The Concord of Ashes
The princely son of the deposed Byzantine emperor, Isaac II. Alexius is handsome, articulate and willing to promise anything for the throne of Byzantium. The questions arise then: can he give what he offers? And can the crusade secure his claim??
A boyishly handsome young man with an average build, olive complexion, wavy black hair and confident brown eyes. He wears a fusion of styles from the courts of the Holy Roman and Byzantine empires, and veritably drips with gold jewellery. He is armed with a fine sword and dagger, and wears them with reasonable grace and the swagger of a prince “born of the purple”.
(Modified from the wikipedia article)
Alexius Angelus is a prince of the Byzantine Empire, and son of the deposed emperor Isaac II Angelus and his first wife, Herina Palaiologus (who died less than a year after his birth). Alexius is not a “prince of the purple”, as he was nearly three years of age when his father, with the popular support of the mob of Constantinople, deposed the tyrant Andronicus I (last of the Comnenus dynasty), and took the throne.
While initially successful, with a victory over the Sicilian Normans in the Balkans, Isaac’s rule quickly degenerated into farce. To pay for his armies as well as a dynastic marriage to the daughter of King Bela III of Hungary (Margaret, older sister of King Emeric and Prince Andras), he levied heavy taxes on the provinces. This resulted in the Bulgarian Uprising, and the loss of much of Byzantium’s stability and revenue in the West. A number of his most trusted generals and governors revolted against his authority, and still more used his lax rulership to enrich themselves at the expense of the people. The once mighty Byzantine fleet was allowed to rot and diminish to the point where only thirty decrepit galleys remained, with practically no stocks of the infamous Greek Fire that ensured its supremacy in the Aegean and Black Seas. The trading houses and galleys of Venice gained mercantile and naval power because of his poor government and spendthrift ways, for Isaac was most happy enriching his palaces and churches than anything else.
Isaac’s rule ended in 1195 when he was overthrown in a coup by his own brother, who was crowned Alexius III. Isaac was blinded and imprisoned, and Alexius III also imprisoned young Alexius, Margaret and her two sons by Isaac, Manuel and John. Alexius III feared to murder the family, remembering well the backlash against Andronicus Comnenus for his parricide of his nephew, Alexius II. Sadly for the people of Byzantium, Alexius III took Isaac’s excesses even farther, spending even more recklessly and placing incompetent sycophants in the most important positions in his government.
In 1201, two Pisan merchants were employed to smuggle Alexius out of Constantinople to the Holy Roman Empire, where he took refuge with his brother-in-law Philip of Swabia, King of Germany. Alexius’ sister Irene, otherwise lauded as “the rose without a thorn, the dove without guile” by the famous Minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide, constantly agitated her husband to aid her family in regaining the throne. So it was that over Christmas of 1202, Alexius was introduced to an ally of Phillip’s who might be of service to him, Marquis Boniface I of Montferrat.
Boniface was Philip’s cousin, and he had been chosen to lead the Fourth Crusade the year before. He had temporarily left the Crusade around the siege of Zara to visit Philip. Alexius and Phillip approached the Marquis and discussed with him the possibility of diverting the Crusade to Constantinople so that Isaac could be restored to his father’s throne, with his son ruling as co-emperor; in return, Alexius promised to ameliorate the difficulties besetting the militi Christi.
He would give them 10,000 Byzantine soldiers to help fight in the Crusade, maintain 500 knights in the Holy Land, the service of the Byzantine navy (20 ships) in transporting the Crusader army to Egypt, as well as money to pay off the Crusaders’ debt to the Republic of Venice with 200,000 silver marks. Additionally, he promised to bring the Greek Orthodox Church under the authority of the pope. Even so, while the young prince is indeed a gifted speaker and possessed of a clever mind, his words alone did not bear fruit. Boniface of Montferrat was no stranger to the east, having fought the Normans with his brother Conrad some twenty years before on Isaac’s behalf. He had heard boasts then of the extraordinary treasury of the emperor, and had seen the wonders of Constantinople with his own eyes. Naturally, the great nobleman agreed to put the proposal to his fellow counts and barons, and Alexius accompanied Boniface back to Zara.
Much of the fleet had moved on to Corfu, but the Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo was approached and he saw the merit of the proposal. Together they sailed to Corfu, stopping in at Durazzo on the way. The jubilation with which the local populace greeted the prince; their calls for him to take the throne and their professions of loyalty, convinced them further that the diversion to Constantinople was not just necessary, but just. Once they arrived at the island, they expended considerable efforts to convince their fellows but alas, not all of the crusaders have agreed. The Fourth Crusade almost dissolved once the diversion was announced, but after Alexius publicly stated his offer, with the backing of the remaining Abbots as well as Marquis Boniface, Count Baldwin, Count Hugh, Sir Geoffrey and the rest, the dissenters relented.
The Fourth Crusade sails for Constantinople, and young Alexius will have his throne…