Kathryn Warner in Pavia to debate the Fieschi Letter with the Auramala Project researchers

Today we interrupt our series of posts on Manuele Fieschi to tell you about an important event that took place in Pavia last Wednesday, when Kathryn Warner, British historian and biographer of King Edward II and his queen, Isabella of France, was with us in Pavia. We held an accademic debate on the Fieschi Letter and in general the hypothesis of the survival of King Edward II at the Biblioteca Universitaria of Pavia. Present were members of the Auramala Project team, and a number of history professors of the University of Pavia, as well as the general public. Professor Renata Crotti, teacher of Medieval History at the University of Pavia, moderated the event and contributed to the debate.

Kathryn and Ivan
Kathryn speaking about Edward II, and Ivan translating. Kathryn’s new book ‘Isabella of France, the Rebel Queen’ can be seen on the table.

Elena Corbellini read aloud her new transcription of the Fieschi Letter in Latin, and Mario Traxino read aloud the Italian translation. With his Genoese accent, it really seemed that Manuele Fieschi had entered the room!

Elena and Fieschi Letter
Elena Corbellini reading directly from the Fieschi Letter during the debate.

Line by line we deconstructed the Fieschi Letter, relying on Kathryn Warner’s encyclopaedic knowledge of 14th century England for the first part of the story, dealing with Edward’s overthrow and imprisonment in England, and then more and more on Auramala Project research as Edward’s steps take him towards Italy.

Ivan and Mario
On the left, Elena Giacomotti, president of Cultural Association Il Mondo di Tels, of which the Auramal Project is a part. Mario Traxino, Auramala Project researcher, points out medieval vocabulary to Lorena Gavazzoni, who acted as Kathryn Warner’s interpreter for the day, while Ivan adjusts the display focus.

Line by line, we dissected the Feischi Letter and other evidence for Edward’s survival, such as the Melton Letter, for no less than three exhausting hours. Other university professors and academics present included Prof. Ezio Barbieri, diplomatist, Prof. Luisa Erba, historian, and Prof. Italo Cammarata, historian.

Kathryn and Ivan and Crotti
Kathryn Warner, Ivan Fowler and Prof. Renata Crotti, answering questions from the audience.

Ironically, even after three hours of debate we still hadn’t managed to debate absolutely everything… But we did make a video of the event, and we will post snippets of the most interesting bits over the coming weeks, so that our followers online can be a part of the debate, too.





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

Manuele Fieschi, Canon of York

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

Canonries and prebends

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

(20) See Kathryn Warner, http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.it/2012/01/william-meltons-letter.html

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