24 August, 2016

Edward II, Edward III, the Three Kings, and the Six Kings

In around 1330 or a little before, a prophecy was made and written down in England and later became known as the Prophecy of the Six Kings. The six kings of England after King John (died 1216) were characterised as beasts: Henry III was a lamb, Edward I a dragon, Edward II a goat, and Edward III a boar. The next two kings, whose identity was of course not known in c. 1330, would be Richard II, another lamb, and Henry IV, a mole. The prophecy said of Edward III that he would "whet his teeth on the gates of Paris" and conquer France and the Holy Land, and ultimately would be buried at the shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral, Germany.

The Three Kings and their connection to Edward II and III, and their shrines, are the topic of the post. They are the Wise Men or Magi of the Gospels, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus Christ. Edward III certainly knew of the prophecy that he would be buried at their shrine in Cologne Cathedral; he stayed in the city on 23 and 24 August 1338 (exactly 678 years ago today) on his way to meet the Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig or Louis of Bavaria in Koblenz, visited the shrine and made a very generous donation, and promised that one day he would be buried in the cathedral church (though in fact he was buried at Westminster Abbey in July 1377). The prophecy of the Six Kings only began circulating in c. 1330, after the official death of Edward II in September 1327, but the Fieschi Letter of c. 1336/38 claims that Edward II, having escaped from Berkeley Castle before he was killed, "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." It therefore seems possible that a non-dead Edward II had heard of this prophecy of the Six Kings of England and that his son would one day be buried in Cologne, and desired to see the shrine, as the Fieschi Letter states. Even if Edward II was unaware of the prophecy, he certainly knew of the shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne, one of the most famous pilgrim sites in medieval Europe. His father Edward I had sent an offering to the shrine in 1305/06, near the end of his life. And although Edward II couldn't possibly have known it, his great-grandson Richard II would be born on the feast of the Three Kings, 6 January 1367, and his baptism in Bordeaux would supposedly be attended by three kings.

The remains of the Three Kings, before they were taken to Cologne, had lain in Milan, so it is perhaps significant that the Fieschi Letter states that Edward went to Milan after he had visited the shrine in Cologne. In Milan, to this day, stands a church dedicated to Sant'Eustorgio containing the empty shrine where the relics of the Three Kings were once located, which I was lucky enough to visit in May this year in the company of my lovely friend Margherita (and I spent the rest of that day in Milan with another lovely friend, Ivan Fowler of the Auramala Project, whose site is linked above). In the fourteenth century this church was a Dominican church, and Edward II was a massive supporter of the Dominicans and vice versa, which perhaps increases the likelihood that he went there. Sant'Eustorgio, or Saint Eustorgius in English, was bishop of Milan in the 300s, and got permission from the emperor Constantine the Great to take the remains of the Three Kings, which the emperor's mother Saint Helena had brought to Italy as she did countless other Christian relics, from Rome to Milan. They were housed in the church of Sant'Eustorgio until 1162, when the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa attacked Milan. Barbarossa looted the church and took the remains of the Three Kings back to Germany through the Gotthard pass over the Alps and up the River Rhine to the city of Cologne and into the keeping of its then archbishop Rainald von Dassel. In 1191, a spectacular golden shrine was made to house the relics, depicting the three men presenting their gifts to the infant Jesus, and in 1322 - just nine or ten years before the Fieschi Letter alleges that the officially then dead Edward II saw it - the shrine was moved to the choir of Cologne Cathedral by Archbishop Heinrich von Virneburg. Here it still stands. I visited it with my friend Rachel last Saturday.
Cologne Cathedral.
Golden shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne.
Shrine in Cologne Cathedral.

Shrine in Cologne Cathedral.

Church of Sant'Eustorgio, Milan.

Empty reliquary that once contained the remains of the Three Kings in Sant'Eustorgio.



Anerje said...

Interesting connections!

sami parkkonen said...

One just has to love the medieval history! The mystical, magical, legendary elements in hard core history of the rules and nations just makes it even more interesting. Today? Six hundred years from now the historians will have these: European comission discussed about the budget proposals. Yawn.

chris y said...

Not directly related to this, but it would be interesting to know at what point (western) Christianity decided there were three of them, and when they were first regarded as kings. St Matthew merely says "There came wise men (magoi) from the east...". Could have been any number, and I believe some eastern churches settled on twelve.