Tracing Edward II’s links with the Fieschi and Malaspina: from Bazas to Oramala – Bernard Grimward, a wine merchant and money-lender to the King

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:

C 241/6/43

Debtor: Godfrey Francis, burgess of Lynn [Freebridge Hundred], of Norfolk. Creditor: Bertram Markeys, merchant of Bordeaux, Bernard Grimward, merchant of Besace [of Gascony] Amount: £6 14s. Before whom: Ralph de Gayton, Mayor of Lincoln; Adam Fitz-Martin, Clerk. 1286 Sep 30

C 241/7/51

Debtor: Godfrey Francis, burgess of Lynn [Freebridge Hundred], of Norfolk. Creditor: Bertram Markeys, merchant of Bordeaux, Bernard Grimward. Amount: £13 8s. Before whom: Ralph de Gayton, Mayor of Lincoln; Adam Fitz-Martin of Lincoln, Clerk. First term: 29/09/1286 Last term: 24/06/1287 Writ to: Sheriff of Norfolk Sent by: Henry Gopil, Mayor of Lincoln; Adam Fitz-Martin of Lincoln, Clerk. 1287 Jul 17

C 241/46/234

Debtor: Robert de Walsham, burgess [merchant] of Lynn [Freebridge Hundred], of Norfolk. Creditor: Bernard Grimward, and Arnold de Puges, merchants of Besaz [Gascony; Alien merchants in Lincoln] Amount: £16. Before whom: Stephen de Stanham, Mayor of Lincoln; Adam Fitz-Martin, Clerk. 1305 Aug 2

SC 8/317/E289

Petitioners: Bernard de Mure, merchant vintner of Gascony; Bartholomew de la Roke, merchant vintner of Gascony; Arnold de Luk, merchant vintner of Gascony; Bernard Grimward, merchant vintner of Gascony; Gaillard de Sesson, merchant vintner of Gascony; Guillaume Bondel, merchant vintner of Gascony; Garsi de la Vynon, merchant vintner of Gascony; Arnold de Castillon, merchant vintner of Gascony; Pierre de Mountlaryn, merchant vintner of Gascony; Arnold de la Vye, merchant vintner of Gascony; Guillaume de Byk, merchant vintner of Gascony; Simon de Meot, merchant vintner of Gascony; Guillaume de Ford, merchant vintner of Gascony; John de Poitau, merchant vintner of Gascony.

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)”.

From Rietstap’s Armorial: the arms of Grimal of Guyenne, Gascony.
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).

George Augustus Grimwood (1826 – 1883), of Shern Hall, first cousin of the writer’s great great great grandfather Thomas Macdonough Grimwood.

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.

The arms of the family of Grimaldi, Princes of Monaco. The collar of the Monagasque Order of St Charles is interspersed with oak leaves, the mantling is of ermine and the motto Deo Juvante is an alternative latin translation of the Grimwoo family motto of Auxilio Divinio – “with God’s help/with divine assistance”. (The two supporters are a reference to the tale of Francesco Grimaldi and his faction, who took the castle of Monaco disguised as friards in 1297).
The Grimwood family crest (copied from Two Hundred Years of the Grimwood Family Tree, by Adrian Grimwood (footnote 2) as it appears – along with the motto Auxilio Divino – on a silver tablespoon datin gfrom 1856 of George Augustus Grimwood. The bird (a version of the black eagle displayed of the family of Grimal or Grimaldi?) rests ona  tower (the silver tower fo the family de la Tour du Pin?) and holds in its mouth an oak leaf ( the collar badge of the Grimaldi Princes of Monaco?).

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.

The arms of Jeffrey Grimwod Grimwood (formerly known as Jeffrey Grimwood Cozens) (1827-1909), of Woodham Mortimer, as registered in 1851 at the College of Arms, the first and fourth quarters of wich (for Grimwood) show in chief the three silver stars on blue of the family of Grimal of Guyenne, Gascony, and on a bend the ermine which appears in the mantling on the arms of the Grimaldi Princes of Monaco.

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.

  1. A complete copy of this record can be found online in the Gascon Rolls Project.
  1. 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.

  1. Guelph allegiance was often indicated instead by having in chief three gold fleur de lis on a blue background.

  1. 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.


The Hunt for the King 11) The People Hiders

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 Church


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.

Saint Clare of Assisi
Saint Clare of Assisi


The Mafia


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)


Familiar Ground


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


The Hunt for the King 10) The Military, the Catholic Church, or the Mafia…?

I’ve finally found time to come back to the story of the archival and historical research of the Auramala Project. I’ll pick up the thread where I left off: my visit to Mulazzo and the ‘discovery’ of the sanctuary where King Edward II may have spent two and a half years of his ‘afterlife’ in Italy.

I got back from Mulazzo late in the evening, exhausted, and facing an early start the next morning, and my first real confrontation with one of the most challenging archives in our story. An hour south of Pavia there is the town of Godiasco, in the heart of the Staffora Valley, a stone’s throw away from Cecima, the town named by Manuele Fieschi in the Fieschi Letter, and from the Abbey of Sant’Alberto, where Edward II is supposed to have lived. By special arrangement, a member of the local town council, Monica Masanta, was going to assist me as I methodically photographed every single 14th century manuscript  in the Malaspina Archive of Godiasco, for reading and examination by Auramala Project volunteers. That meant days of work for Monica and me, but weeks of work for the volunteers.

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

The Malaspina Archive of Godiasco is one of the great un-studied archives of the Malaspina family, the Apennine feudal lords who were close kin of the Fieschi family and controlled both Mulazzo and the area around Cecima and Sant’Alberto. The archive actually derives originally from Oramala Castle itself, the principle seat of the family at its origins. I was daunted by the size of the enterprise, with nearly 400 folders, each containing thousands of pages. We had only an approximate outline of which folders contain documents from which century to help us.

The documents that interested us the most were the 14th century parchments – sheets of animal hide carefully treated to make a writing material that can easily last centuries upon centuries. And unfortunately, as we opened folder after folder, the dust and faint but pervasive odour left no doubt that we were handling age-old skins.

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

Monica patiently helped me flatten out and photograph sheet after sheet. Papal seals lolled around on yellowed string, ancient kid and lamb tail-skins with notarial marks on them folded out, and brittle edges of half-burnt pages crackled. Hypnotically, my voice sinking more and more into monotone, I read out the year on each document to make sure we were photographing manuscripts from the right era. ‘Anno domini millesimo tregentesimo quadragintesimo quarto…’ Sometimes it took minutes to photograph the larger sheets (probably calf hides) piece by piece, so that the printed images could later be put together to reconstruct the original, bilboard-sized document. As we worked, we chatted.


“My head is too full of other researchers’ theories.” I complained to Monica. “We need to look at this conundrum with a fresh mind, from a practical point of view.”

“You should try and formulate everything in as simple a question as possible, then put it to someone who knows nothing about the project.” Monica suggested.

“Ok, let’s try.” I agreed. It was nearly the end of the day, and we were both fed up with parchment. We were only a fraction of the way through the archive, however. “What about your son? He’s smart, and not even vaguely interested in the Middle Ages. He’s bound to come at it from a fresh angle.”

“Ok.” She agreed. “What question should I ask him, though?”

“How about… If you had to hide an extremely important and famous person, and make him completely disappear, but keep him alive for years, what would you do?”

The next morning another hundred or so ancient skins greeted us. But Monica had put the question to her son.

“He says that you need to rely on the services of a disciplined, hierarchical organization that has members everywhere, and in which you can rely on members to obey orders and be absolutely discreet. He says there are three options. One is to use the military. The second option he said was the Catholic Church, and the third option is the Mafia, though he doesn’t recommend that, as you end up beholden to them for the rest of your life. What do you think?”

I began mulling it over. “The military, the Catholic Church or the Mafia…” The more I thought about it, the more I found the insight compelling. The Fieschi family featured elements of all three. It commanded military might, and it was a powerful lobby within the Catholic Church. Furthermore, the way the Fieschis (like all other great medieval families) perpetuated the transfer of power within the family structure, and used the family structure to perpetuate power, has perhaps its best parallel today in the Mafia. But let’s be clear about this: the activities of the Fieschi family were all legal, and indeed honorable, at the time. Medieval culture did not condemn nepotism as we do today.

“Thanks, Monica.” I told her. “I’m going to investigate the art of hiding people. I think there’s something in this.” And there was. In the next post we’ll look at the uncanny similarities between the Fieschi family and some of the best people-hiders in history.

The Hunt for the King 8) The Countryside Wreckers and the King

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.

Corniglia and the Cinque Terre

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.

Entering Mulazzo
Entering Mulazzo

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.

Unopened signatures
Unopened signatures

“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).

Pontremoli today

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.

(3) ‘Azzo da Correggio’, ‘Simone da Correggio’, articles by Giorgio Montecchi, and ‘Spinetta Malaspina il Grande‘, article by Franca Ragone, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Volume 67.

(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.

Letter to the editor of ‘The Gloucester Citizen’

Dear Editor,

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

Auramala: The King Lives – trailer launch

Well, the launch of the revised edition of Auramala is just around the corner! On Thursday this week (28/11/2013) the new edition will be in bookshops and available on line. Giacomo Sardelli has directed this trailer for the occasion, featuring stunning time-lapse footage of Oramala Castle and the hills where Edward II may have lived. Access to the book has now been made easier by the posting of a dedicated website. There you can also download the Prologue and Chapter 1 as a free sample. You can also find us on facebook at:

Happy viewing, happy reading, and happy sleuthing after the truth about what happened to King Edward II!


La nuova edizione di Auramala è quasi arrivata, e ora è disponibile anche in italiano! Giovedì (28/11/2013) sarà in librerie e in online bookstore. Giacomo Sardelli ha creato questo trailer per celebrare l’evento,  caratterizzato da riprese time-lapse eccezionali del Castello di Oramala e le colline dove Edoardo II avrebbe vissuto. Accesso al libro è ora facilitato da un nuovo sito dedicato, dove sarà possibile anche scaricare il prologo e capitolo primo gratis. Ci trovate anche su facebook a:

Buona visione, buona lettura, e buona ricerca della verità su Re Edoardo II!

Ivan Fowler and everybody at The World of TELS team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fieschi Letter in English and Latin

This post is designed to be a reference for future use. It is the full text of the Fieschi letter in English translation and in the original Latin, together with a word-for-word literal translation of the second half of the Letter, the section that the Auramala Project is concerned with verifying. We recommend the word-for-word translation, as it is the version which allows non-Latin speakers to get closest to the original text, and understand what we are dealing with. This is the text I will refer back to in later posts discussing the Letter and its contents.

It must be said, however, that the original document contains many abbreviations (conventional at the time), there are crossed-out words in some places, and some words and terms have dots placed under them. These graphic markings, which we cannot reproduce here, all had a meaning for the scribe and the people for whom the document was made. We will be discussing them in greater detail in a later post, as soon as we receive permission to publish our high-resolution images of the document from the Montpellier Archives.

First, the English translation:

In the name of the Lord, Amen. That which I heard of the confession of your father I wrote by my own hand and afterwards I took care to make it known to your highness.  First he says that feeling England in subversion against him, afterwards on the admonition of your mother, he withdrew from his family in the castle of the Earl Marshal by the sea, which is called Chepstow. Afterwards, driven by fear, he took a barque with lords Hugh Despenser and the Earl of Arundel and several others and made his way by sea to Glamorgan, and there he was captured, together with the said Lord Hugh and Master Robert Baldock; and they were captured by Lord Henry of Lancaster, and they led him to the castle of Kenilworth, and others were kept elsewhere at various places; and there he lost the crown by the insistence of many. Afterwards you were subsequently crowned on the feast of Candlemas next following. Finally they sent him to the castle of Berkeley. Afterwards the servant who was keeping him, after some little time, said to your father: Lord, Lord Thomas Gurney and Lord Simon Bereford, knights, have come with the purpose of killing you. If it pleases, I shall give you my clothes,  that you may better be able to escape. Then with the said clothes, as night was near, he went out of the prison; and when he had reached the last door without resistance, because he was not recognised, he found the porter sleeping, whom he quickly killed; and having got the keys of the door, he opened the door and went out, with his keeper who was keeping him. The said knights who had come to kill him, seeing that he had thus fled, fearing the indignation of the queen, even the danger to their persons, thought to put that aforesaid porter, his heart having been extracted, in a box, and maliciously presented to the queen the heart and body of the aforesaid porter as the body of your father, and as the body of the said king the said porter was buried in Gloucester. And after he had gone out of the prisons of the aforesaid castle, he was received in the castle of Corfe with his companion who was keeping him in the prisons by Lord Thomas, castellan of the said castle, the lord being ignorant, Lord John Maltravers, lord of the said Thomas, in which castle he was secretly for a year and a half.  Afterwards, having heard that the Earl of Kent, because he said he was alive, had been beheaded, he took a ship with his said keeper and with the consent and counsel of the said Thomas, who had received him, crossed into Ireland, where he was for nine months. Afterwards, fearing lest he be recognised there, having taken the habit of a hermit, he came back to England and landed at the port of Sandwich, and in the same habit crossed the sea to Sluys. Afterwards he turned his steps in Normandy and from Normandy, as many, going across through Languedoc, came to Avignon, where, having given a florin to the servant of the pope, sent by the said servant a document to Pope John, which pope had him called to him, and held him secretly and honourably for a further fifteen days. Finally, after various discussions, all things having been considered, permission having been received, he went to Paris, and from Paris to Brabant, from Brabant to Cologne so that out of devotion he might see The Three Kings, and leaving Cologne he crossed over Germany, that is to say, he headed for Milan in Lombardy, and from Milan he entered a certain hermitage of the castle of Milascio, in which hermitage he stayed for two years and a half; and because war overran the said castle, he changed himself to the castle of Cecima in another hermitage of the diocese of Pavia in Lombardy, and he was in this last hermitage for two years or thereabouts, always the recluse, doing penance and praying to God for you and other sinners.

In testimony of which I caused my seal to be affixed for the consideration of Your Highness. Your Manuele de Fieschi, notary the lord pope, your devoted servant.

Now, the ‘original’ Latin:

Archives departementales d’Herault, Montpellier, GM 23, Cart. de Mag. Reg. A, fol. 86r.

In nomine Domini amen. Ea que audivi ex confessione patris vestri manu mea propria scripsci et propterea ad vestri dominacionem intimari curavi. Primo dicit quod sentiens Angliam in subversione contra ipsum, propterea monitu matris vestre, recessit a familia sua in castro Comitis Marescali supra mare, quod vocatur Gesosta. Postea, timore ductus, ascendit barcham unam con dominis Ugone Dispenssario et comiti Arundele et aliquibus aliis, et aplicuit in Glomorgam supra mare, et ibi fuit captus, una con domino dicto Ugone et magistro Roberto de Baldoli; et fuerunt capti per dominum Henricum de Longo Castello, et duxerunt ipsum in castro Chilon- gurda, et alii fuerunt alibi ad loca diversa; et ibi perdidit coronam ad requisicionem multorum. Postea subsequenter fuistis coronatus in proximiori festo Sancte Marie de la Candelor. Ultimum miserunt eum ad castrum de Berchele. Postea famulus qui custodiebat ipsum, post aliqua tempora, dixit patri vestro: Domine, dominus Thomas de Gornay et dominus Symon Desberfort, milites, venerunt causa interficiendi vos. Si placet, dabo vobis raubas meas, ut melius evadere possitis. Tunc con dictis raubis, hora quasi notis, exivit carcerem; et dum pervenisset usque ad ultimum ostium sine resistencia, quia non cognoscebatur, invenit ostiarium dormientem, quem subito interfecit; et receptis clavibus ostii, aperuit ostium et exivit, et custos suus qui eum custodiebat. Videntes dicti milites qui venerant ad interficiendum ipsum quod sic recesserat, dubitantes indignacionem regine, ymo periculum personarum, deliberarunt istum predictum porterium, extracto sibi corde, ponere in una cusia, et cor et corpus predicti proterii ut corpus patris vestri malicicse regine presentarunt, et ut corpus regis dictus porterius in Glocesta’ fuit sepultus. Et postquam exivit carceres castri antedicti, fuit receptatus in castro de Corf con socio suo qui custodiebat ipsum in carceribus per dominum Thomam, castellanum dicti castri, ignorante domino, domino Johanne Maltraverse, domino dicti Thome, in quo castro secrete fuit per annum cum dimidio. Postea, audito quod comes Cancii, quia dixerat eum vivere, fuerat decapitatus, ascendit unam navem cum dicto custode suo, et de voluntate et consilio dicti Thome qui ipsum receptaverat, et transivit in Yrlandam, ubi fuit per viiii menses. Postea dubitans ne ibi cognosceretur, recepto habitu unius heremite, redivit in Angliam, et aplicuit ad portum de Sandvic, et in eodem habitu transivit mare apud Sclusam. Postea diresit gressus suos in Normandia[m], et de Normandia, ut in pluribus, transeundo per Linguam Octanam, venit Avinionem, ubi, dato uno floreno uni servienti pape, misit per dictum servientem unam cedulam pape Johanni, qui papa eum ad se vocari fecit, et ipsum secrete tenuit honorifice ultra xv dies. Finaliter, post tractatus diversos, consideratis omnibus, recepta licencia, ivit Parisius, et de Parisius in Braybantia[m], de Braybantia in Coloniam, ut videret iii reges causa devocionis, et recedendo de Colonia per Alemaniam transivit sive peresit Mediolanum in Lombardiam, et de Mediolano intravit quoddam heremitorium castri Milasci, in quo heremitorio stetit per duos annos68 cum dimidio; et quia dicto castro guerra supervenit, mutavit se in castro Cecime, in alio heremitorio diocesis Papiensis in Lombardiam, et fuit in isto ultimo heremitorio per duos annos vel circa, semper inclusus, agendo penitenciam, et Deum pro vobis et aliis peccatoribus orando.

In quorum testimonium, sigillum, contemplacione vestre dominacionis, duxi apponen- dum. Vester Manuel de Flisco, domini pape notarius, devotus servitor vester.

Finally, the word-for-word translation of the second half (from the prison-break onwards). You will find in brackets prepositions, pronouns and other words that are implicit in the case or tense of the Latin word being translated.  We would love you to check the text with your trusty Latin-English dictionary, but you should look for the words NOT in brackets in the English.

et postquam exivit carceres castri antedicti
and after (he) exited (the) prison (of the) castle aforementioned
fuit receptatus in castro de Corf con socio
(he) was received in (the) castle of Corf with friend
suo qui custodiebat ipsum in carceribus per
his which gaurded him in (the) prison By means of
dominum Thomam castellanum dicti castri
sir Thomas (the) castellan (of the) said castle
ignorante domino domino Iohanne
(being) ignorant (the) lord sir John
Maltraverse domino dicti Thome
Maltraverse lord (of) said Thomas
in quo castro secrete fuit per annum cum
in which castle secretly (he) was for (a) year with
dimidio postea audito quod comes Cancii quia
half afterwards heard that (the) count (of) Kent because
dixerat eum vivere fuerat decapitatus ascendit
(he) had said him to live (he) had been decapitated ascended
unam navim cum dicto custode suo et de
a ship with said guardian his and by (the)
voluntate et consilio dicti Thome qui ipsum
will and counsel (of) said Thomas who him
receptaverat et transivit in Yrlandam ubi fuit per
(had) received and crossed to Ireland where (he) was for
viiii menses postea dubitans ne ibi
viiii months afterwards doubting that there
cognosceretur recepto habitu unius heremite
(he) might be recognised received (the) habit (of) a hermit
redivit in Angliam et applicuit ad portum
(he) returned to England and (he) landed at (the) port
de Sandvic et in eodem habitu transivit
of Sandwich and in that same habit (he) crossed
mare apud Sclusam postea diresit gressus
by sea at Sluys afterwards (he) directed steps
suos in Normandiam et de Normandia ut in pluribus
his to Normandy and from Normandy as (-) many
transeundo per Linguam Occitanam venit Avinionem
crossing through Lingua d’Oc (he) came (to) Avignon
ubi dato uno floreno uni servienti pape
where given a floren (to) one servant (of the) Pope
misit per dictum servientem unam cedulam
(he) sent by said servant a note
pape Johanni qui papa eum ad se vocari
(to) Pope John which Pope him to himself call
fecit et ipsum secrete tenuit honorifice ultra xv
(he) made and him secretly held honorably further xv
dies finaliter post tractatus diversos consideratis
days finally after discussions many considered
omnibus recepta licencia ivit Parisius et de
everything received license (he) went (to) Paris and from
Parisius in Braybantiam de Braybantia in Coloniam ut
Paris to Brabant from Brabant to Cologne so as
videret iii reges causa devocionis et recedendo
(he) could see iii kings due to devotion and leaving
de Colonia per Alemaniam transivit sive
from Cologne through Germany (he) crossed or
peresit Mediolanum in Lombardiam et de
(he) came to Milano in Lombardy and from
Mediolano intravit quoddam heremitorium castri
Milan (he) entered a certain hermitage (of) castle
Milasci in quo heremitorio stetit per duos
Milascio in which hermitage (he) stayed for two
annos cum dimidio et quia dicto
years with half and because (to) said
castro guerra supervenit mutavit se
castle war overcame (he) changed himself
in castro Cecime in alio heremitorio diocesis
to castle Cecima in another hermitage (of the) diocese
Papiensis in Lombardiam et fuit in isto ultimo
(of) Pavia in Lombardy and (he) was in this last
heremitorio per duos annos vel circa semper
hermitage for two years or about always
inclusus agendo penitenciam et Deum pro vobis
closed away doing penance and God for you
et aliis peccatoribus Orando.
and other sinners Praying.
In quorum testimonium sigillum contemplacione
In of which testimony (my) seal (for the) contemplation
vestre dominacionis duxi apponendum.
(of) your lordship (I) ordered attached.
Vester Manuel de Flisco domini pape
Your Manuel of Fieschi (of the) lord Pope
notarius devotus servitor vester
notary devoted servant yours

On the Subject of the Tombs – Part #3

The third tomb that enters the story is that of Cardinal Luca Fieschi.
He was an immensely powerful and wealthy man of the church in the early 1300s, and was ‘head’ of the Fieschi family until his death in January 1336. If there is any truth in the Fieschi Letter, and if Ian Mortimer is right that we should interpret it as meaning that the Fieschis were Edward II’s ‘keepers’ after his apparent death in Berkeley Castle, it was almost certainly at the instigation of Luca Fieschi.

He was a kinsman of both Edward II and of the Marquess of Oramala of the Malaspina family, who was the overlord of the Staffora Valley and descendant of the founders of the Abbey of Sant’Alberto itself. Ian Mortimer’s interpretation of the Fieschi Letter makes sense, in so far as Edward II is supposed to have been assisted in his ‘afterlife’ by his kinsman, Luca Fieschi, and by Luca Fieschi’s own kin, the Malaspina family, in their territory in the Staffora Valley. There is more on the Malaspina family in the interview with historian Luciano Maffi on our blog.

This also explains why the Malaspina archive of Godiasco is highly likely to prove the key to the whole affair, as soon as it is opened.

Luca Fieschi’s monumental tomb in the museum of the Cathedral of Genova

La terza tomba che partecipa alla nostra storia è quella del Cardinale Luca Fieschi. Era un uomo di chiesa ricco e con un immenso potere agli inizi del 1300, e fu il “capo” della famiglia Fieschi fino alla sua morte, avvenuta nel gennaio del 1336. Se esiste un briciolo di verità nella lettera Fieschi, e se Ian Mortimer avesse ragione e dovessimo pensare che i Fieschi fossero i “custodi” di Edoardo II dopo la sua apparente morte al Castello Berkeley, è quasi sicuro che tutto ciò derivi da Luca Fieschi. Era un consanguineo sia di Edoardo II che del Marchese di Oramala della famiglia Malaspina, che era il signore della Valle Staffora e discendente dei fondatori dell’Abbazia di Sant’Alberto. L’interpretazione della lettera Fieschi di Ian Mortimer ha senso, finché si suppone che Edoardo II sia stato assistito nella sua “vita nell’aldilà” dal suo consanguineo, Luca Fieschi, e dai parenti di Luca Fieschi, la famiglia Malaspina, nel loro territorio nella Valle Staffora. C’è altro materiale sulla famiglia Malaspina nell’intervista con lo storico Luciano Maffi sul nostro blog.

Questo spiega anche perché sia molto probabile che gli archivi Malaspina di Godiasco possano dimostrare la chiave dell’intera faccenda una volta aperti.

An important breakthrough: the Malaspina Archive of Godiasco

An important breakthrough has been made by the Auramala Project, which may lead to proof of Edward II’s presence in the Staffora Valley, Italy.

The Staffora Valley is dominated by Oramala Castle, and the lords of Oramala Castle (which lends its name to the novel ‘Towards Auramala’) in medieval times were the powerful Malaspina Family. Their vast family archive, dating back to two centuries before the time of Edward II, has long been the private property of the family heirs, and closed to scholars. Now, however, the Town Council of the nearby town of Godico has bought the archive with the intention of making it accessible to the general public. Godiasco Town Council has given the scholars of The Auramala Project exclusive permission to open the archive and be the first to study the precious documents in depth.


Godiasco in the Staffora Valley
Godiasco in the Staffora Valley


Whilst we have already explained why the Archives of Vercelli may prove invaluable to the Project, the Malaspina Archive is every bit as exciting, because it has been the main depository for documents deriving from the Staffora Valley itself, where Edward II is believed to have lived, throughout the last thousand years. Given the close proximity to the places described in the Fieschi Letter, is it not likely that one of these documents will finally reveal the truth?

The collaboration between Godiasco Town Council and The Auramala Project was recently announced on La Provincia Pavese, the newspaper of the Province of Pavia, on April 17.

From: La Provincia Pavese, April 17, 2013

The Project and Godiasco
“The Malaspina Archive Will clarify the mystery of Edward II”

Godiasco – Did Edward II of England live near Oramala? ‘Towards Auramala’, by the Australian Ivan Fowler, is an historical adventure novel set in the shadow of Oramala Castle and based on the mystery of King Edward II’s presence in the Staffora Valley. The novel constitutes the first phase in a highly ambitious initiative, The Auramala Project, which aims to contribute to the resolution of this controversial medieval mystery. To this end, the Cultural Association ‘The World of Tels’ will work closely with Godiasco Town Council with a view to examining the Malaspina Archive of Godiasco which, with its treasure trove of as-yet unexplored documents, could well have great surprises in store for us. Godiasco Town Council, which is currently mapping out its future efforts with The Auramala Project, takes inspiration from the Anglo-Italian historical diatribe concerning the fate of Edward II, and has the goal of demonstrating that th King was not assassinated in Berkeley Castle, England, (as upheld by traditional history) but fled to the Staffora Valley in disguise, where he lived out the rest of his days as a hermit.

“This project, which is developing at an international level, may give a significant boost to local niche tourism,” explains Monica Masanta, local council member responsible for Culture and Tourism, “making the Staffora Valley attractive through means comparable to those which have made Tuscany a traditional tourism Mecca for Anglo-Saxons. At the moment, the archive is closed, but when it is opened many documents from the Middle Ages will come to light.” And so, over the next few weeks, research will begin among the codices and manuscripts of the Malaspina Archive of Godiasco, seeking out the final proof that Edward II was in fact present in the Staffora Valley.

Articolo archivio malaspina

Un incredibile colpo di scena: l’Archivio Malaspina di Godiasco

Un notevole sviluppo per The Auramala Project che potrebbe condurre alla prova definitiva della presenza di Edoardo II in Valle Staffora.

La Valle Staffora è sovrastata dal castello di Oramala, e i signori di Oramala (il cui nome è stato preso in prestito per il titolo del romanzo) in epoca medievale furono la potente famiglia Malaspina. Il loro immenso archivio famigliare che risale a circa 2 secoli prima della compara di Edoardo II, è stato per lungo tempo di proprietà esclusiva degli eredi della famiglia e chiuso agli studiosi.

Adesso l’Amministrazione Comunale della vicina cittadina di Godiasco ha acquistato l’archivio con l’intento di renderlo accessibile ad un pubblico più ampio. L’Amministrazione di Godiasco ha concesso agli studiosi di The Auramala Project il permesso esclusivo di aprire l’archivio e di essere i i primi a poterne studiare i suoi preziosi documenti.

Così come gli archivi di Vercelli potrebbero fornire una prova di inestimabile valore al progetto, allo stesso modo gli Archivi Malaspina rendono la ricerca ancora più eccitante dato che sono stati negli ultimi secoli il principale punto di raccolta di tutti i documenti che arrivavano dalla Valle Staffora dove si crede Edoardo II abbia vissuto.

Data l’estrema vicinanza con i luoghi citati nella Lettera Fieschi, possiamo forse presumere che lì ci sia finalmente ciò che stiamo cercando e che ci dirà la verità?

La collaborazione tra l’Amministrazione Comunale di Godiasco e The Auramala Project è stata recentemente resa pubblica anche attraverso il quotidiano locale, La Provincia Pavese il 17 Aprile