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

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The Hunt for the King 12) Mario Traxino, Fieschi Scholar, enters the scene

In december 2013 I was presenting Auramala at one of Milan’s historic bookshops, Il Trittico, just around the corner from the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, where the 4th century Bishop and patron saint of Milan, Saint Ambrose, lies. While I was speaking a tall, robust gentleman with the air of a professor burst in, whose already sizable presence was doubled by a spectacular, expansionist beard and moustache. With the unmistakeable accent of Genoa he boomed “Mister Fowler, Mister Fowler, I must speak to you, and I must read your book!”

This had a wonderful impact on the other people in the bookshop. I guess the astonished expression on my face made them feel like the mystery of Edward II had leapt out of the Middle Ages, right into the middle of the bookshop. “Traxino,” he shook my hand vigorously “Mario Traxino”.

Mario Traxino

Ah! His reputation preceded him. Mario Traxino, born and raised in Genoa, with a Degree in Literature from Genoa University, had taught for a time in Argentina before coming back to Italy and becoming one of the most knowledgeable scholars of the Fieschi Family alive today.

Traxino siezed a copy of Auramala, and in the tone of a time-travelling detective, interrogated me: “Mister Fowler, what exactly can you tell me about Manuele Fieschi?“

Everyone held their breath: I was well and truly in the hot-seat.

“Well… he was sort of a man in a grey suit… Like the anonymous men and women you see in G8 conferences and the like, hanging around in the background talking in hushed tones, making big decisions that will never get into the newspapers…”

Traxino looked at me shrewdly for a moment.

“Very well, very well. I shall read your book, and if need be, we shall speak again. Thank you.” And then he swept of the bookshop as suddenly, and mysteriously, as he had come.

Piazza Cavagneria, Pavia

Towards the end of January Traxino contacted us again, through the more conventional Italian approach of a friend of a friend of a friend. We arranged a meeting in Loft 10 cafè in one of Pavia’s picturesque old squares, Piazza Cavagneria – in the shadow of the palace where Emperor Barbarossa had anti-Pope Victor IV appointed in 1160.

He brought with him a large folder containing a series of large family trees, and photocopies from ancient books concerning the Fieschi Family. With great academic generosity, he shared with us his own original research into the Fieschi Letter, which he had deliberately conducted without reading Ian Mortimer’s work, or any other historian’s comment on the letter for that matter. He had thus, independently, come to the conclusion that the Fieschi Letter must be telling the truth, based on comparative analysis of medieval family trees. Here, in a nutshell, is the result of his research. Out of a maze of family ties, he had distilled the connections which made the Feischi Famly the logical choice to give sanctuary to Edward II, if he survived the night of 21st September 1327.

Fieschi Family connections related to the Plantagenets and the Fieschi Letter
Fieschi Family connections related to the Plantagenets and the Fieschi Letter. Click to enlarge

The first thing to point out is just why Edward II and Cardinal Luca Fieschi referred to each other as ‘kinsmen’. Luca Fieschi’s aunt, Beatrice was married to the brother of Beatrice of Savoy, Edward II’s great-grandmother. This marriage was probably sponsored by Pope Innocent IV, Sinibaldo Fieschi, and tied the Fieschis to the House of Savoy, and through them to all the royal families of Western Europe – including the Plantagenets. As far as we know, no British scholars are aware of this tie, and its implications. For now, we leave readers to examine this family tree for themselves. In our next post, we will trace the long association between the Fieschi Family and the Plantagenets, which may well have reached its climax with the ‘afterlife’ of Edward II. Following that, we will post a full interview with Mario Traxino, in which the scholar exposes the full splendour and power of the House of Fieschi.