History of Constantinople: Latin rulers



Under the name of the Latins, the subjects of the pope, the nations of the West, enlisted under the banner of the Cross for the recovery or the release of the Holy Sepulchre. The Greek emperors were terrified and preserved by the myriads of pilgrims who marched to Jerusalem with Godfrey of Bouillon (1095-99) and the peers of Christendom. The second (1147) and third (1189) crusades trod in the footsteps of the first. Asia and Europe were mingled in a sacred war of two hundred years; and the Christian powers were bravely resisted and finally expelled (1191) by Saladin (1171-93) and the Mamelukes of Egypt.

In these memorable crusades a fleet and army of French and Venetians were diverted from Syria to the Thracian Bosporus; they assaulted the capital (1203), they subverted the Greek monarchy; and a dynasty of Latin princes was seated near three score years on the throne of Constantine.

During this period of captivity and exile, which lasted from 1204 to 1261, the purple was preserved by a succession of four monarchs, who maintained their title as the heirs of Augustus, though outcasts from their capital. The de facto sovereigns of Constantinople during this period, the Latin emperors of the houses of Flanders and Courtenay, provided five sovereigns for the usurped throne. By an agreement between the allied conquerors, the emperor of the East was nominated by the vote of twelve electors, chosen equally from the French and Venetians. To him, with all the titles and prerogatives of the Byzantine throne, a fourth part of the Greek monarchy was assigned; the remaining portions were equally shared between the republic of Venice and the barons of France.

Under this agreement, Baldwin, Count of Flanders and Hainault, was created emperor (1204-05). The idea of the Roman system, which, despite the passage of centuries devoted to the triumphs of the barbarians, had impressed itself on Europe, was seen in the emperor's letter to the Roman pontiff, in which he congratulated him on the restoration of his authority in the East.

The defeat and captivity of Baldwin in a war against the Bulgarians, and his subsequent death, placed the crown on the head of his brother Henry (1205-16). With him the imperial house of Flanders became extinct and Peter of Courtenay, Count of Auxerre (1217-19), assumed the empire of the East. Peter was taken captive by Theodore, the legitimate sovereign of Constantinople, and his sons Robert (1221-28) and Baldwin II (1228-37) reigned in succession. The gradual recovery of their empire by the legitimate sovereigns of the East culminated in the capture of Constantinople by the Greeks (1261). The line of Latin sovereigns was extinct. Baldwin lived the remainder of his life a royal fugitive, soliciting the Catholic powers to join in his restoration. He died in 1272.

The family of Courtenay, who for long laid claim to the sonorous title of Emperor of the East, survived in Edessa, France and England. The Earls of Devonshire could claim a right to the imperial crown. They still retain the plaintive motto (Ubi lapsus! Quid feci?) which asserts the innocence and deplores the fall of their ancient house. While they sigh for past greatness, they are doubtless sensible of present blessings; in the long series of the Courtenay annals the most splendid era is likewise the most unfortunate; nor can an opulent peer of Britain envy the emperors of Constantinople, who wandered over Europe to solicit alms for the support of their dignity and the defence of their capital.

From the days of the Emperor Heraclius the Byzantine Empire had been most tranquil and prosperous when it could acquiesce in hereditary succession. Five dynasties-the Heraclian, Isaurian, Amorian, Basilian, and Comnenian families-enjoyed and transmitted the royal patrimony during their respective series of five, four, three, six and four generations.

In the intervals of these dynasties the succession is rapid and broken, and the name of a successful candidate is speedily erased by a more fortunate competitor; but the imperial house of Comnenius, though its direct line in male descent had expired with Andronicus I (1185) had been perpetuated by marriage in the female line, and had survived the exile from Constantinople, in the persons of the descendants of Theodore Lascaris.

Michael Palaeologus, who, through his mother, might claim perhaps a prior right to the throne of the Comnenii, usurped the imperial dignity on the recovery of Constantinople, cruelly blinded the young Emperor John, the legitimate heir of Theodore Lascaris, and reigned until 1282. His career of authority was notable for an attempt to unite the Greek and Roman churches -a union which was dissolved in 1283-and his instigation of the revolt in Sicily, which ended in the famous Sicilian Vespers (March 30, 1282), when 8,000 French were massacred.

By the arts of his diplomacy he saved his empire by involving the kingdoms of the West in rebellion and blood. From these seeds of discord uprose a generation of iron men, who assaulted and endangered the empire of his son, Andronicus the Elder (1282-1332). Thousands of Genoese and Catalans, released from the wars that Michael had aroused in the West, took service under his successor against the Turks. Other mercenaries flocked to their standard, and, under the name of the Great Company, they subverted the authority of the emperor, defeated his troops, laid waste his territory, united themselves with his enemies, and, finally, abandoning the banks of the Hellespont, marched into Greece. Here they overthrew the remnant of the Latin power, and for fourteen years (1311-26) the Great Company was the terror of the Grecian states.

Their factions drove them to acknowledge the sovereignty of the house of Arragon; and, during the remainder of the fourteenth century, Athens as a government or an appanage was successfully bestowed by the kings of Sicily. Conquered in turn by the French and Catalans, Athens at length became the capital of a state that extended over Thebes, Argos, Corinth, Delphi, and part of Thessaly, and was ruled by the family of Accaioli, plebeians of Florence (1384-1456). The last duke of this dynasty was strangled by Mahomed II, who educated his sons in the discipline of the seraglio.

The long reign of Andronicus the Elder ended in his abdication (May 24, 1328) after three civil wars with his son, the younger Andronicus, whom he had associated with him in the purple. In 1341 Andronicus the Younger died. The minority of his son, John Palaeologus, enabled the regent Cantacuzene to receive the imperial power. Voluntarily, or perhaps under the pressure of circumstances, Cantacuzene abdicated in 1355, and lived in retreat during a portion of the long reign of the emperor.

IT was during the reign of John Palaeologus that the Eastern Empire was nearly subverted by the Genoese. On the return of the legitimate sovereign to Constantinople, the Genoese, who had established their factories and industries in the suburb of Galata, or Pera, were allowed to remain. They had received this honourable fief from the bounty of the emperor, and were indulged in the use of their laws.

In consideration of these benefits the republic of Genoa sealed a firm alliance with the Greeks, guaranteeing them the support of a prescribed naval armament in the event of war. During the civil wars the Genoese forces took advantage of the disunion of the Greeks, and by the skilful use of their power exacted a treaty by which they were granted a monopoly of trade and almost a right of dominion.

The Roman Empire (I smile in transcribing the name) might soon have sunk into a province of Genoa if the ambition of the republic had not been checked by the ruin of her freedom and naval power. Yet the spirit of commerce survived that of conquest; and the colony of Pera still awed the capital and navigated the Euxine till it was involved by the Turks in the final servitude of Constantinople itself.





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