Post-classical history



Boniface of Montferrat, a younger son of the crusading Marquis William V of Montferrat in north-western Italy, was born early in the 1150s. He was still a teenager when his elder brother Conrad went to Constantinople and, with a hurriedly assembled force of western soldiers, defeated a revolt against Emperor Isaac Angelos. In 1191 Conrad became Marquis of Montferrat; this was the same year that a bitter conflict erupted between the ruling house of Montferrat and the independent neighbouring city of Asti. It would last for 15 years and had more than local significance because Montferrat was widely seen as representing the ideal of feudal aristocratic government while the communal government in Asti was typical of many Lombard towns and cities. Montferrat was also Ghibelline, meaning that it supported the German Holy Roman emperors in their seemingly endless squabbles with the popes and their Guelph supporters.

In April 1192 Conrad of Montferrat was assassinated in the Middle East, and Boniface succeeded to the marquisate. Boniface was already a leading supporter of troubadours and the cult of knightly chivalry that they promoted, which encouraged the Provençal troubadour warrior-poet Raimbaut de Vacqueyras to come to Montferrat. Heroic and colourful as Montferrat was, its struggle with Asti ended in failure in 1202. Yet events elsewhere had already thrust Marquis Boniface of Montferrat onto a much broader stage when he was chosen as leader of the Fourth Crusade in summer 1201.

Boniface’s decision to accept such a role may have been influenced by his cousin, King Philip of France. At Christmas that year at Hagenau he also met another cousin, Duke Philip of Swabia, King of Germany and claimant to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. This was when Boniface was introduced to the fugitive Byzantine prince Alexios Angelos. They probably discussed the idea of putting Alexios on the Byzantine throne, and although Boniface of Montferrat was not present at the Crusader siege of Zadar he did support the proposal to divert the crusade to Constantinople. Indeed, as the leading commander of the crusade, the Byzantines expected him to become their new emperor, reportedly hailing him as ‘ayos vasileas marchio’ (the Holy Emperor the Marquis). In the event, Baldwin of Flanders was crowned emperor and Boniface had to make do with the crown of Thessaloniki. He had to fight to establish his newly created kingdom, and was ambushed and killed by a Bulgarian force in the foothills of the Rhodope Mountains on 4 September 1207, the faithful troubadour knight Raimbaut de Vacqueyras apparently dying in the same battle.


Raimbaut de Vacqueyras in a late 13th-century French manuscript of famous troubadour songs. Being the only troubadour to achieve knighthood, Raimbaut is shown as a mounted warrior with a lance and shield. (Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. Fr. 12473, f.60, Paris)


This manuscript of the epic poem Eneit by Heinrich von Veldeke, made in 1215, provides detailed information about German military equipment around the time of the Fourth Crusade. (Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Ms. Germ. Fol. 282, f.34, Berlin)

Count Baldwin IX of Flanders and VI of Hainault was born at Valenciennes in northern France in 1172, the son of Count Baldwin V of Hainault and Countess Margaret of Flanders. He grew up in tumultuous times, becoming count of a wealthy but recently reduced province in 1194. The following year he succeeded his father as Count of Hainault, thus combining the counties under a single ruler. Count Baldwin ‘the younger’, as he was sometimes known, worked hard to regain various lost provinces in Flanders, and in January 1200 he got King Philip Augustus of France to return most of the very valuable fief of Artois. Only a few weeks after this diplomatic triumph, Count Baldwin took the cross and agreed to take part in Pope Innocent III’s new crusade.

In April 1202 Baldwin set out at the head of what was then the biggest contingent of the Fourth Crusade. He also agreed with Boniface of Montferrat and Doge Enrico Dandolo of Venice in their support for the Byzantine prince Alexios Angelos. During the crusade, Count Baldwin of Flanders and his followers played a leading role in the fighting, and after Constantinople fell he was selected as the first Latin Emperor of ‘Romania’, probably because he had the votes of the Venetians, and was crowned on 16 May.

Early in 1205 the largely Greek-speaking Orthodox population of Thrace rose in revolt against Baldwin’s oppressive behaviour and called upon the Bulgarian ruler to help them. The result was a bloody battle outside Adrianople on 14 April 1205, in which Emperor Baldwin was captured. It is now accepted that he died in prison, in unknown circumstances, probably in the Bulgarian capital of Tarnovo, though the Latin Crusaders in Constantinople learned of this only in July 1206. On the other hand rumours later emerged claiming that Baldwin had escaped, and there were even attempts to rescue him.

Doge Enrico Dandalo was born in Venice between 1107 and 1110. As a young man he took part in important embassies to the Byzantine Empire and according to legend – almost certainly untrue – he was blinded by an unnamed Byzantine ruler. The RussianNovgorod Chroniclemaintained that he had been blinded by ‘the Greeks with glass’, and that ‘his eyes were as though unharmed, but he saw nothing’. In reality his apparent hostility to Byzantium was political and economic.

Elected as doge around April 1192, Enrico Dandolo ruled until his death around 29 May 1205. He was soon involved in prolonged negotiations with Emperor Alexios III, and although his shrewd foresight meant that the Venetians regained many lost trading privileges, the Republic still felt mistreated. This was the situation when, in 1201, Venice agreed to build and man a huge fleet for the forthcoming Fourth Crusade. The doge apparently welcomed the idea of supporting prince Alexios Angelos in order to win the Byzantine throne, perhaps having already discussed the idea earlier. Though old and blind, Doge Enrico Dandolo played a leading and active role in both Crusader assaults on Constantinople in 1203 and 1204. Under a treaty of March 1204 he finally obtained payment of the Venetians’ now-huge costs, plus extensive conquered territory. Enrico Dandolo was in Adrianople when Emperor Baldwin was captured by the Bulgarians, and is credited with enabling the remnants of the Crusader army to escape. However, he died very shortly afterwards, probably in Constantinople, and was buried in the huge basilica of the Hagia Sofia.

Lotario de’ Conti di Segni, who led the Latin Catholic Church as Pope Innocent III from 1198 until 1216, was born near Anagni around 1160. He came from an aristocratic family and was educated in Paris and Bologna. Having risen within the church hierarchy to become a cardinal deacon in 1190, Lotario de’ Conti was elected pope on the death of Celestine III when he was still only 37 years old. Throughout his pontificate he strived to make papal power a political reality rather than merely a legal theory. This would give the papacy the ability as well as the right to impose peace upon temporal rulers, but also give him greater authority to suppress heresy and promote crusades, which he did with enthusiasm.


A grosso, a newly introduced high-value Venetian coin minted during the reign of Doge Enrico Dandolo. (American Numismatic Society Collection, New York)


Prince Alexios convinced the leaders of the Fourth Crusade that he would be welcomed in Constantinople, perhaps imagining a triumphal entry like that in a late 12th- or early 13th-century Byzantine manuscript. (‘Theophilos arriving at the Blachernae Church’, Skylitzes Chronicle, Biblioteca Nacional, Cod. 45-3, N2, f.43r, Madrid)

In the longer term Innocent III’s efforts largely failed, but he was undoubtedly very influential, even deposing one of the rival Holy Roman emperors, Otto IV, as well as excommunicating King John of England and other rulers. Nevertheless, Innocent III’s policies resulted in widespread civil wars. He was also the leading proponent of the Fourth Crusade and the Albigensian Crusade, both of which probably had a negative impact upon European history.

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