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 29) Two professors discuss the corrections in the Fieschi Letter

[As we continue reading Elena Corbellini and Stefano Castagneto’s conversation regarding the Fieschi Letter, we turn to the subject of the corrections present in the Letter, and what they mean. The gist of the conversation is this: both professors agree that the Fieschi Letter as we know it today is an ‘imitative’ copy of the antigraph. In other words, it was meant to be as close a representation of the antigraph as possible, in all its aspects – including corrections. In an age before photocopiers, this had to be done by hand. However, since fresh human errors would inevitably be made in the copy itself, there had to be a way of distinguishing between corrections and variations already present in the antigraph – and so intentionally recreated in the copy – and any mistakes made in the copying process. Thus, according to Stefano Castagneto, the scribe most likely used expunction marks – dots beneath words – to indicate where the correction was already present in the antigraph, while his own mistakes were struck through. Insertions in the interlinear space may be either reproductions of insertions in the antigraph, or the scribe’s own insertions, we cannot be sure. There is also a brief discussion of the word ‘vacat’ in the right-hand margin, which Castagneto believes simply indicates the absence of the authentification markings that are present for most of the other documents copied into the chartulary. Ed.]


2. Corrections present in the text: different hypotheses.

During our long conversation on the telephone, Stefano Castagneto and I discussed the part of my analysis of the Fieschi Letter that regards the corrections contained in the manuscript (see ….) which have, until now, been all but ignored by other scholars.

I shall begin with my hypothesis to explain them, and Castagneto’s opinion.

Elena Corbellini – As you read in my analysis, I proposed the hypothesis that the copy of Maguelone (M) [the artefact now known as the ‘Fieschi Letter’ and today preserved in the archives of Montpellier, Ed.] was derived from an antigraph which already contained corrections and possible variants, which were diligently reproduced in M by the copyist, who may also have added some of his own. The antigraph may therefore have been a minuta [draft, Ed.] of the definitive text, therefore a near-final ‘work in progress’, of the kind that were, in those years, often used in place of originals. Such a text may well have been in the hands of Arnaud de Verdale, and copied at his behest into this section of the Maguelone chartulary.

Stefano Castagneto – Absolutely! Why else would the copyist who made M have indicated some cancellations by striking them through, and others with expunction marks [dots beneath the words, Ed.]? I, too, believe that it was in order to distinguish the corrections that were already present in the manuscript from which he was copying, the antigraph, as you call it in your most precise analysis. This is true for the corrections indicated the with expunction marks, in my opinion. On the other hand, the additions made in the interlinear space are due to uncertainty or mistakes on the part of the Maguelone copyist, perhaps caused by unclear writing in the antigraph he was copying from.

EC – In the notes you sent Ivan you wrote: “a distracted copyist, who perhaps sometimes incorrectly read the text he was supposed to reproduce; or then again it may be that someone was dictating the text to the copyist, and that person made mistakes from time to time which were then corrected, which would also explain the corrections and cancellations. For example, at the end of the third line: after the pause, caesura, he wrote et perdidit when he suddenly realised he had forgotten an ibi, and inserted it in the interlinear space, either because his eye had outpaced his hand, or because he then mentally went back over the sentence, following the narration, and noticed the mistake. And when he was ready to start the new line and found himself about to write a long word (ad requisitionem), he realised something was missing to understand the text: exactness, precision, documentation, certainty, the need to leave no room for doubt or false readings of a text’s meaning… these are the first duties of every Notary.”

SC – Yes, I confirm what I wrote. This is the case also for the regine in the interlinear space at l.18, which seems to be another ‘final’ addition: in the sense that the copyist, after writing, reread the line and – considering the evident interest and curiosity the narration presents – noticed that the sense of that phrase did not run clearly in that point, and added that regine (‘to the queen’), almost as though ‘in brackets’. Even if she did not effectively order the assassination herself, she was the queen, and lover of Mortimer for some time. And in a hasty reading, or dictation, it is natural to read continuando (‘continuously’) instead of cum dimidio (‘and a half’) in the closing stages of a letter, as you rightly noted in your analysis. Above all because this was a rhetorical form of the gerund that was in customary use, and is by no means out of place in the closing stages of important and relevant documents.

EC – I find your hypothesis of dictation very interesting. Would distracted or hurried dictation explain, in your opinion, the ‘double reading’ at l.22 fuerat mortuus… decapitatus (‘he died… was decapitated’)? I’m inclined to see that as a variation already present in the antigraph – a text that was a ‘work in progress’, though nearly finished, with some final variations and corrections added. Among other things, this correction implies precise knowledge of what happened: the Earl of Kent was, in fact, decapitated, as befit his lineage and rank, as others indeed were not… drawn and quartered! Could the copyist in Maguelone have known about this decapitation?

SC – It was probably already present in the antigraph. In fact, there are expunction marks beneath the words. I completely agree that this is an ‘imitative’ copy, a copy that was designed to be a ‘photocopy’ of the original text, which was certainly a minuta (draft). And that it was in the possession of Bishop Verdale is absolutely plausible, for the reasons you wrote in your analysis, and given the situation delineated by the papal letters you examined. It may have been used in the negotiations of the period, just as other copies of documents perhaps were. It was precisely the papal legates [like Verdale, Ed.], and the officers and curates sent to them as messengers, who held copies of documents of this nature, which they received in order to present them, make declarations, or even just to hint at their contents, during discussions with the person they were sent to negotiate with. [In this case, the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV, Ed.] And they carried out these negotiations following orders given, mostly verbally, making use of their discretion, judgement, exploiting opportunities. This is where the true ability of a negotiator lay, in their savoir faire. These men had to be as trusted, as close to and trusted as possible, by those who sent them. [in this case, the Pope, Ed.] And so it is plausible that, according to how the negotiations were proceeding, they would use a given document in discussions, or decide not to; or they might hint at a given document, allude to it… on the basis of how the mission was going… As for how the negotiations actually went… it’s very unlikely that precise, certain texts exist: what we can do is compare the documents produced by the various stakeholders involved, and their intentions, (it seems to me above all the goals of the Pope and his court in Avignon…) in order to gain a better impression… And the fact that the addressee is missing may also be a case of prudence.

EC- And so it was missing in the antigraph. And speaking of ‘missing’, what do you make of that vacat in the right-hand margin? Does it indicate the absence of the addressee, the existence of another copy in the same collection, or the absence of the recognovi [the authentification markings, Ed.] which are in the same position in the other documents?

SC- To me the latter explanation seems the most likely: the authentification is missing.


[Castagneto’s final suggestion is to carefully examine and compare all the documents from the period of Verdale’s negotiation with the Emperor (autumn/winter 1338-9) produced by all the stakeholders in the negotiations: the Pope, Edward III, the Emperor, the King of France and the Bardi and Peruzzi banking houses, who were the financiers of all sides in the conflict. This is precisely what the Auramala Project will do. Ivan Fowler]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maguelone 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hunt for the King 23) the analysis of the Fieschi Letter continues…

Today we continue with Elena Corbellini’s diplomatic analysis of the Fieschi Letter, picking up where we left off, looking at the extrinsic characteristics of the document. We look at one further observation on the letter, and a relative hypothesis, and then comment on the presence of other documents of an intriguingly similar nature to the Fieschi Letter in the same chartulary of Maguelone.

The analysis continues

Observation c) The ‘irregular’ way in which the document was copied was made clear by the compilers of the codex themselves. Almost all of the documents in the chartulary feature a rubrication in the margins beside the beginning of the text, with references to the place and type of recognitio each text represents. I am not sure we can call this a true signum recognitionis, but in any case it seems to be a form of validation, meant to attest to the copy’s conformity to the original it was copied from – just as a ‘commissioner of oaths’ puts their stamp and signature on true copies of original documents today. The rubrication in the margins is, perhaps, in a different hand, and was logically added subsequent to the copying of the documents themselves, in a different coloured ink (see photograph 1). The page bearing the Fieschi Letter bears no such rubrication, and instead in the right margin, towards the top of the page, there is the word vacat, meaning ‘it is missing’, ‘it is vacant’. (see photograph 2).

Example of rubrication. Right hand margin of document 6.
Photograph 1: Example of rubrication. Right hand margin of document 6.
The word 'vacat', right hand margin of the Fieschi Letter page.
Photograph 2: The word ‘vacat’, right hand margin of the Fieschi Letter page.

I nurture some doubts as to the meaning of this word in this context. What is missing? Does it simply mean the date is missing? Or was the original missing? If the latter, it explains why the rubrication is not present: the copy of the Fieschi Letter that we know today could not be authenticated as a true and faithful copy, because it could not be compared with the original, as this was missing – vacat. As we shall consider later in the analysis, this leads us to the intriguing possibility that the Fieschi Letter was actually a copy of a copy.

There is another possible meaning of vacat, of which an example is to be found in the Registrum Magnum of the medieval Comune of Piacenza. Here, the word vacat is broken up into its two syllables, on either end of a vertical line in the margins of some documents (va- line –cat) to indicate when a document had been transcribed twice or more times within the same chartulary by mistake (1). The excess/extra copy might be in the immediate vicinity of the first copy of the document, or elsewhere in the compilation.

If this were the case of the Fieschi Letter, it would be necessary to check every last document contained within the six enormous volumes of the chartulary. Or at least start with those edited by Roquette and Villemagne, who state in the Preface of their enormous undertaking that many of the documents were, in fact, transcribed more than once.

As far as the originals of the documents are concerned, there is no possibility whatsoever to make a comparison, and this is true for the entire chartulary. This is due to the destruction of the ecclesiastical archives of Montpellier in 1566 and the following years, and then again in 1621 and 1623 (3).


A fact that I think is very interesting and should be born in mind is evident from three other documents in the chartulary and transcribed by Germain in his 1878 edition of the Fieschi Letter (p.7, note 1). This is the particular care shown by both Arnaud de Verdale and Pope Urban V that all documents pertaining to the diocese of Maguelone or its bishops should be sought out wherever they were, ordered and transcribed with the greatest possible diligence and fidelity to the originals.

Arnaud de Verdale even went so far as to threaten with excommunication whoever unrightfully withheld privilegia, letters, acts, proceedings, or any other documents, failing to consign them by a given peremptory deadline of 10 days. This was in an article of the Synodal Statutes of October 20th, 1339. The same is reiterated in a papal bull of May 15th 1367, and in a letter from Bishop Gaucelm de Deux to Pope Urban V in 1368 in which the compilation of the chartulary is declared to have been scrupulously completed, and all documents faithfully registered word for word (fecit de verbo ad verbum diligenter et fideliter registrari). (2)

Therefore it seems to me quite improbable that something ‘random’ or ‘unchecked’ could have occured in this compilation. Thus, some documents seem to us to be ‘foreign’ to the chartulary, but perhaps this is because we are not aware of certain connections between places and people that would explain their presence. Among those documents which appear foreign, in Register B we find (numbered 429) a text of May 14th 1340 relative to the kidnapping of Nicolinus Fieschi, Genoese ambassador to King Edward III of England (Photograph 3). Pope Benedict XII had launched a bull excommunicating those responsible for the crime.

Document 429 of Register B.
Photograph 3: Document 429 of Register B.

A. Germain also named a “set of important documents concerning the plan to liberate King Jean (II) of France … by means of an incursion into England, a coordinated effort that was backed by King Waldemar (III) of Denmark. Germain found these documents in the archives of Montpellier and published them in 1858 (4).

Though prudent, we cannot deny that there is some ‘kinship’ between these other ‘foreign’ documents and the Fieschi Letter!



(1) Il registrum Magnum del Comune di Piacenza, critical edition by E.Falconi and R.Peveri, Milan, 1984, Introd.pp.CXVIII- CXIX.

(2) Documents contained in registers B, F, and A del chartulary, respectively.

(3) M. Gouron, Rèpertoire numérique des Archives Dèpartèmentales … Hèrault, archives ecclésiastiques, Ser.G 1123*, Montpellier, 1970.

(4) A. Germain, Lettre inedite de M.F. , concernant les dernières années du roi d’Angleterre Eduard II, in Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, 1877, vol.21, n.3, pp.282-288.

The Hunt for the King 9) Pope Benedict XII’s Letter to his Legate, Arnauld de Verdale, at the court of Emperor Louis de Bavaria, January 1339

A long-promised letter

Months have now passed since I promised to publish a full translation of Pope Benedict XII’s letter to Arnauld de Verdale in January 1339. This document speaks of a letter which may well be the Fieschi Letter. To remind readers, Verdale was the Pope’s ambassador (legate) at the court of the Emperor, Louis IV (Louis de Bavaria in the letter). Edward III of England had just forged an alliance with the Emperor in aid of the coming war against France. The Pope was trying to prevent this war, and the Fieschi Letter would have represented a powerful diplomatic tool for him in this context. The Fieschi Letter was found among in a register of papers of the Cathedral of Maguelone, where Verdale became bishop just a few months later. We therefore believe it is possible that the Fieschi Letter was used in the context of these diplomatic negotiations with the Emperor, and that Verdale kept a copy of it when he went to Maguelone. Indeed, as you will read, the Pope’s letter mentions two letters, marked A and B, that Verdale was to present to the Emperor. Was one of them the Fieschi Letter? If so, perhaps one day, searching among the papers of the Imperial court of the time, traces of the Fieschi Letter could emerge.

Here follows the translation of the letter and the attached cedula, followed by a comment

NOTE – The Pope refers to himself in the first person plural (We/Us/Our), always given capital letters, while pronouns referring to the Emperor (He/Him/His) are similarly given capital letters.

560 Avignon 23/01/1339 Benedict XII – that which Arnauld de Verdale, his legate, shall reply to any requests made by Louis de Bavaria. (Close Letters, Vatican Register 134, no cccxciv [414 verso]

To our beloved son, Master Arnauld de Verdale, dean of the church of St Paul of Fenouillet, diocese of Alet, our chaplain.

Having fully understood those letters that you and the Magnificent Lord Louis de Bavaria recently sent to Us, We will write two letters to Him of the same form contained in the attached document [cedula] enclosed with the present documents, and We desire that firstly you present Him the letter marked ‘A’ on the back, and having received from Him an answer about that for which we sent you, and about the substance of that which We told you in person and then later in letters, without any transgression observed in anything, then, presenting him the other letter marked ‘B’ on the back, you shall obtain from him, if you can, an answer concerning its contents. Truly, therefore, having obtained or not obtained in some way this second answer, if you will have awaited it, hurry back to Our presence, to make Us aware of said answer and of everything concerning the above, and every singular fact, you shall inform Us fully. Nevertheless, should you require anything, for which accordingly with Our intentions you deem it necessary to remain some days further, make sure to let Us know, so that you can receive Our answer as to this, so that you will know whether you must remain further for this or return, thus We desire that you do not in any way remain to concern yourself with other dealings with Louis or any other person of His following without Our special mandate to do so. Concerning the rest, since it is neither fitting nor honorable for the Roman Curia to place its trust in wicked men, those [men] of whom you made mention in your letters, we will make no concessions to them, if however, solicitous of their own wellbeing these men, who have most need of the Lord’s forgiveness, freely and willingly come to the Holy See to most humbly beg pardon and mercy, We will kindly and honorably, in the degree to which they are worthy, deal unto them strict justice, tempered by the unguent of pity.
Redacted in Avignon, ten days before the Kalends of February, in the Fifth Year [of Our reign]

++Here follows the gist of a certain paper cedula in which is given an answer to the content of a letter that Master Arnauld de Verdale sent the Pope, and which was included with the copies of the two Papal letters sent to Louis de Bavaria, and the letter sent to Arnauld de Verdale, transcribed above.++

Together with certain Brothers of Ours, rightly just a few, We carefully examined the secret letters which you recently sent us by … Our courier, and deliberated upon their contents, and when that deliberation was had, neither to Us nor to Our Brothers did it seem that any honorable, useful or indeed feasible course of action is offered to us by the Emperor.
Firstly, where touching upon, above all things, those things both arisen and yet to arise that are disputed between Him and … the King of France, Our desire is to be prepared for everything, though this may seem absurd and inconvenient, when every dispute is born between them, if not the issue of the Empire, concerning which Ludovicus himself does not admit to have no right, and concerning which He desires reconciliation with Us and with the Church, for which fact before said reconciliation is made, We will benevolently receive His submission, there being no prejudice nor indecency in this for Us or for the Church. And it follows in said course of action, that as soon as He has been welcomed into Our graces, and the said King [of France] on his part will want to choose Us … and the King of England will choose Louis, and a compromise is reached concerning all the things disputed between them [the King of France and the King of England] and thus the war is stopped by a truce, as it will be seen must be done, it would not be honorable for Us should we restore that war between these kings, as we were able to, as behooved us, avoid it [war] and, saving our good conscience, we intend to avoid it. However, though this course of action seems feasible, when the King of France asserts that the King of England is his vassal, and the King of England has the havit of negating this, it is not easy therefore for the King of France to have good judgement concerning this fief over which the dispute between them has arisen, nor desire to reach a compromise, in fact, in general, according to that which We have understood, and which the King of France knows, in every discussion the said King of England makes great requests, and it cannot be thought that the King of France will make a compromise. Thus, if this course of action will come to pass, in this a just usefulness will be had in the reconciliation of said Louis, and a great force and deliberation will it carry. And if in the interim the wars do not cease, it will be seen to be of too little benefit, on the contrary, though there be doubt as to the outcome of the battle, in the meanwhile other acts of war may occur that will prove difficult to defuse, and should all these cease and a compromise, as stated, be reached, it will not be easy for Us nor for Louis to arrive at the same place. So, bearing in mind the above, and many other considerations made and deduced, we omitted to explain this course of action to the King of France. But if Louis sends his ambassadors to us to accord reconciliation, and the King of England sends his, with full powers to accord peace with the King of France, We will write most effectively to the King of France, convincing him to agree on this peace, and we will make every effort so that peace and reconciliation achieve their positive effects, so that all that is grave and hostile in this matter, war, and the uncountable ills that come of it, disappear and end immediately and Our course of action will be seen to be feasible and honest. You, bearing in mind what is said, will realize what you must say in answer to Louis, and how [you must say it], and no other course of action being worthy, with the prudence lent you by God in his grace, do not allow yourself to become involved in other matters, and as soon as you have an answer to that which We sent you for, hurry back to Us.



Interpreting this letter, and in particular the cedula that follows it, is extremely difficult. Firstly, the language used is highly convoluted and diplomatic. Furthermore, these documents often refer to previous communication by word of mouth, which was obviously far more secure than written correspondence. Since we can only guess at what other information was exchanged in the private conversations mentioned, at times it is difficult to interpret the meaning of this letter, so we are essentially limited to conjecture.

Regarding the two letters, A and B, since the Pope writes ‘present Him the letter marked ‘A’ on the back, and having received from Him an answer about that for which we sent you,’ it would seem that letter A related to the matter for which Verdale had originally been sent to the Emperor, presumably the coming war and how to prevent it (as the entire document, especially the cedula, concerns this issue). Concerning letter B, the Pope writes ‘you shall obtain from him, if you can, an answer concerning its contents. Truly, therefore, having obtained or not obtained in some way this second answer, if you will have awaited it, hurry back to Our presence, to make Us aware of said answer’. That ‘if you can’ makes one think of a letter concerning a matter that the Emperor may or may not a) be aware of; b) have information concerning; c) have an opinion of. The story told in the Fieschi Letter could fit the bill. It seems probable to us that, if one of these letters truly was the Fieschi Letter, it was letter B.

Concerning the cedula, from this rather long and convoluted document it seems that Pope Benedict XII hoped to initiate a course of action (‘via’ in the original Latin, which literally means ‘road’ or ‘way’) that was two-fold. First, he wished Louis de Bavaria to seek reconciliation with the Holy See. After which, if the King of France ‘chose’ the Holy See, and Edward III of England ‘chose’ the Emperor, he hoped to negotiate a peace accord between France and England, with the help of the Emperor. We might infer that ‘choosing’ the Pope for France and ‘choosing’ the Emperor for England meant choosing a ‘higher authority’ to represent them in negotiations. It is clear that Verdale was not there to disrupt the alliance between England and the Empire, but to use it in order to avoid war. It is clear that avoiding war is, in fact, the Pope’s main concern in this document, and that he hopes the Emperor will assist him.

If one of these letters was the Fieschi Letter, how would it have helped the Pope avoid war? We believe his message may have been: ‘Edward III of England is vulnerable, and could be dethroned in favour of his father. Why don’t you try to make him see sense and back down, before this comes to pass?’

The Hunt for the King 4) The Verdale Hypothesis

A double tip-off

The research contained in this post was triggered by a curious tip-off that came from a 2003 review of Ian Mortimer’s The Greatest Traitor on the Guardian. The review was written by Jonathan Sumption, author of a series of histories of the Hundred Years War, who observes of the Fieschi Letter: “Its explanation almost certainly lies in the fact that the bishop of Maguelone, in whose register it was found, was in Germany at the time. He had been sent there by the pope, who strongly disapproved of the Anglo-German alliance, and his instructions were to disrupt it.” Up until July of this year, I had only come across this explanation here, and in the Wikipedia article on the Fieschi Letter (and in pages that quote the Wikipedia article), first posted in 2007, which appears to have taken the theory from Sumption’s review, as I have found no mention whatsoever of the theory anywhere else, not even in Seymour Phillips’ most thorough précis of the literature. Then, in July I visited Berkeley Castle and had a very pleasant lunch (ham, eggs and chips, with a wonderful, aromatic, local pale ale) with, among others, a member of the Berkely family and the castle archivist, David Smith, who mentioned this theory again. By that time, Auramala Project researchers were already trawling through Papal letters concerning the bishops of Maguelone, and this is what we found:

1338: Edward III is in Flanders with his army, courting Imperial allies at the beginning of the Hundred Years War

Europe in the 14th century. The Holy Roman Empire is in the centre, in white.
Europe in the 14th century. The Holy Roman Empire is in the centre, in white.

In September, 1338, King Edward III received the status of Vicar-general of the Holy Roman Empire from Emperor Louis IV. This was a part of his opening strategy at the beginning of the Hundred Years War. A month later he used his new position to issue a summons to the various dukes, counts and princes of Flanders that came under the overlordship of the Emperor. Among these rulers there was a bishop: the Bishop of Cambrai. This is because Cambrai was, at that time, a form of miniature state known as prince-bishopric, where the bishop was not only a spiritual ruler but also a secular one. But the secular borders of his rule did not coincide exactly with the spiritual dioceses pertaining to Cambrai. Indeed, the spiritual diocese of Cambrai extended  into the neighbouring Duchy of Brabant as far as Brussels. The secular state based around Cambrai, known as the Cambrésis, was much smaller. As a diocese, Cambrai was under the archbishop of Reims, in France, and of course under the Pope. But as a secular state, it was under the overlordship of the Holy Roman Emperor. Cambrai became a hotspot at the beginning of the Hundred Years War, in part because it lay on the path towards France.

Brabant and Cambrai in medieval times

Edward III knew that the Bishop of Cambrai leant strongly towards the Papacy and France, and would never answer his summons. It seems he probably wanted to lead his new Imperial allies of Flanders against Cambrai, but needed a good excuse to do so. By summoning the bishop Edward III may have been deliberately creating a diplomatic incident in order to have an excuse to invade the Prince-bishopric. Soon afterwards, when the deadline for the summons came and went and the Bishop did not come, Edward III and the Emperor accused the Bishop of Cambrai of treason against the Empire.

One of Edward III’s Flemish allies was the brother of his wife Philippa, Count William II of Hainaut (another sister was married to the Emperor himself: it was a close knit, family affair). In december, Count William made a short-lived raid into the territory of the Cambrésis, seizing several castles and destroying farmland. This incident set off a flurry of Papal letters. Let’s pick up the thread at the beginning of the year 1339.(1)

The Pope’s letters

Pope Benedict XII’s tomb in Avignon

January 12th: Pope Benedict XII(2) establishes that the charges made against the Bishop of Cambrai by the King of England and the Emperor are null and void, and warns both rulers against invading Cambrai, on risk of excomunication. Note: Emperor Louis IV ‘the Bavarian’ had already been excomunicated by the previous Pope, John XXII, in October 1327, for siding with the Franciscan Order in a controversy with the Papal Curia in Avignon concerning the dogma of the Poverty of Christ (this controversy lies at the heart of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (Ed.))

January 13th: the Pope sends letters to the Bishops of Tournay and Liege, exhorting them to excommunicate the soldiers who had invaded Cambrai a month earlier, and on the same day dispatches another letter to William of Hainaut, ordering him to pay damages to the Bishop of Cambrai for what his troops did.

January 23rd: the Pope writes to his legates (a legate is essentially a Papal ambassador (Ed.)) Cardinals Bertrand de Montfavence and Pedro Gomez de Barroso, who are engaged in talks with French and English ambassadors at Arras in an attempt to broker a peace treaty between France and England  and avert war. He orders them to pursue peace for the good of all Christianity, or at least truces that give the impression of peace, and to go to the King of France in person, if necessary, to persuade him of the importance of the peace talks.

January 23rd: the Pope sends a littera clausa (‘closed letter’, or confidential letter (Ed.)) to Arnaud de Verdale, a highly trusted associate of the Pope’s, who had carried out extremely delicate work for the pontiff in the past(3). The letter is sent to Verdale at the court of Emperor Louis, where he is the Papal legate. Among other things (it is a very long letter) the letter informs Verdale that “to him (the Emperor) We will write with two letters together, in the manner of the attached cedula. First you must present him one of the two (letters (Ed.)) that We send, marked A on the back, and, once you have received his response, concerning those things for which We have sent you, and in the form in which We have spoken to you, and then written to you by letter, without any observed transgression, the other letter, marked B on the back, you shall present to him, and obtain, if you can, an answer from him concerning what it contains. Having received a definitive answer concerning this, or not having received it, hurry back to Us to refer to Us about the aforesaid business, and about any detail you have noticed and to inform Us fully and with the greatest clarity.” (Neither ‘letter A’ nor ‘letter B’ are transcribed among the papal documents Ed.)

There follows the cedula, another extended document, of which we report the following passage: “the secret letter which earlier you sent Us, We have examined, and We have deliberated in secrecy upon its content with certain brothers of ours, and it is apparent to all of us that no honorable, useful or pursuable option is offered to us by him (the Emperor (Ed.)). ”

Three months after these events, Verdale became Bishop of Maguelone. During his time as bishop there, cathedral officials began work on the register in which the Fieschi Letter was found.

In the next blog post we will explore some of the possible implications of Pope Benedict XII’s letter to Verdale. In the meantime we would like to allow readers to ponder the matter without ‘interference’ from our own interpretations.

(1)  de Sturler, J, Paris, 1936, Les Relations Politiques et les Echanges Commerciaux entre le duche de Brabant et l’Agnleterre au Moyen Age and Sumption, Jonathan, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999, The Hundred Years War 1: Trial by Battle

(2) Daumet, Georges,  1899-1920, Benoit XII (1344-1342) ; Lettres closes, patentes et curiales se rapportant à la France

(3) Fisquet, Honoré, Paris, 1899,  La France pontificale (Gallia christiana), histoire chronologique et biographique des archevêques et évêques de tous les diocéses de France