Post-classical history

Courtenay, Family

A French family, branches of which ruled the county of Edessa (1118-1146) and the Latin Empire of Constantinople (1221-1228 and 1237-1261). According to its own tradition, the family descended from one Atto, who built the castle of Courtenay (dép. Loiret) in central France at the beginning of the eleventh century.

One of Atto’s grandsons, the formidable Joscelin I (d. 1131), went to Outremer around 1101 and became lord of Turbessel in the county of Edessa, then ruled by his cousin, Baldwin II (of Bourcq). Although Baldwin deprived him of this lordship in 1113, Joscelin went to the kingdom of Jerusalem and was made lord of Tiberias. When Baldwin II himself became king of Jerusalem, he appointed Joscelin as his successor in Edessa. Joscelin’s family, by means of conquest and skillful family politics, particularly through close relations and intermarriage with the Latin and Armenian nobility, acquired a powerful position. Even though the county of Edessa was overrun by the Muslims during the reign of Joscelin II (d. 1159), his children became key figures in the kingdom of Jerusalem: Agnes (d. after 1186) married Amalric, count of Jaffa, and her brother Joscelin III (d. 1200) became seneschal of the kingdom. Although Agnes was divorced when Amalric became king (1163), both she and Joscelin acquired great influence during the reign of her son Baldwin IV (1174-1185). They were also instrumental in appointing Eraclius as Latin patriarch of Jerusalem (1180) and securing the crown for Agnes’s daughter Sybil (1186). Their actions have largely been seen in a negative light by historians, partly due to the historiography of William of Tyre, whom they opposed. Joscelin III’s daughters married husbands from the West and sold part of his estates to the Teutonic Order.

The family of Joscelin I’s elder brother Milo (d. 1127) improved its position in France and became related to the Capetians through a marriage between Milo’s granddaughter Elisabeth and Peter, a younger son of King Louis VI. Peter II (d. 1217/1219), count of Nevers and Auxerre, was crowned as the third Latin emperor of Constantinople after his marriage to Yolanda of Hainaut (d. 1219), a sister of the first two emperors, but died in captivity. Later their second son Robert became emperor (1221-1228), and when he withdrew from Constantinople after a dispute with his barons, his sister Mary ruled as regent. After the intervening reign of John of Brienne (1229-1237), their younger brother Baldwin II (1237-1261) ruled as the last Latin emperor. His reign was overshadowed by severe lack of power and money: he even mortgaged his son Philip (d. 1285) to Venetian creditors. In 1261 Constantinople was captured by the Greeks of Nicaea, and Baldwin died in exile in 1273. The claim to the Latin Empire and the Courtenay estates passed to the descendants of Philip’s daughter Catherine and her husband Charles of Valois, a brother of King Philip IV of France.

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