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 35) Manuele Fieschi, the bare facts (part three)

Continuing our perusal of the career of Manuele Fieschi, in a papal letter dated 05.10.1329 (21) we find him exchanging his canonry in the diocese of Pisa (we have no record, however, of when this was assigned to him) with a canonry and prebend in the diocese of Liege, in what is now Belgium, which is described as being ‘in the hands of Cardinal Luca (Fieschi) of S. Maria in Via Lata’ (in manibus Lucae, cardinalis S. M. in via Lata). Needless to say, Luca Fieschi was a member of the same family as Manuele, and it is almost certain that Manuele was his ‘protégé at the papal court.

A papal letter dated 20.12.1329 confers on Manuele provision to the archdeaconship of Nottingham (22), vacant by the consecration of former holder John Grandisson as bishop of Exeter. (23) A further papal letter dated 15.02.1330 confirms the provision while specifying that it should be resigned in the event the provision formerly granted for the canonship and prebend in the diocese of Maastricht became effective. (24) A papal letter dated 10.09.1331 confers on Manuele a canonry in the diocese of Lincoln, obtained by exchange with Annibaldo Caetani, Cardinal of S. Lorenzo in Lucina. (25) To highlight the mechanism by which Prebends were frequently exchanged among friends or associates, we should mention that it was another illustrious member of the Caetani family (another extensive and syndicate-like clan with members in the church, commerce, finance and the landed nobility, in the same vein as the Fieschi family) who created Luca Fieschi cardinal, and guarded his early career: Benedetto Caetani, Pope Boniface VIII. (26) On 29.02.1332 Manuele was made provost of Maastricht (27). On 01.12.1333 he was granted provision for a canonry in the diocese of Cambrai, freed for him by the resignation of one Sadono Saylvagio of Genoa, perhaps an associate of the Fieschi family. (28) On 08.08.1334 Manuele was granted provision for a canonry in the diocese of Thérouanne, by virtue of an exchange with one Martinus de Pluteo de Iporegio (probably of Ivrea). (29) On 24.06.1335 his canonries in Maastricht and Liége were conferred on Manuele, thereby making his archdeaconship in Nottingham vacant. (30) From this moment on Manuele does not appear to receive further benefices and prebends until his appointment as Bishop of Vercelli in 1343, therefore it appears that his salary as papal notary was complete. We cannot really know how much these prebends were worth when put together, but if we assume that the Salisbury prebend worth approximately 18 pounds sterling was representative, his ten or more prebends may have represented an annual income of something in the order of 200 pounds sterling, though this is a gross approximation.

To finish with the period 1330-1343, we note two curiosities from the papal letters of Benedict XII: on 16.05.1336 Manule received permission to compose his testament and the Pope conceded permission to a confessor that Manuele could choose for himself to grant him full indulgence for all of his sins. (31) We cannot know if this was simply forward thinking, or whether it indicated an illness or other risk of death, or perhaps the committing of some canonical sin that a confessor could not normally pardon without papal concession. Much later, on 17.02.1342 Manuele received a handsome payment from one Francesco Piattola de Manfredis of Florence, of 160 saumatae (approximately 44,000 litres) of grain and 320 (approximately 88,000 litres) of oats for the price of 320 florens, which had already been paid. (32) We cannot know what this was for, but it is just possible that it represents the amount of grain consumed over one year by Manuele’s household (i.e., his personal staff and servants) in Avignon.

Before going on to discuss Manuele’s later career as Bishop of Vercelli, we must consider another extremely important aspect of his career as papal notary and high-ranking member of the Curia. This is his role as executor.

At this time, it was standard practice to name three executors whenever a church appointment was made, when a testament was drawn up (just as we do today) or when special permission was given to perform some action, for example when permission was given for two individuals related by blood to marry. The most common documents requiring an executor in the Catholic church were assignments for church benefices, as readers by now probably imagine. The person receiving the prebend would name three executors. One of these was, by custom, either a bishop or abbot within the archdiocese in which the prebend was assigned, though not of the same specific diocese. One of these was a free choice on the part of the assignee. The third was a high ranking member of the Curia, whose role was to speed up the procees of assignation if it was held up, typically a member of the Papal Chancery (such as a papal notary, like Manuele). This executor in the Curia was generally someone already known or connected to the person receiving the benefice. (33) During his period as papal notary Manuele was named executor no less than 232 times, in a total of 104 European dioceses. The more than 200 people receiving these benefices were well-connected members of noble families from across Europe, who all had some connection with Manuele or with his vast and powerful family. Through his role as executor, Manuele was in contact with them, either directly or indirectly, and they were tied to him if they wanted to receive their benefices, and therefore had reason to be grateful to him.

The dioceses where these benefices were assigned are not spread out evenly across Europe – far from it. They cluster around regions where the Genoese, and specifically the Fieschi family, had commercial interests, held land, or had family relations with the land owners. Naturally, the majority fall within what is now Italy, but there is a high concentration also in England, Flanders and Cyprus, all locations where the Genoese had significant trading colonies and therefore commercial interests. (34)

We must therefore see Manuele Fieshi as a professional power-networker on a vast scale, operating within the political, ecclesiastical and commercial spheres of his time, following the extensive Genoese trading routes.

In our next post we will further investigate this aspect of Manuele’s career, and publish a map showing the exact locations across Europe where he was a stakeholder. Needless to say, the map is essentially a summary of the geography of Genoese politics and business of the period, and comprehensively covers the entire itinerary attributed to the ex-king Edward II in the Fieschi Letter.

(21) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 46836

(22) Helena M. Chew, Hemingby’s Register, Salisbury 1962, pp 198-199 (original manuscript also consulted)

(23) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 47843 Helena M. Chew (see note 22) states that Manuele should resign in the event of receiving ‘the benefices outside England of which he had expectation’, but the papal letter in question (No. 48463, see note 24 below) refers only to the Maastricht benefice

(24) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 48463

(25) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 54885

(26) Hledìkova Zdenka, Raccolta praghese di scritti di Luca Fieschi, Prague, 1985

(27) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 56544

(28) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 62202

(29) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 63741

(30) Georges Daumet, Benoit XII (1334-1342); Lettres closes, patentes et curiales se rapportant а la France, Paris, 1899-1922, No. 362

(31) Georges Daumet, Benoit XII (1334-1342); Lettres closes, patentes et curiales se rapportant а la France, Paris, 1899-1922, No. 3381 and 3444

(32) Georges Daumet, Benoit XII (1334-1342); Lettres closes, patentes et curiales se rapportant а la France, Paris, 1899-1922, No. 9367

(33) Wipertus Rudt de Collenberg, Le choix des exйcuteurs dans les bulles de provision au XIVe siиcle (d’aprиs les bulles accordйes а Chypre par les papes d’Avignon) in Mélanges de l’Ecole francaise de Rome. Moyen-Age, Temps modernes, Année 1980, volume 92, pages 393-440

(34) see the following essays: Angelo Nicolini, Commercio marittimo genovese in Inghilterra nel Medioevo (1280-1495) in ATTI DELLA SOCIETÀ LIGURE DI STORIA PATRIA NUOVA SERIE XLVII (CXXI) FASC. I , and Angelo Nicolini, Commercio marittimo genovese nei Paesi Bassi Meridionali nel Medioevo in ATTI DELLA SOCIETÀ LIGUREDI STORIA PATRIANUOVA SERIE XLVII(CXXI) FASC. II.


The Hunt for the King 34) Manuele Fieschi, the bare facts (part two)

Manuele Fieschi, Canon of York

On 08.06.1329 a papal letter (15) grants Manuele a canonry and relative prebend in the archdiocese of York. This letter states that the canonship was swapped for his existing canonship of Arras with Theobaldus Rotarii of Troyes, who was probably the physician of Queen Isabella of England. From this time on until he became Bishop of Vercelli in 1343, the papal letters, and the majority of other documents that mention him, refer to him as canon of York, papal notary, or both. These were clearly the two most prestigious and important titles he bore.

Canonries and prebends

When we read that Manuele Fieschi was a canon of various dioceses at various stages of his career (the list of canonries actually conferred on him runs: Pisa, Arras, Salisbury, York, Maastricht, Liège, Cambrai) and archdeacon or provost of others (Genoa, Lavagna, Salisbury, Nottingham) we must not think that he was ever necessarily physically present in any of these places. As we mentioned in the previous post, as a papal notary he, like other employees of the papal chancery, did not receive a fixed salary from the Curia, but rather was paid through prebends. (16) Prebends were essentially yearly earnings derived from lands owned by the diocese, where tenants lived, worked the land, paid their rent to the cathedral, and the produce of the land generated profits. Each diocese in Europe possessed numerous prebends, for example, Salisbury alone had 53. (17) Some were richer than others, and the actual amount of earnings varied from prebend to prebend. Each prebend was attached to an office or dignity within the diocese, for example canon, deacon, archdeacon, percentor, treasurer, and so forth. So, in order to receive a prebend, it was necessary to be appointed to one of these offices within the diocese.

The offices and prebends, often referred to as ‘church benefices’, were theoretically appointed by the bishop, however both the pope and the king put great pressure on the bishop to appoint people they preferred, and since the pope was the bishops direct superior, to whom the bishop owed allegiance, the pope often had the upper hand. (18) Thus, the pope was using prebends across Europe to pay the wages of people working in the Curia, like Manuele Fieschi. Indeed, a papal letter dated 24.08.1330 (19) awards Manuele the right to enjoy the incomes deriving from his various prebends even though he is resident at the papal court in Avignon. By contrast, we have no document whatsoever that indicates Manuele Fieschi was ever outside of Avignon until he first visited his new diocese of Vercelli in the 1340s. Before that, as far as we know, he was always in Avignon. We cannot exclude that he travelled to the places where he held prebends, but we cannot prove it, and it was by no means necessary for him to physically go to these places. Indeed, the day-to-day functioning of the diocese was in the hands of the resident canons, not the absent ones. For Manuele, being canon of York represented prestige (York was not just a diocese, but an archdiocese) and income. However, it does imply that, should he have wanted to, he could have initiated correspondence with the Archbishop of York at any time, and of course that the Archbishop of York could have initiated correspondence with him. Given that the Archbishop of York in this period, William Melton, was the author of another important letter claiming that King Edward II did not die in Berkeley Castle in 1327 (20), this may be an important fact, although we have no reason to believe that there ever was any correspondence between the two regarding the ex-king. On the other hand, it is entirely plausible that there could have been.

In our next post, we will follow the career of Manuele Fieschi from 1330 to 1343, in his role as papal notary, and find out what this meant in terms of power and influence.


(15) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 45333

(16) Harry Bresslau, Manuale di diplomatica per la Germania e l’Italia, Rome, 1998, pages 293-308

(17) Christopher Ross The Canons of Salisbury, Salisbury, 2000, preface, page iv

(18) Helena M. Chew, Hemingby’s Register, Salisbury 1962, pages 7-9

(19) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 50640

(20) See Kathryn Warner,

The Hunt for the King 33) Manuele Fieschi – the bare facts (part one)

We do not know where or when Manuele Fieschi was born. We can, however, assume that he was born either in Genoa or in Lavagna, the ancestral home of the Fieschi Family, or in one of their territories in the Republic of Genoa, a state which roughly corresponded to what is now the Italian region of Liguria, with the addition of a number of territories along the eastern French riviera.

The picturesque town of Lavagna, on the Italian riviera, the ancestral home of the Fieschi Family

The first document we possess that refers to Manuele Fieschi (or Manuel de Flisco as he is called in the documents) is dated 04/12/1316. (1) It is a papal letter conferring on him the right to a canonry and prebend (ecclesiastic income) in the diocese of Arras (now in northern France) in the archdiocese of Rheims. The letter is one of forty consecutive papal letters which, on the same day, confer church benefices on members of Cardinal Luca Fieschi’s household and family, and indeed Manuele Fieschi is qualified in the letter as ‘nepos’ (nephew) of Cardinal Luca. This is not in the literal sense, as they were in fact distant cousins. In these papal letters every member of the Fieschi family, bearing the surname ‘Fieschi’, is referred to as Cardinal Luca’s ‘nepos’, without distinction. The letter also specifies that, in 1316, Manuele was already provost (praepositus) of the church of San Salvatore di Lavagna in the diocese of Genoa. This celebrated church is known today as ‘San Salvatore of the Fieschi’. It was erected by the first Fieschi pope, Innocent IV (Sinibaldo Fieschi) in the 13th century, in the territory of Lavagna.

At this time many career churchmen who entered the clergy through family connections, just like Manuele, were awarded their first benefices when very young. We know, for example, that Cardinal Luca Fieschi was already subdeacon, papal chaplain, canon of Lichfield in England and canon of Paris by the age of twenty (2). Perhaps it is reasonable to assume therefore that Manuele was born around the year 1300, but we cannot be sure.

A papal letter dated 29.01.1317 (3) confers on Manuele the right to a canonry and prebend in the diocese of Genoa. Another, dated 12.07.1319 (4), confers on him the right to expect a church benefice in the diocese of Salisbury to the value of 30 marks per annum. Another papal letter issued the same day sees Manuele actually receiving a church benefice, not just the right to one. He receives archdeaconship of the diocese of Genoa upon the death of Gotifredo Spinola, former holder. A further papal letter, dated 09.02.1327 (5) confers on him the benefice in Salisbury, the right to which he had been given in the letter dated 12.07.1319. This letter states that the prebend (annual earnings generated from the cathedral of Salisbury’s posessions) had become vacant due to the marriage of Hector de Flisco, implying that this benefice in the diocese of Salisbury was swapped from one family member to another. In reality, the benefice that Manuele received was almost certainly the prebend of Netheravon. (6) However, the prior holder of this benefice was Gilbert de Middleton. (6) Does this mean that there was a ‘re-shuffle’ of prebends at this time? We do not know. A papal letter dated 14.11.1327 (7) confers on Manuele provision for a canonry and prebend in the diocese of Maastricht, now in the Netherlands.

A fundamental moment in the life of Manuele Fieschi is represented by a papal letter dated 13.12.1327 (8), in which he is named executor to a church benefice granted to one Mathaeus Voguoni de Tropharello, cleric of the diocese of Turin. This letter refers to him for the first time as papal notary, the title used in the signature of the Fieschi Letter. From this moment onwards it is safe to assume that he was resident at the papal court of Avignon, though he may nevertheless have travelled in between duties.

We are still only at the beginning of Manuele’s story, but we will pause for an important digression: what exactly was a papal notary?

In Latin, the title is either notarius domini papae, (notary of the Lord Pope) or protonotarius apostolicus (protonotary apostolic, the title still in use today). At the time of Manuele Fieschi’s notaryship (during the reigns of Pope John XXII and Pope Benedict XII), these were the highest ranking members of the Papal Chancery, the offices responsible for the creation of official documents for the papal see. Lower ranks included abbreviatores (responsible for the creation of drafts) and scriptores (copyists), whose work was supervised and revised by the papal notaries and by the auditores, who literally listened while the drafts of certain types of document were read aloud (a process called audentia) by lectores, (readers, who were in fact scriptores in another role) and made criticisms and corrections to points of law (no connection with modern ‘auditors’). (8) We see from this that there was a complex and articulated structure within the papal chancery, responsible for creating dozens of documents daily, pertaining to thousands of church benefices and other appointments around Europe, and the notaries were at the top of this structure. They were seven in number, of which one was the Chancellor, a cardinal responsible for the Chancery’s workings, thus effectively there were really six notaries carrying out regular duties. (9) In rank, they were the highest non-episcopal members of the Curia. This might imply that the ‘next step up’ in their careers was that of bishop. Indeed, this was the case for Manuele Fieschi, who later became Bishop of Vercelli. However, in reality, papal notaries were very often elevated directly to the rank of cardinal, from which they could then become pope themselves. This had already happened in the case of Benedetto Caetani, a papal notary who became cardinal and then Pope Boniface VIII. This was later to happen in the case of Rodrigo Borgia, who was papal notary at the age of twelve, Chancellor for no less than 35 years, before becoming Pope Alexander VI. (10) In short, becoming a papal notary was a superb career move.

What did a papal notary actually do? Well, apart from supervising and revising the work of others, they were expected to create only certain types of documents personally: the investitures of bishops and archbishops, and of the abbots of the largest and most important abbeys and monasteries. In the middle ages, bishops, archbishops and abbots were men of great standing, who were not only spiritual leaders, but held great temporal power and wealth in their hands, due to the extensive lands their sees and abbeys owned.  Another duty of the notaries was the correction (together with their staff of abbreviatores) of the litterae de iustitia (literally, ‘letters of justice’, these were mandates or commissions, normally relating to church benefices). (11) Yet another important role of the papal notaries was assisting the pope create his political correspondence, in other words, diplomatic letters relating to international affairs, normally addressed to heads of state or to the papal legates sent to negotiate with heads of state. These letters were clearly confidential in nature, and were in fact called litterae secretae, or ‘secret letters’. It was during the career of Manuele Fieschi that, for the first time a new figure in the chancery emerged, due to a leak that compromised the peace negotiations between France and England in November/December 1338 at the outbreak of the Hundred Years War. This was the secretarius (literally ‘secret-keeper’). The most sensitive correspondence was afterwards entrusted to this close associate of the pope, whose title is the origin of our word ‘secretary’ today (incidentally, this is the first time the term appears in history). (12) In other words, until December 1338 the papal notaries were privy to the secrets of international papal diplomacy.

The papal notaries did not receive a fixed salary at this time, and were remunerated in two ways. Firstly, there was a fee for every document they created or corrected, paid by the person benefiting from the document (i.e., the new bishop or abbot, or the person receiving the benefice). Secondly, they were awarded church benefices, particularly canonry, carrying handsome annual earnings. (13) As we have seen, just one of Manuele’s benefices (in the diocese of Salisbury) carried annual earnings of 30 marks, or 18 pounds. Given that an annual revenue of 40 pounds entitled a person to the rank of knight in England, (14) and that Manuele at any one time enjoyed several such benefices, and furthermore received payment for every document he created, and furthermore was a scion of an immensely wealthy family, we can see that he was not a poor man. Of course, he was not the richest person in the Curia either, but he was certainly well off, and as we have said, papal notary was a position to be aspired to.

Let’s relate all this back to the Fieschi Letter. In 1331, when Edward II (according to the story told in the Letter) is most likely to have been a the papal court, Manuele Fieschi as papal notary was still privy to the secret diplomatic correspondence of the pope. Thus, when the Fieschi Letter claims that Edward II reached Avignon, and spent 15 days with the pope, and ‘discussed everything’ in great detail, it is entirely reasonable that Manuele should have been privy to these discussions, thus having the chance to record Edward II’s story up to that point, and entirely reasonable that he could have written a letter to a king (the Fieschi Letter to King Edward III) dealing with secret matters. In fact, he regularly wrote such letters in his work. As simple as that. Lastly, relating this back to our Verdale Hypothesis (see here and here and here), it is entirely reasonable that Manuele could have been privy to, and a part of, secret negotiations with the Emperor in September and Autumn 1338. The only doubt can be that after the creation of the role of secretarius, he was no longer privy to papal secrets, though this is not certain, and it seems plausible that, if he was already involved in such a matter, he may have seen it through to the end. Is it a coincidence that the leak causing Pope Benedict XII to create the new role of ‘secret-keeper’ happened at about the same time? We cannot know.

*** *** ***


(1) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 2140

(2) Hledìkova Zdenka, Raccolta praghese di scritti di Luca Fieschi, Prague, 1985

(3) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 2644

(4) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 9747

(5) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 27824

(6) Helena M. Chew, Hemingby’s Register, Salisbury 1962, pp 198-199 (original manuscript also consulted)

(7) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 30403

(8) Guillaume Mollat, Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877, No. 30740

(9) Harry Bresslau, Manuale di diplomatica per la Germania e l’Italia, Rome, 1998, pages 262-264

(10) see the respective entries in the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiano (Treccani)

(11) Harry Bresslau, Manuale di diplomatica per la Germania e l’Italia, Rome, 1998, pages 264-265

(12) Michael Tangl, Die päpstlichen Kanzleiordnungen von 1200-1500, Innsbruck 1894, ND Aalen, 1959 page 845

(13) Harry Bresslau, Manuale di diplomatica per la Germania e l’Italia, Rome, 1998, pages 293-308

(14) Kathryn Warner, Isabella of France, the Rebel Queen, Amberley Press, 2016

The Hunt for the King 32) So… just who was Manuele Fieschi?

We’re now going to leave aside our in-depth analysis  of the Fieschi Letter and finally take a look at the identity of the man who probably wrote it. As we have said, very few commentators doubt that it was written by Manuele Fieschi, we ourselves have found no reason to doubt it, so we will proceed to consider him the true author of the text, and try to understand who he was.

How we know what we know about Manuele Fieschi

In order to write in an informed way about Manuele Fieschi, I have personally examined approximately 800 papal letters from the reigns of Pope John XXII and Pope Benedict XII, in easily consultable printed editions (in Latin).  Together with Stefano Castagneto and Elena Corbellini, we have also examined several hundred original documents in the Capitulary (Cathedral) Archives of Vercelli, Genoa and Bologna and the State Archives of Biella. Further assistance has come from the Vatican Secret Archives. For nearly two years I searched in vain for a complete copy of his last Will and Testament: I still haven’t found it, though I have pieced together much of what it must have contained from incomplete fragments, discovered after leafing through seemingly unending archival documents in various cities. In fact, though I have discovered in the order of 600 documents that concern Manuele in some form or another, most of which are papal letters, in order to find them I, Castagneto and Corbellini have examined at least 10,000 documents, perhaps twice that. No one was counting!

2015-10-12 09.23.02
For one day in Genoa last September Edward II expert and good friend Kathryn Warner joined me in the archives, looking at page after page of material, for the elusive ‘needle in the haystack’ that can add to our knowledge of Manuele Fieschi. That day we were searching for the testament of his nephew, Papiniano Fieschi, and through it Manuele’s testament.

Why bother?

This was not just an obsessive search for biographical information about an obscure papal functionary. Together with the analysis of the Fieschi Letter, this is perhaps our most important contribution to the debate over the true fate of Edward II. Many authors have piled conjecture upon conjecture as to Manuele Fieschi’s motivations in writing his famous letter. Paul Doherty in his 2003 book Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II, is the writer who, before us, has dedicated the most time and attention to Manuele Fieschi. Sadly, his lengthy dissection of the Letter, purporting to know the mind of Manuele, his motivations and his methods, depicts him as a scheming, immoral, self-aggrandizing priest in need of cash and benefices and willing to blackmail a distant king (Edward III) and his mother (Isabella of France) in order to get them. Doherty’s analysis not only claims to be mind-reading, but displays total ignorance of a) Latin, b) the functioning of the medieval church and c) the Fieschi Family. As a senior member of this family and a high ranking employee of the Pope, Manuele no doubt had far healthier finances than the English crown… Edward III was more likely to have asked him for a bit of cash than the other way round! Oh, if only Doherty had actually read something about the workings of the 14th century church before writing… It will take time, but I will come back to Doherty’s analysis little by little over the next few posts and show why it is so profoundly inept.

While Doherty’s “analysis” is by far the worst researched, it is certainly not the only one to approach Manuele through conjecture. Even the great Seymour Phillips himself is guilty of this: in his 2010 biography of Edward II, the most complete treatment of the subject to date, and a work of such high scholarship that I could only dream of, he lets his guard down when discussing Manuele Fieschi. He suggests that he was deceived into writing the Fieschi Letter by an impostor pretending to be Edward II. As we will show over the next few weeks, it is absolutely certain that Manuele Fieschi could not have been fooled by an impostor. He had numerous ways in which to verify the identity of the man he was talking with, and not only. Our research shows that he also had the tools to personally verify every single detail of the account in the Letter, except perhaps one or two. This is one reason we did this research: in order to answer the question ‘If Manuele Fieschi wrote the Letter, could he have been fooled by impostor?’ And, after years of work, we can answer with a resounding ‘No!’

Ian Mortimer, whose groundbreaking research was the starting point for our own research, says very little about Manuele Fieschi in his Medieval Intrigue. The great strength of Mortimer’s work lies in understanding the spread and significance of the Fieschi Family. In revealing this ‘clan-like’ organisation, and realising that the clan chief was Cardinal Luca Fieschi, Mortimer leaps from Manuele Fieschi to Cardinal Luca andthe entire Fieschi syndicate, a powerful, widespread and highly structured organisation at the time. There is no doubt in my mind that this is indeed the true key to understanding the Fieschi Letter, but at the same time it is a deductive leap made from the actual signature on the page, that of Manuele himself. Furthermore, although the contents of the Letter do indeed hint at the Fieschi power network, once one knows what it was and how it worked, only one member of the clan is directly named, Manuele himself. Of course, at the time to name one Fieschi was to name them all, but we cannot expect modern readers to take our word for that. And so, we said to ourselves at the start of our research, it’s time the world really found out just who Manuele Fieschi was.

Essentially, the Auramala Project team has gone the extra mile, has found the documents, and done the research, and we are now ready to  publish, firstly a biography of Manuele Fieschi (as complete as possible given the sources) and secondly examine how, even without taking the Fieschi Family syndicate into account, Manuele by himself can easily account for everything written in the Letter. Then, by further investigating the extent and workings of the syndicate through Manuele Fieschi (as we will see, his role in the family was one of networking, cohesion, bringing together of family interests), our research adds enormous confirmation and weight to Ian Mortimer’s brilliant hypothesis.

The Hunt for the King 31) The Formal Composition of the Fieschi Letter

In this post we follow Stefano Castagneto as he examines the formal composition of the Fieschi Letter, and what it tells us about the author of the document. What is particularly interesting is the comparison with other contemporary documents, even though it was extremely difficult to find documents ‘similar’ to the Fieschi Letter – after all, it is entirely unique. What emerges is that the Feischi Letter is written with great lawyerly skill, matches other documents of the time and of a similar context, and even shows familiarity with the specific customs of the English in letter writing. This all contributes to give a definitely positive answer to the question posed in our last post – was the Fieschi Letter written by a lawyer? Ed.


The formal composition of the document known as the Fieschi Letter presents certain epistolary characteristics in common with 14th-century notarial instrumenta. Indeed, the letter is a document having a ‘dual’ aspect, epistolary and notarial.

Epistolary aspect
The document as a whole is characterized by its epistolary qualities, as underscored by the denomination ‘letter’, attributed originally by Germain (1), who discovered it. One individual addresses another in the text, indicating – the form of the subscription suggests the application of the author’s seal – that it is a document to be delivered to a certain illustrious person. It is thus a missive.

Notarial aspect
The elements of a notarial nature include the incipit (
In nomine domini… …intimari curavi.), which contains notarial formulas, the initial part of the subscription (In quorum testimonium…), and the general organization of the text into protocol, narratio, and eschatocol, the narratio being subdivided into several formal sections. Other elements that one might expect in an instrumentum are lacking, such as date, place and witnesses. Nevertheless, as we shall see, their absence is neither exceptional nor inexplicable. More generally, reading the text, we have the strong impression of a notarial language.

Public trust and notaries
The impression that the Fieschi Letter is the declaration of a notary is supported by the title the author uses when signing: “
domini pape notarius” [notary of the Lord Pope, Ed.]. In the period prior to his election as Bishop of Vercelli, Manuele Fieschi held other prestigious titles, including one that certainly bound him more intimately to England and the Crown (and thus to the addressee of the letter, Edward III): Manuele Fieschi was a canon of York, England’s second most important cathedral. Many papal letters so identify him, in spite of the fact that at the same time he held the office of papal notary (3). The choice of title in the subscription is certainly not insignificant: Manuele Fieschi underlines the fact that he is a notary, a figure of unimpeachable trustworthiness and credibility, a public servant who may not make any false statements. We recall that in his time, a notary guilty of falsehoods was removed from office, and even risked having a hand severed. The very high trust placed in notaries (and Fieschi was a notary of Christianity’s highest authority, i.e. the Papal court) is made clear in the Statutes of Genoa, Fieschi’s native city: “Omnes fidem superat et est humanorum negotiorum et in vita et in morte ac post mortem certum testimonium cui imperatores, reges, principes, comunitates ac dominatus cunctosque obnoxios esse oportet” [He (the notary) surpasses all others in trust and is certain testimony of human negotiations in life and death and after death, of whom emperors, kings, princes, societies, dominators and dominated all are in need, Ed.] (4).


In functional terms, the Fieschi Letter is a unique case, somewhere between a private letter, a diplomatic letter and a testimonial declaration, written under extraordinary circumstances: indeed, such a letter may have been written only once in history. The author did not have the option of opening a manual to find a template suiting his purposes, for such purposes had never been contemplated before. He seems to have made do by adapting the instrumentum [the standard notarial document of the time, Ed.] and the epistle, both private and diplomatic, to his needs. Therefore, in analysing the formal composition of the Fieschi Letter we have examined many coeval texts, seeking (where possible) texts that are comparable with the Fieschi Letter in terms of both the time and context in which they were written, and their function.

In addition to public instrumenta from ecclesiastic contexts and the many documents drawn up for Manuele Fieschi himself, kept in the Biella City Archives and in the Capitulary Archives of Vercelli, we have paid particular attention to the ‘Prague Letters’ addressed to Cardinal Luca Fieschi (1), a contemporary of Manuele and from the same family, and the letters of the Bishop of Salisbury, Roger Martival (2), also a contemporary, in which Manuele Fieschi himself is frequently mentioned (he was the holder of two benefices in the Salisbury diocese).


The protocol (
In nomine domini…intimari curavi) exhibits the notarial rather than epistolary characteristics of the letter. Private letters of this period normally begin by naming the sender and recipient in decreasing order of social rank. If the letter were purely epistolary, it would have begun with the name of Edward III, recipient of higher rank, with title and salutation, followed by the name of Manuele Fieschi, sender of lower rank, with his title (5). There is no salutatio, and thus no element of captatio benevolentiae [literally ‘capturing of goodwill’, this refers to the terms of flattery with which letters often began, Ed.], which would have contrasted with the objectivity and reserve proper to a notarial text. There may be two reasons why the names of the sender and recipient are missing: they were written on the verso of the original and thus, as is seen in a number of noted cases of diplomatic correspondence, not reproduced within the body of the letter (6); or they were omitted for reasons of prudence, given the extremely private, particular and sensitive nature of the document.

In place of the
salutatio, the formula “In nomine domini, amen” is of clear notarial origin, one very often found in the openings of notarial instrumenta of the period, and particularly in acts of donation, investiture and confessiones drafted in the name of Manuele Fieschi as Bishop of Vercelli and/or in the name of his vicar, Papiniano Fieschi, in the period 1343-1348 (these documents are found in the Biella City Archives and in the Capitulary Archives of Vercelli).

The formula ea quae audivi… …manu mea propria scripsi… …intimari provides assurance, and also belongs to the notarial aspect of the letter. It is a sort of arenga with a corresponding element in the eschatocol “in quorum testimonium sigillum… …apponendum duxi”. The expression “manu mea propria scripsi” [by my own hand I wrote, Ed.], or similar, is normally found in the subscription to public notarial deeds of the period, together with the names of the witnesses. Its presence in the protocol can easily be explained by the fact that, given its epistolary form, the letter does not have a notarial subscription but rather that of a missive, and thus this important assurance and invocation of the publica fides by the notary author was moved to the protocol.

In this
arenga we find a fundamental term: “ex confessione”. Then as now, ‘confession’ had a number of meanings: a) a literary autobiographical narrative (the Confessions of St. Augustine being the forebear); b) the vocal acknowledgement of one’s sins before a priest; c) a legal confession before witnesses and notary, a category that includes both the admission of guilt in a penal proceeding, and the admission of some self-prejudicial fact in a civil matter (7). The fact that the letter is an autobiographical narrative cannot be denied: the author could not have chosen better word than ‘confession’ to describe what he had heard.

Corroborative examples of the formulas and terms contained in the protocol of the Fieschi Letter are to be found in an instrumentum dated 12 January 1299, and drafted in the cathedral of Sainte-Croix d’Orléans. This document is an excellent term of comparison for the Fieschi Letter. Firstly, it is an example of notarial writing within the ecclesiastic domain. Like the Fieschi Letter, it contains autobiographical testimony of a series of past events. Just as in the Fieschi Letter, this testimony is referred to as a ‘confession’, and it is explicitly stated that it was heard by a public notary: “reverendus pater confessus fuit et asseruit coram me publico notario … Confessione hujusmodi facta et recitata…[The reverend father confessed and stated in the presence of myself, public notary … The confession thus made and recited…] . This clearly shows that one of the functions of a notary working in a similar environment and period to Manuele Fieschi was indeed to record such ‘confessions’, or testimonial statements. Lastly, in the subscription, we read “hoc instrumentum publicum inde confectum propria manu scripsi[this public instrumentum in this place composed, by my own hand I wrote, Ed.], an assurance that is almost word-for-word the same as that of the Fieschi Letter, “manu mea propria scripsi.


The narratio is the most substantial part of the letter (Primo dicit… …pro vobis et aliis peccatoribus orando). We will limit ourselves here to observing that the account it contains is organized using adverbs such as primo, postea and also finaliter, an erudite, notarial adverb used since the 11th century, in place of the more common demum or tandem. The explicit of the narratio, which, as customary, evokes the divine – “agendo penitenciam et Deum pro vobis et altri peccatori orando” – would not be out of place in a juridical notarial instrumentum of the time, but is also fitting in a private letter, especially if written by a member of the Curia (5).

The opening formula of the subscription, “
In quorum testimonium sigillum contemplatione vestre dominationis duxi apponendum” [In testimony of which I caused my seal to be affixed for Your Lordship’s contemplation, Ed.] evokes identical and frequently used formulas in official ecclesiastic letters of the period. We mention in this regard the letters of Roger Martival, Bishop of Salisbury in the period 1315-1330, thus a close reference both in terms of chronology and regarding rank and ambit. His letters often end with these formulas, especially when they convey the contents of previous letters and/or conversations, and/or bear testimony to some fact or event. An example is the eschatocol of the letter of 21 March 1327, in which Martival writes to Pope John XXII to complain of the fact that all the benefices available in his diocese were given to foreign beneficiaries “by grace of the Pope”, leaving the bishop without any benefices to remunerate his own priests and clerics. Among others, the letter lists Manuele Fieschi, holder of the benefices of Paulsholt and Netherhaven. The bishop ends the letter with “in quorum omnium testimonium atque fidem has litteras nostras patentes sigilli nostri impressione fecimus comuniri” [In testimony of all of which and of (my) faith, I made these letters patent, protected with the impression of my seal, Ed.]In the second part of the subscription of the Fieschi Letter, “Vester Manuel de Flisco, domini pape notarius, devotus servitor vester” [Your Manuele Fieschi, notary of the Lord Pope, your devoted servant, Ed.], the “vester” is typical of Franco-English diplomatic dispatches of the time, both in Latin and in Anglo-Norman. For example, when writing to the Pope, the kings of England used the formula “devotus filius vester” [your devoted son, Ed.] (6) in the subscription.

On the contrary, neither of the above subscription formulas are found in the formal or intimate letters addressed to Cardinal Luca Fieschi between 1319 and 1336 (the ‘Prague Letters’) (1). All of these letters come from the Mediterranean area or Near East and generally end with wishes for good health and long life (for example, the letter sent by Leonardo Rainaldi of Genoa, canon of Bologna, on 16 February 1320 or 1321, wishes the cardinal Creator omnium bonorum vos conservet in suo servicio per tempora longiora” [May the creator of all good conserve you in his service for many years to come, Ed.). Similarly, all the letters addressed to Cardinal Luca Fieschi bear the seal of the sender, but no verbal formula that refers to the seal.

Thus, the subscription of the Fieschi Letter makes use of formulas proper to French-English epistles of the time, suggesting an author familiar with the diplomatic and epistolary customs of England, just as we would expect of Manuele Fieschi, canon of York and beneficiary of many English benefices.

Lastly, the lack of date or actum in both the protocol and the eschatocol should not be surprising: this is completely normal in private correspondence during this period, as shown both by the letters addressed to Cardinal Luca Fieschi, i.e. the ‘Prague Letters’, and by the diplomatic letters of the English Crown (6) (1).


We may characterize the Fieschi Letter as a letter bearing a testimonial declaration made before a notary. In its formal composition, the letter possesses all the characteristics one would expect of a document of this nature written during the period in question (even though it is quite unique in terms of the nature of its content). It appears to have been specifically created in keeping with the English epistolary customs of the time, by an author with experience writing in the manner of notaries, and who appeals to the high trust placed in notaries.

In sum, the formal composition of the letter lacks any element that would lead us to think it was written by anyone other than Manuele Fieschi; indeed, everything indicates him as the true author of the text.

(1) Zdeňka Hledíková, Raccolta praghese di scritti di Luca Fieschi, Univerzita Karlova, Prague, 1985.

(2) Kathleen Edwards (ed.), The Registers of Roger Martival, Bishop of Salisbury, 1315-1330, Oxford, 1959.
(3) The Curial, common and secret letters of Pope John XXII, and Pope Benedict XII. See: Guillaume Mollat,
Lettres Communes, Jean XXII, Paris, 1877 and Georges Daumet, Benoit XII (1334-1342); Lettres closes, patentes et curiales se rapportant а la France, Paris, 1899-1922.
(4) G. Costamagna,
Il Notaio a Genova tra Prestigio e Potere, Rome, 1970, p. 70.
(5) Fulvio delle Donne, “
Le formule del saluto nella pratica epistolare medievale”, in Filologia Mediolatina IX, Florence 2002.
(6) Pierre Chaplaise,
English Diplomatic Practice in the Middle Ages, London, pp 124-126.
(7) Egidio Forcellini,
Totius Lexicon Latinitatis, 1775.



The Hunt for the King 30) Was the Fiecshi Letter Written by a Lawyer?

The real, historical Manuele Fieschi, was a papal notary. This means he was a professional lawyer in an extremely prestigious position, responsible for producing documents – both ecclesiastic and diplomatic in nature – for the Pope himself. In other words, a highly trained legal professional, carrying enormous responsibility.

Some historians have argued that the Fieschi Letter was not actually written by the real, historical Manuele Fieschi. Foremost among these is Roy Martin Haines, in his 2003 book King Edward II: Edward of Caernarfon, his life, his reign, and its aftermath, 1284–1330. He comments that the Fieschi Letter looks like part of a wider attempt to establish a cult of sainthood for the dead Edward II, and that “Its attribution to Fieschi is conceivably yet another carefully contrived circumstantial detail. […] Fieschi’s name may have been ‘borrowed’ to lend authenticity to the whole affair.” (Pg238) Haines does not stop there: he justifies his claim that the Fieschi Letter was not written by Manuele on the grounds that the style of writing does not seem to be consistent with the profession of Manuele Fieschi – a papal notary.

Part of Haines’s argument is linguistic in nature, and we will come back to that in later posts. We will also come back to the question of whether or not the Letter may have been part of an attempt to sanctify Edward II. For the moment, lets focus on the underlying question: is Fieschi Letter the work of Manuele Fieschi? Is it plausibly the work of a papal notary?

Firstly, it must be said that most historians looking at this issue do not question that Manuele Fieschi was the true author of the Letter. For example, Seymour Phillips in his 2010 biography Edward II believed that Fiecshi wrote the Letter, but was deceived in doing so by an impostor claiming to be Edward II. Mark Ormrod does not question the authorship in his 2011 biography Edward III. So, Haines is in the distinct minority in this respect, but it raises an interesting and important question nevertheless.

Over the last few months, a British sollicitor, historian and genealogist called Kevin McKenzie (see here for his contribution to the fascinating book May We Be Britons: a History of the McKenzies) has become a contributor to our crowd-researching project. He has made some extremely valuable contributions, one of which clearly demonstrating some of the advantages of the crowd-researching approach – the people involved can bring insights from other professions, not just history. In his daily life, Kevin is a sollicitor, and it was as a legal professional that he noticed something important about the Fieschi Letter: it has a definite ‘lawyerly’ sound to it. There is something ‘sollicitor-like’ to the way it is written. As Kevin wrote:

I see that the letter begins with the opening words:  “In the name of the Lord, Amen” and that its concluding words make clear that it was a draft prepared with the intention of having affixed to it the seal of Manuele Fieschi.  The affixation of a seal to a document appears to me to have been the equivalent at the time of swearing a document.  Compare for instance the affixation of the seals of the homagers to the 1296 Ragman Roll* as evidence of their oath of allegiance to Edward I.

This seems to me therefore to be tantamount to a document intended to be sworn by the possessor of the seal referred to in the document’s concluding paragraph UNDER OATH – and given the opening words of the letter, the affixation of Manuele Fieschi’s seal to it would have been tantamount also to blasphemy if he as the sealer of the letter was uncertain as to its contents or knew its contents to be definitely or possibly untrue.

And on the subject of circumspect lawyerly language, the use of the bare simple words “your father” and the bald unadorned “he” and “him” when referring to Edward II – rather than, say, “King Edward your father” or “His Highness your father” or “His Highness” etc seems to have been an obvious legal means of avoiding the diplomatic embarassment and potential grave offence of using the wrong mode of address when referring to the oddity (without legal precedent at the time) of a king who had abdicated/been deposed – and to make matters even more horrendously complicated, in doing so addressing a king who was the son of that deposed king during the lifetime of the deposed king!  These words therefore surely indicate that the writer used this term “your father” (without more) deliberately for this precise reason.  They therefore surely support the genuineness of the letter.

From an illuminated medieval manuscript: a notary drawing his signum tabellionis at the bottom of a legal document (perhaps an instrumentum). The signum tabellionis was the individual mark as a notary, identifying him, and was a frequent alternative to affixing a seal. In the top left the first letter of the document is also highly elaborate. This, too, could identify the individual notary or scribe, as Elena Corbellini has already discussed in her analysis of the Fieschi Letter.

And so we have a modern day lawyer appreciating the lawyerly skill with which the Fieschi Letter was composed, and noting that it is essentially a formal declaration, or testimony, made under holy oath – ‘In the name of the Lord’.

This aspect of the Letter was first noticed three years ago by Stefano Castagneto, whom readers have met in the last two posts. As a regular reader of medieval legal documents, and in particular those written by Genoese notaries, he immediately commented that the Fieschi Letter had tell-tale signs throughout it that it was, in fact, written by a notary, and that it is both a letter and, at the same time, a legal declaration, an instrumentum, as these notary-written legal documents were known. The proof of this is in the formal composition of the Letter. A quick explanation for readers who, like me before beginning this research, don’t really know what this means. Formal composition is the way a document is made up, what parts form it, and in what order. For example, an essay may have a ‘tripartite’ (three-part) composition, with introduction, discussion and conclusion. Letters, particularly formal letters, have headers, addressee, sender, salutation, main body, complimentary closing, signature, and so forth. Legal documents have their own, often complex, formal compositions. So, what about the Fieschi Letter? How is it constructed, and is this composition appropriate for the time, and for what it claims to be: the letter of a papal notary to an English king, containing testimony of extraordinary events?

Elena Corbellini invited Stefano Castagneto to analyse the formal composition of the Fieschi Letter, and the next two posts will concern just that.

Ivan Fowler.

The Hunt for the King 19) Exploding a myth about the Fieschi Letter

After a number of posts defining the global context of our research into King Edward II’s ‘afterlife’, with a broad look at the political forces and players involved, the time has come to get back to our main source, the Fieschi Letter, in earnest. For the first time this extraordinary document will be subjected to an in depth linguistic and philological analysis, thanks to the hard work of Auramala Project researcher Elena Corbellini, with contributions from other scholars.

Before getting into the analysis proper, let’s put to rest a myth that has got around about the Fieschi Letter: that it must be a forgery, because the Latin used in the letter is ‘corrupt’, or ‘informal’, or ‘patois’, and therefore could not possibly be the language of a high ranking church official like Manuele Fieschi, its purported author, writing a letter to a king.(1)

Elena Corbellini, one of our two main researchers at the Auramala Project, taught Latin in high schools for nearly 40 years, and has indeed written Latin textbooks. An ex-student wrote to her saying “Professor, I read the Fieschi Letter online. I had no idea it was written so badly. What kind of Latin IS that?” Here is Elena’s reply, with a some of my own comments added for good measure [in square brackets. IF]


Latin made fun by Elena Corbellini and Sergio Nicola: 'Ripasso ad hoc' (only available in Italian)
Latin made fun by Elena Corbellini and Sergio Nicola: ‘Ripasso ad hoc’ (only available in Italian)


My dear student, you ask me ‘what kind of Latin IS this?’

It is 14th century Latin, therefore a Medieval Latin, which seems ‘incorrect’ if viewed from the point of view of the classical Latin grammar you studied with me, which was based on the benchmark Ancient Roman authors (auctores) like Caesar and Cicero. [We need only look at the letters that powerful men such as great abbots, bishops, lords and patriarchs wrote to Cardinal Luca Fieschi(2) – living in the same time and place as Manuele Fieschi – to see that the Fieschi Letter is not in the slightest bit out of the ordinary, linguistically. All of the supposed ‘linguistic oddities’ it contains are, in fact, the norm. IF]

You see, languages are like living organisms, they are born, they grow, and they change over time as a consequence of many factors – and sometimes they die. The Latin of the 14th century (and here we are talking about the average written Latin of the time) displayed significant elements of difference from the classical Latin we study at school. These differences had crept into the language over the intervening centuries. This phenomenon is evident even in high-class texts of the time, for example in legal texts, in spite of the fact that such documents were expected to be crystal clear and conservative in their style. In fact, it is no coincidence that when the Humanists began referring back to classical literature as a model, it was as a counter-reaction to the ‘vulgarised’ Latin of the times.  Nevertheless, I must say that the Fieschi Letter also uses rather elegant turns of phrase, and uses them well, in several passages.

The first things a good Latin student should notice about the Fieschi Letter are: sloppy and simple syntax, though not particularly ‘incorrect’; the absence of dipthongs; a ‘macheronic’ seeming lexicon; oscillation in the use of locative complements (e.g. exivit carceres instead of exivit carceribusduxerunt ipsum in castro and, soon afterwards, miserunt eum ad castrum); oscillations in the use of third person possessives (e.g. extracto sibi corde instead of extracto ei corde, which makes it seem as though the poor guardian killed in King Edward II’s escape extracted his own heart from his own chest!) [Exactly the same ‘mistake’ is to be found in the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, where Lord Berkeley says he knew nothing of Edward II’s supposed deathnec unquam scivit de morte sua. If we read this by the standards of classical Latin, Berkeley was sitting there in parliament, alive and well, saying he knew nothing of HIS OWN death. Well, one should hope so! IF] There is a consistent incorrect (according to classical Latin grammar) use of the auxiliary in the passive voice, e.g. fuit receptatus instead of receptus est, or similarly fuerat decapitatus instead of decapitatus erat, just as there is a consistent use of unus, -a, -um (= just one) as the indeterminate article. Both of these uses are generalised outcomes in romance languages. In terms of lexicon we also find here two verbs (receptare and decapitare) that neither Caesar nor Cicero would ever have used. The latter because the word itself came into existence many years after them (‘to behead’ in classical times was caput/cervices praecidere) and the former because it had already taken on a different nuance with respect to the normal recipere in the sense of ‘to give welcome’ or ‘to take in’.

Some might ask: ‘would a Papal notary have written like that? Especially considering that he was a Fieschi, a member of a wealthy and influential family?’

The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’.

We have no reason to believe that Manuele Fieschi was a man of great learning. The inventory of his possessions in the Avignonese Registers of the Vatican Archives lists less than 50 books, most of which were extracts, and above all they were glosses of canon law and legal formulae. Practically Manuele’s Manuals… Pardon the pun. He also had a Bible, a few Missals, and very few texts of the Patrologia Latina (parts of works by Saint Gregory and Saint Thomas of Aquinas and Severinus Beothius). I don’t mean to say his library was small: by the standards of the time it was significant. These were manuscripts, and therefore very costly books, and his library was a sign of prestige. He probably bought many of them out of a collector’s spirit, rather than to read them regularly.

High ranking members of the clergy like Manuele Fieschi were essentially full-time bureaucrats and diplomats engaged in politics, as is well known. They certainly did not use the Holy Scriptures or philosophical texts in their work nearly as often as legal texts. As far as Latin classics were concerned, once they had finished studying, what use did they have for them? How much time for daily study did you have, when you became a canon at the age of 12 or 13? When you had accumulated benefices and earnings, and therefore responsibilities, the length and breadth of Europe by the age of 30?

But let us return to the Fieschi Letter. We must not forget also that it is a hand-made copy. [A copy made years later, by someone who probably had no contact with the author and who knew nothing about many of the people and places the original referred to. We can imagine all the possibilities for mistakes and miscomprehension to enter the text. Just think of the mistakes we all make when writing. And at the time there was emphatically no such thing as standard spelling, especially for names of places and people. Just think: even in the age of print, a famous author like Shakespeare could spell his own name in different ways. Claims that place names in the Fieschi Letter are spelt oddly are simply laughable. IF] It is a telling fact that a number of words on the original document bear common conventional signs, such as dots beneath them, perhaps indicating that the scribe was not sure he had correctly copied the original.

The claim made by certain British historians that this letter must be a forgery on the basis that the language it uses is ‘inadequate’ or too ‘low-class’ to be that of Manuele Fieschi simply does not hold water.


Elena Corbellini


(1) The only serious claim to this effect made by an academic, though without linguistic analysis to support it, is to be found in Haines, Roy Martin, King Edward II: His Life, His Reign, and its Aftermath 1284-1330, Montreal 2003

(2) Hledìkovà, Zdènka, Raccolta praghese di scritti di Luca Fieschi, Prague 1981

The Hunt for the King 15) Friends make the worst enemies

“Shameful! Absolutely shameful!” Professor Castagneto brings his massive fist down on the tagle, making our wine glasses jump. “Sinibaldo Fieschi held the Renaissance back by 200 years, and he did it betraying a friend!” My friend and mentor can get very emotional about history, as though he were personally involved in events that occurred hundreds of years ago. But in this case, many historians would agree with him wholeheartedly. Indeed, if there was ever a moment in time when the Fieschi Family literally changed the fate of civilisation, it was during the papacy of Pope Innocent IV, Sinibaldo Fieschi, and his enmity with Frederick II, ‘stupor mundi’ – ‘the wonder of the world’.


Sinibaldo Fieschi (1190 circa – 1254) was orphaned at a young age, and was raised in Parma by his uncle Obizzo, the bishop of that city. He soon went to study law at the University of Bologna, where a document of December 5, 1223, refers to him with the title ‘magister’, or Master – most likely meaning that he had begun teaching and writing as well as studying. At the same time he already held the title of papal sub-deacon. This was only the beginning of an illustrious career in which he rose to the rank of cardinal and played a major role in diplomacy for a succession of popes, until he became pope himself in 1243. It seems that, during this twenty-year period, Sinibaldo came into contact with, and even became friends with, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.


Sinibaldo Fieschi was a man of immense learning. He personally wrote a large number of legal texts defining the rights and responsibilities of the Papacy. His personal library was rich in texts concerning theology, law and philosophy, many of which later made their way into the library of Luca Fieschi, one of the protagonists of our story, and from his personal library into that of Manuele Fieschi, author of the Fieschi Letter. As pope, Sinibaldo demonstrated awareness of the world beyond Christendom, particularly by sending ambassadors to the Mongol Empire, at that time expanding towards its greatest ever extension. Indeed, he is widely recognised by historians as one of the great medieval popes.

Sinibaldo Fieschi, Pope Innocent IV, meets King Louis IX of France
Sinibaldo Fieschi, Pope Innocent IV, meets King Louis IX of France

Frederick II (1194 – 1250) was the grandson of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, known universally as ‘Barbarossa’, or Redbeard, and indeed inherited his legendary grandfather’s red hair. He was raised in the Kingdom of Sicily, of which he became king in 1198, at the age of just 4. In reality, his kingdom was not just the island of Sicily, but all of what is now southern Italy, from the Marche region down, with twin capitals in Naples and Palermo. This region was an extraordinary melting pot of cultures. In Puglia and Calabria, once Ancient Greek colonies, the people spoke Greek (some groups of people there still do today). Arab invasions and trading contacts over the years had led to a strong influx of Arabic culture. Norman invasions had also strengthened cultural links with northern Europe – to this day a nickname for people from Reggio Calabria is ‘stock fish eaters’, where stock fish is dried north sea cod. In fact, the Italian word ‘stoccafisso’ itself comes from the same root as ‘stock fish’. Frederick II was a true child of this multicultural kingdom.


Castel del Monte, in Puglia, the most famous castle built by Frederick II. In fact, some call him a medieval 'talent scout', for the numerous artists, architects and poets he patronised.
Castel del Monte, in Puglia, the most famous castle built by Frederick II. In fact, some call him a medieval ‘talent scout’, for the numerous artists, architects and poets he patronised.


Frederick proved to be an enlightened, original and daring (though temperamental) ruler, and many regard his administrative policies as precursors to modern ideals of government. At a time when Baghdad was one of the great cultural capitals of the world, he sponsored the translation of Arabic and Greek works of scholarship into Latin, and personally sent copies to European universities. He invited Arab philosophers to his court and conversed with them in person. He founded the University of Naples. Under his rule, there was the first flowering of the Italian language with the ‘Sicilian Poets’ – one of whom was Frederick himself, for he composed poetry. He is even said to have passed such common-sense  laws as ruling against trial by combat on the grounds that the best combattant would win regardless of his guilt or innocence – a far cry from the stereotype of the medieval ruler.


The chronicles claim that Frederick II referred to Sinibaldo Fieschi as a friend. And yet, Sinibaldo was soon to  announce a universal crusade against Frederick… (To be continued…)

The Hunt for the King 13) The Fieschis and the Plantagenets – a beautiful friendship

The start of the beautiful friendship between the Fieschi Family and the Plantagenets was the wedding between Beatrice Fieschi and Tommaso II of Savoy. Most likely Pope Innocent IV, Sinibaldo Fieschi, arranged this marriage in order to ensure his family’s pre-eminence in European international affairs, and it certainly worked. For a start Beatrice Fieschi thus became the aunt-by-marriage of Eleanor of Provence, wife of King Henry III of England, making the Plantagenets and the Fieschis kin. But this is only the beginning.(1)


Beatrice Fieschi’s brother-in-law, Boniface of Savoy, was promoted by Innocent IV to Archbishop of Canterbury, with the approval of his nephew, King Henry III. Thus, a kinsman of the Fieschi Pope Innocent IV was primate of the church in England. (2)


In 1252, while Sinibaldo Fieschi was still Pope, the succession to the throne of Sicily came under dispute. The Pope intervened politically, sending his nephew Cardinal Ottobono Fieschi, brother of Beatrice Fieschi, as papal legate (essentially a papal ambassador). Ottobono Fieschi promptly attempted to give the throne of Sicily to his sister’s grand-nephew, Edmund Crouchback of England. Edmund Crouchback was the son of King Henry III, and the little brother of future King Edward I. He was the ultimate ancestor of the House of Lancaster. It may strike British historians as funny to imagine him in Palermo ruling Sicily. In fact, the negotiations fell through, and he remained in England. Nevertheless, this is a clear sign of how close the Fieschis had become to the Plantagenets in international politics. The Fieschis were kingmakers, and had attempted to give the crown of Sicily to Edward II’s uncle. (3)

Sinibaldo Fieschi, Pope Innocent IV, political mover and shaker. In this manuscript, we see him excommunicating Emperor Frederick II.


Years later, in 1265, Beatrice Fieschi’s nephew, King Henry III of England, found himself in trouble when Simon de Montfort and a group of fellow rebels started the Second Baron’s War. The Pope, now Clement IV, sent a delegation to England to sedate the conflict. The leader of the delegation was again Cardinal Ottobono Fieschi. It was only natural to choose him for the mission to England: after all, his sister’s brother-in-law was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his sister’s nephew was king of England. Ottobono Fieschi took with him a member of his ‘familia’ (practically his personal staff), a young man called Benedetto Caetani. They went through some difficult experiences together in their three-year-long mission to England, and a lasting bond grew up between them. At one point, the rebel barons imprisoned Cardinal Ottobono and the young Caetani in the Tower of London. They were rescued by the young English Prince Edward – the future Edward I and father of Edward II. And thus, we see how the Fieschis had cause to be grateful to the Plantagenets, while the Plantagenets had cause to be grateful to the Fieschis. (3)


A decade later, in 1276, Ottobono became Pope Adrian V – for just 38 days. His papacy was brought to a brusque close by his untimely death. But his mentorship of Benedetto Caetani paid off for the Fieschi Family in 1294 when Caetani became Pope with the name of Boniface VIII. This Pope was, in turn, mentor to the young Luca Fieschi, whom Boniface VIII elevated to the rank of Cardinal in 1300, at just 27 years of age. I will later devote another post to Luca Fieschi, one of the key players in the story of Edward II. For now it is enough to say that he, like his uncle Ottobono and his grand-uncle Sinibaldo, was a major player in international diplomacy. He was one of a group of three Cardinals who crowned Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII in 1312. In 1317 he was papal legate to Edward II in England, in an attempt to defuse the conflict with Robert the Bruce of Scotland. He thus knew his kinsman Edward II personally. Furthermore, Mario Traxino tells us that a young Percivalle Fieschi was with Luca in England during that mission. In that case he, too, would have met Edward II in person. It is deeply significant that Percivalle Fieschi became Bishop of Tortona, the Diocese in which we find Cecima, the last destination of Edward II in the Fieschi Letter*. (3) (4) (5)

Cardinal Luca Fieschi and two other cardinals crown Emperor Henry VII in 1312.

Lastly, Manuele Fieschi, the author of the Fieschi Letter, was not just a notary of the Pope, but also Canon of York. Is it a mere coincidence that the Archbishop of York, William Melton, with whom he must have been in contact for his ecclesiastic duties, wrote to the Mayor of London in 1330 claiming that Edward II was alive and well? (6)


In the light of these close and long-standing Fieschi-Plantagent ties at the very highest levels of international medieval politics, we must ask ourselves: is the idea that Edward II – if he was still alive – could have confessed his story to Manuele Fieschi in Avignon really so strange?


It is by now becoming clear just how immensely important the Fieschi Family was in international affairs at the time of Edward II. But perhaps the full scope of this family’s vast power network can best be understood by chatting with Mario Traxino, Fieschi scholar. Indeed, our next blog post will be a revealing interview with Traxino.


*The Fieschi Letter states that Cecima was in the Diocese of Pavia. In reality, it was a fief belonging to the Bishop of Pavia, but was within the Diocese of Tortona, where Percivalle Fieschi was Bishop. It seems likely that Manuele Fieschi made a simplification, wanting to mention Pavia as the nearest famous city, to help identify the location for King Edward III who knew well where Pavia was, but would not have heard of Cecima.


(1) Firpo, Marina, La Famiglia Fieschi dei Conti di Lavagna. Strutture familiari a Genova e nel contado fra XII e XIII secolo, Genoa, 2006.

(2) Greenway, Diana E. Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1066–1300, 1971

(3) Ameri, Gianluca and Di Fabio, Clario, Luca Fieschi, cardinale, collezionista, mecenate (1300-1336) Genoa, 2011

(4) Hledìkova Zdenka, Raccolta praghese di scritti di Luca Fieschi, Prague, 1985

(5) Personal communication, Mario Traxino, June 2014

(6) Haines, Roy Martin, Sumptuous Apparel for a Royal Prisoner: Archbishop Melton’s Letter, 14 January 1330, English Historical Review, 2009