20 February, 2015

Following in Edward II's Footsteps in Italy

I'm delighted to announce that in September this year, I'll be travelling to northern Italy at the kind invitation of two Italian cultural associations, Associazione Chesterton in Vercelli and The World of Tels in Pavia.  The latter organisation also run the fantastic Auramala Project - brilliant and extremely important work researching Edward II's afterlife in Italy (please do read their About page for more info).  As many of you will know, Manuele Fieschi, an Italian nobleman by birth, papal notary and and appointed bishop of Vercelli in the early 1340s, wrote a letter to Edward III in the 1330s explaining how Edward II had escaped from Berkeley Castle in 1327, and made his way to Corfe Castle, Ireland, Avignon to see the pope and finally to Italy, where "he changed himself to the castle of Cecima in another hermitage of the diocese of Pavia in Lombardy, and he was in this last hermitage for two years or thereabouts, always the recluse, doing penance and praying to God for you and other sinners."  (Full text of the famous Fieschi Letter is here.)

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!


Sami Parkkonen said...

This is interesting stuff! By the way, Auramala could be a finnish name as it is, it would make sense to every finn :-D

Kathryn Warner said...

Hehe, really? :)

Anonymous said...

Have a great time in Italy (maybe, you could post the text of your talks for those of us who can't see you live?) Do you think you might be hosting an "Edward II tour" some day? (Loved the book, BTW ... is anyone planning on doing a proper biography of Isabella?)


Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Esther! I'll be talking for an hour or so, and most probably will only make myself a few notes (I talk much better when I do it more spontaneously), but will definitely post some of it here! As well as pics, and more accounts of Edward's afterlife in Italy.

I'd love to do a tour...will have to see what happens some day!

You will probably be very pleased to know that I'm currently writing a bio of Isabella ;) It's due out in spring-ish next year.

Anerje said...

This is fantastic news! So exciting! To think, you could walk in the footsteps of the exiled Edward II. You can't dismiss Edward's possible survival as 'speculative'. There is a wealth of material. It's amazing to think the story of Edward's survival persists in Italy.

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje, I'm so excited! It's so great to be going where Edward went, and to meet people who are interested in him and researching him.

Lauriana said...

That sounds fascinating. Have a great trip!

And to be honest, I didn't know about this theory about Edward II's survival. Even though there are unlikely elements to it, it's interesting that it's so easily dismissed as a fiction despite the presence of so much contemporary material. I could think of some 'facts' from the mediaeval period with less proof...

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you, Lauriana! I really can't wait!

I totally agree. There's so much evidence in its favour (and also plenty against it, of course), it seems a little strange to dismiss it out of hand as 'entirely speculative'.