Post-classical history

Villehardouin Family

A noble French family from the area of Troyes in Champagne. In the wake of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), a branch of the Villehardouin family came to rule the Frankish principality of Achaia in southern Greece from 1209 to 1278.

The first known lord of Villehardouin was Vilain of Arx- illeres, who had died by 1170, when the family is mentioned in the sources for the first time. His second son was Geoffrey (d. 1218), later chronicler of the Fourth Crusade, who became marshal of Champagne in 1185 and as such represented the count of Champagne on a number of diplomatic missions, including negotiations at Venice in 1201 to arrange transport of the crusading army to Egypt. As a member of the inner councils of the Fourth Crusade, Geoffrey provides insights into the organization and decision-making processes of the expedition. By 1208 he had been given the title of marshal of Romania, and he stayed in Greece until his death in 1218.

The chronicler’s nephew Geoffrey I of Villehardouin established the family as princes of Achaia by substantially subduing the Morea in the years after 1209. He brought his wife from Champagne to Greece in 1210. In 1217 he arranged the marriage of his son, the future Geoffrey II (1228-1246), to Agnes of Courtenay, daughter of the Latin emperor of Constantinople. Geoffrey II succeeded as prince in 1228 and substantially established the hegemony of Achaia in Frankish Greece by the time of his death, without heirs, in 1246.

Geoffrey II’s brother William, who had been born in Kalamata in 1210 and was recorded as fluent in Greek, followed him. William completed the conquest of the Morea by capturing Monemvasia and the district of Skorta, but he was forced to cede lands around Mistra in 1261 following his defeat at the battle of Pelagonia and subsequent captivity in Constantinople. In the face of Greek opposition from Mistra, he sought help from Charles I of Anjou, king of Naples. By the Treaty of Viterbo (1267), William became a vassal of Charles. He betrothed his daughter and heiress, Isabella, to Charles’s son Philip; their children were to inherit the principality, and in the event of no heirs being born, the principality was to revert to the Angevin kings of Naples. The marriage took place at Trani in 1271. In 1277 Philip of Anjou died. The marriage was childless, and so when Prince William himself died on 1 May 1278, the principality passed to the Angevins of Naples.

In France the lands of Villehardouin passed to the heirs of Geoffrey, the marshal of Romania. His son Erard (1175/1180-1226) was mentioned as lord of Villehardouin as early as 1213. Erard’s son William became marshal of Champagne in 1231 but was never referred to as lord of Villehardouin. He died in 1246.

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