23 April 2009

The Villehardouin Granddaughters

The name of the young woman who posed for this 1310 fresco is unknown, but she stands in here for her contemporary, the younger Isabelle Villehardouin. The chronicler Muntaner who knew Isabelle said: "It was no wonder if he [Prince Ferdinand] was enamoured of her, for she was the most beautiful creature of fourteen one could see, the whitest and rosiest and the best. And she was the most learned damsel, for her age, of any in the world. What shall I tell you?"
What I shall tell you is that it was not a good thing to be a princess in the medieval Morea.

When William Villehardouin, Prince of Achaia died in 1278, he left two daughters, Isabelle, whose story was sketched
here, and Marguerite, Lady of Akova. Each named a daughter for her sister. Isabelle's Marguerite has no story, only a long life in Flanders and a good marriage, but Isabelle's older daughter Maud had enough story for several.

There are a lot of names in this story.

First, Maud. Maud was married at the age of 12--she was legally an adult--to the young Duke of Athens, Guy II de la Roche, uniting the dynasties of Athens and the Morea, at least on parchment. Her mother Isabelle and step-father Philippe left the Morea in disgrace because of Philippe. Because of William Villehardouin's treaties, the Principality of Achaia now belonged to Charles II of Anjou, King of Naples who needed its wealth to finance his attempt to regain Sicily. He sent over his own governor and gave possession of the Principality to his brother, Philip of Taranto.

Philip appointed Guy as governor, but Guy and Maud made formal claim to the Principality in their own right, with the support of most of the feudal lords who wanted a Villehardouin. Guy died in 1308 after a long illness and Maud was a widow at the age of 15.
Philip betrothed Maud to his son Charles who also died, and when she was 20, Philip married Maud off to Louis of Burgundy, an Angevin relative. Maud and Louis were jointly rulers of the Principality of Achaia but as he was a teenager and they mostly lived in Burgundy, Achaia was still under Angevin-Neopolitan control.

Meanwhile, Maud's aunt Marguerite had been widowed twice. She and her daughter Isabelle had their own lives, troubled because of Marguerite's step-son. But when Marguerite's sister and Maud's mother, Isabelle Villehardouin, died in 1312 or 1313, Marguerite began her own efforts to lay claim to the Principality of Achaia. She had considerable support in this from the feudal lords who still resented the Angevin-Neopolitan adminstrators and who still wanted Achaia back under a Villehardouin. The Villehardouins had been popular ever since the first one had landed more than a hundred years earlier.

Parallel with the lives of the Villehardouin granddaughters, and intersecting with them, were the adventures, lootings, slaughters, and conquests of the Catalan Company -- a narrative much too long and unpleasant to relate here which you can read in the terrific chronicle by one of its captains, Muntaner -- but its members had by 1311 managed to take over most of Thessaly, eastern Greece, Thebes, Athens, Attica, Megara, and Aigina. Frederick, the Spanish king of Sicily, and one of the Catalans' backers, sent his cousin, the Infante Ferdinand of Majorca, to Greece to take over. He didn't, but during the next two years he had terrific adventures and made a splendid reputation for himself.

[Just a reminder here: when the Sicilian Vespers overthrough Charles I of Anjou, King of Naples and Sicily, back in 1286, they invited in Peter III of Aragon to take over Sicily, though the right of inheritance of his wife, Constance of Hohenstaufen. Charles I had taken Naples and Sicily from the Hohenstaufens. So now the Spanish-Sicilian empire controled half of Greece, and the Angevin-Naples empire controlled the Morea. You can see what was bound to happen.]

When Marguerite began looking for support, it was the year the Infante Ferdinand was particularly heroic in battle against the Moslems of Spain. He was apparently as charming a swashbuckler as anyone ever met, but Marguerite did not know this when she proposed to Frederick of Sicily that her daughter Isabelle marry his Ferdinand, and that they be Prince and Princess of Achaia under Frederick.

The ladies were invited to Messina, and Ferdinand was absolutely smitten. Remember what Mutaner wrote:

It was no wonder . . . she was the most beautiful creature of fourteen one could see, the whitest and rosiest and the best. And she was the most learned damsel, for her age, of any in the world.
Isabelle came from a family of at least four generations of splendidly-educated, multi-lingual women. She was swept off her feet. Everyone was enchanted by the couple's delight with each other. Marguerite transferred all her rights to Ferdinand and her lands to Isabella. Of course the Neopolitan Angevins were furious and when Marguerite returned to the Morea, their agents imprisoned her in the castle of Chlemoutsi which her grandfather had built, and confiscated her lands.

Isabelle became pregnant almost immediately and that was a signal to Ferdinand to make his plans to conquer as necessary in the Morea. Marguerite died in captivity: we do not know why, but there were many reasons to die in a medieval prison without needing to suspect underhanded action. Isabelle's pregnancy was in the seventh month and Ferdinand, wanting to protect her, did not tell her the news. Mutaner, delighted with the pregnancy, presented Isabelle with two bales of carpets, assorted garments, worked leather, and jewels. Then he rode up to Messina to help Ferdinand prepare their soldiers to embark for the Morea.

Two weeks later, they received word that Isabelle had given birth to an Infante on the first Saturday of April 1315. Ferdinand came down for a grand ceremony and they baptized him Jaime. Then Isabelle contracted a fever and dysentery. Ferdinand had returned to Messenia to complete plans for conquest but he hurried back. She recovered briefly when she saw him, but then she died when Jaime was 32 days old. Mutaner was directed to take the Infante Jaime to his grandmother, but that is a story for another time.

Ferdinand continued with his plans -- what else was he to do?-- and sailed for the Morea in June, landing near Clarenza which he attacked. Clarenza and several fortresses surrendered easily, and it looked as if Ferdinand was gathering a great deal of support from Moreote fiefholders and cities, including those who had held Marguerite in prison. When the situation looked stable, he arranged a marriage with Isabelle of Ibelin, of Palestine, a cousin of the King of Cyprus.

Meanwhile, opposition was building to the north in Patras and south in Messenia, and Maud who had been with Louis in Burgundy arrived with troops which she led into battle. Ferdinand won. Then Louis arrived with French reinforcements. The great lords from the islands came to the north-western Morea in support of Ferdinand, while the Greeks at Mistra sent two thousand troops to Maud and Louis. Ferdinand was expecting reinforcements by ship from Sicily.

They met in battle at Manolada, in a field not far from the sea, beside a small church of the Virgin. [More on that here.] Maud and Louis rode with their troops. Ferdinand's reinforcements remained off-shore, whether from contrary winds -- and they do blow from the land out to sea at mid-day, or from fear. Ferdinand's forces were completely crushed and he was beheaded on the field.

Two months later Louis died.

A new king, Robert of Naples, decided Maud should marry his brother, John of Gravina. Maud had had it with arranged marriages and said that she had secretly married one of the Burgundian knights, Hugues de la Palisse.

Robert, to no one's surprise, announced that he had discovered that Hugues was plotting against him, and Hughes was executed. Maud was imprisoned in the Castello dell'Uovo at Naples for 14 years (for marrying without permission) and forgotten. She died there in 1331. Her mother's aunt Helena, had been imprisoned for years and had died in prison, after Charles I of Anjou defeated her husband in 1266.

It was not a good thing to be a princess in the medieval Morea.

1 comment:

  1. Diana, you really have made the characters come alive for me. The relationships are so complex, it's easy to get lost. There is a history graduate student at Princeton who works on the institution of marriage in Crusader Greece. I'm not sure if she has finished her dissertation yet. Her name is Erica Gilles. -KOSTIS. PS. Wow. There was a battle next to the church in Manolada.


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