Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Geoffroi de Villehardouin
Once the Marshal of Champagne, this noted Johannes Factotum was accounted by many as the smartest man on the Fourth Crusade. He considered himself a simple layman and soldier however, and of less stature than his peers among the leadership.
At the time of the Fourth Crusade, Marshal Geoffroy was observed to be an aging, careworn knight,unbowed and proud in his bearing. Known for his long, introspective walks on the fringes of the camp, he was readily spotted by his prominent moustache, his thinning blonde hair, with streaks of silver encroaching, and his intelligent brown eyes. He was armed with a finely crafted sword and dagger, and his device was worn prominently on his surcoat. To denote his vows as a crusader, a simple red cross was sewn onto the shoulder of his cloak.
The coat-of-arms of Geoffroi de Villehardouin, Seigneur de Villehardouin et de Lezinnes, Maréchal de Champagne. The black molina cross on a field of tenne is his family arms, which was marshalled with that of the County of Champagne and further enhanced by the honour of the adding the symbol of the marshal. Later on he became the marshal of the Latin Empire and was awarded the lordship of Mosynopolis, after which he gave up the lordship of Villehardouin and Lezinnes to his eldest son and then marshalled his heraldy with that of the Latin Empire instead of the County of Champagne. In the rolls of the Latin Empire, he was then known as Geoffroi de Villehardouin, Seigneur de Messinopolis et Maréchal de Rumania. Even though the city was destroyed by Tsar Kaloyan of Bulgaria in AD 1207, as a gesture of respect for the retired knight, his peers would continue to use his titles even after they became meaningless.
(Expanded from the wikipedia article).
Lord Geoffrey of Villehardouin, Marshal of Champagne, amateur historian, and advisor to the Crusader Counts of the Fourth Crusade, was a man of many self-admitted faults, but intelligence and talent were not among them. Of comparatively low birth compared to the other leaders of the crusade, he nonetheless had the respect of his peers as well as the base soldiery and the clergy too. In addition to his interests in history and warcraft, the marshal spoke many languages and had a strong grasp of science, mathematics, medicine, and politics.
Geoffrey was the son of Vilain of Villehardouin, a squire who earned his spurs bearing the standard of Count Walter II of Brienne against the Saracens during the Second Crusade. The lad became renowned for his intelligence and loyalty, and soon found himself in the inner circle of Count Walter. After the disastrous Siege of Damascus, Sir Vilain gained the personal approbation of none other than the pious King Louis VII and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although the crusade was ultimately a failure, Vilain was made a lord, given a generous parcel of land, and managed a good marriage to Dameron, a cousin of Count Henry I of Champagne.
Born in AD 1151 as the first son of that valiant and resourceful knight, Geoffrey was fated to always be an outsider in the company of the high nobility. According to the laws of primogeniture, as the eldest brother he stood to inherit the lordship, while the best that his other brothers (John, Roscelin, Vilain, Guy, and Walter) might hope for was a small parcel of land in a forgettable, untroubled part of the county, performing either as his vassal knights or perhaps sworn to the count of Champagne. With so many sons to see to, their father could not spare his two sisters (Emmeline and Haia) much of a dowry, so both wound up in the cloister before they reached their majority. Luckily for them all though, they were each gifted with a quick minds, a love of learning, and considerable ambition.
Indeed, all of them were destined to excel in their appointed path, be it noble or clerical. Unusual for a man of his time, Sire Vilain was well-read, and he chose to indulge his clever sons and daughters in their education. Geoffrey’s prodigious talents in particular grew into an exceptional command of the seven liberal arts. Unfortunately he was also cursed with an intemperate nature and a sense of mischief, and so found himself poorly suited to the administration of a forgettable, untroubled little piece of Champagne. Geoffrey eventually entered into the service of his mother’s kin, and he spent his many years neck deep in the intrigues and wars of Troyes and her counts. He became a valued servant to Henry I, and he won his own spurs while fighting for the count’s ally, the rebellious Henry the Young King, in the strife against his father, Henry II of England. Lord Geoffrey’s brother, John, was considerably more apt in the role of overseeing his lands, and the firstborn was content to allow him to do so while he sought for ways to advance the family fortunes.
And advance them he did. By his twenty-fifth birthday, there was wide-spread recognition of his education, quick mind, sound judgement, loyalty, and grasp of warcraft, and the count awarded him with the rank of Marshal of Champagne. Young Count Henry II looked up to Lord Geoffrey, and he was quick to reward his marshal’s family with rank and privilege in thanks for his good and loyal service. John would be made lord of Brandonvillers, while Guy and Gauthier would find fame as knights of the count’s court; the former gained the favour of the king and the lordship of Villevoques while the latter was content to take over management of Geoffrey’s land after John departed. The rest of the Villehardouins found a place in the Church and a comfortable life. The only black mark on their name came from Roscelin, whose checkered career as Canon of the Church of St. Etienne in Troyes ended in excommunication and ignominious obscurity. Henry II overlooked the scandal, however, and he counted on Lord Geoffrey’s support to keep his barons in line and loyal to his younger brother and heir, Theobald, while the count was away on the Third Crusade.
In due course, Lord Geoffrey himself would marry well not once but twice. He wed his first wife Eleanor de Villemaur in 1171, and she gave him three children (Marie, Errard, and Alix) before passing away from childbed fever six years later. His second wife, Chana de Lezinnes, was a noted heiress of the County of Burgundy, and their marriage in 1188 was attended by a number of prominent counts and barons of the realm. She too would give him two children (Geoffrey and Dameron), before passing of a cancer of the breast in 1199.
After his kinsman Conrad of Montferrat was murdered by the dreaded Hashshashyn, Henry II married his cousin’s widow Isabella, and so became King of Jerusalem in her right. Thus, Marshal Geoffrey became indispensable to his lord, effectively keeping the county together while Henry tried to gather support for a new crusade from his base at Acre. Geoffrey’s liege would not return from the Holy Land, unfortunately, for in 1197 Henry plunged to his death in a freak accident from his balcony. Theobald of Champagne became the third count of his name, and once more Geoffrey, now aging himself, pledged his fealty and significant abilities to his new lord.
In AD 1198, the year after the death of Henry II, Pope Innocent III called the Fourth Crusade. There was little enthusiasm for the pilgrimage at first, but on November 28, 1199 various nobles of France gathered at Theobald’s court for a tournament at his estate at Ecry-sur-Aisne. There, they “took the cross” and elected Count Theobald their leader. The enthusiastic would-be crusader noble had his marshal begin preparations for the coming pilgrimage. Geoffroy took a census of available manpower, raised taxes (to bolster a treasury diminished by the crusade of the late Count Henry), and began correspondence with the various lords who had pledged their support. The preparations took years, but from his work, Lord Geoffroy was confident that the crusade would be one of the largest ever, comprising as many as 4,500 knights (as well as 4,500 destriers alone), 9,000 squires, and 20,000 foot-soldiers.
Alas, Theobald also died in AD 1201. His widow, Blanche of Navarre, bade Geoffroy continue his preparations in honour of her beloved. With her blessing, he pledged the support of Champagne to the new nominal leader of the crusade, Marquis Boniface of Montferrat.
He was one of the six delegates sent to several of the Italian maritime city states to negotiate passage to the Holy Land, but only Venice expressed significant interest in the massive undertaking of building a fleet so grand as to transport such a large army. There they negotiated with the doge and the Great Council for passage. Some say that the dealings were hopelessly rigged by the Venetians, others that Dandolo clearly out-witted Villehardouin and the rest of the doltish crusader envoys, but they certainly never did so within earshot of the Marshal of Champagne. Indeed, Geoffrey steadfastly defended the arithmetic of his calculations and the virtue of both sides of the negotiations, and his normally even temper would grow wrathful at the mention of the fouled deal. Instead of the Venetians, he blamed those lords that pledged their aid and reneged, or else chose rival ports to Venice in which to take passage to Syria. Indeed his own nephew and namesake, Lord Geoffrey of Landrechies, elected to do just that, and the two of them are known to have quarrelled bitterly over the matter for a time.
While he was considered to be a noble and honest man, Lord Geoffrey was also pragmatic, logical and sensible to the end. He supported the attack on Zara (but not the condition with which the Venetians left it when the crusade departed) so that the Venetians would extend the terms of the debt. Along the same line of thinking, he also supported the occupation of Corfu, as it would eject the Genoese privateers that plagued the mouth of the Adriatic. He worked hard to reinvigorate the convictions of the men, and ward off father fragmentation and disaster as the pilgrimage continued. The promises of Alexius Angelus gave him hope that with one final delay, the logistical problems of the troubled Fourth Crusade would finally be solved.
On the island of Corfu, Geoffrey and his squire, Matthew of Montmorency, were observed by Lotario to be shadowing Raimbaut of Vaqueiras on his rounds of the taverns, alehouses, and inns of the port. While he first thought that they meant him harm, they were revealed instead to be protecting the troubadour when Norman assassins in the employ of the slighted prince, Aglaia, tried to assassinate him. Despite his advancing years, Geoffrey showed himself to be a capable and brutal warrior in the fray.
In her mission that same night to slay the prisoners (in order to spare them further torture) Maude later observed the marshal conferring with both Mathew the younger and his father as well as Marquis Boniface. As they discussed the Norman attack, the three of them demonstrated a mutual respect for the opinions of the others (although the squire was clearly a “junior partner”), and she overheard the marshal’s suspicions that some heretofore secret faction was working at cross-purposes to the crusade. When she reported this to the rest of the Concord and their allies among the Cainite Crusade, it only reinforced Sir Guy’s conviction that the marquis and his friends be given a wide berth.
Once the pilgrims arrived on the shores of the Eastern Empire, Marshal Geoffrey was heavily involved in organising the strategy and the logistics of their intentions of placing Prince Alexius on the throne. He also commanded one of the divisions as the crusaders sought to bring the Romaioi to battle late in July of 1203; an effort that saw the more numerous forces of Alexius III inexplicably quit the field. Perhaps it was fear of the sight of the might of the knights of the militi Christi arrayed before him, but in any case, the cowardly emperor fled the city that night. The pilgrims were emboldened by their success, but with the prince now on the throne as Alexius IV, with his blind father Isaac II Angelus returned as co-emperor, they discovered that the perfidious Alexius III had stolen most of the imperial treasury as he left.
Many months passed while the crusade endured hardships to stablise the rule of their new emperor. What little finances they had were frittered away on provisions and medicine as the Romaioi stalled for further time. In order to allay the suspicions and resentment of his countrymen, the callow Alexius IV distanced himself from his allies, causing further problems to arise as the financial situation of the foreigners grew more desperate. Marshal Geoffrey was frequently called upon to mediate between the factions but ultimately, the resulting tensions caused a renewal of hostilities as the emperor was dethroned in a palace coup and yet another Alexius found his way to power. In short order, both Alexius IV and Isaac II were dead, and war broke out once more.
Geoffrey of Villehardouin once again did his duty and commanded many of his fellow pilgrims in an unlikely assault on the sea walls. Almost miraculously, the day was carried, the city was sacked, the old order was burnt down, and a new Latin Empire rose from its ashes. Although he felt it a necessity given the dire straits of the pilgrimage at the time of the attack, he was appalled at the sack of the city and the manner in which the people of the capital were treated. In the wake of the Great Sack, as a reward for his good service he was named Marshal of Rumania in addition to his other honours and the vast wealth that he was awarded as his share of the spoils.
Immediately after Count Baldwin of Flanders was elected emperor of the Latin Empire, the realm quickly fell into war as he strove to secure their borders not just from the Greek successor states but also his ambitious vassals. The following year, Geoffrey would take part in the siege and resulting disastrous Battle of Adrianople that saw his friends Louis of Blois and Emperor Baldwin come to grief; indeed the skilfully managed retreat of he and Doge Enrico Dandolo was all that stood between the Latin Imperial army and complete destruction. The aftermath was difficult for the nascent empire, and in the years to come the marshal was in the thick of the conflict with its enemies. His youngest son and namesake would journey to the new realm, where he had the privilege of squiring for no less a personage than Emperor Henry of Flanders, brother and successor to Baldwin.
By 1207, he was nearing sixty years of age and well and truly feeling the weight of those years. Further, perhaps in order to assuage his conscience, to guard the reputation of he and his friends against the tides of history, or merely in order to satisfy a creative impulse, he began to set down the events surrounding the Fourth Crusade. Curously, although he was quite fluent in the use of Latin, he chose to write in his native French. The account was an apologetic of sorts, lionising the ethics and deeds of he and his fellow magnates of the pilgrimage in addition to relatively faithfully setting down their journey from his point of view. The effort consumed much of his time over the following years, and Geoffrey soon resigned his post to younger and more vainglorious men. He dwelt in the court of the emperor still, offering his advice when asked and otherwise giving instruction to his son so that he might be useful to their master, but he was content to recede into the shadows.
Some years later, after Geoffrey the younger won his spurs with honour at the Battle of the Rhyndacus, the old knight claimed that the Constantinopolitan winters were troubling his rheumatic knees, and he announced his desire to make his way to the court of his nephew, who now ruled as prince of Achaia. He would be peripherally active in the court of his princely namesake for some years as old age encroached, but his main residence was a villa overlooking the Ionian Sea, some eight miles west of Andravida. Having completed his memoirs, Prince Geoffrey also paid monks to make copies of the work, and it was disseminated among the magnates of the Latin Empire.
In 1217, one of these manuscripts found its way into the hands of Procet, a Lexor Brujah senator who had suffered through the loss of the Queen of Cities at the hands of the crusaders. The ancilla was reportedly incensed by what he saw as the lies set down in the document, and he made little secret of his desire to find Geoffrey of Villehardouin and exact a reckoning for the “offal smeared within.” He set out to take his retribution, and the old knight and historian appears to have vanished shortly thereafter.