27 July 2010

Lady of Nauplion

There are no pictures of Maria, or Marie, d"Enghein, or d'Enguino, or any of six other spellings, but a hundred years ago, the occasional writer on medieval Greece and Nauplion tried to make some sort of romantic picture of her as Lady of Nauplion, summering in a pretty tower across the bay.  That tower was built by the Turks,centuries later, and although she did "own" Nauplion and Argos for a few years, there is no direct evidence that she actually was ever there.  But she may have been.  Modern historians rush right past her as unimportant.

Except that without her signature on a document, Venice might not have acquired Argos and Nauplion.   

Maria was born in 1364, the only child of Guy d'Enghein, Lord of Argos, Nauplion, and Kiveri, and his wife, Bonne de Foucherolles, daughter of the Enghein governor of Argos.  So it is very likely that Maria spent her youth in Nauplion and Argos.  She was betrothed at the age of 7 to a John de Lluria, probably the son of the Navarrese ruler of the Principality of Achaia. This marriage would have united the western near-half of the Morea with the Argolid, and would have intensely antagonized the Venetians in the south, the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea, and the Florentine Duchy of Corinth.

There are no documents for the interval, but one has to assume that Venice which had merchants in Nauplion and Argos had noticed the excellence of its port and the fine fortifications of both cities.  At some point Guy acquired citizenship in Venice, and possibly a house.  Guy died in 1377.

It should surprise no one to learn that two Greek archons with houses in Nauplion, a Kamateros and a Kaloethos, petitioned Venice for her to marry a Venetian, specifically Piero Cornaro, son of Frederigo, the wealthiest man in Venice, who had an abiding interest in the security of his trade interests in Greece. The petition was brought to Venice by Giovanni Gradenigo, one of the Venetian merchants of Nauplion.  It explained that everyone there was concerned lest Nauplion be taken over by Theodoros I, Despot of Mistra, or "that cruel tyrant" Nerio Acciaiuoli.  A Greek chronicler tells us that Kamateros and Kaloethos received large gifts for their concern.

Maria was married to Piero that same year in Venice.  The senate kindly provided a galley to take Piero out to govern Nauplion on her behalf.  She presumably remained under the supervision of her father-in-law.  In November 1381, the senate kindly provided a galley to protect Nauplion against the frequent Ottoman pirate raids.  There is another seven years of no information.

In 1388 Piero died. Maria was a widow at the age of 24. Nauplion petitioned that Venice take the Argolid into her tender care, since a young and grieving woman could not possibly be expected to manage such responsibility.

We have the contemporary Venetian copies of two documents that Maria signed on 12 December 1388, "in the house of the late Frederigo Cornaro."  One transfers her castles, places, fortresses, districts, pertinences, and jurisdictions of Argos and Nauplion on behalf of herself and any heirs,  to Leonardo Dandolo, "noble and wise man, knight, honorable procurator of S. Marco," acting on behalf of Venice. 

The second document said that Maria would receive for this an annuity in perpetuity of 500 gold ducats for herself and her heirs (and since her husband had been away for years the chances of heirs were fragile), and an additional annuity of 200 gold ducats for herself for life, and should she not have heirs, the right to bequeath 2000 gold ducats to anyone she pleased, payable out of the Venetian treasury, in her will.  And she would forfeit all of this should she marry anyone not a Venetian patrician.

Now, both these documents say that she is "over the age of fourteen and under the age of twenty-five."  She was twenty-four and everyone knew it.  What that means is that she was old enough to be married, but not of an age to legally transfer property.  Twenty-five was the legal age for a woman to transfer property.  This has not before been noticed by anyone writing on the subject, and it seemed not to be an issue for the notaries present, or for Dandolo, or for the Doge and commune of Venice.  All these legalistic public servants managed completely to ignore the law, Nauplion and Argos came under Venetian control, and 1388 entered the list of important dates in Nauplion's history. 

A young woman with 700 gold ducats a year of her own was highly desirable as a wife, and she shortly was married to Pasquale Zane, about whom we know nothing other than that he died in 1392.  We do not know why, nor do we know the cause of her death in 1393 at the age of 29.  Nor do we know what happened to that 2000 gold ducats she could bequeath.

However, in 1388, upon hearing of Piero's death, Theodoros of Mistra immediately came up with troops and occupied Argos.  He probably learned of the death within four days, while it would have taken a month, even two, for the news to reach Venice.  Theodoros did not move on Nauplion, having no ships of his own which would have been needed for defense.  [Late correction: he apparently did try a siege of Nauplion but Venice was able to keep it supplied by ship.] There were several years of mild war and bickering on the matter, which is a topic for another blog.

The last item in Maria's story occurred in August 1393, when the Venetian senate received a letter from her uncle, Englebert d"Enghein of Bruges, who said that he was technically Maria's heir, and he would like to have Nauplion and Argos.  The senate replied mildly that he could have them, just as soon as he reimbursed them for the expense they had been put to in the acquisition and defense of the territory.
 The picture above is Ruskin's watercolor of Frederigo Cornaro's house in Venice, now Ca'Loredan which, with Ca' Farsetti, is now the seat of the government of Venice and the Veneto.  This is where Maria lived.
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Late comment:  An anonymous commenter -- and I have asked that comments NOT be anonymous, complains about my spelling.  It is a meaningless comment under the circumstances: spellings in contemporary documents include, but are not limited to: d'Erigano, d'Anguein, d'Enghein, Dagyhein, Daghein, Enquien.


  1. Thanks for sharing all this with us. A very intriguing personality this Maria.

  2. A slight correction on spelling: Enghien, not Enghein


I will not publish Anonymous comments.