The Many Emperors in Constantinople – The Conclusion of the Fourth Crusade and the Latin Empire

Today I would like to write about the end of the Fourth Crusade and the beginning of the Latin Empire. The Latin Empire began with the end of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, or rather was a direct result of it. The end of the Fourth Crusade saw several Byzantine Emperors; Alexius III, Alexius IV, Alexius V and Baldwin. Baldwin was previously Count Baldwin IX of Flanders, he was elected by the remaining crusaders after Constantinople was taken. This post will detail how the leadership of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire changed over the course of a year.

In 1203 the army of the Fourth Crusade had decided to divert their efforts to Constantinople. They had decided that they would support the young Prince Alexius (who could become Alexius IV) in his efforts to restore his father, Isaac II, to the throne. Isaac had been deposed and imprisoned by his own brother, Alexius III. The young Alexius had also been imprisoned but had managed to escape. The crusaders were promised money, supplies and support for their attempt to regain Jerusalem in return for their support in Alexius’s efforts against his uncle. By August 1203 the army had retaken Constantinople for Alexius, although the leaders of the army were shocked to find that Alexius did not have as many supporters in the city as he had claimed. Isaac II was re-throned, alongside his son, Alexius IV. At this point in time the crusaders had expected to be given all that they had been promised, but Alexius IV was not as forthcoming as promised. Reigning tensions in the city between the crusaders and the Greeks led to an uprising, resulting in Alexius IV being deposed, shortly after his fathers’ death. Along came Mourtzouphlus who then became Alexius V.

Mourtzouphlus reportedly had Alexius IV killed in his cell, this had greatly angered the crusaders as they were still owed rather a lot of money. As per the contract between the crusaders and Alexius the debt died with Alexius. This left the crusaders in rather a sticky situation, they could not afford to continue on their crusade, and the general populace of the army would not consider turning back without fulfilling their crusading vows. Therefore the leadership and the clergy of the crusade analysed their situation and concluded that a murderer was now in control of the Byzantine Empire, and that could not be allowed. They decided that it was their responsibility to remove Mourtzouphlus from the Byzantine throne, if only to save those under his control. When the crusaders attacked the city Mourtzouphlus and his supporters fled, leaving the crusaders in control.

Once the crusaders had control over the city an electoral body was agreed upon, which represented all of the parties within the crusade. They then debated and elected Count Baldwin IX of Flanders as the new emperor. It was at this point that the Latin Empire was born. Now whilst this all sounds impressive it must be remembered that Baldwin did not have control over the entirety of the empire, rather just Constantinople and a few other cities, although these came into his hands at a later date. Baldwin and the remaining crusaders encountered a lot of opposition from Mourtzouphlus and other Greeks who did not wish to see a Frank in control of their empire. This Latin Empire continued for 57 years until it was dissolved in 1261.

The politics of these changes in Constantinople are quite interesting to read about, there are three distinct political ‘parties’ (Alexius IV, Mourtzouphlus and the crusaders) and two religious ‘parties’ (Western Church and Eastern Church) all with a certain level of influence over the events. To go into these different influences would be impractical here as many books have been written on the subject, so for further reading I would suggest Norman Housley, Jonathan Harris, Alfred J. Andrea and John C. Moore.


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