Friday, June 30, 2023

The Trial of Alice Kyteler, Part 3

See Parts one and two.

The outcome of the trial was dire for Alice, her maid Petronilla, and her stepson William Outlaw. There were others associated with the household that were also on trial, such as Petronilla's daughter, and other associates who had been accused of consorting with Alice.

While the trial was in progress, however, Alice managed to escape prison. It seems likely that she had help from the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger Outlaw (who was her brother-in-law). So far as anyone knows, she left Ireland and was never heard from again. No records exist that give any clue to her fate.

Petronilla was not so lucky. She was condemned for heresy and burned at the stake.

William Outlaw's fate was more complex. Condemned for heresy, he was served with penance. He was required to hear mass three times each day for an entire year and make donations of food to the poor. Also, he was required to provide lead for part of the roof of St. Canice's Cathedral.

Before the year was up, Bishop Ledrede learned that William had failed to observe his penance. He was imprisoned, and only released after he was made to lie in the mud before the bishop and other clergy and declare his fault. His penance was increased: he was now required to provide even more lead to cover more of the roof of the Cathedral, and to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land on the first available boat heading that way.

In 1332, a Kilkenny Franciscan records that the bell tower of St. Canice's cathedral collapsed because of the weight of the lead. Bishop Ledrede was not present for this catastrophe, having fled Ireland himself. I'll explain why tomorrow.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

The Trial of Alice Kyteler, Part 2

Read the first part here.

Bishop Richard Ledrede wants to try the case himself. In those days bishops had their own courts separate from civil courts, giving them jurisdiction over many crimes that took place within their diocese.

Alice fled to Dublin, where she turned for help to a relative of her first husband: Roger Outlaw, chancellor of English government in Ireland. Bishop Ledrede acted by excommunicating Alice; he then ordered William Outlaw, the son of Alice's first husband, to appear in his court for heresy and protecting heretics. But William also had influential friends, in this case the seneschal Arnold le Poer (who, yes, appears to have been related to Alice's latest deceased husband). This seneschal had the ability to overrule Ledrede—and he used it, arresting Ledrede and imprisoning him for two and a half weeks until William's court appearance date had come and gone.

Ledrede had his own weapons, however, and while in prison he placed his diocese under Interdict, during which no sacraments could be performed. This was a radical move that left Christians without baptisms or marriages, etc., and usually served to make secular authorities comply with the ecclesiastical authorities. Ledrede was released, and appeared in Arnold le Poer's court in full regalia with an entourage to impress upon everyone his status. le Poer had him put in the dock, calling him "an ignorant low-born vagabond from England." Ledrede replied by holding up the Host and saying "Woe, woe, woe, that Christ should be sent to stand at the bar, a thing unheard of since he stood trial before Pontious Pilate." le Poer had him thrown out of court.

Alice decided the best defense is a good offense, accusing Ledrede of defamation. With le Poer acting as her and William Outlaw's lawyer, they took their case to the justiciar, the chief political officer. le Poer claimed:

As you well know, heretics have never been found in Ireland, which has always been called the ‘Island of Saints’. Now this foreigner comes from England and says we are all heretics and excommunicates. Defamation of this country affects everyone of us, so we must all unite against this man.

The justiciar, however, ruled in favor of Ledrede and allowed him to handle the trial in Kilkenny. Alice Kyteler, William Outlaw, Alice's maid Petronilla—all were in danger. Ledrede was not going to "lose" this battle after what he had just been out through. There were consequences for all three from this event—unequal consequences, as it happened—and even Ledrede did not escape the aftermath; but those will be revealed tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The Trial of Alice Kyteler, Part 1

When Pope John XXII became the target of an assassination attempt using poison and witchcraft, he decided that witchcraft should be labeled heresy. This was in 1320, although it did not become official Church policy until 1326 with the papal bull known as Super illius specula ("Upon His Watchtower"; bulls are known by their opening phrases). In 1324, Bishop Richard Ledrede of St. Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny declared his diocese a hotbed of devil worshippers, due to the affair of Alice Kyteler. (The illustration show's Alice's house, which is now a pub.)

Alice was the only child of a wealthy Flemish merchant, born about 1263. She married a wealthy merchant and moneylender named William Outlaw. After William died Alice shared the business with her stepson, also named William.

Alice married again ... and again ... and again. By 1302 she was married to Adam Blunt, also a moneylender. He had children from a previous marriage. Adam died within a couple years of marriage to Alice. By 1309, she was married to a wealthy Tipperary landowner named Richard de Valle. He died about 1316, and she was owed a widow's dower; her stepson (also named Richard) denied her this, and she brought legal proceedings against him. Richard and his siblings, who wished to keep that money for themselves (which would have been illegal) were quite angry with her. Alice then married a fourth time to John le Poer, who also had children from a prior marriage.

Through all this, she accumulated a substantial amount of wealth and maintained the business she shared with her stepson, William. This was despite the fact that Alice and her second husband Adam had briefly been suspected of killing the elder William.

Her other stepchildren, however, were not so agreeable to her. As John le Poer was sick and dying, he expressed the concern that he was being poisoned by his wife. After his death, his children accused her of poison and witchcraft, accusations in which they were joined by her other stepchildren. The children complained to Bishop Ledrede, who sprang into action.

Investigation led to seven charges:

1. Denying Christ and the Church.
2. Sacrificing animals to demons.
3. Asking demons for advice.
4. Having a sexual relationship with an incubus.
5. Holding coven meetings and burning candles in the church at night without permission.
6. Making magic powders and potions from ingredients including but not limited to body parts of unbaptized children, worms, etc.
7. Killing her husbands for their money, which she shared with her stepson William Outlaw.

Her maid, Petronilla de Meath, was also accused. William Outlaw was also called to court for heresy and consorting with a heretic.

The stepchildren were likely thinking they could go through the bishop's ecclesiastical court for a quicker decision that would benefit them, rather than going through the civil courts which had more rules. Things were not that simple, however, and the case of the first person condemned for witchcraft in Ireland gets more complicated, which I'll tell you about tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

About Medieval Witchcraft

The history of witchcraft, like any historical phenomenon, is a combination of truths, falsehoods, reinterpretations, and misunderstandings. What we now call "witchcraft" was defined differently by different groups—or rather, what it was remained the same, but its significance was redefined. I'll try to explain.

By the end of Charlemagne's reign in 814, overt paganism had died out in Western Europe, replaced by Christian practices. There were traditions that did not die out, however. Some examples are divination for the gender of an unborn child and dowsing for water; the mixing of substances intended to bring about an emotional effect such as love or desire; or attempts at healing illness using sympathetic magic (described here being used by a midwife).

"Magic" was sometimes a professional's pursuit. People like Ficino and Fibonacci and Geert Groote and even Hildegard of Bingen were associated with learning or practicing magic. There was a point in time, however, where these "un"natural practices were declared to be bad. That may well have started with Pope John XXII, when he declared such things to be heresy. This created the formal framework for investigating and prosecuting anyone suspected of practicing witchcraft by the Inquisition. This was in the 1320s. Now the woman in the village to whom you turned for medical or magical aid was suspect, and associating with her made you suspect.

What exactly constituted witchcraft and was worthy of accusation fluctuated with time and temperament.  The 1487 Malleus Maleficarum ("Hammer of the Witches") became the manual for identifying the offenses of witches, which could be categorized in three levels:

“i) slight (ii) great, and (iii) very great.” 

Slight offenses constitute something as simple as small groups meeting secretly in order to practice the craft, whereas very great, or violent, offenses included respecting and admiring heretics. With such a broad spectrum of infractions, accusing anyone of practicing the craft was possible. This, in conjunction with the broad spectrum of who could be a witch, pushed the witch craze to its apex. [source]

(The "craze" reached a peak in 17th century New England, when a husband and wife accused each other of witchcraft after the death of their child. It went to trial.)

The Malleus Maleficarum supported and extended John XXII's bull making witchcraft equal heresy. It firmly linked witchcraft to worship of the devil, and a thing to be avoided at all costs. Between 1450 and 1750, there were an estimated 110,000 trials for witchcraft, about half of which led to capital punishment.

It is times like this that I cannot help thinking of C.S. Lewis' words at the beginning of Mere Christianity:

Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the 'Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?’ But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did—if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather—surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did?

He knows full well that witchcraft is not a thing to be condemned, and that it is arrogant of the modern age to look back and condemn the accusers of being stupid; they had no choice—if they truly believed what they were told—that they were acting to save themselves and their neighbors. It was a dark period in the human history of belief and fear of "The Other," which manifests itself in many ways, such as in this recent post.

Let us look at a specific witch trial in more detail, of a wealthy Kilkenny woman who was accused of witchcraft by her (perhaps less-than-neutral in this matter) stepchildren. See you tomorrow.

Monday, June 26, 2023

The Pope vs. Witchcraft

John XXII (pope from 1316 - 1334 in Avignon) had a lot of opinions, getting involved in politics all over Christendom, opposing the Franciscan ideal of the need for poverty, and passing numerous papal bulls to enforce his numerous ideas of what was right and proper.

After an assassination attempt on him that used poison and sorcery, he turned his attention to condemning witchcraft. His bull of 1326 said:

With grief we discover, and the very thought of it wrings our soul with anguish, that there are many Christians only in name; many who turn away from the light which once was theirs, and allow their minds to be so clouded with the darkness of error as to enter into a league with death and a compact with hell. They sacrifice to demons and adore them, they make or cause to be made images, rings, mirrors, phials or some such things in which by the art of magic evil spirits are to be enclosed. From them they seek and receive replies, and ask aid in satisfying their evil desires. For a foul purpose they submit to the foulest slavery. Alas! this deadly malady is increasing more than usual in the world and inflicting greater and greater ravages on the flock of Christ.

The practice of witchcraft had not been formally condemned prior to this, although there were certainly instances of the authorities trying people for using witchcraft to hurt others. This action by John put witchcraft under the label of heresy; it therefore fell under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, and those suspected of practicing could be rounded up, questioned, and made to recant or else to suffer.

This papal bull established the official attitude toward witchcraft for the rest of the Middle Ages. But the question raised is: How big a deal was witchcraft? Was it popular? What form did it take? Let's look at witchcraft tomorrow.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Female Physicians

We talked here about how women and Jewish women could be physicians in the Middle Ages, but it would be a mistake to think that there was no opposition to this phenomenon, especially after a change in 1220.

Consider that, technically, anyone could practice medicine. No one would object to a mother caring for a family member, or a nun feeding a leper (as in the illustration). More formal, professional medical practice in France, however, required a degree from the University of Paris. This prevented many, women especially, from helping their fellow human beings. There were consequences for treating the sick if you were not "official."

Consider the case of Jacqueline Felice de Almania, a woman from Florence who was living in Paris. Her reputation was excellent: she was known for finding cures for patients who had been treated elsewhere without relief. She did not charge fees unless the patient was cured. 

In 1322, she was brought to trial by the University of Paris. The accusation was treating patients without any "real" knowledge of medicine; that is, she did not have a degree. Seven former patients were brought as witnesses; all testified that she had helped them where male doctors had failed. Her actions involved analyzing urine by sight, taking the pulse of patients, examining their limbs, etc. She was found guilty of practicing without a license, fined 60 pounds, and threatened with excommunication if she ever treated patients again.

The year 1322 was popular for cracking down on unlicensed medical practitioners. In that same year, records show women named Clarice of Rouen (banned for treating men), Jeanne the Convert (likely originally a Jew) of Saint-Médicis, Marguerite of Ypres, and "Jewess Belota" all were banned from practicing medicine.

The University of Paris in 1325 appealed to Pope John XXII to speak out strongly on this issue. He wrote to Bishop Stephen of Paris to forbid women practicing without medical knowledge or acting as midwives, because what they were doing was akin to witchcraft. A bit of a stretch to go from medicine to witchcraft just because the person was female, but then, John was determined to stamp out witchcraft...and a lot of other things, which I'll talk more about tomorrow.

(By the way, women earning medical degrees at the University of Paris was suppressed until the 19th century!)

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Jewish Female Physicians

Female doctors were not unknown in medieval Europe. I've written before of Trotula, for instance, and of course there were midwives. The practice of midwifery was naturally dominated by women; in some cases  men were not even allowed in the room during childbirth. Even if they were, they did not necessarily involve themselves directly in the process. One medieval Jewish medical text, in the section on childbirth, has the physician direct the midwife to "massage the orifice of her womb" with herbs rather than do it himself.

But Jewish women were not just midwives. Many of them learned and practices medicine thanks to their families. Jews were not allowed to attend Christian universities, so they could not earn medical degrees in the normal way. Anyone could, however, "test out" by passing an exam and earning a license to practice medicine. Jews—female as well as male—did this by learning from mentors and family members who were physicians.

Two examples were Hava from Provençal, mentioned in the 1320s for her medical ability, and Virdimura, who earned her medical license in 1376 in Sicily. In both cases, we know that their husbands were physicians (in Hava's case so were her sons), and so medicine was clearly the "family business." Mayrona, from Provençal, appears in 40+ documents starting in 1342 as a holder of a licentia curandi et practicandi, a "license to practice medicine."

Jews were more likely to be familiar with Greek and Arabic, as well as Latin and Hebrew, and therefore had access to more medical texts than their Western European counterparts who knew Latin but did not have as many opportunities to learn other languages, and also may not have had the motivation to read texts written by non-Christians. Female Jewish doctors were accepted in Paris, Florence, and Naples as well as Sicily. They were also respected enough to become teachers of medicine as well: Sara of St. Giles was a Jewish doctor who in 14th-century France took on a Christian pupil.

I cannot in truth say that female doctors were accepted everywhere, and tomorrow I'll share some of the less-tolerant stories of this topic. See you then.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Jewish Medicine

Jews comprise less than 0.02% of the world population, and yet 28% of Nobel prize winners in medicine have been Jewish. This expertise has a long history.

The Sefer Refuot or "Book of Remedies" is the earliest known Hebrew text on medicine. It contains information on illnesses and treatments, but also talks about how to maintain health through exercise, eating properly, and observing proper hygiene. It also suggests that astrology is connected to health, and there are different treatments depending on the month. It includes a code of conduct for doctors.

Although the only manuscripts we have are later medieval ones, they are considered to be faithful copies of a very early work for a particular reason: the book does not have any of the Arabian medical knowledge that was so prevalent in the Middle Ages. The assumption is that this book recorded Jewish knowledge, including a theory of blood vessels and circulation, that pre-dates the cross-cultural sharing that happened with the spread of Muslims after the 7th century.

There was some controversy about medicine in Jewish culture. In II Chronicles 16:12, King Asa of Judah is criticized because “in his illness he sought not God but rather physicians.” In the same book, King Hezekiah is praised for hiding a medical book in order to get his people to turn to God for aid. The 13th-century Nachmanides argued that Jews have a special relationship with God and should thrive or suffer according to His will; they should not try to subvert his will through practices like medicine. Because of this turning to natural cures, he says, their relationship with God in this area has been annulled, and now they have no choice but to turn to doctors. The practice of medicine is now considered a mitzvah, a fundamental religious obligation.

Jewish physicians often learned Latin, Greek, and Arabic; along with Hebrew, they had access to many medical texts inaccessible to their Christian counterparts. This made them exceptionally knowledgeable and effective—and sought after. I've already mentioned Jacob Mantino ben Samuel, who was so important to many high-ranking figures in Venice that they asked the Council of Ten to exempt him from wearing the degrading yellow cap that was mandated to denote Jews in public.

Jewish physicians also included women among their number, not just as midwives, which we will talk about next time.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

A Jewish Physician

Article One of King Henry III's 1253 Statute of Jewry allowed Jews to stay in England so long as they served the king in some capacity. There were financial advantages to having Jews around, since they were not limited by the Biblical injunction against usury (charging high interest on loans) when lending to non-Jews. Usury created a dilemma for many: usury was not to be allowed, and yet Jewish lenders were an important source of funding for some.

Another dilemma for Christian Europeans in the Middle Ages was the idea that Jews were not to be fraternized with, and yet they were often the best physicians. One example of this was mentioned here, Jacob Mantino ben Samuel (died 1549).

Jacob's family was from Tortosa, Spain, but were forced to flee in 1492 because of the Alhambra Decree. Jacob studied medicine at Padua and Bologna, staying in Bologna to set up his practice. His translations of scientific works from Hebrew to Latin brought him to the attention of the court of Pope Clement VII. War in 1527 (between the Holy Roman Empire and Protestants) caused him to settle in Verona, where the Catholic bishop protected him. When the bishop went to Rome, however, Jacob left Verona and settled in Venice.

Jacob had many influential clients: ambassadors from France and England, papal dignitaries, and other wealthy local patrons. Despite medieval culture's antipathy toward Jews, his clients made an appeal to Venice's ruling Council of Ten. The appeal—which was granted—was to exempt Jacob from wearing the yellow that was intended to denote Jews in public. Originally this was temporary, but later was made permanent.

Jacob later went to Rome, acquiring great influence and becoming personal physician to Pope Paul III in 1534. In 1544 he returned to Venice, where once again he was exempted from wearing yellow. Accompanying the Venetian ambassador to Damascus, he died in 1549.

Why was he exempted from wearing yellow? Was it a desire on the part of his clients to not be seen associating with a Jew? Or was it for a slightly more kind-hearted reason: they understood the insult of being forced to wear yellow and wanted to spare the feelings of a man they had come to respect? Perhaps a little of both. He was not unique in the Middle Ages: Jewish doctors and Jewish medicine were regarded very highly. We'll delve into that a little more deeply tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Yellow Badge

King Henry III's Statute of Jewry demanded (among other things) that Jews wear a badge conspicuously on their clothing. This was not a new idea. Designating "others" by a badge was already common in the Middle Ages. The Muslim and Christian worlds both found ways to distinguish those not of their faith.

In 717, Caliph Umar II ordered that non-Muslims (dhimmi) wear distinguishing marks on their clothing. The Pact of Umar, attributed to his father, had many injunctions against non-Muslims. In 847-861, Caliph Al-Mutawakkil had Christians wear honey-colored patches, on both the front and back of their clothes. In 887, the governor of the Emirate of Sicily had Jews wear special hats and yellow belts.

The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 said Jews should at all times be denoted by their clothing, and in 1222, Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton ordered English Jews to wear a white band. Distinguishing marks were ordered for Jews by the Synod of Narbonne (1227), by James I of Aragon (1228), and by Alfonso X of Castile (1265).

In 1274, King Edward I in England enacted a second Statute of Jewry, which ordered a badge of yellow felt six inches long by three inches wide to be worn. The yellow color was used in 1315 for the Jews of Granada, in 1321 by Henry II of Castile, and decreed in 1415 by a bull of Antipope Benedict XIII (men wore it on their breast, women on their forehead).

Jews in Venice wore yellow, but in 1528 a special dispensation was given to the physician Jacob Mantino ben Samuel to wear a regular black doctor's cap instead of anything yellow.

In 1710, King of Prussia Frederick William I abolished the mandatory yellow badge in Prussia. This was not an act of charity: he required 8000 thaler (the equivalent of over $75,000 today) from each person who wished to no longer wear the badge.

So what was the deal with Jacob Mantino ben Samuel? I'll explain next time.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Henry's Statute of Jewry

St. Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) was one of the most influential writers in Christianity in its first few centuries. He believed that Jews should be tolerated by Christians because God chose them for a special purpose. Through the years, however, hostility to the Jews grew; they were made scapegoats for problems and accused of many horrible acts.

Despite this hostility, Jews created communities all over the world. The illustration shows Jewish communities in medieval England. King Henry III instituted repressive laws intended to segregate and oppress Jews. The Statute of Jewry in 1253 had 13 articles, some of which are listed here:

Article One: Jews could live in England provided that they serve the king in some manner. (This might include financial support or civil service.)

Article Two stated that no new synagogues could be constructed.

Article Three: Jews in synagogues must keep their voices low while praying so that no one else could hear them.

Article Four: Jews must donate money to their local Christian church.

Article Five banned Christians from working for Jews or living in Jews' houses.

Article Six banned Jews from eating meat during Lent.

Article Seven: Jews may not publicly dispute the Christian faith.

Article Eight banned romantic relations between Christians and Jews.

Contemporary historian Matthew Paris followed the Augustinian view of Jews, and did not approve of Henry's policies regarding them, which mirrored the papal view at the time (Innocent IV). Through Paris we discover that antipathy toward the Jews was not universal. His tolerant attitude is tested by relating incidents of supposed "blood libel" (the notion that Jews killed Christians in order to use their blood in Jewish rituals), but he has sympathy for their oppression and the financial extortion brought upon them by kings and others who saw Jews as a source of easy money. Through Matthew Paris we can see that the medieval attitude toward Jews was not monolithic.

I want to relate another article of the Statute, however, Article Nine. Article Nine commanded every Jew to wear a badge conspicuously. The yellow Star of David forced upon Jews in Germany during World War II is a familiar image. It turns out, however, that the "yellow badge" has a long history stretching back even before Henry III, but that's a story for tomorrow.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Matthew Paris

Matthew Paris (c.1200 - 1259) was a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of St. Albans, known to us for his numerous illustrated written works. We do not know why his surname was "Paris"; we have no record of him studying or living there, although given the era in which he lived it is not surprising that he wrote in either Latin or Norman French.

He was an Englishman who did get sent to Norway once to reform a Benedictine monastery on the island of Nidarholm. This gave him an opportunity to be an eyewitness to events surrounding King Haakon IV. His status as an eyewitness to history of his time is what makes him so valuable (although we are sure bias crept into some of his work).

His major work was the Chronica Majora, borrowing from Roger of Wendover's Flores Historiarum, but adding his own observations from 1235 on. An abridged version, his Historia Anglorum covers the years 1070 through 1253. There is a manuscript version which also includes the final part of the Chronica Majora covering the years 1254-1259, all in Paris's handwriting except for a last entry making note of Paris's death and having an illustration of him on his deathbed.

All the other illustrations in his writings are by him, and he had decent skill at drawing. Seen here is the most detailed map of four he produced. Another, showing the trip from London to Rome with sketches of some towns along the way, can be seen here. A picture of a beheading is here.

Paris lived while Henry III was King of England, and records many events from his reign. Paris and Roger of Wendover relate their concern about the increasing percentage of (French) foreigners coming to England. Paris and Henry met in 1236 and kept in touch, but Paris did not approve of the direction the reign was going and his account of Henry's actions is often unflattering.

One of Henry's actions that Paris might have approved (I say might)—and the modern world would certainly condemn—is Henry's "Statute of Jewry." I'll tell you about that next time.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Henry III's Troubles

Henry III's most loyal and powerful supporter was William Marshal, but William's son was not of the same mind. Richard Marshal (1191 - 1234) was William's second son, and became the 3rd Earl of Pembroke on 6 April 1231.

Henry inherited not just a crown from his father, King John, but also a country where the ranks below that of king demanded more authority and autonomy. Magna Carta was not enough, and civil unrest between the crown and less-loyal factions was a constant threat. There were also smaller conflicts that erupted into larger conflicts whenever the king took sides.

The Bishop of Winchester, Peter Des Roches, had been an important figure in Henry's youth, but in 1233 he demanded a manor be returned to a friend of his, Peter de Maulay, from Gilbert Basset, who currently held it due to earlier strife. Henry supported the bishop; Basset resisted; Henry called Basset a traitor; Basset fled to southern Wales where Richard Marshal held lands; Basset had been a friend of Richard's older brother, William, who had been the 2nd Earl of Pembroke after their father. Richard felt he should shelter and support his brother's old friend, so that's what he did.

This was a tense situation. Henry did not want to alienate Richard, and a date was sent to discuss the matter face-to-face in Gloucester, but Richard did not trust that Henry might not use the event to arrest him, so he refused to meet. Henry sent the Bishop of St. Davids to threaten Richard that his relationship with the king was in danger of being cut off. Meanwhile, the king's bailiffs demanded that one of Richard's castles, Usk Castle, be surrendered to them, with which his garrison at Usk complied.

Richard probably did not want to appear to be in rebellion against the king, but when Basset decided to make a cavalry raid across England, he was forced to act. He decided to stick with his original support of Basset. Richard allied with Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth of Gwynedd, and quickly seized Usk and other castles. They continued to Monmouth, where Baldwin III, Count of Guînes, came out to fight. The illustration above is from historian Matthew Paris, showing Richard unhorsing Baldwin.

Richard did not have enough forces to go as far as London and challenge the king. Meanwhile, Henry did not want to commit too many forces to deal with Richard, and hoped for a peaceful settlement. A truce with France was coming to a close, and Henry feared using up troops at home in a rebellion when they might be needed on the continent to defend English-held territory there. An attempt at peace on 1 April 1234 negotiated by Templars failed, and a fight broke out during which Richard was wounded. He succumbed to his injuries on 15 April, and the rebellion died with him.

I was going to tell next about one of Henry's policy decisions that the modern world would condemn, but I feel the need to take a side trip to Matthew Paris, whose work has been mentioned several times throughout this blog but has never been given his own entry. That's for tomorrow.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

William Marshall

Guillaume le Maréchal, or William Marshal, is one of the most fascinating and impressive figures in medieval English history. Born about 1146/7 to a minor noble, he was destined to inherit no lands or fancy titles, yet he rose in the ranks to serve five kings and become one of the most powerful men in England under the fifth of those, Henry III.

His father had switched sides during The Anarchy, and William briefly became a hostage in a situation that almost led to his death. He survived, and was sent to Normandy to train as a knight under his mother's cousin, William de Tancarville. We learn about his early life and training from a biography, Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, the only known biography from the Middle Ages of someone who was not royal.

He grew tall (six feet), and ambitious (his nickname was "Greedy Guts"), and then his father died, leaving him no money. He took his martial skills to tournaments, showing off his prowess and gaining wealth through victories. In 1170 he was appointed to the household of Young King Henry, son of Henry II. William managed Henry's tournament team and kept an eye on Henry to prevent his capture by the other side; together they won many tournaments.

Something caused them to fall out—maybe because he was accused of having an affair with Young Henry's wife, or because at Henry II's request he fought on the side of Richard when the Young King rebelled against his father—and William was "traded" to Henry's rival, Philip of Flanders, but that change was short-lived. When the Young King died of dysentery on 11 June 1183, William was by his side. Henry had made a pledge to go on Crusade, and William undertook the journey on his deceased friend's behalf, carrying Henry's cross to Jerusalem where he spent two years fighting with the Templars.

Returning to England, William stayed with King Henry, leading his soldiers against a rebellion caused by Henry's son, Richard Lionheart. William met Richard in battle and unhorsed him. Henry died shortly afterward, and Richard (who admired martial ability) gave the 43-year-old William a wife: the 17-year-old Isabel de Clare, heiress to several estates. This made William the de facto Earl of Pembroke, so he finally had a title. Richard also made William Regent while Richard went on crusade, and had William lead his armies against France.

After Richard's death, William remained in service to King John, and then was Regent for John's son Henry III. Along with the Young King, William served a total of five kings in England. Finally, in his early 70s, his health began to decline. On his deathbed he said "I cannot defend myself against death." He passed away peacefully on 14 May 1219.

He had several children with Isabel de Clare, one of whom did not share his father's loyalty to the crown, as I will explain tomorrow.

Friday, June 16, 2023

King Henry III

When King John died, his son Henry (1207 - 1272) was only nine years old. It was 1216 and in the middle of the First Barons' War. Even though the Magna Carta had been signed the year before, giving more power to those who were not king, the barons still had issues with the way government was run.

Fortunately, William Marshall led the royal forces, defeating the rebel barons. John on his deathbed had asked William to become Henry's guardian. William Marshall was an obvious choice: he had been loyal to the crown for generations. Afterward, a regency government needed to be created to aid the young king. William asked Bishop of Winchester Peter des Roches to help guide Henry. He had been Henry's tutor since Henry was five.

The papal legate to England, Cardinal Guala Bicchieri, had declared the war against the barons to be a religious crusade, and threw his support to Henry, also making sure the ties between England and the papacy were strong. (Henry's father had declared England a papal fiefdom in order to gain the pope's total support.) Henry himself "took up the cross" and declared himself a crusader, giving him special protection from the pope.

Henry's authority as a king was somewhat restored through the efforts of William, Hubert de Burgh (mentioned here and here), and Peter des Roches, who was chosen to perform the coronation (seen here in a 13th century depiction). There were problems, however.: much of the civil structure across the country had collapsed during the war. The network of sheriffs who collected taxes had fallen apart.

Rebel barons (and even some loyalist ones) were ignoring the crown's demands for taxes, some building unapproved castles (the king had the right to approve castles, since they might be used in defense against him). These "adulterine" (unapproved) castles were a larger problem during The Anarchy.

Wales was always threatening rebellion. Henry finally resolved it by making the prince Llywelyn his justiciar (chief political officer) in Wales, underlining the crown's need to compromise over its ability to conquer.

Henry adopted Edward the Confessor as his patron saint. A few times that he planned to go on Crusade were foiled when he had to stay and deal with uprisings in his lands, especially those on the continent, such as Gascony

His reign was long and troubled, and I'll talk about it more very soon, but first we have to focus on his most steadfast support, William Marshall, and the troubles after William died. See you tomorrow.

Thursday, June 15, 2023


There was an actual medieval profession of lime burner, who burned calcium-rich minerals such as limestone, chalk, marble, or even sea shells. This was done to produce quicklime, which had a lot of useful properties. Dying, tanning leather, making soap, producing fertilizers, concrete—all used calcium oxide, called "quicklime."

The name, first seen as quyk lym in the late 1300s, comes from Latin calx viva, "lime quick"—using "quick" in the older sense of "living" because it was such an active substance. The ancient world discovered its usefulness for mortar (after being mixed with water to make a slurry). Limestone blocks of the pyramids have quicklime plaster. Rome used quicklime for construction extensively, and it is even found in the Great Wall of China.

The Ancient World also used it as a weapon in warfare. Powdered quicklime could be catapulted at enemies; its irritability in a person's eyes made them easy prey when the attacker engaged. Enough quicklime coming into contact with enough water could cause severe burns. King Henry III of England's (1216 - 1272) navy destroyed a French fleet by blinding the sailors with quicklime. (This was always a perilous gambit, since the wind might blow the power back to you.)

In the Middle Ages, when coal mining became cheaper and more widespread in the 12th century, burning to make quicklime was easier. It was used as mortar, plaster, for floors, and in frescoes.

One mis-use of quicklime in the Middle Ages was with corpses: it was thought to speed up decomposition, so sprinkling quicklime liberally when one needed a mass grave (after warfare, or in some responses to the Bubonic Plague) was thought to be efficient. It was also supposed to "sterilize" cesspits and counteract diseases they might engender. The truth is, however, that quicklime is actually a preservative; small amounts are sometimes used in flour to increase its acidity and act as a preservative and a leavener. Quicktime can cover the stench of decomposition, which may be why people thought it "got rid of the corpse" faster.

For many years I have read how Roman concrete became harder and more durable over time, defying logic. Very recently it was discovered that quicklime was the reason for its "self-healing" nature; here's a link to learn more.

I wanted to include a link to the reference above to Henry III, and I've discovered that I have mentioned him many times over 1263 blog posts, but have never given him his own entry. I'll will fix that oversight next time.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

The Colosseum

The Roman Colosseum was begun under Emperor Vespasian in 72 CE and finished in 80 by his son, Emperor Titus. Stories of its use as a gladiatorial arena and a site for races, animal spectacles, and even nautical battles are well-known. 

When the Visigoths attacked Rome, the siege prevented the deceased from being buried in the cemeteries outside the walls, and so the area around the Colosseum became a large burial site. After the Fall of Rome and the sacking by the Visigoths, attempts were made to repair and utilize it, but the budget and management no longer existed for "bread and circuses." 

A series of earthquakes and restoration attempts took place over the next few centuries. Eventually its management fell to the most influential institution in Rome: the papacy. Between the 9th and 14th centuries, this extensive structure had many new uses, managed by the priests of Santa Maria Nova. Its underground tunnels and compartments, where staff and fighters and animals were once housed and fed and trained, became apartments and shops. The open arena was left as a sort of common area for people working and living in the building. "Row houses" were built against the north side.

(There was even a moment in 1200 when it became the home to a single wealthy family, the Frangipani.)

The illustration here is a 16th century woodcut showing the round design, but an earthquake in 1349 (as if they weren't dealing with enough tragedy with the Bubonic Plague) caused part to collapse, and its use as a rental property faded away. Also, the move of the papacy to Avignon caused Rome's population to dwindle, and the need for housing in the Colosseum (and therefore the need and income to maintain it) also dwindled.

After the return of the popes to Rome, the building (what was left) became the home of a religious order. Over the centuries, other purposes were found. One pope wanted to make it a wool factory to provide alternate jobs for the city's prostitutes. A cardinal in 1671 wanted to use it for bullfights. Both plans failed to materialize.

The Colosseum became a source of building material. The lead piping that carried water was taken and melted for other uses. The iron clamps that held stone blocks together were pried out and re-forged. The stone itself—marble and travertine—was taken and used for other buildings.

Some of the marble was burned to make quicklime. What was quicklime, and what was its use in the Middle Ages? I'll tell you tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The Last Medieval Pope

Others may dispute it, but I call Nicholas V the Last Medieval Pope because he saw the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks and the end of the Hundred Years War (I explain more here).

Born Tomasso Parentucelli (13 November 1397 - 24 March 1455), his father died when he was young, leaving Tomasso unable to complete his education until many years later. Achieving a degree in theology, he was hired by Bishop Niccolò Albergati, spending the next 20 years as the bishop's personal assistant and librarian, helping the bishop to acquire a large library. He read as well as curated; his wide knowledge of theology made him valuable and respected.

When Albergati died, Tommaso was offered the position of bishop, but Bologna was going through a some political troubles that made his appointment unlikely. Pope Eugene IV sent him on diplomatic missions at which Tommaso was so successful that he earned a cardinal's hat. Upon Eugene's death, Tommaso was elected to succeed him, taking the name Nicholas to honor his original patron.

He carried his love of learning and arts to the papacy. During his time:

—A library of 5000 volumes was created, including manuscripts rescued from Constantinople after it fell to the Turks. More on the evolution of the new Vatican Library can be found here.

—He promoted the new humanist learning, sending emissaries East to invite Greek scholars from Constantinople.

—He started his papacy by restoring the major Roman basilicas, and cleaning and paving main streets.

—He restored the Aqua Virgo, one of the 11 main aqueducts that used to supply the city before they crumbled into ruin after the fall of Rome. It emptied into a basin that later became the famous Trevi Fountain.

—He had Lorenzo Valla translate Greek histories and literature to make them available to the West.

(He is also known as a supporter of slavery of non-Christians, mentioned here, which later caused controversy among two Christian nations.)

As part of his rebuilding plan, he took 2522 cartloads of marble from the Colosseum, which at that time was used basically as a quarry. The Colosseum has been barely mentioned here, and you might be interested to know what the Middle Ages thought of this great Roman time.

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Medieval Slave Trade, part 4

(Parts one, two, and three.)

There are several parables in the New Testament that are set in the context of a slave-master situation. They all are meant to offer a lesson, but that lesson is never that slavery is a bad thing. In Paul's letters, for example, slaves are told to obey their masters, and masters are told to be kinder to their slaves.

In Galatians 3:28, Paul says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." In fact, Paul's admonishment is not because he wants the slave treated well; it is because he wants the master to remain pure in the eyes of God. After all, when in Gethsemane Jesus' disciple uses a sword to cut the ear off a slave, Jesus does not restore the ear and heal the slave. Instead, Jesus warns the swordsman about his own fate, that "he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword." Although the slave and the free man are to be considered the same spiritually in God's eyes, the existence of slavery is accepted as a social and cultural norm.

If the slave was Christian, that is. Non-Christians held as slaves by Christians were fair game in the Middle Ages, even as popes discouraged enslavement of co-religionists, as did the leaders of Jews and Muslims. This left Northern European pagans and black-skinned Africans as a source of slaves for all three "people of the book."

Popes such as Nicholas V began to justify slavery to allow the capture and use of Saracens, pagans, and other "enemies of Christ." One justification was the Curse of Ham. Ham, son of Noah, saw his father drunk and naked; Noah cursed Ham's offspring to be a servant of servants for Noah's other descendants. There is no indication that Ham's offspring were cursed with darkened skin, but the Curse of Ham was applied to Africans to explain their difference. (This was also used in 19th century North America to justify the existence of American slavery.)

Even Thomas Aquinas accepted slavery as a part of a world that had been tainted by Original Sin.

Besides justifying slavery, Pope Nicholas V was involved in a lot of other political and cultural facets of the 1400s, and we should take another look at him next time.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

The Medieval Slave Trade, Part 3

(Parts one and two)

There are plenty of historical records of Vikings raiding for plunder and slaves, from the northern coasts of the British Isles down to the Iberian peninsula. Slaves were sought to help populate Iceland, and slaves from British monasteries were often young and educated men that would fetch higher prices in Venice of Byzantium.

Slaves, or thralls to use the Viking term, had worse prospects than losing their freedom. An Arab explorer, ibn Fadlān, while traveling with Eastern Vikings in the 920s, records a gruesome viking ritual in which a slave girl is brutally killed by both strangulation and stabbing after being laid down beside her deceased master. [link] Graves that are assumed to be of slaves show:

The thralls did not end their lives in a peaceful way. Most of them had been abused, injured and decapitated before being laid to rest together with their masters.

In some of the graves the skulls were missing altogether but no one knows why.[ibid]

These graves are also distinguished from typical Viking burials in that they do not contain any possessions or treasures of the deceased. 

The Icelandic Laxdaela Saga in the 10th century tells us that kings met every three years and negotiated and traded slaves.

The Vikings traveled far, trading slaves from northern climes to people as far away as Central Asia and to Middle Eastern merchants. The slave trade went in several directions. Mongols in the 13th century captured slaves and sold them throughout Eurasia.

As mentioned in Part Two, there is a modern notion that the growth of Christianity correlated with the demise of owning slaves in Medieval Europe. This was not true, as we shall see tomorrow.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

The Medieval Slave Trade, Part 2

We in the West often think of African slaves in North America when the topic of slavery comes up, as if it were a facet of the Industrial Age needed to provide cheap labor. It existed for millennia prior to the Modern Age, however.

...there is a thriving body of scholarship which demonstrates that slavery was practiced widely in various forms in Europe during the Middle Ages, alongside captivity, serfdom, and other types of unfreedom. Where then did the common knowledge come from? In the first instance, it derives from the late-18th- and 19th-century abolitionist assumption that as Christianity spread through Europe during the Middle Ages, it must surely have driven out slavery. [source]

Italy's was not the only economy that was boosted by the slave trade. Medieval Spain used slaves, especially under the Umayyads, and especially under the son of Hisham:

Al-Hakam was the first monarch of this family who surrounded his throne with a certain splendour and magnificence. He increased the number of mamelukes (slave soldiers) until they amounted to 5,000 horse and 1,000 foot. ... he increased the number of his slaves, eunuchs and servants; had a bodyguard of cavalry always stationed at the gate of his palace and surrounded his person with a guard of mamelukes...[Colins, Roger; Early Medieval Spain (1995)]

Spain, in turn, was raided for slaves. Al-Andalus in northern Spain was raided in the 9th and 10th centuries by Vikings. Slaves went out from Spain in other ways: Muslim and Jewish merchants exported slaves from Spain to other Islamic countries. Bishop Liutprand of Cremona wrote that Jewish merchants castrated slaves in order to create eunuchs, much in demand in Muslim Spain. He wasn't complaining, just reporting. In fact, on a visit to Constantinople he enjoyed the great hospitality he was shown, including being carried into the Emperor's presence on the shoulders of eunuchs who had their gentalia completely removed.

Speaking of the Vikings raiding Spain, we shall look at them next.

Friday, June 9, 2023

The Medieval Slave Trade, Part 1

We should probably start by pointing out the misleading nature of the illustration [MS. Ludwig XIV 6, c.1290-1310, from Aragon]. Depictions of slavery in the 13th and 14th centuries more often than not show dark-skinned subjects. The truth is that sub-Saharan Africa was not a common source of slaves for traders.

Long before nations gathered to develop the concept of "universal human rights," treating outsiders with far less regard than your own countrymen was standard practice. Slavery in medieval Europe was a natural extension of the Roman Empire's policy of conquering new lands and taking their inhabitants for purposes of labor and entertainment. Slavery was built into the legal system: a slave's worth, what was allowable for slaves, how they could be traded or freed, etc. Wales in the 10th century had laws set down by Hywel Dda (he was mentioned back in January), and the Visigoths used slavery for criminals who could not pay fines.

One "softening" of the slave trade was promoted by the Roman Catholic Church, who worked to prevent slavery of "co-religionists." St. Patrick, who had been a slave, argues in a letter to British chieftain Coroticus against making captured people slaves because sinners are already slaves to the devil:

I am at a loss to know whether to weep more for those they killed or those that are captured: or indeed for these men themselves whom the devil has taken fast for his slaves. In truth, they will bind themselves alongside him in the pains of the everlasting pit: for "he who sins is a slave already" and is to be called "son of the devil." [source]

About 10% of the population of England were slaves at the time of the Domesday Book, although the word used to denote a slave, servus, was also used for those who we now know to be serfs.

Because of the church's opposition to selling Christians to non-Christians, other sources were sought. For Venice, this meant capturing Slavs and eastern European pagans to sell to Muslims. Caravans of slaves would be led through Austria to reach Venice. A document that surfaced in 1250 in Bavaria records the tolls paid in the opening years of the 10th century for crossing the Danube; they include salt, weapons, wax, horses, and more, including slaves on their way from Bohemia and the Kievan Rus to Italy.

Genoa and Venice both sold slaves around the Black Sea starting in the 13th century, selling to Muslims those from Baltic, Slavic, Armenian, Georgian, and Turkish lands. Genoa did a lot of business from Crimea to the Mamluks in Egypt who were originally slaves themselves. Amalfi, on the southwestern coast of Italy, was a major exporter of slaves to North Africa.

This focus on Italian cities is unfair, since so many other countries bought and sold slaves. This topic will go on for another couple posts, at least. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Republic of Venice

The Republic of Venice lasted from its establishment in 697 until 12 May 1797 when Napoleon conquered Venice and the last doge stepped down. In its 1100 years, it dominated the Adriatic Sea, provided countless ships for the Crusades, and was one of the most powerful trading entities and maritime powers in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Marco Polo's uncles were Venetian traders; accompanying them is why we know who he was.

Venice started simply because the Venetian Lagoon was the easiest way to flee from Germanic tribes invading after the decline of the Roman Empire. Those in the lagoon formed a community that grew, formed laws, and became the city of Venice.

The historian John Deacon in the 11th century stated that a certain Paolo Lucio Anafesto was proclaimed dux or duke in 697, making him the first Doge of Venice. This is disputed, since Constantinople (with Rome's fall, the Byzantine Empire had more authority over the former Roman Empire) confirmed Orso Ipato with the title dux in the early 8th century. He is seen as the first official Doge. Although Orso's son Deusdedit ruled after him, any attempt to create a dynastic rulership ultimately failed. The Doges were elected for life by the Great Council of Venice, a parliament of aristocrats and merchants.

Venice was recognized as its own entity, separate from the Byzantine Empire, in 840 when it signed a commercial agreement with Lothair I of the Carolingian Empire. This Pactum Lotharii asked that Venice help control the Slavic tribes to the east; in return, Venice was safe from invasion from the Frankish Empire. The Pact also forbade the sale of Christians to Muslims. Venice had established a thriving slave trade, capturing people in Italy and selling them to Moors in North Africa. After the Pact, Venice captured Slavs and other Eastern European non-Christians. Records show a female slave was worth 1.5 grams of gold, or about 1/3 of a dinar. Castration houses were a business in Venice, preparing slaves because of the high demand for eunuchs.

Another big business was ship-building, and Venice perfected this process in a big way. Ships were important for moving everything, including thousands of willing passengers from Europe to the east during the Crusades. Venice was involved in just about every Crusade, providing (renting) ships to the ventures. The Fourth Crusade was particularly crucial in this regard, with the Doge Enrico Dandolo taking over the Crusade and using it for his own ends.

I suppose this is a good time to segue to a larger discussion of the medieval slave trade. Venice was not alone in this lucrative market, as you will see.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Adriatic

From Venice in the north to the heel of Italy's boot, the Adriatic offers access to the Mediterranean for many Italian cities, as well as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, however, much of its eastern coastline was controlled by the Republic of Venice, blocking much of the Ottoman Empire from access.

The Romans established a naval base in (what is now) Brindisi  (at the heel) in 246 BCE, partially to block Carthaginian ships from entering the Adriatic, and partially to deal with the Illyrians. Illyrians inhabited the eastern side of the Sea and acted as pirates to traders. Rome and Illyria fought on and off from 229-168 BCE.

After the decline of Rome, the coasts were ruled by the Byzantine Empire under Justinian, the Lombards, and the Ostrogoths. A few centuries later, with the rise of the Carolingians, the Frankish Kingdom of Italy controlled the western coasts and the Byzantines kept control of the eastern. It was around this time (700) that the Republic of Venice was founded. They thrived early on because of the salt trade, eventually developing a thalassocracy, a maritime empire known more for its presence on the sea than for possession of land.

In 999 CE, the Normans conquered southern Italy, eventually establishing the Kingdom of Sicily. Against this growing power, Alexios I of Constantinople issued a Golden Bull to Venice, offering them tax-free trading with the Byzantine Empire if their navy would control the spread of Normans.

The Adriatic was controlled by the Republic of Venice for centuries after that, and we will look at the Republic a little closer tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Golden Bulls

When Byzantine Emperor Alexios I sent his general Boutoumites to secretly negotiate with the city of Nicaea in order to have them surrender to him instead of being captured and plundered by the First Crusade, he gave Boutoumites an edge: the chrysobull.

I mentioned these briefly in 2012 when discussing papal bulls. Starting from the 6th century, popes used bulls to authenticate their decrees. Initially lumps of clay, they evolved to lead. Byzantine emperors took this a step further, making their seal out of gold, hence a chrysobull (from Greek chrysos, "gold"). The chrysobull carried by Boutoumites was an assurance that he represented the word of the emperor. (It worked, as you can read here.)

The Holy Roman Emperors liked the look of gold and the status it conferred on their decrees, as did the popes, so both they and other rulers sent out golden bulls for many occasions.

A Golden Bull of 1213 from the papacy to King John of England confirmed their alliance. A year later, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II issued a Golden Bull ceding all territory north of the River Elbe to Denmark. One of the most famous was the Golden Bull of 1356, issued by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (he is mentioned here), declaring the constitutional structure of the Holy Roman Empire—an arrangement that would last the next 400 years.

Emperor Alexios had issued another Golden Bull in 1082, giving Venetian merchants tax-exempt trading rights, so long as their fleets defended the Adriatic Sea against the Normans. The Adriatic is on the east coast of Italy and was an access point for invaders from the east. Venice was at the extreme northern end, in an ideal location to police the whole area. Let's look at the Adriatic and its medieval history next time.

Monday, June 5, 2023

The Siege of Nicaea

When the First Crusade was on their way to free the Holy land from the "infidel," they passed through Constantinople and asked for help from Emperor Alexios I. They left Constantinople in stages, starting in April 1097. Their first target was the city of Nicaea (now İznik), held by Seljuk Turks on the shore of Lake Ascania in Turkey.

Godfrey of Bouillon arrived first on 6 May, followed by other parts of the army including Raymond IV of Toulouse, Tancred, and Peter the Hermit with the remains of the People's Crusade.

The ruler of Nicaea, Sultan Kilij Arslan, was away, but rushed back when he got word the siege, but he was unsuccessful in breaking through the Crusaders. Nicaea had to make a decision.

Alexios had not joined the Crusading army for the siege, but stationed his forces at a nearby town. He had boats transported over land to the Crusaders to aid in a blockade on Lake Ascania, to prevent the Turks from getting food. The boats were sent with general Manuel Boutoumites. Following them was general Tatikios with 2000 foot soldiers. This was not simple support of the siege, however. Alexios instructed Tatikios to join the assault on the walls while Boutoumites from the lake side of the city secretly negotiated with Nicaea to surrender, making it appear that the Byzantines had captured Nicaea themselves and could dictate what happened in the aftermath. Here's how they pulled it off.

Boutoumites sent messages to the city rulers, offering them amnesty for surrender but promising destruction if they did not. Boutoumites was even allowed into the city (all out of sight from the land-side Crusaders). When Nicaea learned that Kilij Arslan was on his way, they forced Boutoumites out, but with the failure of Arslan's attack, they re-considered the Greek's offer. On the morning of 19 June, when the Crusading army prepared a large assault, the Byzantines on the lake-side were allowed into Nicaea; they raised their standard above the city walls, showing that they—not the Western Europeans—had control of the city.

Nicaea surrendered peacefully to Boutoumites, who as its new leader protected the city by forbidding plundering. Groups of Crusaders were allowed in of no more than 10 at a time. Arslan's family were sent to Constantinople, but were released with ransom once the Crusaders had moved on from Nicaea. Alexios did supply the Crusade with money and horses, but the wealth they might have had by ransacking Nicaea was denied them.

Part of Boutoumites' negotiation included showing Nicaea the chrysobull, which I suppose needs some explanation. I'll be happy to do that...tomorrow.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

The End of Axouch

The rise of John Axouch from captive Turk to Byzantine megas domestikos and sebastor can be found here. Although he was treated well by one emperor (Alexios I), favored highly by the next (John II), and maintained in his high status by the third (Manuel), he was not immune to the whims of rulers, as you shall see.

It involves a dinner party consisting of the emperor's (Manuel's) family. The presence of Axouch at the dinner shows how integrated he was with the Comnenos clan. A debate arose concerning the martial prowess of Manuel versus his father, John II. Axouch was John's closest companion his whole life, so it is not surprising that Axouch praised the abilities of his friend above those of his friend's son.

Manuel's older brother, Isaac (whom we are told was preferred by Axouch as the next emperor, but John wanted Manuel instead), agreed with Axouch. A cousin, Andronikos, argued for Manuel's superiority. Tempers flared and Isaac attacked Andronikos with a sword, but the blow did not strike because Manuel had his own sword ready and saved Andronikos. (Andronikos would later usurp the throne from Manuel's son, Alexios II.)

Manuel, unhappy with the unfavorable comparison with his father, took the imperial seal from Axouch, who could no longer approve documents. This anecdote tells us that Axouch, besides being commander of the army, also was in charge of civil administration.

Despite this incident, he was still in charge of the military, and still respected enough for it that his ties to the Comnenos family continued. Axouch had a son whom he named for the man who first brought him to Constantinople, Alexios. Alexios married Maria, the daughter of John II's eldest son Alexios who had died before John. Alexios Axouch became second-in-command of the Byzantine army (until he was forced into a monastery in 1167, having been accused of treason). Axouch also had a daughter, Eudokia, who married Stephen Comnenos, a great-nephew of Alexios I.

...which brings us back to Alexios I Comnenos, who was given Axouch as a captive after the Siege of Nicaea during the First Crusade. There is much more to that story and Alexios' involvement in the Nicaea event, which I'll tell you about tomorrow.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

John Axouch, from War Prize to Commander

In June of 1097, the First Crusade captured Nicaea, at that time under the control of the Seljuk Turks. An attempt at defense by Kilij Arslan failed, after which Nicaea surrendered rather than allow the Crusaders to break the walls. (There is much more to that surrender that needs addressing soon.)

As in many such cases, captives from noble families were taken in order to guarantee good behavior on the part of the conquered. One of these was John Axouch, given to Emperor Alexios I as a present. Alexios took him to Constantinople where Axouch became a companion to Alexios' son John Comnenos (shown above; there are no available representations of John Axouch).

The two were constant companions and close friends. When Alexios died and his son became Emperor John II Comnenos, he appointed his close friend megas domestikos, essentially commander-in-chief of the army. Axouch was also given the court title of sebastos, equivalent to the Roman augustus, meaning "venerable one." Members of the imperial family were required to treat him with the greatest respect.

This generated hostility among the royal family, which Axouch wisely tried to ameliorate. When a plot against John by his sister Anna was foiled, John wanted to give Axouch all her properties, but Axouch refused, knowing how much the action would increase the enmity felt towards him by the royals. He also (we are told) persuaded John to reconcile with his sister and let her keep her property.

John liked to be personally involved in military campaigns, and the two worked well together. For example, Axouch would be sent ahead to begin a siege, and John would follow up with more of the army to swiftly conclude the taking of a city.

John died after being wounded while hunting on a campaign in Cilicia. Axouch quickly traveled back to Constantinople in order to reach it before news of the death did. The urgency was to ensure that John's younger son Manuel succeeded him, rather than the older Isaac. This may have had something to do with Isaac's reputation for being irascible, or perhaps in order to fulfill a prophecy. Some historians of the time claim that Axouch was close to Isaac, and tried to persuade John that the elder son was a better candidate. They also say Manuel was suspicious of the friendship between Axouch and Isaac.

Whatever the case, the truth is that Manuel became emperor and confirmed Axouch in his position as megas domestikos. There were troubles ahead, however, which I will tell you about tomorrow.