From Pieve di Controni to Eltham Palace

What unites Eltham Palace in the borough of Greenwich, London, and Pieve di Controni near Longoio, comune di Bagni di Lucca? The conference held in our Pieve di Controni last Saturday afternoon  aimed at finding out.

The answer is Pancio da Controni, born at Pieve di Controni, who crowned his medical career by becoming head consultant and doctor to King Edward II in his Royal Palace at Eltham SE London, and, when that king died, to King Edward III of England and the Queen. So valued was Pancio in the English court that his salary quadrupled in a matter of a few years from £25 to £100 per annum. In addition, Pancio was given up to four castles as residences!


(The conference poster)

How did Pancio get to this exalted position? He was simply the best doctor around and born in the right place to learn his craft, namely the thermal springs of Bagni di Lucca (then called Bagni di Corsena) which attracted people from all over Europe seeking health cures and, nearby, Prato Fiorito, rich with healing plants like  St. John’s wort and angelica.


(St John’s Wort)

From surviving documents in London’s Public Records office we know quite a lot about Pancio’s legal dealings but hardly anything about his medical practice except from what can be gleaned from a couple of indirect references. In one instance, for example, Pancio disputes another doctor’s reason for the cause of high temperature affirming that it is the heart that causes this.

Controni de Pancio or Pancio de Controni, enjoyed great influence at the English court, lending money to king Edward, as he was a rich business partner of the Lucca banker Azzolino Simonetti. When Castruccio Castracani became lord of Lucca in 1325, Pancio de Controni obtained a pardon from Edward II, for Castracani’s murder, during the latter’s stay in the UK, of Chaco Roncini, an exile who also emigrated to England.


(Eltham Palace, London, where Pancio from Pieve di Controni, was the King’s personal physician).

In his will Pancio left money to Bologna University to found a college for twelve students and an annuity to support them. Three students were required to study grammar and arts, six medicine and three canon law,

Unfortunately, most of Pancio’s will was not carried out as it depended on the repayment of money lent to King Edward, by the Florentine banking company Peruzzi and Bardi, for paying debts incurred during the Hundred Years’ war. The UK’s economic crisis caused a major financial collapse of the kingdom in 1340, the King did not honour his debts to Italy and this led to the failure of Bardi and Peruzzi (coincidentally, the same two families who endowed the two chapels in Santa Croce in Florence and commissioned Giotto to paint those marvellous frescoes of the life of Saint Francis in them). Since Pancio had invested in these companies he lost most his money too.

Giotto_Florence_Santa_Croce_Bardi_Chapel (1)

(Part of that fresco in Santa Croce commisioned by the banker Bardi)

I wonder if Italy can still get the money back from Britain – it definitely needs it at present. The interest charges due on the amount must more than compensate for the considerable price inflation that must have occurred since 1325. As a gesture of good will, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II could, at the very least, offer a bursary to the best  medical students of Bologna University.

It was great to have this conference on Pancio in the very church he was baptised in and the very village he was born in over seven hundred years ago!

Here are some photos of the wonderful Pieve di Controni including the font where Pancio was baptised.

The contributions from the three speakers on the history of mediaeval medicine, the life of Pancio and the development of the towns and villages of the Val di Lima respectively were very well-presented and made for a most interesting and instructive encounter and certainly brought Pieve di Controni closer to Eltham palace, the UK royal residence at the time and also just down the road, (from where I lived in Woolwich, that is). Bagni di Lucca’s head librarian gave a fascinating tour of the Pieve and the evening was rounded off by Pizza night at the adjacent church hall.



7 thoughts on “From Pieve di Controni to Eltham Palace

  1. This is staggering information! Well done, and thanks for sharing.
    Just one thing perhaps to be verified. You mentioned the batismal font as being the one where Pancio was baptised.
    I cannot precise the reference, but I have read that the original PARISH of “Controne” was not located where the current “Pieve di Controne” village lies, neither where the current San Cassiano Di Controne” is. One thousand years ago (around AD 1000), the parish was located in an area just downhill from where Pieve di Monte di Villa is, right by the cemetery. It was on a later date that the parish was moved over to another village. What is the age of the present church of Pieve di Controne?

  2. The first mention of the Pieve di Controni is in a document dated 844. The original facade (at the rear because the church was turned from back to front when a landslide blocked the original entrance) is dateable any time from the ninth to the twelfth century – probably earlier rather than later since it is still very much in the Pisan style – the distinctive Luccan style only developed after freedom from Pisan domination. What you say is very interesting – there was indeed a time when there were two pievi di Controni – the first, Santa Giulia, at the location you mention in your reply and the second (originally dedicated to St Stephen) where the present pieve is located. The reason for once having two is unclear but what is clear is that St Giulia was eventually left to rack and ruin and the pieve was definately established at Controni. There is a reprint of a book on the history of the pieve by Don Elio Carlotti with a useful english translation alongside.on sale at Giovanna’s shop at San Gemignano.

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