The Hunt for the King 27) The dangerous life of documents at the outbreak of the Hundred Years War

[Here continues Elena Corbellini’s analysis of the Fieschi Letter. In today’s post we have the discussion arising from the analysis of the hand-made corrections we posted last week. Our strong suspicion concerning the involvement of Bishop of Maguelone Arnauld de Verdale finds ever greater confirmation, and we even discover the origin of the word ‘secretary’ – but I think I’ll do a special post on that soon, it’s so curious! Ed.]

C. Considering that, following the perentorious orders of Bishop Arnauld and, later, Gaucelm de Deux, the transcriptions in all of the Chartulary were to be very precise, thorough and well ordered, it is possible in my opinion that the Fieschi Letter as we know it today is an ‘imitative copy’, so to speak, which in other words reproduces the text it was derived from also in its material form, with the corrections and expunctions present in it.

– What might the antigraph [the text copied, Ed.] have been? Not a definitive, final version, but a near-final draft (minuta) containing last-minute corrections and variants.

– We know that drafts of acts were made in large numbers, and that copies were also made of drafts and not just of the definitive versions, to be preserved and used as ‘back-up’ of the authenticated final versions. Above all when there hadn’t been time or the chance to make spare copies of the definitive document. And in any case, authenticated, official documents [then as now, Ed.] were to be kept safe from any risk of damage, during journeys and missions.

– Furthermore, precisely during the papal reign of Benedict XII, there was an increase in the use of ‘near-final’ drafts of the secretae [confidential documents, Ed.], which were transcribed directly into parchment registers when necessary to save time. Often, indeed, documents were sent out very quickly, and there was little time to make extra copies… Drafts were therefore not always eliminated. Therefore, we may suppose that, in those years of extremely intense diplomatic activity [due to the outbreak of the Hundred Years War and the ongoing unease between Emperor and Papacy, Ed.], there was a proliferation not just of unregistered authenticated documents but of drafts and of copies made from drafts, such as, probably, this version of the Fieschi Letter.

– From the papal letters, as well as from other documents, there emerges a situation of considerable agitation and of diplomatic incidents in France, in the years 1338-1339, above all around Avignon. Pope Benedict XII expressed his disappointment about one such unfortunate episode on November 23, 1338. Secret instructions for the two cardinals sent as legates to negotiate with England (Peter, cardinal of Santa Prassede and Bertrand, cardinal deacon of Santa Maria in Aquiro) had been leaked to outsiders with grave consequences. The inquest demonstrated that a member of the Curia was to blame for the leak. The Pope therefore decided that letters for legates, or at least the most confidential parts of these letters, from then on would be communicated to no-one outside the circle of his scriptor [scribe, Ed.] and fideles secretarii [faithful secretaries – where ‘secretary’ literally derives from ‘secret’, see note, Ed.] (1)

In a letter of May 1339, edited by Fierens, the Pope ordered Robert de Pomayo, castellan of Beaucaire (and seneschal of the king of France) to free Robert de Licelburs, a messenger of King Edward III of England, who had been returning from the Curia carrying a letter from the Pope when he was waylaid and robbed of his horses and the letter. Robert Swinfen and Egidius de Brabante were prisoners with him. There must have been considerable comings and goings of messengers in the area around Montpellier, as revealed by the many documents of the Chartulary of Maguelone. (2)

– Among the Papal letters, therefore, the letter from Benedict XII to Arnaud de Verdale, legate at the court of the emperor, dated January 23, 1339 (see the transcription and translation) stands out. In it are mentioned two texts marked A and B to be presented to Emperor Ludwig IV. Also mentioned are secret letters written shortly beforehand by Master Arnauld, and examined by the Pope together with his trusted brothers. As we mentioned before, in other documents from the same period there are often cryptic allusions to other letters sent or received, and others that were stolen, or had otherwise disappeared.

With the originals lost, the copies became important – even copies made from drafts…

– If an accessorial copy (made from a draft) was entered into Register A of Maguelone, in whose possession might it have been, if not someone who had used it for a diplomatic mission in those years? Arnaud de Verdale, for his mission to the Imperial court – the definitive, authenticated copy/copies having been delivered to either Edward III, or Ludwig IV, or both…?

Cardinals Peter and Bertrand in during this period seem to have been engaged in negotiations between France and England. In early April, 1339, in a letter in which Arnauld de Verdale is referred to as electus magalonensis, and is therefore already bishop of Maguelone, he receives orders to give King Philip of France information too secret to commit to writing… On April 19, 1339 the Pope received the conditions proffered by Richard de Bury on behalf of King Edward III of England, and found them acceptable and opportune. He exhorted cardinals Peter and Bertrand to work towards a truce and convince the king of France to accept.

– In my opinion the crucial period to confront for any hypotheses must be summer 1338 to summer 1339.

I anxiously await from readers any objections, suggestions and hypotheses to discuss.


(1) Introd. ed. Fierens cit. 1910, p.XIII. A curiosity: secretarius, a term which has had continuations in many languages, including non-romance tongues, occurs for the first time here. Ivan reported to me that he found this fact discussed even earler by Michael Tangl, Die paplischen Register von Benedikt XII, 1898, p.85. It was a delicate diplomatic negotiation, featuring secret information and instructions. This is surely another line of research to follow (has Ian Mortimer written of it?). The Cardinal Bertrand in question was almost certainly Bertrand du Pouget, once right-hand-man of Pope John XXII and for some gossips – including Giovanni Villani and Petrarch – not his nephew but his son. He was famous for the hatred he nurtured towards Dante, and was highly active in northern Italy in the years preceding 1338.

(2) The bishops and the canons of Maguelone were well connected with the Pope, who often had to intervene in order to curb abuses of power and invasions perpetrated by the seneschals of the king of France and by the counts of Provence. There was a kind of Avignon-Montpellier-Maguelone axis. There is no space here to speak of it, but what with the kings of Aragon and Majorca, the House of Anjou, the kings of France, the emissaries of the English, Genoese merchants with their monopolies and privileges and the great families of the Spinola, Doria, Fieschi, …. the situation was extremely complex in the area. To be discussed another time.


The Hunt for the King 25) Back to the Verdale Hypothesis, with new evidence

Today once again we return to Elena Corbellini’s fascinating analysis of the Fieschi Letter, and finally we also return to the “Verdale Hypothesis”, which emerged from the study of the letters of Pope Benedict XII, all the way back in December 2013. In our last post Elena demonstrated that the Fieschi Letter most likely came to be where it is today thanks to having been in the possession of Arnaud de Verdale, bishop of Maguelone. She now continues to look at the significance of this in the wider geo-political context of the time, and anyone reading these last two posts and those on the Verdale Hypothesis (Verdale Hypothesis 1 and Verdale Hypothesis 2) together cannot fail to appreciate the importance of these discoveries. Which have come about by paying close attention to detail over a long period of time, and with enormous patience. Well done Elena, we really appreciate your work!

Some notes on the situational historical context: coming back to the “Verdale Hypothesis”…

Arnaud de Verdale became bishop of Maguelone after having been the private chaplain of Pope Benedict XII, his great friend and confidant, and above all plenipotentiary in the rather frenetic diplomatic negotiations of the years 1338-1339.

Maguelone Cathedral. Today a place of haunting beauty, in the Middle Ages a seat of religious and secular power.
Maguelone Cathedral. Today a place of haunting beauty, in the Middle Ages a seat of religious and secular power.

Maguelone 2

French historians, but strangely German ones even more so, underline his determining role in the negotiations aimed at reconciling Pope Benedict XII and the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV ‘the Bavarian’, convincing the latter to lean towards the king of France and away from Edward III, whose pretentions to the throne of France were at the time becoming ever more overbearing, thanks also to the title of ‘Imperial vicar’ granted him by the Emperor. These negotiations were complex, and conducted virtually alone by the Pope and his legates, in accord also with Robert of Anjou, king of Naples (from whom Provence depended). (1) The king of France seems to have been left in a relatively marginal position in the negotiations (in the papal letters of those years at times the Pope instructs to wait before making everything clear to King Philip…).

In any case, on January 14th 1340 at Vilshofen in Bavaria, the Emperor solemnly swore friendship and alliance to his nephew the king of France until death, and promised to withdraw the title of vicar of the Holy Roman Empire from Edward III.

“Arnaud de Verdale had wrought the dissolution of an alliance [between England and the Empire, Ed.] that would have been catastrophic for the history of France.” Fabrège).

  • We now have, I believe, more grounds to re-propose our “Verdale Hypothesis” (see Verdale Hypothesis 1 and Verdale Hypothesis 2), and perhaps the theory that there was diplomatic blackmail, with more solid motivations, and to a greater and more complex degree than previously imagined by some historians. But let’s wait a moment.

– I continue to believe that a more precise definition of the ‘identity’ of the Fieschi Letter through the analysis of the document and its text is fundamental in order to understand how, by whom and why it may have been written: such a definition is, I maintain, absolutely necessary before advancing any hypothesis concerning the truthfulness of the contents of the Letter.

For this reason in the next part of the analysis I will attempt to interpret an aspect of the Letter that seems not to have been taken into consideration by scholars before now: the corrections in the manuscript. Might they add some pieces to the research puzzle?

(1) In the Roman de Pierre de Provence et de la Belle Maguelone (XII century.) by the canon Bernard de Tréviez (author also of the inscriptions on the portal of the cathedral) the damsel is the daughter of the king of Naples and it was she who desired to create the first site of hospitality for pilgrims at Maguelone. Traces of history reflected in an etiological fable, which may be familiar to some music lovers thanks to the cycle of 15 lieder it inspired in Brahms. Critical edition: A.M.Babbi, 2003.

The Hunt for the King 24) The Fieschi Letter was part of Bishop Arnauld de Verdale’s “personal archive”

Today we continue with Elena Corbellini’s formal analysis of the Fieschi Letter and, particularly, of the chartulary in which it was found. In order to proceed better with this analysis, Elena made a week-long visit to Montpellier and the surrounding area, including Maguelone, the medieval cathedral town to which the chartulary belonged. She had the chance to meet the very friendly and helpful staff of Hérault archives, and gather more of the many details necessary to interpret the document and its collocation. Here is what Elena wrote after this visit:

1. A note on my visit to Montpellier.

In March I visited Montpellier and Maguelone and over the course of one week I was able to read a number of documents of the Cartulaire at the Archives départementales de l’Hérault, and at long last gain a greater understanding of the structure and the characteristics of this remarkable collection, about which catalogues and published articles give often imprecise and sometimes contradictory indications.

I found two doctoral theses of same years ago, which however related to problems in dating or highly specific documents, and so were not useful for our ends. Contacts at the University of Montpellier confirmed that there are no recent studies in France concerning the chartulary, much less the Fieschi Letter.

On the other hand, some works by local historians (even older than the doctoral theses, alas), proved very interesting, including three large and dense volumes by Fabrège (Histoire de Maguelone, 1900) as well as those works by Germain that can still be found. More recent studies do not seem to exist, but it must be said that the Bibliothèque della Société d’Archéologie, adjacent to the Musée Languedocien in the Jacques Coeur building, is practically a high security zone. I left my name and an application to gain access in a future visit.

On the other hand, at the Archives dell’Hérault in the Pierresvives centre, which Ivan Fowler had already visited two years ago, the staff was extremely kind. They gave us permission to reproduce our photographs of the manuscript and scanned the Fieschi Letter for me, so that we are now able to include a good quality photograph of it.(inserire foto )

I shall now attempt to edit and summarise my notes and observations from many hours spent at the Pierresvives archives poring over the six enormous volumes of the chartulary, and relate what I found to the Fieschi Letter.

2. Important update on the collocation of the Fieschi Letter in the Maguelone chartulary

As described previously, the examination of the few surrounding documents supplied to me in photographic form by Ivan after his brief expedition to Montpellier had already allowed me to state that the Fieschi Letter is to be found in the Maguelone Chartulary, among documents relating to Corconne (and not Cournonterrail, as I had read in Seymour Phillips (2010). I wondered if this could be due to chance, or if there was some link between Corconne and people/events related to our research. No help came from the difficult examination of Roquette and Villemagne : when they undertook the work of transribing the chartulary they chose to exclude documents relating to the barony of Sauve, the very region of Corconne. And there are only 800 documents in their transcription, by comparison with roughly 2,500 in the chartulary itself. (1)

In the Hérault archives, as indicated by the works on local history that I was able to consult, and confirmed by direct examination of the documents, I found an inequivocable link: the castle of Corconne (Corcona) was purchased together with other castles of the barony of Sauve for the prince-bishopric of Maguelone by Arnaud de Verdale. (2)

Indeed, Register A, containing the Fieschi Letter, and Register B, preserve documents dated from the late 12th century up to approximately 1350 (not in chronological order) from those areas purchased by Verdale, and which were collected and transcribed first of all by his order. These documents (the acquisitions by purchase or by donation to the prince-bishop, the various relations concerning the management of fiefs, letters to and from the Pope and local lords, the installments of canons, etc, etc) constitute a sort of personal archive of Bishop Verdale within the general archive of Maguelone. Direct examination of Register A allows me to state furthermore that that the group of documents pertaining to Corconne, where the Fieschi Letter is collocated, is quite conspicuous and compact, with few insertions. It consists of documents 88 (c.69r) to 130 (c.92r-v), dating from the years 1176 to 1347, though I repeat they are not ordered chronologically. (3) Verdale, a professor of jurisprudence and a man of decisive character, had even threatened with excomunication whosoever failed to deliver to him documents relevant to Maguelone, or failed to transcribe such documents rigorously de verbo ad verbum. (3) It is therefore legitimate to imagine that he paid particular attention to the ordering and transcription of the acts that concerned the lands he himself had purchased for the prince-bishopric.

Therefore, the fact that the Fieschi Letter is to be found precisely among the documents of this ‘personal archive’ should indicate that Arnaud de Verdale was the person in possession of the Letter, and it was he who brought it to Maguelone when he became bishop in 1339. Therefore, the document was most probably transcribed into Register A in either 1339 or soon afterwards. In any case, in the light of these results, the thesis put forward from Germain’s time onwards, right up until the most recent English studies, that the transcription must have occured during the re-ordering of the chartulary at the time of Bishop Gaucelm de Deux (1368), is highly improbable, and therefore also the idea that the Letter itself may have been written at that time, as some have asserted.

Did the Fieschi Letter come to be among the documents relating to Corconne by mistake, and was then ‘automatically’ copied into the register along with the others? Or was it Verdale’s intention to have it transcribed there, both to preserve it and hide it at the same time? Personally I prefer the latter hypothesis.

  1. Roquette and Villemagne had chosen chronological order for their transcription, following the dominant criteria at their time for historical reconstruction. Chronological order, however, disrupts the ordering of the documents into separate registers. Perhaps they had set aside the documents relating to Verdale for a later volume. In fact, they transcribed documents up to the year 1336, and then the project came to a halt due to the death of the Abbot Roquette.
  2. Some of these acquisition, such as the largest, Montferrand, were probably re-purchases: it seems in fact that the barony of Sauve had already been assigned to the prince-bishops of Maguelone by Philip IV of France in 1293. However the exact history of these places in that era, though certainly interesting, would be too complicated to outline here.
  3. Some acts and documents concerning these places, and indeed Arnaud de Verdale, are naturally also found in other registers. Redacted and/or transcribed later.
  4. See our posts of 28/11/14, 19/12/14 and 07/02/15 for a description of the type of codex (‘chartulary’) and for the way it was constructed: these observations were made before my visit to Montpellier, but have been largely confirmed.

The Hunt for the King 22) The position of the Fieschi Letter in the codex, and what it might mean

1.3. In chartularies (1) documents are generally arranged by content. For example, first general privilegia, followed by property deeds in geographical order, and so forth. Thus, the documents are not necessarily in chronological order. As far as I can tell from Register A of the Maguelonne Chartulary, this type of arrangement is present. The copies of documents it contains are explicitly referred to as recognitiones: copies of acts which acknowledge situations, facts, and rights. These copies fully attest to the content of the originals they were copied from, which the bishop or one of his representatives received from people and nobles, vassals of the bishop himself and his church (a personis et nobilibus infrascriptis suis et Ecclesie predicte vassallis). The Fieschi Letter, as can be seen in the photograph below, is numbered as document 120 on c. 86r. (with both ancient and modern numeration).

The top half of the Fieschi Letter. The page numbering, both ancient and modern, is clearly visible, as is the word 'vacat' in the right margin.
The top half of the Fieschi Letter. The page numbering, both ancient and modern, is clearly visible, as is the word ‘vacat’ in the right margin.

In the chartulary, the document preceding the Fieschi Letter (numbered 119, on c.85v.) is dated 1264 (the bishop of Maguelonne at the time was Bérenger de Frédol, Berengarius Fredoli, 1263-1296). The document following the Fieschi Letter (numbered 121, on c.86v.) is dated 1299 (the bishop of Maguelonne at the time was Gaucelm de la Garde, 1296-1304): domino Gaucelmo Dei gratia Magalonensi episcopoactum in claustro ecclesie de Corcona. Both documents, just as the other acts immediately before (numbered 112, 113, 114, 118) and after (numbered 122, 123, 124) are differing types of recognitiones, but in all of them the location that is clearly named is Corcona, which I firmly identify as today’s Corconne, a few kilometres Sauve (Salvii, in Latin).

The relative positions of Maguelone, Montpellier, Corconne, Sauve and Cournonterrail.
The relative positions of Maguelone, Montpellier, Corconne, Sauve and Cournonterrail.

This corresponds to what Germain stated in a generic manner, speaking of “documents relative to the Barony of Sauve, assigned to the bishops of Maguelonne by Philip IV of France in 1293”. I only examined these documents in brief, but found no evidence to support Seymour Phillips’ statement that they represent “an unrelated collection of charters concerning the bishop’s property rights in the small town of Cournonterral (….)” and “it is preceded and followed by documents related to Cournonterral…” (Edward II, p.583 and note 35, p.584). Cournonterral is today a small city, but at the time was one of the wealthiest piories in the diocese of Maguelonne, and is mentioned in many documents of the Chartulary, including documents written in loco (Cornone Terralli) and chronologically close to those ‘around’ the Fieschi Letter, but not spatially. In other words, they are not in the same part of Register A.

Therefore, from what I have seen, Register A is ordered geographically and thematically, and in part also chronologically within each specific group of documents. This order is brusquely interrupted by the Fieschi Letter, which comes as an ‘anomaly’ by comparison with the other documents, both in terms of the type of text and because the date and place of writing are missing, whereas they are nearly always present in the other documents copied into the chartulary. But let’s make some more observations, and look at some relative hypotheses.

The folio technique in binding. On the left, two folded sheets come together to form a signature. On the right, four folded sheets come together to make a signature. The same technique is used in the binding of Register A.
The folio technique in binding. On the left, two folded sheets come together to form a signature. On the right, four folded sheets come together to make a signature. The same technique is used in the binding of Register A. If we number the sheets in the signature on the right from the back-most (1) to the foremost (4), the Fieschi Letter is on the equivalent of the ‘recto’ of sheet 3, or the second from the front (though the signatures of Register A are formed of 8 sheets, thus it would be number 7).

Observation A) Register A is a bound volume using the ‘folio’ technique. In other words, the codex is entirely made out of large sheets of vellum, folded in half to create four pages, and sewn into signatures. The page on which the Fieschi Letter is written, 86r., is thus one of four pages on a single sheet of vellum. The other three pages on the same sheet of vellum also bear writing. The documents copied onto the other three pages of this sheet of vellum, such as 86v., are consistent with the internal ordering of the chartulary as described above. Therefore, the Fieschi Letter as a physical entity – ink on parchment – cannot have been created separately and then inserted into the register.

The binding of Register A open at the Fieschi letter (right). An example of folio binding using vellum.
The binding of Register A open at the Fieschi letter (right).

Relative hypothesis – Page 86r. may have been left blank in the compilation of the chartulary, and the Fieschi Letter copied onto it at a later time. Blank pages were frequently left in chartularies, but normally at the end of a section, in order to add further documents to it. Here, the ‘blank page’ would have been in the middle of a section – that concerning Corconne. Given that the documents copied into the register vary greatly in length, the page would have been left blank in the hopes that any document which may have needed to be inserted would fit on a single page. This seems an unlikely risk to take, and I would tend to exclude this hypothesis.

Observation b) The handwriting of the Fieschi Letter seems to be the same as that of the preceding and following documents. (However, given the characteristics of the writing used, which is common in notarial documents of the 14th century, and is highly formalized, ‘resemblance’ is not enough to state with certainty that it was copied by the same person who copied the other documents. It is necessary to analyze the writing and the graphology of the documents in question to be sure (more on this will follow in part 2.1 of the analysis, the document: extrinsic characteristics)).

Relative hypothesis – If it is true that the Fieschi Letter is in the same hand as the documents that precede it and follow it, we can hypothesise that the document from which the Fieschi Letter was copied may have been among the documents that arrived from Corconne or Sauve, in its current position, and this is the reason why it is in this position within the codex. In other words, the scribe simply encountered this document in a series of papers from Corconne, and copied it into the register as he systematically copied all the documents in the series in the same order as he encountered them. Considering this, I believe it is well worthwhile posing the question: are there any links between the diocese of Maguelone, Corconne, Sauve and the Fieschi Letter, or people linked to it in some way, or Edward II himself?

[Editor’s note: As always, Elena Corbellini finishes this section of the analysis by posing a question. She asks this question with her ‘analyst’ hat on, knowing full well that the Auramala Project has already in part answered it. In fact, our previous posts on the Verdale Hypothesis 1 and the Verdale Hypothesis 2 and the Papal letter it is based upon show that there is good reason to believe there may have been a link between Maguelone and the Fieschi Letter, via Bishop Arnaud de Verdale. However, we have not yet found any links with Corconne… we will anxiously follow Elena’s advice, and search for them!]


(1) Here we mean ‘chartularies’ proper. It must be clarified that in the Middle Ages, in France and in Italy in the era of the comunes, the term also indicated the registers in which notaries wrote the imbreviature of their acts. In any case, it was later used in a more generic sense, for originals and copies together, etc, or also for compilations made by authors of documents.

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