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Feb 23, 2014 Written by 
Edoardo II

The Fieschi Letter

Mausoleum of Edward II at Gloucester's cathedral Mausoleum of Edward II at Gloucester's cathedral

The Fieschi Letter vividly describes Edward II’s escape from captivity. Here is an excerpt: … A servant came to your father, and he said ‘My Lord, two men have come to kill you. If you please, I will give you my clothes, so that you can evade them’. … Then, wearing the servant’s clothes, at twilight, your father left his prison. When he had reached the last door without resistance, because he was not recognized, he found the porter sleeping, and immediately killed him. Taking the keys to the door, he left together with the servant... And after your father had escaped his prison... he turned his steps to Normandy and from Normandy, down through the Occitan, to Avignon... Finally he left for Paris, and from Paris to Brabant and from Brabant he headed for Milan in Lombardy, and from Milan to a certain hermitage of the Castle of Milascio, and since war came to said castle, he moved himself to the Castle of Cecima in a hermitage of the diocese of Pavia in Lombardy, and he was in this last hermitage for two years, always the recluse, doing penance, and praying God for you and other sinners. In testimony of which I have caused my seal to be affixed for the consideration of Your Highness. Your Manuele de Fieschi, notary of the lord Pope, Your devoted servant

The Fieschi Letter names the town of Cecima as the last refuge of King Edward II. The people of the Staffora Valley have always told the story of a King who came to live in their valley, escaping some terrible fate. Local place names, too, make tantalising references to a king, for example ‘King’s Plateau’ and ‘King’s Niche’. But there is a fundamental difference between the local oral tradition, and the Fieschi Letter. The Fieschi Letter talks about the town of Cecima, but local oral tradition talks about the beautiful Abbey of Sant’Alberto di Butrio. Both are locations inside the valley. But why is there a tradition about Sant’Alberto, not Cecima? Auramala Project historians believe that the reason may simply be that Cecima was a town close to the river Staffora, which was on the merchant road known as the Salt Road, which went from the Ligurian Sea to the cities of Lombardy. Sant’Alberto, however, is high up in the hills, and is relatively obscure. It may be that Manuele Fieschi named Cecima in the letter because it was a town familiar to merchants and travellers. Edward may have in fact been in Sant’Alberto, but the Abbey was not well known to travellers, so Fieschi used the name of a more familiar town. In any case, it still remains a mystery why Sant’Alberto is associated with Edward II in local tradition. In the Abbey of Sant’Alberto there is a mysterious, open tomb beneath an arch which certainly once harboured the relics of an important individual, as it is the only tomb in the Abbey other than that of its founder, Saint Albert. This tomb is empty, but according to legend it was the tomb of Edward II. Also, let us not forget that among the saints pictured in the frescoes of the Oratory of Sant’Antonio, one of the three churches of the Abbey, we find the patron of England, Saint George. The idea if the hermit-king is also fits in well with what we know of Edward II’s personality. He was a highly religious man, who gave frequent and generous donations to churches and monasteries (including Gloucester Abbey, which later became Gloucester Cathedral), and who often performed pilgrimages (for example to Cologne, to worship at the Shrine of the Three Kings) and often spent time in convents and monasteries, far from the quagmire of intrigue that was the royal court. In fact, contemporary chroniclers described how he preferred physical activities, such as swimming and working the land, and indeed the company of his most humble subjects, to life at court. In the silence and tranquillity of Sant’Alberto, tucked away among the chestnut woods of the Apennines, perhaps carrying out humble tasks such as tending the medicinal gardens, or keeping animals, he may well have found peace at last. The Fieschi Letter was discovered in an Archive in Montpellier, France, in 1878, and its contents were published. But from the death of Edward II until 1878, historians in England all believed that Edward II died in Berkeley castle in 1327, and that there was no evidence at all to contradict this fact. Over five hundred years, generations of historians studied the version of events that says Edward died in 1327, and so when the Fieschi Letter was discovered, it was very difficult for them to believe it. Particularly among English historians, there was extremely strong resistance, which persists to this day. Indeed, up to now no serious historical research has ever been organized here in Italy to verify whether or not the King actually came here. The English archives had been studied, but not the archives here in Italy. The idea of King Edward in the Staffora Valley remained somewhere in a limbo between folklore and history. Until, that is, the launch of the Auramala Project.

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