11 March 2010

Pavane for a Dead Princess: Part Four

 Malatesta coat-of-arms from Pesaro

The year of 1429, may have been the most difficult year in Cleofe Malatesta's life.  The past eight years had been difficult enough, but in 1429 loss piled on loss.    
               In February or March of the previous year, she had given birth to a daughter, Helena, named for her husband's mother, the Empress Helena.  It is Greek tradition to name the first son and daughter after the husband's parents.  Shortly after, she wrote her sister Paola a letter that may be the earliest written description we have of postnatal depression.  She is barely able to mention the baby.  
               During 1429, her brothers-in-law, Constantine and Thomas, were besieging Patras, the city her brother Pandolfo ruled as Archbishop. Pandolfo went to Venice to ask for military aid, but Venice said it would conflict with their agreements.  Pandolfo was on his way back to Patras when he learned of the surrender.  Sphrantzes met with him at Naupaktos to find out his intentions.  
              Meanwhile, all that year, Cleofe's husband, Theodoros II, was dithering about whether he should go into a monastery -- was the fact of becoming a father (and discovering the wonders of sex) too much for him to assimilate?  Whatever the cause, it became clear in 1429, and again in 1436, that he was unable to give up control of Mistra to Constantine although he did hand over a great deal of territory to him.
               Pandolfo had been made a cleric early. He had a hunched back and dragged his foot when he walked -- a birth injury? -- and could not join the Malatesta tradition of warriors, but he joined their tradition of humanists, and he could represent the family's interests in the church.  In 1424 he had been given the archbishopric of Patras which, since the Frankish conquest of 1205, had been a fief of the church.  There, he rebuilt the cathedral of S. Andrea -- the Malatesti all went in for building -- and the Malatesta court composer, Guillaume Dufay, wrote an elegant short motet for the dedication: Apostolo glorioso. Pandolfo put up an inscription.

Coat-of-arms of Pandolfo Malatesta, Metropolitan of Patras, for the rebuilding of this church, 1426.    
               Given that his father, Malatesta "dei Sonetti" Malatesti, lord of Pesaro, had given new portals for the churches of S. Dominico and S. Agostino in Pesaro, we can speculate that one or more of the builders and stonecutters were sent over to work in Patras.  S. Andrea of Patras housed the relic of the head of Saint Andrew and much later, when Cleofe's brother-in-law Thomas had to escape to the West at the Ottoman takeover, he brought the relic as a gift for the pope.  But we know almost nothing of Pandolfo at Patras, except that when he had to leave, Cleofe lost an important contact with her family, and a source of comfort.    

Portal of S. Agostino given by Malatesta "dei Sonetti"  
               In August 1429, Cleofe's sister Taddeo died of the plague. Plague was no respecter of class, and a few years later her brothers-in-law's wives, Maria of Trebizond, and Zoe Paraspondylos, died of plague in Constantinople.  Then in November 1429,  Theodora, wife of Constantine, died.  There is no information as to whether they had actually met, but it does appear that Theodora was traveling from Clarenza to Mistra to finish out her pregancy there when something happened on the way, and she and her infant died.

             Then at the end of December, Battista wrote Cleofe a letter she likely would not have received for a month or more.  That letter has not survived, but the one she wrote Cleofe's sister has, and the letters must have been very much alike. This is a rough, partial, translation:

Dearest sister, . . . You should be told of the very sad news, of the transition of our magnificent and most virtuous father into memory.  I thought I ought to tell you what happened. . . he had no pain or physical suffering. . . Thursday night he had a bad cough that settled with treatment . . . Sunday night when we left him, he was in good spirits.  Monday morning he went to Mass as usual . . . he said grace at dinner and then talked a while with Maestro Mateo, he started to eat but took only a little bread and drank a very little . . . then he touched his remaining eye and said, "I don't know what is wrong with this eye."  Mateo asked him what he had said.  He didn't answer, then he said, "Virgin Mary, help me!" and remained with his eye closed . . . [Later] his face darkened, and we had him given Extreme Unction, then there were three great breaths . . .he moved a little . . . then in about an hour it seemed to us this blessed soul had left his body.
First page of the Paris "Rime" manuscript of Malatesta "dei Sonetti" Malatesta    
             Cleofe's father was Malatesta "dei Sonetti" Malatesti, widely known for his poetry, as had been his father who was a friend of Petrarch.  He was not, I'm afraid, anywhere near that standard, though he did try to rewrite the last canto of Dante's Paradisio. He was first of all a condottiero. Some fifty-six or so of his poems have survived, mostly about the Church and the Great Schism and the King of Rome.  He hired Guillaume Dufay as court musician and had his children educated in Latin and Greek.
              Dufay wrote a motet for Cleofe's wedding, Vasilissa ergo gaude, and he wrote one for her brother Carlo's wedding, Resvellies vous.  The family was rich in music and books and loyalty, and when Carlo inherited the lordship of Pesaro when Malatesta "dei Sonetti" died, he shared it with his brothers, Pandolfo and Galeazzo (who was married to Battista).  After this, the family story becomes too complicated, but I conclude with the closest thing available to a portrait of Cleofe, in one of Carlo.

Seal of Cleofe's brother, Carlo Malatesta
For more posts in the Cleofe series:
Pictures are from E. Angiolini and A. Falcioni, La Signoria di Malatesta "dei Sonetti" Malatesti (1391-1429) (Rimini, 2002).


  1. Was the meeting between Phrantzes and Pandolfo the entertaining episode – not so to the Most Reverend Archbishop I am sure – in which the deceitful Byzantine got the emissaries of the Sultan drunk and opened the correspondence? Poor Pandolfo!
    This is not actually the question I wanted to ask. Do you know anything about the Strophades islets and especially their ownership at the time? I will attempt to explain as briefly as I can the reason I am asking:

    The islets, off the coast of Elis, are the home of the monastery of the Transfiguration of the Redeemer – now a ‘metochion’ of the monastery of St Dionysius in Zakynthos. It is believed the monastery was built by Irene Laskarina, daughter of Theodore I Laskaris, emperor of Nicaea in the first half of the 13th century. How this was at the time possible is a different story. What seems to be a fact is the monastery was a Benedictine one by the end of that century. The islets belonged to the Archdiocese of Patras. In 1408 the Archbishop, Stefano Zaccaria, leased Patras to Venice for five years and left for Italy. The Venetians actually administered Patras – and the dependant territories I would think – until 1419. In 1416 the Venetians paid for dwellings and fortifications for the monastery. But when Cristoforo Buondelmonti visited in 1420 it appears the monks were Orthodox. He refers to them as ‘Caloieri’, and to the abbot as ‘Gumenus’. He says the previous monks had been captured by barbarians and sold to slavery. It is logical to assume the islets were given back to the Archbishop along with the rest of his diocese and then passed on to the Palaiologoi after the surrender of Patras.
    Indeed there is an early 19th century monastery document that states, ‘The monastery of Strophades was renovated by the late John Palaiologos Emperor of Constantinople who was king in 1440 – son of Manuel Palaiologos – he was one of six brothers this same king – ...’
    The oldest part of the main building is dated to the early 15th century http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Strofades_monastery_2008.jpg and there are Palaiologan eagles on the floor of what used to be the catholicon.
    So if the islets belonged to the Palaiologoi they should have become Ottoman in 1460. Logically, during the Long War they would have been captured by the Venetians, who ruled the waves west of the Morea. And then, based on your work on ‘love making’ and ‘the boundaries commissions’, they should have been returned to the Sultan. But they were officially part of the Stato Mar in 1487.
    So, is there a mistake? Or is the monastery the one that got away? Did the Turks somehow lose or forget it? Was it the only piece of land Mehmet the Conqueror failed to grab from the Palaiologoi? Perhaps the only ‘free’ part of Byzantium for a while? I would be grateful for any relevant information you may have come across. Sorry for my post not being relevant to Cleofe.

    Best regards,

  2. It sounds absolutely fascinating. I know nothing about this. I would think you would need something more reliable than a 19thC document, & eagles can appear as a later commemoration, like the ones in the Metropoleos at Mistra. I, of course, would like that account to be true, but we need more.

  3. Indeed it is not enough. In any case you can see one of the eagles here http://nemertes.lis.upatras.gr/dspace/bitstream/123456789/493/1/Nimertis_Theodoropoulou.pdf p. 35. The monastery was looted and burned repeatedly by Turkish attacks so most monastic documentation prior to the 18th century was lost. The story of the renovation by John VIII would have survived as a tale and may be inaccurate. It is a curious case though. There are not many other possibilities:

    1. The Strophades – also known as Strofadia and Strivali – could have been retained by the Venetians but nothing has so far been unearthed from the Venetian archives for the years between 1416 and 1487. This would be unlikely I think.
    2. They could have been taken over by the Duchy of Santa Maura in the early years of the 15th century when Carlo Tocco grabbed Elis from Centurione Zaccaria; but then why were the Venetians doing building work there in 1416? The islets also seem to not have been attacked when all the possessions of Santa Maura were devastated by Gedik Ahmet Pasha in 1479.

    I smirk at the possibility the islets may not have made it to the cadastres the Ottomans were compiling before the 1463 war broke out and the sanjakbey of the Morea never realised he should claim them at the negotiations almost 20 years later.

    Best regards,


  4. The address does not appear fully for some reason. You can find it easily I think if you google
    Θεοδωροπούλου Μονή Στροφάδων

    Best regards,


  5. An extraordinary building! I find nothing on these islands in anything I have here, & a friend who works on 15thC Greece has nothing to offer, either. So it looks as if you are the world authority. You need to write a short article, with proper footnotes & sources, presenting this as a question. Peleponnesiaka would be a place to send it, or to Medioevo Adriatico at http://www.sisaem.it/web/

  6. Some world authority! I am not a scholar, I don't do articles. But if it is a valid question perhaps a scholar ought to ask it and something may come out of it one day. I could help with the footnotes!

    Btw, any news from that saint? I have found out a couple of things from the 1820s.

    Best regards,


  7. Hello,
    the seal belongs to Carlo Malatesta (1368-1429) Lord of Rimini, not to Cleofe's brother Carlo (1390-1438), Lord of Pesaro.


  8. Thank you for making that correction. That was the identification in the book I had.


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