Post-classical history

Baldwin II of Constantinople (1217-1271)

The last ruling Latin emperor of Constantinople (1240-1261).

Baldwin was born in Constantinople in 1217, the son of Peter of Courtenay and Yolande of Flanders. He was only a child of eleven when his brother Emperor Robert died (1228). The Latin barons of Constantinople appointed as regent first Baldwin’s older sister Marie and then Narjot of Toucy, before coming to an agreement with John of Brienne (d. 1237), the former king of Jerusalem. According to this agreement (March 1229), Baldwin was to marry Marie, John’s daughter, and was to receive the “kingdom of Nicaea” at the age of twenty-one; John was to be emperor until the end of his life. Baldwin was sent by John as his representative to the French royal court. A number of documents have survived referring to Baldwin’s activities in the Low Countries and France (from 1237 onward). They concern mostly cessions of land or relics, pious foundations, sales, and debt contracts. In 1238-1239, he mortgaged the relic of the Crown of Thorns, along with the castle and marquisate of Namur and the county of Auxerre, to Louis IX, king of France, in order to raise much needed funds for his empire.

In July 1239 Baldwin returned with a small army to Constantinople, where he was crowned emperor, probably at Easter 1240. On his way to the capital, Baldwin made an alliance in Bulgaria with the Cumans (second half of 1239). He went back to the West in 1244, traveling around to recruit further support, and returned to Constantinople in 1248. In 1249 Baldwin accompanied Louis IX to Damietta during the French king’s unsuccessful attempt to conquer Egypt. During that time, his wife Marie visited Cyprus and France, where she spent several years, in order to seek financial support. Nine years later, the impoverished emperor was obliged to mortgage his own son Philip to the Venetian merchants John and Angelo Ferro (1258).

On the political and military fronts, the reign of Baldwin was as disastrous as the empire’s financial situation. Nevertheless, in June 1241 Baldwin succeeded in obtaining a truce from John III Vatatzes, emperor of Nicaea, for a period of two years. In 1244 he renewed this truce for another year. During 1240-1243 Baldwin also tried to build up an alliance with the Saljûqs of Rûm, and in August 1243 he even asked Blanche of Castile, queen of France, to give one of her nieces in marriage to the Saljûq sultan. In May 1246 he contacted King Alfonso X of Castile in order to obtain troops for Constantinople and in August of the same year made an agreement with Don Pelayo Pérez Correa, master of the Order of Santiago, to the same effect. However, the situation changed dramatically when after the deaths of John Vatatzes (1254) and Theodore II Laskaris (1258), the usurper Michael VIII Palaiologos became emperor of Nicaea. Michael’s policy was decidedly both more shrewd and more aggressive, having as final purpose the recovery of Constantinople, to which the Frankish defeat at Pelagonia (1259) was a prelude. Michael played for time in July 1261, agreeing to another truce with Baldwin, while preparing the final onslaught. As a result, the same month (25 July), Michael’s general Alex- ios Strategopoulos unexpectedly recaptured Constantinople. Baldwin fled via the Peloponnese to Italy, where he agreed to the Treaties of Viterbo (24 and 27 May 1267), which granted the suzerainty of the Frankish Peloponnese and other regions to Charles I of Anjou, king of Naples. Baldwin died in Sicily (October 1273). His son Philip succeeded as titular emperor (1273-1285).

Queen Blanche characterized Baldwin as a young man without wisdom or energy. Baldwin’s naïveté is perhaps best illustrated by an incident in 1258, when he sent ambassadors to Nicaea, asking Michael Palaiologos to cede him Thessa- lonica and some other regions. But Baldwin’s travels in the West and his relentless search for support from France, Castile, the Morea, the papacy, the Venetians, and even the Saljûqs and Mongols show that the last emperor of “Romania” was not entirely devoid of the tenacity of some of his predecessors.

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