Kathryn Warner in Italy for King Edward II

The Auramala Project recently had the very great pleasure of hosting Kathryn Warner, distinguished Edward II biographer, in Pavia. Kathryn was in Italy for a week in late September (see Kathryn Warner’s own posts on the subject here). She first visited Vercelli and Turin with Gianna Baucero and Associazione Chesterton of Vercelli, the city of which Manuele Fieschi became bishop. On the afternoon of Saturday, September 19th, Kathryn gave a hugely successful and well received talk at the Seminar of Vercelli, in the presence of the current Archbishop, Marco Arnolfo. (Since I’m terrible at taking photos, most of those that follow come directly from the Associazione Chesterton page!)

Kathryn Warner (centre) with Archbishop Marco Arnolfo and Gianna Baucero of Associazione Chesterton

We then met Kathryn at – where else? – Sant’Alberto di Butrio, the abbey where, according to Manuele Fieschi’s celebrated letter, Edward II lived out his days in prayer and contemplation. It was an extremely moving moment to meet Kathryn there.

 Me meeting Kathryn in front of the tomb at Sant’Alberto di Butrio, said to be that of Edward II.

From left to right, myself, Gianna Baucero and Kathryn Warner.

Kathryn stayed in Pavia for four days, visiting the sites and, most importantly, discussing the evidence for and against the story told in the Fieschi Letter. The biggest day on the agenda was Tuesday 22nd, when we had a very important focus group that lasted three hours in which Fieschi expert Mario Traxino, Auramala Project researcher Elena Corbellini, Kathryn Warner and I all analysed in depth the documents and evidence brought to light so far by the Auramala Project, and our conclusions thus far. Kathryn was extremely informative and encouraging, and we feel that our research has proven quite worthy to stand beside other contributions on the same subject. Of course, what we have managed to publish so far on this blog is just a fraction of the total work done so far!

After the focus group, Kathryn gave a talk in the Salone Teresiano of the University Library of Pavia. Kathryn was introduced and presented to Pavia’s university-oriented public by Professor Renata Crotti, renowned historian of the University of Pavia. It was a memorable occasion, and as usual with Pavian audiences, question time went on for more than forty minutes. When the library closed, debate shifted to Loft 10, in Piazza Cavagneria, where it continued in English, French and German, thanks to Kathryn’s formidable linguistic skills.

From left to right, me, Kathryn and Professor Renata Crotti
From left to right, me, Kathryn and Professor Renata Crotti

The day after, Wednesday 23rd, Kathryn and I headed off to Genoa in the early morning for a visit to the archives of the archdiocese of Genoa. Numerous testaments left by the Fieschi Family are to be found there, but we were looking in particular for that of Manuele Fieschi’s nephew, Papiniano. Why? Well, it would take a long time to explain, so I’ll leave that for another post, but it’s a fascinating story.

At one point, I was just about to pass over a sheaf of documents as irrelevant to the search when Kathryn spotted the name of Papiniano, and we thankfully photographed them. Indeed, those were the very documents that revealed to us the name of the notary among whose documents we must now search.

Kathryn and I looking at ancient documents in the Genoa cathedral archive.
Kathryn and I looking at ancient documents in the Genoa cathedral archive.

It was an interesting experience to work with Kathryn for a couple of days on the nitty gritty of history. I was hugely impressed by a number of qualities, that I think the best historians should have. For example, apart from her linguistic skills and flexibility, she is very swift in looking at things analytically and adjusting to circumstances. The Genoese documents we looked at had this oddity: the number ‘3’ was always written back to front, making it look more like the letter ‘E’. It took Kathryn about half a second to spot this and get her eye in, as we scanned document after document. She sought, and very quickly found, the key to the ordering of documents that at first glance seemed put together without rhyme or reason, and was able to dismiss a whole bundle as useless pretty early on. Yes, we did check every single page of it, just to be on the safe side, anyway, but we knew there was no point. Kathryn is also distinguished by her extreme integrity: if it isn’t written in a trustworthy contemporary source, it just didn’t happen. She never lets a ‘might-have’ become a ‘must-have’, and then become a ‘fact’, and she will not tolerate it when other historians do. Either there is a source, or there is not. If there is not, it is hypothesis, and must be called hypothesis. And when it comes to original documents, I can tell you that Kathryn is fast working, efficient, and devastatingly good at finding them, reading them and interpreting them.

Sadly, Kathryn went back home the next day, but we are sure she will come again, and we can’t wait for it! In the meantime, she is giving us a helping hand with some parts of the research, in particular genealogy and the search for Edward II’s descendants, and there will be more on her extremely exciting findings in future posts!

From everybody here at the Auramala Project, a huge thank you to Kathryn for your visit!

Ivan Fowler.


Introducing a new member of the Auramala Project team!

I’m very proud to introduce to our followers a new member of the team. Enrica Biasi, who hails from Durham in the UK, has come to spend a year with us here in Pavia, and lend a hand with the hard work of the research project. She’s already proved a valuable asset to the Project, and we’re all sure she will contribute an enormous amount over the next year. Here is what she has to say about herself:


Hello, I’m Enrica, and I will be working with the Auramala Project for the next 10 months. After recently graduating from the University of Oxford with a BA in History, I’m incredibly excited to have the opportunity to work on the project, to find out whether there is any more compelling evidence to support the theory that Edward II did not die in Berkely Castle in 1327. As an avid fan of detective stories and mysteries, I hope to help chase down as many possible lines of enquiry and to get closer to some concrete certainties.

I’ll be starting by continuing to share the geneological research of Craig L. Foster, who is tracing Eleanor of Castille’s female descendants, adding as much detail as I can find to flesh out their personalities. Through this, I want to encourage interest in the history of these often obscure women, as well as gaining as much information as possible relevant to the Project, aiming for reliability, thoroughness, and verifiability. I’m looking forward to sharing my discoveries with you!

Enrica Biasi


Enrica’s first post will shortly be online!

Auramala book trailer shortlisted for the Antonello Prize

This week at the Turin International Book Fair the book trailer Auramala  is a finalist for the Antonello Prize for the Best Book Trailer. It is up against a daunting field of short films, many by large and established publishing houses like Mondadori and Feltrinelli, not to mention rock star Ligabue. The book trailer was produced by my old friend Giacomo Sardelli, director of the chilling short film The Ambulance and Further Up Yonder, which caused a sensation on the web back in December 2012 with its breathtaking footage from the International Space Station.

To celebrate being nominated for this award in such a prestigious event, here is a guest post by Giacomo Sardelli, on the making of the trailer. Well done Giacomo, once again your stylish work is being recognized!


How to make a book trailer


Auramala is a grand medieval adventure written by my Australian friend Ivan Fowler. It tells the story of two secret agents in the year 1338, who are on the traces of a mysterious king, whose destiny seems to contradict accepted history. After reading the book I decided that it deserved a book trailer with a cinematic touch, and this is the result.


The book trailer, the locations and the ammonite

Right from the start I wanted the book trailer to have a cinematographic look. Generally, book trailers favour animation and graphics over live action footage. Auramala has the good fortune of being set in a landscape that lends itself to filming, so I decided to base the book trailer of Auramala on two key elements: the location and, to hold the story together, the ammonite.


The Location

Ivan has lived in Pavia for years, and has acquired profound knowledge of the the city and its Province, which he loves. The pages of Auramala betray his passion for the Apennines of Pavia, the Oltrepò Pavese, which is as much a protagonist of the book as the human characters. For this reason I inserted into the shooting list some time-lapse sequences taken in the exact location of the book, a region that is still wild enough to allow for fields of view where there are no modern or non-medieval elements whatsoever.

Oramala Castle, in one of the time-lapse sequences for the trailer. For this take I set up an f/20 aperture, with a 1/50 and ISO 400 shutter. Shots were taken every 10 seconds to cover the entire duration of the sunset in 250 frames (in editing terms, 10 seconds of footage at 25fps).
Oramala Castle, in one of the time-lapse sequences for the trailer. For this take I set up an f/20 aperture, with a 1/50 and ISO 400 shutter. Shots were taken every 10 seconds to cover the entire duration of the sunset in 250 frames (in editing terms, 10 seconds of footage at 25fps).

To plan the timing of the shoots, above all for the time-lapse sequence, which can literally take hours, I used The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a neat, free app for PC and Mac, and available for Android and iOS for a fee. TPE allows you to find out exactly what time the sun rises or sets, and on which point of a horizon. An image is worth a thousand words:

Oramala Castle with the direction of the sun and of the moon at sunrise and at sunset.
Oramala Castle with the direction of the sun and of the moon at sunrise and at sunset.

Knowing the timing and direction of the sunset, I set up the shoot, deciding on the right angle as soon as I arrived on the spot. I shot the video footage in the surrounding areas when the light was not yet right for the time-lapse sequence, and got back to the spot where I was going to film the sunset just in time to set up the tripod.


Remote controlled slider For the tracking time-lapse shot I used a remote controlled slider that I finished constructing myself just the month before. It’s a bit of an ad hoc, hand-made job, but it does exactly what it’s intended to do, just right. The two motors allow it to slide at a normal speed for a regular tracking shot, but also ultra-slow for time-lapse. I still have to measure it exactly, but roughly speaking it will do a metre in 10-15 minutes on slowest speed. Perfect for a time-lapse sequence. Here is a photo taken with a smartphone on the day of the trial: image

The Ammonite

The second element I used is the ammonite, which plays a key role in Auramala, so it couldn’t be missing from trailer. It poses a question in viewers’ minds that can be answered by reading the book. The ammonite is in the hand of a character who, in 1338, is fleeing through the woods, and who has to hide it somewhere before his pursuers catch up with him. The sound of bells guides him to the Abbey of Sant’Alberto, where he finds a niche in which to conceal it. For these shots I therefore needed a brick-work niche, and the possibility to age it by 600 years, until the present, when the detective in the trailer discovers the ammonite inside it. I created the niche so as to have total freedom in positioning the camera, and so as to be able to modify it as I pleased. Some moss and dust (from Ivan’s garden and firewood-pile respectively) re-created a 600-year journey through time. Here is the result, the final shot and the mini set. image

So, these are the simple techniques I used to achieve the result I wanted. If you have any questions about any other part of the video, I’ll be happy to answer.


Giacomo Sardelli, author of the blog Making Movies, studies Film and New Media at The Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, “New Academy of Fine Arts”, or NABA, in Milan. After his first-aid adventures with The Ambulance and trip into outer space with the world-recognized Further Up Yonder, he is now working on a documentary in his experiences with a Ugandan tribe, the Karimojong. In the meantime, he has travelled backwards in time ot 1338 with an Australian story teller in search of King Edward II of England, and much else besides.

The Hunt for the King 1) The Story So Far



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Ugo Perego, genetic genealogist, on the forensic side of the Project

The following interview is abridged due to the considerable length of the original. Complete interview is available on request.

Ivan Fowler: Good morning, Doctor Perego. Can you tell us something about yourself, and your work?

Ugo Perego: I have a Ph. D. in human genetics and molecular biology, and I’m specialized in using genetic tools to reconstruct the history of individuals or populations, using DNA. My work is divided mainly into two components. I have a collaboration with a number of universities, where we produce genetic research and publications in the field of population genetics. The University of Pavia is where I have my affiliation for this type of work. I’m also the CEO of a company called The Genetic Genealogy Consultant, and together with other researchers in that group we provide consulting for individuals that want to use DNA to extend or verify their genealogical research.

IF: Thank you. Now, in the case of Edward II and our research project to try and identify his remains, it may seem logical to simply open the tomb of one of his female relatives that the family tree says has the same mitochondrial DNA as him, and take mitochondrial DNA from the remains in that tomb, and then simply compare the two. But you recommend that we do not do that.

UP: Yes. It is a possibility, but if you don’t know that the person the tomb attributed to King Edward is King Edward, and you also cannot know for sure if the female relative is what you’re going to find in that grave, and so you have two unknown variables. So what if the King is actually the King, and you get a genetic profile, and then you get the female relative, and you think that genealogically she is related, but it’s not the right person in there, so then the genetic profile from the female relative is the incorrect one, how are you going to verify that the King is the King, or is not the King? So who is right and who is wrong in that moment? You have two variables that you assume, based on the genealogies, are correct, but you will not know, in the case of miss­match, who is the right one, in the right place. Of course, if they are a match, and there is the genealogy, then you have a strong case. The problem, though, also comes with requesting permission, to obtain the DNA from these bones. So you have to really provide a strong case both for Edward, and then another strong case for the relative, which most likely could be a famous royal individual; or not, but the process of acquiring permission from city officials, churches, if they are in churches, lawyers, family members who might be alive and have a right to the tomb and prevent you… all of that can require a long, long time, to go through the process a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of costs to do that… So it’s much easier at this point to identify living descendants, and have more than one of those, first.

IF: Why do you say more than one living descendant?

UP: More than one descendant is because… well, we’re using mitochondrial DNA, which is a small genetic molecule, found in organelles called mitochondria within the cell, so it’s not nuclear DNA where the 23 pairs of chromosomes are found, so it’s a small component. Just to give you an idea, you have about three billion pieces of DNA in the nucleus, and then you have about seventeen thousand in the mitochondria, so it’s very manageable as a size, but it has a characteristic which is that it does not mix with the rest of the DNA, so it follows a straight maternal line from a mother to her children, and then all the daughters will pass it on. So the concept that we are dealing here with is the concept of the most recent common ancestor. So, although the female line, the ‘umbilical’ line, is usually more… what’s the word… you don’t have reason to suspect that the mother is not the mother, you know, while you might not be as sure about who the father is, but you still have some unknowns, that perhaps somewhere, especially if you’re considering a case of about eight centuries, there could have been a case of adoption that was not documented. Let’s say, you know, in 1400 there was an adoption, or an illegitimacy, like a daughter who becomes pregnant and you don’t want anybody to know, because she’s not married, and so somebody takes the kid in, so you’re raising a kid with your own name, but biologically is not connected to you. In the last hundred or two hundred years, you might have documents to support that, but as you go back in time, every time somebody is born you add to the possibility that the biology does not match the genealogy. So, two or more descendants going back to this common ancestor that you’re trying to trace, would disprove, or eliminate any NPEs, which are Non Paternity Events, with an adoption or illegitimacy, or so on, that might create a problem with you thinking ‘Hey, this is the right genealogy, I should have the right guy. I have the DNA, it doesn’t match Edward’s, therefore Edward is not in the grave’, right? But what if there was an error in the genealogy, and Edward is in the grave, and you have the wrong DNA in your hands, and then somebody else later on does a similar study to replicate your findings, but does it with more than one descendant, and says ‘No, you did it wrong.’ So that is the reason why it is always better to have at least two, and then you go from there.

IF: Preferably more?

UP: Yes.

IF: One last question. Could you please tell us about your personal experience in contacting descendants and inviting them to take part in studies?

UP: Yes, well, I have several, but one of the largest projects I participated in was a case in which I was trying to link two families, with a very humble surname: the surname is Smith, which is 1 percent of the UK population, or rather, of England, because Smith is an English surname, not a British surname, that is one of those surnames which goes back to a trade, to lock­smiths, black­smiths, gold­smiths… these were all ‘smiths’, so there are any different Smiths which are not related to each other. So my project was to try to identify a connection between a Smith family in the United States with a possible Smith family, that I didn’t know, in England. And so there was a possible connection to a town in England, so once I found that town, I looked at the White Pages online and identified how many Smiths lived in that town: there were 1300. Then I wrote a letter to all 1300 of them, prepared a kit, and this kit had an explanation of the project, who I was, who I was working for, what I was trying to do, there were swabs to collect the DNA, there were return envelopes with the address and the stamp already paid for. So all they had to do was simply respond, and agree, and think that it could be important. The number of people who replied was less than 40, out of 1300. You know, there’s the older generation that might think ‘Who is this guy? Why does he want my DNA in America? I’m not going to do this.’ In your case, since you have a book that talks about this project and reconstructing Edward’s ancestry and posterity, you could use that book as a kind of calling card, that would definitely make a much louder, stronger statement about who you are. And also, in this case, you really have to create personal contact with these people. Ideally, what people do in these cases is actually go to the door of the person, to knock on the door and say ‘this is what we’re doing’. A phone call might work. But if you send a letter, people will go through the first three lines and then throw it away. If there is a book, people tend not to throw it away!

IF: If you ever have to collect samples from an English village again, just let me know. I’ll go to the village pub and take care of it from there. I volunteer.

UP: Alright.

IF: Thank you very much, Ugo.

UP: You’re welcome.

Auramala: The King Lives – trailer launch

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


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



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


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


Ivan Fowler and everybody at The World of TELS team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction to the hunt for the king – 1) International Europe

Before launching into the story of our research into the Fieschi Letter and the ‘afterlife’ of Edward II, three blog posts are necessary to set the scene for readers who don’t have an academic background in medieval history (but they should be food for thought for those who do, anyway).  This first one is about medieval Europe as an interactive, international place, and the role of the church in this, both for good and for bad. The second will be about the nemesis of the church, the Holy Roman Empire. The third will be about how charismatic leaders from what is now Italy influenced England at he highest level during the middle ages.

So let’s start out with a general observation about medieval Western Europe: it was a VERY international place. People travelled, interacted over enormous distances and, rather like the famous butterfly effect in the mathematical theory of chaos, a small action on one side of the continent could have huge ramifications on the other side. I sometimes get the impression that people think of English history during the medieval period as being a very long chess match with France, and other European countries were a long way off and didn’t really influence English history that much until the Renaissance and the Reformation. But this was simply not the case. During the so-called Dark Ages and right through to the Renaissance, all corners of Europe influenced one another.

Medieval trade routes, with Genoese shipping lanes in red
Medieval trade routes, with Genoese shipping lanes in red

In spite of never-ending, all-pervasive internal conflicts, there was one factor of towering importance in making Western Europe – including England – a surprisingly ‘globalized’ place: the church. This is an incredibly simplified statement, but we could to say that the church was a great binding force, holding medieval Europe together. One of the ways it did this was by providing people everywhere with a set of shared experiences. What do I  mean by this?  My aunt recently gave me a story book to read to my two little sons, an American classic, ‘The Little Train That Could’. As we unwrapped it, she said something very insightful. “When I moved from Australia to California, I sometimes heard people mention ‘The Little Engine that Could, and everybody would nod and understand, but I didn’t know what they meant. Then I had children, and somebody gave us this book. I realised that ‘The Little Train that Could’ was like a by-word for determination and generosity. It’s good to have read these books, that everybody else in a country has read, just like Shakespeare, you know? If you’ve read it, when people refer to it you understand what they mean.”

Well, in medieval times everybody, in every single tiny village or large city of Western Europe, had common points of reference, as though they had all read the same books or watched the same films. These points of reference were supplied by the church. Everybody heard the Latin mass on Sundays, and heard the stories of the Bible, interpreted in more or less the same way throughout Christendom. If they were literate, people everywhere also studied a small number of ‘core’ texts that were considered universal must-reads for good Christians, by authors  like Boethius and Saint Augustine. Together with the Bible, these texts were the ‘Shakespeare’s plays’ of the Middle Ages. It is true that every corner of Europe saw uncountable, ancient regional beliefs and customs overlaid onto this Christian framework, but people everywhere  could nevertheless tap into a single set of unifying religious experiences to help them relate to one another.

This had many repercussions. For example, the fact that the church chose to continue using Latin as its lingua franca meant that this language continued to be a vibrant, functional, and above all evolving means of communication for the entire continent. Today we tend to think of Latin as a dead language, that cannot change and evolve because it is no longer in use. Medieval Latin was anything but set in stone. This fact is going to come decisively into play when we look at the Fieschi Letter as an artifact, and stop looking at it as a disembodied text, as too many historians have done till now.

An emblemic map of pilgrim routes in globalized, medieval Europe. The Via Francigena is highlighted.
An emblemic map of pilgrim routes in globalized, medieval Europe. The Via Francigena is highlighted.

Religion also created a system of international travel of a scope that we find difficult to imagine today: the pilgrim roads. The Way of St James of Compostela is back in vogue today, but it was just one of many pilgrim routes criss-crossing the continent in ancient times. A large proportion of the population, from every walk of life and every region, would go on a pilgrimage at least once in their life. Englishmen might stop at Canterbury, or they might go as far as Compostela, or Rome, or Jerusalem. There were countless other shrines that attracted pilgrims too, such as the Shrine of the Three Kings (yes, ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are…’), in the Basilica of Saint Eustorgio in Milan for about five centuries, and then transported to Cologne in 1164 by… But I’ll get to that in the next post, about the nemesis of the church! Anyway, one of these pilgrim routes was vital to the story of Edward II’s ‘afterlife’.  This is the Via Francigena, which stretches from Canterbury, down through France and Italy to Rome, and continues to Jerusalem as an optional extra. In later posts we’ll explore the full significance of this road to a certain royal pilgrim in disguise…

Blake's illustration of the fiery and humiliating punishment Dante created for the Simoniacs, including Pope Boniface VIII, whom he hated. Boniface VIII is just one of the many ecclesiastical players in our story, as future posts will reveal
Blake’s illustration of the fiery and humiliating punishment Dante created for the Simoniacs, including Pope Boniface VIII, whom he hated. Boniface VIII is just one of the many ecclesiastical players in our story, as future posts will reveal

Now, the church was not necessarily a positive factor in medieval life. In fact, it was notoriously rife with corruption and nepotism, and this aspect, too, is going to play a very important role in our research into the Fieschi Letter. And the church was not without opposition. Such a powerful, omnipresent institution was clearly going to make enemies for itself, and the first and foremost of these was the Holy Roman Empire. But that is the subject of the next post.

The Fieschi Letter in English and Latin

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

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

First, the English translation:

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

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

Now, the ‘original’ Latin:

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

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

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

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

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