Post-classical history

La Roche Family

A Burgundian family from La Roche-sur-l’Ognon, northeast of Besançon. Its members rose to prominence during the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) and subsequently as lords of Athens and Thebes in central Greece, later bearing the title dukes of Athens.

Otho of La Roche is recorded in the Burgundian contingent before the walls of Constantinople at the end of the Fourth Crusade but is not listed among the prominent nobles of Burgundy who took the cross at Cîteaux in September 1201. Otho served in the army of Boniface of Montferrat in late 1204 as it invaded mainland Greece. He may have been granted Athens at this time, but it is unclear whether he also received Thebes then, or in 1209 or 1211 as a reward for his support of Emperor Henry of Constantinople against the Lombard lords of Thessalonica. In April 1209 Otho was certainly at the siege of Akrokorinth, and like Geoffrey I of Villehardouin he went from there to attend Henry at Ravennika. In June 1209 he welcomed Henry to his lordship of Athens and took part as lord in the ceremonials enacted there. Thereafter, Otho built up his lordship in central Greece: he wrote to Pope Innocent III, who addressed him from 1208 onward as dominus Athenarum (lord of Athens); possibly built up the Propylaia as a ducal palace; and in 1217 granted the monastery at Daphni to the Cistercian monastery of Bellevaux in Burgundy. Otho maintained close links with Burgundy throughout the twenty-six years he was absent on crusade and in Greece. In 1225 he returned to his native Burgundy, where he died by 1234.

Otho was succeeded in Burgundy by his son Otho II, and in Athens by his nephew Guy I, who had been in Greece with his uncle since 1211. Guy was the son of Pons of Flavigny, and it was his descendants who were to further the family interests in Frankish Greece, either as lords of Athens and Thebes, or as lords of Damala and Veligosti, Moreote fiefs that had been granted to Otho by the Villehardouin dynasty of Achaia in return for his support during the siege of Akro- corinth. Guy I ruled Athens and Thebes until his death in 1263. He was active in his resistance to Villehardouin claims and was granted the title of duke of Athens by King Louis IX of France in 1260. He was succeeded by his sons John (d. 1280) and William (d. 1287).

William’s son Guy II (Guyot) was the last of the La Roche dukes. He was able and ambitious and, at his untimely death in 1308, seemed set to enhance the status of the dukes of Athens within Frankish Greece. He left no direct heir, and the succession passed to the Brienne family, into which his aunt Isabella had married in 1277. The family name continued with Reynaud, lord of Damala, who was killed at the battle of Halmyros in 1311.

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