This hermitage of Cecima in Lombardy can only mean the remote Sant'Alberto di Butrio, which still exists today and is still a hermitage. Their website, in Italian and English, contains much information about Edward II. When I looked at the site a few months ago while writing the chapter of my book about Edward and his murder/survival, I squeaked with surprise and pleasure to see my own name there several times! They very kindly call me 'today's leading scholar of Edward II', which of course flatters me unpardonably and is clearly not true, but it's still thrilling to see it. :)
It has long been believed in Italy that Edward II died in that country, and indeed an empty tomb at Sant'Alberto is claimed to have been his. Just a few weeks ago, the information board at the monastery was updated (in Italian and English) to include information about Edward II's life, survival and his 'other' tomb in Gloucester Cathedral. A pic of the new board can be seen here (scroll down to the bottom) on the Auramala Project's website. Local residents of Lombardy often remember that in childhood they were told about an English king who sought refuge at the hermitage and who died there, and this story has a long history: in 1958, researchers found an eighty-eight-year-old local man who had been told about the English king at Sant'Alberto as a child by his grandfather.
Ian Mortimer's chapter 'Edward III, his father and the Fieschi' in his Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies (2010) contains a great deal of information about the Fieschi family and their prominence in the region of Cecima and Sant'Alberto di Butrio. A castle named Oramala, just across the valley from the monastery and in sight of it, in the 1330s was in the hands of one Niccolo Malaspina, who was a nephew of Luca Fieschi and who was called il Marchesotto of Oramala. Luca, a cardinal who died in 1336, was a cousin of both Manuele Fieschi (later bishop of Vercelli, who wrote the Fieschi Letter) and Edward II himself: he was Edward's third or fourth cousin. Both Edward and his father Edward I always acknowledged Luca and his brothers and nephews as 'kinsman', and they were related through Luca's mother Leonora or Lionetta, though the precise connection remains unclear. (Contrary to what some modern historians have asserted, Manuele Fieschi and Edward II were not themselves related.) Luca and Edward II were in occasional correspondence, and met in person when Luca visited England in 1317. The Fieschis were an extremely influential noble family who provided two thirteenth-century popes (Innocent IV, born Sinibaldo Fieschi, died 1254, and Adrian V, born Ottobuono Fieschi and nephew of Sinibaldo, died 1276), seventy-two cardinals and countless bishops. In 1315 and 1317, Edward II appointed two of Cardinal Luca's nephews, Francesco and Carlo Fieschi, "to be of the king's household and to wear his livery forever," acknowledging them as his kinsmen. (Patent Rolls 1313-1317, p. 340; Ibid. 1317-1321, p. 10.) And a member of the Fieschi family claims that in the 1330s a non-dead Edward of Caernarfon lived in an area of Italy dominated by the Fieschi family.
|The town of Cecima, the hermitage of Sant'Alberto and the Fieschi/Malaspina-controlled castle of Oramala. The area is in Lombardy, not far from the border with Piedmont. (Courtesy of Google Maps)
|Sant'Alberto on the map of Italy, between Milan and Genoa, with the towns of Pavia and Vercelli marked.
I'll be giving a lecture about Edward II in the Seminary of the town of Vercelli on Saturday 19 September. This is the town Manuele Fieschi was bishop of, so I can't wait to see it. On the Sunday, I'm being taken on a visit to Sant'Alberto di Butrio, and a couple of days after that, I'll be speaking at the University of Pavia (founded 1361). So, so exciting!
My book Edward II: The Unconventional King is reviewed by Professor Nicholas Vincent in this month's BBC History Magazine. You can read the review here; scroll down to the second page, 'Bad King Edward?' I'm mostly thrilled with it; 'entertaining and informative'. :) Professor Vincent does say, however, that my take on Edward's survival after 1327 is 'entirely speculative' and 'neither proved nor probable'. This despite the wealth of evidence which points to Edward living past 1327, including the Fieschi Letter, the Melton Letter and the plot of the earl of Kent and countless others. Should we think that the archbishop of York stating that 'Edward of Caernarfon is alive and in good bodily health' in 1330 is entirely speculative? There's lots more I could say about that, but will leave it for today, and look forward to a fab week-long trip to Italy in a few months!