Post-classical history

Stephen of the Perche (d. 1205)

Participant in the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) and subsequently a baron of the Latin Empire of Constantinople as duke of Philadelphia.

The second, or more probably, the third son of Rotrou III (d. 1191), count of the Perche, and Matilda, daughter of Thibaud IV, count of Blois (1107-1152), Stephen built a career for himself in the service of King Richard I of England in the 1190s. He was preparing to join the Fourth Crusade when the premature and unexpected death of his brother Count Geoffrey III placed the command of the Percheron forces in his hands. King John of England stood surety for a loan to Stephen, and in June 1202 Stephen made numerous religious benefactions that reveal the extensive resources at his disposal.

Stephen must then have made his way to Venice with the rest of the crusaders, but he fell ill and did not set sail for Zara (mod. Zadar, Croatia) in October 1202. He may have been injured when his transport ship, the Viola, sank shortly after embarkation, but he may equally have feigned sickness because he disagreed with the diversion of the expedition. The latter is implied by criticism made by the chronicler Geoffrey of Villehardouin, who claims that Stephen deserted from the army. Stephen then spent some time in Apulia before making his way to Syria in the spring of 1203.

It is possible that Stephen felt his crusading obligations had thus been honored, for in the winter of 1204-1205 he arrived in Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey). He brought to the new Latin emperor, Baldwin I, reinforcements from Outremer and the services of himself and his cousin, Reginald of Montmirail. He was granted the duchy of Philadelphia in Asia Minor, an area that was outside the emperor’s actual control but that gave Stephen scope to create his own territory. In Easter week of 1205 he was fighting with the emperor’s forces before Adrianople (mod. Edirne, Turkey) and lost his life in the engagement against the Bulgars.

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