather for an attack on Pontremoli, which came under siege in 1335, hence the ex-king’s removal to the hermitage of Sant’Alberto, between Cecima and Oramala, an area also under the political influence of Niccolo Malaspina. The bishop for the area – the bishop of Tortona – was Percevalle Fieschi, another member of Cardinal Fieschi’s extensive family”.
And as an eureka moment the implications of this are threefold. Not only did the Grimward/Bazas/Malaspina/Fieschi connection (a) corroborate my own research based on heraldry which directly linked the family of Grimwood to that of the Grimaldi, but this would also (b) lend further support to the identification of Cardinal Luca Fieschi’s mother Leonora as being of the family of del Carretto – and thus explain how Cardinal Luca Fieschi was a king’s kinsman – and (c) explain why Bernard Grimoard/Bernabo Grimaldi was acting as a wine merchant to and lending money to Edward II (footnote 4).
The fact that they were joint creditors for a single debt shows very clearly that Johan de Latour and Bernard Grimoard were partners as merchants, and this Johan de Latour must clearly be a younger son of the family of the Barons de la Tour du Pin. There is also another version of the Grimal of Guyenne coat of arms which appears in Riestap’s Armorial which displays the pine tree of the family of de la Tour du Pin. “Johan Delatour” appears as a fellow wine merchant in conjunction with Bernard Grimoard in the contemporary record. According to The Foundation for Medieval Genealogy‘s pedigree for the Fieschi, a likely unnamed sister of Ugo Fieschi (with his del Carretto wife Brumisan) and Niccolo Fieschi (with his presumed del Carretto wife Leonora) married Albert, Sire de la Tour du Pin: Matthew Paris records that Pope Innocent IV arranged the marriage of his niece to “domino de Tur de Pin” in 1251 and that he accepted his bride “non ratione personæ muliebris, sed pecuniæ eam concomitantis”.
If he is not to be identified as a member of the family of Grimaldi, it seems unlikely to be coincidence therefore that Bernat Grimoard is mentioned in a contemporary record in direct conjunction with a fellow wine merchant named “Johan Delatour”.
As well as their having the same motto as the Grimaldi, and as part of the crest above their coat of arms a black bird which matches the black eagle also used by the Grimaldi, the tower in the de la Tour du Pin coat of arms appears as part of this same crest of the Grimwood family which I have deduced to descend from Bernard Grimward or a near relative of his. So there could well have been marriage to a de la Tour du Pin heiress at some point. Whatever the position, the latter family was clearly allied by marriage in around the mid to late 13th Century with both Bernard the wine merchant’s family and the Fieschi. As we have seen, part of George Augustus Grimwood’s crest was a silver tower – which matches the tower which also appears in the arms of the de la Tour du Pin – surmounted by the black bird holding an oak leaf in its beak, along with the motto “Auxilio Divino”. So this too further corroborates the heraldic evidence both of Bernard being the Grimwood ancestor and of his likely place on the Grimaldi tree – in order for him to have been a de la Tour du Pin cousin – as a younger son of Giacomo Grimaldi and Catarina Fieschi.
The use of the black imperial eagle by the Grimaldi in the various versions of their arms which I have found might perhaps have been part of a later attempt to reconcile with the Ghibelline faction (and I also note that support for the Guelph faction and the Ghibelline faction was apparently not a rigid divide), or it could simply have denoted a descent from the Hohenstaufen via an heiress – such as via Catarina da Marano, the wife of Giacomo del Carretto, who was an illegitimate daughter of the Emperor Frederick II.
In fact Bernat Grimoard, the wine merchant to Edward II, or his father, may well have left Genoa for Bazas and thus appeared in the latter place at the time of the Grimaldi exodus from Genoa. The timing of the banning of the Guelph faction from Genoa (1271) and their seeking refuge in territories outside Italy which were allied with the papacy would fit perfectly. And the fact that Bazas had connections with Bernabo Malaspina and Manuele Fieschi – who were part of the similarly Guelph-supporting Fieschi family which was allied by marriage with the Grimaldi – would also fit perfectly. The general political history of the Grimaldi is well-known. As a ready precis, here is an extract from their Wikipedia entry:
“The Grimaldis feared that the head of a rival Genoese family could break the fragile balance of power in a political coup and become lord of Genoa, as had happened in other Italian cities. They entered into a Guelphic alliance with the Fieschi family and defended their interests with the sword. The Guelfs however were banned from the City in 1271, and found refuge in their castles in Liguria and Provence. They signed a treaty with Charles of Anjou, King of Naples and Count of Provence to retake control of Genoa, and generally to provide mutual assistance. In 1276, they accepted a peace under the auspices of the Pope, which however did not put an end to the civil war. Not all the Grimaldis chose to return to Genoa, as they preferred to settle in their fiefdoms, where they could raise armies.
In 1299, the Grimaldis and their close family the Grosscurth’s [sic] launched a few galleys to attack the port of Genoa before taking refuge on the Western Riviera. During the following years, the Grimaldis entered into different alliances that would allow them to return to power in Genoa. This time, it was the turn of their rivals, the Spinola family, to be exiled from the city. During this period, both the Guelphs and Ghibellines took and abandoned the castle of Monaco, which was ideally located to launch political and military operations against Genoa. Therefore, the tale of Francis Grimaldi and his faction – who took the castle of Monaco disguised as friars in 1297 – is largely anecdotal.”
However, none of the Grimaldi family’s specific, personal political connections during this period appear to have been investigated by historians until now; in the Summer of Britain’s referendum on membership of the European Union, we would do well to remember the inter-European nature of politics and culture even at this early date, inter-European connections as outlined in this article which could clearly not have been invented by the writer of the Fieschi Letter; and it is surely only if it is to be read in total isolation from these and other new finds that the Fieschi Letter can reasonably be dismissed as a forgery or (as some have suggested in the light of the compelling evidence which indicates the contrary) else as a rather crude (and unexplained) attempt at falsification and blackmail.
- A complete copy of this record can be found online in the Gascon Rolls Project.
This silverware belongs to Adrian Grimwood, who lives in Kenya, is a distant cousin of mine and is a direct descendant of George Augustus Grimwood.
Guelph allegiance was often indicated instead by having in chief three gold fleur de lis on a blue background.
The Lincoln connection is also interesting in the light of Manuele Fieschi’s connection to that city too – although it could of course simply be that a supplier of wine to the King being based there was inevitable as it was an important centre of Edward’s court. Indeed, it was on 23rd September 1327, when he was at Lincoln, that Edward III received a letter from Lord Berkeley stating that Edward II had died on 21st September at Berkeley Castle.
Sotto un turbinio di nuvoloni grigi, un forte vento da sudovest sollevava schizzi spumosi dalla cresta delle onde, che andavano a flagellare la ferita di Edward ogni volta che la prua della nave sprofondava.
E’ il 24 giugno, 1340, e sua maestà Edoardo III, re d’Inghilterra, è ferito. E’ stato un colpo di balestra, sparato da un mercenario genovese, durante la prima grande carica delle navi inglesi contro la linea di navi difensiva francese che bloccava l’ingresso a Sluys, uno dei porti mercantili fondamentali per gli interessi economici e bellici degli inglesi.
«Se almeno Vostra Maestà facesse la grazia di restare seduto!» esclamò il cerusico, esasperato.
«No! I miei uomini devono vedermi ritto, tutti quanti. Devono sapere che sono qui, in piedi, pronto a combattere.»
Così inizia Edward. Il mistero del re di Auramala: con la più grande vittoria navale inglese prima dell’Armada spagnola e prima della Battaglia di Trafalgar. Infatti, già il 24 giugno 1340 si può dire Britain rules the waves – “la Gran Bretagna regna sulle onde”, uno degli slogan patriotici preferiti degli inglesi attraverso i secoli (quell’orgoglio nazionale che oggi ha portato al #Brexit era già ai massimi livelli con Edoardo III).
Eppure, in realtà la più grande potenza navale dell’epoca è la flotta genovese. E infatti, una forte contingente delle loro galee si è schierata a inizio giornata a fianco dei difensori francesi.
Le galee comandate da Egidio Boccanegra e dai suoi capitani avevano libertà di manovra, a vela o a remi. La loro forza erano l’agilità e la rapidità, nonostante l’imponente stazza. Se quelle temibili imbarcazioni si fossero scontrate con le lente, impacciate cocche di Edward, ci sarebbe stata una strage di inglesi e la vittoria francese sarebbe stata certa.
Ma, nel romanzo, entro mezzogiorno, le imbarcazioni mercenarie genovesi disertano i loro ‘alleati’ francesi. Perché?
Come ha fatto il giovane re Edward III, sempre a corto di denaro, a riunire la sua grande flotta, e ad assicurarsi questo tradimento?
E’ molto semplice: contrattando debiti enormi con e grandi famiglie bancarie di Firenze, i Bardi e i Peruzzi. Debiti equivalenti a molte volte l’intero PIL d’Inghilterra all’epoca. Ma, si sa, i banchieri non cedono mai un mutuo senza una garanzia. Quale garanzia poteva mai offrire Edward III ai banchieri fiorentini, così sicura da convincerli a trasferire l’equivalente di miliardi di euro nelle casse della Corona d’Inghilterra?
E se quella garanzia fosse… un uomo?
Edward. Il mistero del re di Auramala è un romanzo storico basato sulla ricerca contenuta in questo blog, e precedenti ricerche effettuate dagli storici britannici Ian Mortimer e Kathryn Warner, che ringrazio di cuore per il loro prezioso aiuto.
We’re now going to leave aside our in-depth analysis of the Fieschi Letter and finally take a look at the identity of the man who probably wrote it. As we have said, very few commentators doubt that it was written by Manuele Fieschi, we ourselves have found no reason to doubt it, so we will proceed to consider him the true author of the text, and try to understand who he was.
How we know what we know about Manuele Fieschi
In order to write in an informed way about Manuele Fieschi, I have personally examined approximately 800 papal letters from the reigns of Pope John XXII and Pope Benedict XII, in easily consultable printed editions (in Latin). Together with Stefano Castagneto and Elena Corbellini, we have also examined several hundred original documents in the Capitulary (Cathedral) Archives of Vercelli, Genoa and Bologna and the State Archives of Biella. Further assistance has come from the Vatican Secret Archives. For nearly two years I searched in vain for a complete copy of his last Will and Testament: I still haven’t found it, though I have pieced together much of what it must have contained from incomplete fragments, discovered after leafing through seemingly unending archival documents in various cities. In fact, though I have discovered in the order of 600 documents that concern Manuele in some form or another, most of which are papal letters, in order to find them I, Castagneto and Corbellini have examined at least 10,000 documents, perhaps twice that. No one was counting!
This was not just an obsessive search for biographical information about an obscure papal functionary. Together with the analysis of the Fieschi Letter, this is perhaps our most important contribution to the debate over the true fate of Edward II. Many authors have piled conjecture upon conjecture as to Manuele Fieschi’s motivations in writing his famous letter. Paul Doherty in his 2003 book Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II, is the writer who, before us, has dedicated the most time and attention to Manuele Fieschi. Sadly, his lengthy dissection of the Letter, purporting to know the mind of Manuele, his motivations and his methods, depicts him as a scheming, immoral, self-aggrandizing priest in need of cash and benefices and willing to blackmail a distant king (Edward III) and his mother (Isabella of France) in order to get them. Doherty’s analysis not only claims to be mind-reading, but displays total ignorance of a) Latin, b) the functioning of the medieval church and c) the Fieschi Family. As a senior member of this family and a high ranking employee of the Pope, Manuele no doubt had far healthier finances than the English crown… Edward III was more likely to have asked him for a bit of cash than the other way round! Oh, if only Doherty had actually read something about the workings of the 14th century church before writing… It will take time, but I will come back to Doherty’s analysis little by little over the next few posts and show why it is so profoundly inept.
While Doherty’s “analysis” is by far the worst researched, it is certainly not the only one to approach Manuele through conjecture. Even the great Seymour Phillips himself is guilty of this: in his 2010 biography of Edward II, the most complete treatment of the subject to date, and a work of such high scholarship that I could only dream of, he lets his guard down when discussing Manuele Fieschi. He suggests that he was deceived into writing the Fieschi Letter by an impostor pretending to be Edward II. As we will show over the next few weeks, it is absolutely certain that Manuele Fieschi could not have been fooled by an impostor. He had numerous ways in which to verify the identity of the man he was talking with, and not only. Our research shows that he also had the tools to personally verify every single detail of the account in the Letter, except perhaps one or two. This is one reason we did this research: in order to answer the question ‘If Manuele Fieschi wrote the Letter, could he have been fooled by impostor?’ And, after years of work, we can answer with a resounding ‘No!’
Ian Mortimer, whose groundbreaking research was the starting point for our own research, says very little about Manuele Fieschi in his Medieval Intrigue. The great strength of Mortimer’s work lies in understanding the spread and significance of the Fieschi Family. In revealing this ‘clan-like’ organisation, and realising that the clan chief was Cardinal Luca Fieschi, Mortimer leaps from Manuele Fieschi to Cardinal Luca andthe entire Fieschi syndicate, a powerful, widespread and highly structured organisation at the time. There is no doubt in my mind that this is indeed the true key to understanding the Fieschi Letter, but at the same time it is a deductive leap made from the actual signature on the page, that of Manuele himself. Furthermore, although the contents of the Letter do indeed hint at the Fieschi power network, once one knows what it was and how it worked, only one member of the clan is directly named, Manuele himself. Of course, at the time to name one Fieschi was to name them all, but we cannot expect modern readers to take our word for that. And so, we said to ourselves at the start of our research, it’s time the world really found out just who Manuele Fieschi was.
Essentially, the Auramala Project team has gone the extra mile, has found the documents, and done the research, and we are now ready to publish, firstly a biography of Manuele Fieschi (as complete as possible given the sources) and secondly examine how, even without taking the Fieschi Family syndicate into account, Manuele by himself can easily account for everything written in the Letter. Then, by further investigating the extent and workings of the syndicate through Manuele Fieschi (as we will see, his role in the family was one of networking, cohesion, bringing together of family interests), our research adds enormous confirmation and weight to Ian Mortimer’s brilliant hypothesis.
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.
IF: Grazie, è stato affascinante.
MT: Grazie a te.
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
(4) I. Mortimer, Medieval Intrigue, London, 2010
Old and new friends in Lunigiana
About an hour after leaving the Sanctuary above Mulazzo, I was in Corniglia, in the Cinque Terre, with one of my dearest and oldest friends. Stefano Castagneto has been a fundamental part of the Auramala Project right from the start, with his formidable skills in reading ancient documents and with his encyclopedic memory of the thousands of books and bibliographies he has read. His kitchen window frames a view of the Mediterranean Sea, the cliffs of the Cinque Terre and a white mountain-top church called Montenero, above Riomaggiore. But he and I were concentrated on what was on the table.
Salame, cheese, bread, a kind of ravioli called pansotti in walnut sauce, local vermentino (white wine), and of course everything I had on Mulazzo, its sanctuary and the Fieschis.
“Cut me another piece of salame, I’ll be back in a moment.” Stefano disappeared into his library, and reappeared shortly with a rare-book catalogue. “Here it is, I wanted to buy it myself a few years back, but it costs more than two hundred euro. A biography of Spinetta Malaspina. He was the foremost warlord in the area back in the 1330s. The only thing we know for sure about this ‘Castle Milascio’ is that war overran it. If there was a battle concerning Mulazzo in those years, you’ll find it in this book.”
“Professor Mortimer says the battle was actually a siege, of Pontremoli. Would that make sense, Stefano?”
He thought for a moment, stroking his enormous white moustaches. The salame slice disappeared and his glass was drained. “If it was a siege, yes. The soldiers would have been there for some time, perhaps months, and soldiers need to be fed. Often it was impossible to stop them ransacking the surrounding countryside for food. Mulazzo’s mountain is an easy day’s raiding from Pontremoli if you’re hungry. The Sanctuary would have been at risk.”
After a late night yarning about old times with Stefano, the next morning I was walking through the medieval gates of Mulazzo, on my way to a meeting with two archivists and the director of the Archives and Museum of the Malaspinas of Mulazzo. Francesca Guastalli, Monica Armanetti and Dario Manfredi, respectively. A short time later we were sitting in front of the ruins of Mulazzo Castle, and they were listening open-mouthed to the story I was telling them. Finally, Monica Armanetti replied.
“So the English researcher, Mortimer, essentially joined up the family dots? It was a Fieschi who wrote the letter, and the Margrave of Mulazzo was the nephew of Cardinal Fieschi, the head of the family. The Margrave of Oramala, near Cecima, where the King went next, was another nephew. The bishop here in the area of Mulazzo was the brother of the Margrave of Oramala, and the bishop of the area of Oramala was a Fieschi cousin. Put the family connections together, and the Fieschi Letter makes sense… So we might have had an English king here? This is the first we’ve heard of it!”
“I’m double checking Mortimer’s work, and trying to expand on it.” I explained. “I want to verify the information the Fieschi Letter gives. There must have been a war nearby, or directly involving Mulazzo, because the letter says he was moved to the area of Cecima due to conflict. I know there’s a biography of Spinetta Malaspina from 1940. Do you have it?”
“We don’t, but there’s rare book dealer in Bagnone, near here, who has a copy. We’ve often thought of purchasing it for our library. He’s a nice guy, I can take you there. If you tell him about the king, he might let you look at it.”
An hour later, after crossing the broad valley of the Lunigiana, we were knocking on the door of an elegant bookshop on a narrow, paved street in the walled town of Bagnone, where the medieval blends seamlessly with the modern. The gentleman in the bookshop knew Ms Armanetti well. He listened with growing incredulity to the story of Edward II. When he finally understood why we had come, he brought us the biography of Spinetta Malaspina, handling it with near-reverence.
“It’s a beautiful volume,” he told us “a supreme work of scholarship, which reports the original source documents in full, and has an exahustive analytical index. The only problem is that the signatures are unopened.” Ouch. Rare books are often worth more if unread, and one way to show that a book is unread is to leave the pages of the signatures uncut. It means that either you cut the pages open, or only one page out of every four is legible. This was where the pleading began. I was asking him to potentially reduce the value of a two-hundred-plus euro book.
“This is a fundamental moment in solving a mystery surrounding the death of a medieval king…” I began earnestly. Ms Armanetti chimed in “I’ve listened to all the evidence, and I really think there’s something in it. You don’t need to cut open all of the book, just the pages concerning the mid-1330s…”
In the end, bless him, he cut the pages.
The siege of Pontremoli
I sat there for a while, carefully making notes about the movements of local warlords in the 1330s, and writing down references. There was indeed an armed conflict at Pontremoli, very near Mulazzo(1). This siege was the final act in the feud between the Rossi family and the Da Correggio family, both of Parma. The two parties had reached a peace accord in June 1335. The peace was broken on May 8th, 1336, when the Rossi family fled Parma under accusations of attempting to murder a member of the Da Correggio clan, a certain Mastino. They escaped to Pontremoli, but Simone da Correggio and his ally Spinetta Malaspina laid siege to Pontremoli one month later, on June 13th, 1336. The battle for the town lasted until late October of the same year(3).
A contemporary chronicle makes a striking statement about this conflict: it calls the attacking soldiers ‘countryside wreckers'(2). This nicely sums up why the sanctuary of Mulazzo, just ten kilometres away, would not have been a safe place anymore for Edward II, if he was there.
The only actual armed conflict in the immediate vicinity of Mulazzo in the period described by the Fieschi Letter was the seige of Pontremoli, as Mortimer states. However, Mortimer unfortunately found the wrong year for this siege. He writes that it was in the summer of 1335, but in fact it began on June 13, 1336. Moreover, he speculates that troops would have begun to gather for this siege in late 1334, and it was in this moment that Edward II may have moved from Mulazzo to Cecima. As shown above, however, it would not have been possible to predict the siege of Pontremoli before May 8th, 1336, nor gather troops for it.
The timeline of the Fieschi Letter: a new proposal
All of this is important to the story of Edward II because it means we have to reconsider the timeline for the Fieschi Letter reconstructed by Mortimer in Medieval Intrigue. Mortimer believes Edward II arrived at Mulazzo around the beginning of 1332, then at Cecima in late 1334, so that he had been in Cecima for ‘around two years’, as the letter states, in spring 1336. On April 15th of that year, Niccolinus Fieschi went to London, met Edward III in person, and was simultaneously welcomed to the Royal Council. Mortimer, indeed, believes Niccolinus may have delivered the Fieschi Letter to Edward III on that very occasion.
But now we know that the conflict which Mortimer believed caused Edward II to leave Mulazzo in late 1334 was actually in summer of 1336, after Niccolinus Fieschi went to England to meet Edward III. The text of the Fieschi Letter reveals a clue to this conundrum if we read it carefully. It says that Edward II WAS in the area of Cecima for around two years(4). In other words, at the time of writing he had already left the area of Cecima.
If we go back to the theory that it was Arnaud de Verdale who took the Fieschi Letter to the Emperor in January 1339, this would mean that Edward II must have left the area of Cecima by the end of 1338. Furthermore, a man claiming to be Edward II travelled to Koblenz in September of 1338, where he met Edward III (there will be more on this tantalizing meeting in future, but for now we’re looking at the time-line). If Edward II fled the sanctuary near Mulazzo in June 1336, and then left the area of Cecima in the late summer of 1338, reaching Koblenz in September, it explains why the letter says he had been in Cecima for ‘around two years’, and was no longer there. It fits perfectly.
Mortimer has pointed out that the style of the Fieschi Letter changes drastically at the point in which Edward II leaves Avignon. Up to that point, the description of his journey is very rich in detail. The remaining part of the letter is comparatively lacking in detail, and covers at least five years in just a few, brief lines. This abrupt change is also clear in the English translation. Mortimer has suggested that it is due to the fact that Manuele Fieschi, the author of the letter, was based in Avignon. He would have met Edward II there in person, and heard his story up to that time in detail. Manuele would later have learnt of the ex-king’s remaining odyssey from a third party, perhaps a family member. Auramala Project researchers tend to agree with this interpretation.
After much consideration, we propose that this last section of the letter, the concise summary of the ex-king’s post-Avignon travels, could have been added to an earlier version, which only followed his wanderings up to Avignon, in order to prepare the letter for use as a diplomatic tool by Verdale in his dealings with the Emperor. We propose that this ‘update’ was made after Edward II left Cecima to go to Koblenz and meet his son, thus after late summer, 1338, and before the Pope’s letter to Verdale in January 1339.
Niccolinus Fieschi may have taken the first version of the letter, the story up until Edward II’s visit to Avignon, to Edward III in 1336. Verdale would have taken the second version, updated to his time ner Cecima, to the Emperor in January 1339. It is this second version that we know today, thanks to the anonymous scribe in Verdale’s cathedral of Maguelone, who copied it.
Ian Mortimer himself has seen the research contained in this post, and has made some thought provoking comments about it. Our next post will include a discussion of the points he makes, and a summary of the story so far.
(1) U. Dorini, Un grande feudatario del Trecento: S. M., Firenze 1940, pp 202-204. Concerning the siege of Pontremoli, Dorini makes use of various contemporary documents, including the Cortusi chronicles, and letters of Spinetta Malaspina. Spinetta Malaspina’s itinerary is a dizzying sequence of rapid movements and conflicts. In late 1335 he was involved in an attack against Pisa, before taking Sarzana in a surprise attack with a handful of men and the help of a traitor inside the town, on December 4th, 1335. In the spring of 1336 he was acclaimed governor of Lucca before turning around and leading his soldiers against Pontremoli on June 13th. In late July, while the siege of Pontremoli continued under the direction of Simone da Correggio, Spinetta was already fighting in the Marca Trevigiana, a region north of Venice, roughly 300 km away!
(2) Lit. ‘Guastatori di campagna’ Gio. Maria Ferrari, Cronaca Pontremolese, cit.: P. Bologna, La Storia di Pontremoli in Giornale Storico Letterario della Liguria, V, 1-2, January-February 1904.
(4) The exact text is ‘et fuit in isto ultimo heremitorio per duos annos vel circa’: ‘and he was in this last hermitage for two years or thereabout’. The verb ‘fuit’ is past tense, meaning that at the time of writing he was no longer in the hermitage.
Where is ‘Milascio’?
At the end of June this year, I was with my family for a long weekend in Calabria. As we passed from dinner to dinner, friends’ house to friends’ house, Edward II was always at the back of my mind. I knew that during July I was going to be officially dealing with the Fieschi Letter, and nothing but the Fieschi Letter, for one month of intensive travelling and research, a true quest for evidence. I was mentally preparing myself for the task by memorising as much of the letter as possible. In particular, I had to concentrate on the part that mentions places in Italy that Edward II supposedly lived in. But there is a fundamental enigma in this section of the letter: it names a place that is difficult to identify – a certain ‘Milascio Castle’. Various historians over the years have put forward hypotheses as to where Milascio Castle is, based on the idea that the scribe who copied the Fieschi Letter, or somebody else involved in its creation, simply spelt the word in a way unfamiliar to us today. (I will look at some alternative theories in a later post. Believe it or not, they are a fascinating journey through the experiences of English, American, and even Hungarian gentlemen adventurers of the past, and well worth the yarn. They even include a visit to Little Big Horn on the day of Custer’s Last Stand.)
So, what does the Fieschi Letter tell us about this mysterious Milascio Castle?
“…and from Milan he entered a hermitage of Milascio Castle in which hermitage he stayed for two years and a half and because said castle war overran, he changed himself (lit) to Castle Cecima, to another hermitage of the diocese of Pavia in Lombardy.” (In reality, Cecima was a fief of the Bishop of Pavia, but inside the Diocese of Tortona. However, Pavia was also the nearest important city to mention) (1). So, we know that he entered Castle Milascio after departing from Milan, and that war overran it two and a half years after Edward II arrived there. And that, unfortunately, is all.
All of these thoughts were going through my mind while I was in Calabria, and I was reviewing the various hypotheses about where Milascio was. In particular, I was concerned with a theory put forward by Ian Mortimer in his book Medieval Intrigue (2). He observes that Milascio could be a town and castle known today as Mulazzo, in the extreme north of Tuscany, in a broad river valley called the Lunigiana.
In brief, Mortimer’s reasoning is essentially as follows: the Letter bears the name of Manuele Fieschi, papal notary. Manuele Fieschi was a member of an extended family, the Fieschis of Genoa, and the head of the family at that time was a powerful cardinal, Luca Fieschi, a second cousin of Manuele Fieschi. Cardinal Luca had promoted the careers in the clergy of many family members. These included Manuele, but also Manuele’s first cousin, Percivalle Fieschi, and Luca’s nephew by his sister, a man called Bernabò Malaspina. Percivalle Fieschi was bishop of Tortona, whose diocese included Cecima, the other location mentioned in the Letter. Bernabò Malaspina was bishop of the Lunigiana, where Mulazzo Castle is located (3). Therefore, Mortimer argues, Manuele Fieschi and his family could have been responsible for hiding Edward II in regions over which they had some degree of control, such as Tortona and the Lunigiana. There is a lot more detail on this in Mortimer’s book, this is just the gist.
I liked Mortimer’s approach, but realized that there was a potential flaw. The Letter does not just talk about a castle, but about a hermitage. Was there a hermitage near Mulazzo that could fit the bill? A hermitage (‘heremitorium’ in Latin) could be anything from a small abbey to a priory, or even a cave in the woods where a single hermit lived. I started ducking away between courses during long Calabrian lunches. With a belly-full of macaroni, but before the roast kid arrived, I googled every combination that came to mind of Mulazzo and modern Italian synonyms for the Latin ‘heremitorium’. When I tried ‘Mulazzo Santuario’ I got lucky. There was a medieval ‘sanctuary’ of the Madonna on the mountain of Mulazzo itself.
I kept reading, and nearly jumped with joy: the sanctuary was originally a priory founded by monks of an Abbey called Sant’Andrea di Borzone, very close to Lavagna, the city where the Fieschi family originally came from, and where they controlled most of the lands as feudal overlords. This Abbey was presided over by a string of Abbots from the Fieschi family and a secondary branch of their family, the Ravaschieri-Fieschi. The sanctuary on the mountain of Mulazzo was a dependancy of the Abbey of Sant’Andrea(4). Mortimer’s theory had found very strong corroboration: if we follow the reasoning that the Fieschi Letter describes places where the Fieschi family held control, Mulazzo fits perfectly as the true location of Milascio. There was a small priory, a hermitage, on the mountain above the castle, with a strong link to the Fieschi family, and both castle and priory were within the jurisdiction of Bernabò Malaspina, nephew of Cardinal Luca Fieschi and bishop of Lunigiana.
On the night of July 2nd I boarded a sleeper train in Reggio Calabria, and woke up at 7 o’clock the next morning at La Spezia, the sea port of the Lunigiana. After a quick cappuccino and a change of clothes in a pleasant city cafe, I was at a hire car agency receiving the keys for a little Fiat 500 that was going to take me where I knew I had to go: the mountain of Mulazzo. After a drive through the woods admiring the breathtaking scenery of the Lunigiana, between the Apuan Alps and mountains of Liguria, I was walking along a wooded trail toward the Santuario della Madonne del Monte di Mulazzo. I reflected that I was probably the first person involved in research on the mystery of Edward II to step foot in this sanctuary, that may well have been his place of refuge for two and a half years. It was quite an emotion.
And partial deflation…
And then, checking through Mortimer’s Medieval Intrigue again, there it was: the sanctuary of the mountain of Mulazzo, hidden away in a note (n.106, pg 226)– Mortimer had found it too. Oh well, so much for the emotion of discovery! But, it seems, he had not discovered the link between this sanctuary and Sant’Andrea di Borzone, and the Fieschi family. And this connection strongly corroborates Mortimer’s finding. Not only, it also opened up a whole new line of research for the Auramala Project: the Fieschi family’s links to monasteries, abbeys and their dependancies, forming a vast network across Europe.
In the next post we will follow up by taking a look at the war mentioned in the Fieschi Letter in relation to ‘Milascio’, warefare in general in the area at the time, and how this relates to the timeline of the Fieschi Letter. We will also meet the archivists of Lunigiana.
(1) Cavagna Sangiuliani, Pavia, 1906, Cecima, la storia, gli statuti, le leggende
(2) Mortimer, Ian, London, 2010, Medieval Intrigue (See: Chapter 6, Edward III, his father and the Fieschi)
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.
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