The Appeal to Europe


Shut the gates of the city and govern within it, for everything beyond the walls is mine.

Sultan Bayezit to Manuel II

Within days of his accession, Manuel II showed his mettle. There was, he knew, a serious danger that Bayezit, as Byzantium's suzerain, might appoint his nephew John VII as basileus; and this was a risk that he could not possibly accept. When the news of his father's death reached him he was still a hostage of the Sultan, who had returned to his capital at Brusa. At once he began to make his plans, and on the night of 7 March 1391 he slipped out of the camp and made his way secretly to the coast, where a ship was waiting to take him across the Marmara to Constantinople.

He was welcomed in the capital with enthusiasm. For the late Emperor there was little mourning. If John V had ever enjoyed the respect of his subjects - he had certainly never known their love - that respect had long since been forfeited. Unimpressive both as a ruler and as a man, he had for the past quarter-century adopted an increasingly subservient attitude to the Sultan. In the West, he had made the Empire an object of ridicule and contempt. Worst of all, he had betrayed the Orthodox Church, of which he should have been the mainstay. To all this Manuel II presented a refreshing contrast. Now in the prime of life - at the time of his accession he was not quite forty-one — in appearance he was every inch an Emperor: Bayezit himself had once observed that his imperial blood was recognizable from his bearing alone, even to those seeing him for the first time. He enjoyed perfect health and possessed apparently boundless energy; in short, he seemed to be far less the offspring of his father than of his grandfather. Though not, alas, a chronicler like John Cantacuzenus - would that he had been, since our sources for this desperate period of Byzantine history are once again lamentably few - he

shared with him both a deep love of literature and the traditional Byzantine passion for theology; Demetrius Cydones regularly hails him in his letters as 'the philosopher Emperor'. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than the composition of essays and dissertations on matters of Christian doctrine, the more abstruse the better. He remained, however, a man of action. Twice, in 1371 and again in 1390, he had come to the rescue of his increasingly incapable father, on both occasions with complete success. In happier times he might have been a great ruler.

But the existing situation left little scope for greatness. The Emperor was now but a weak and virtually helpless vassal of the Ottoman Sultan; and the Sultan, who would probably have preferred to see the far more amenable John VII on the throne of Constantinople, had been outraged by the quiet deliberation with which Manuel had assumed it without his authority. His reaction was to inflict two more humiliations on the hapless Byzantines. The first was to set aside a whole area of the city for Turkish merchants, who would be no longer subject to imperial law but whose affairs would be regulated by a qadi, or judge, appointed by himself. The second - in May 1391, only two months after Manuel's accession as sole Emperor - was to summon him once again to Anatolia to take part in yet another of his campaigns, this time to the Black Sea coast - a feudal obligation distasteful enough in itself, but made considerably more so by the company of John VII (to whom he could still hardly bring himself to speak) and by the sadness and devastation of the country through which they marched. He wrote to his friend Cydones:

The plain [where we are encamped] is deserted, as a result of the flight of its inhabitants to the woods and the caves and the mountain-tops as they tried to flee from what they are unable to escape: a slaughter that is inhuman and savage and without any formality of justice. No one is spared - neither women nor children, nor the sick, nor the aged . . .

There are many cities in these regions, but they lack the one thing without which they can never be true cities; they have no people ... And when I ask the names of the cities, the answer is always 'we have destroyed these places and time has destroyed their names'. . .

What is indeed unbearable for me is that I am fighting beside these people when to add to their strength is to diminish our own.'

1 The letters are quoted at length by J. W. Barker (op. cit., pp. 88-96). The translations are basically his, but shortened and simplified in order to spare the reader the infuriating convolutions of Manuel's literary style.

The Emperor was back in Constantinople by the middle of January 1392, and on Saturday, 10 February he took to himself a bride. She was Helena, daughter of Constantine Dragash, the Serbian Prince of Serres — like himself, a vassal of the Sultan. The marriage was followed the next day by a joint coronation. For Manuel this was not strictly necessary - he had already been crowned nineteen years before - but he believed with good reason that such a ceremony, performed with the full Orthodox ritual and as much pomp and display as could be managed, would provide the best possible tonic to his subjects' morale. It would remind them, too, of what Byzandum stood for: of that astonishing continuity with which Emperor had succeeded Emperor without a break - even though occasionally in exile - for thirteen centuries since the days of ancient Rome; of the fact that, whatever dangers he himself might be facing, whatever occasional indignities he might be called upon to suffer, he remained supreme among the princes of Christendom, Equal of the Apostles, God's own anointed Vice-Gerent on earth.

This was the message that went out to the vast congregation on that cold February day in St Sophia, as Patriarch Antonius slowly lowered the imperial diadem on to the head of the basileus and Manuel himself then crowned his consort in her turn. At that moment, as the mosaics glinted gold in the candlelight, the clouds of incense curled up to the spreading dome above and the coronation anthem echoed through the Great Church, it hardly seemed to matter that the true regalia were still in pawn to the Venedans; or that the Emperor whose semi-divinity was being so loftily extolled had in fact returned only a month before from a campaign on behalf of the infidel Sultan; or that that Sultan, already the master of nearly all eastern Europe, was even now at the gates of the capital. Such ignoble considerations certainly did not occur to the Archimandrite Ignatius of Smolensk, who has left an ecstatic account of the proceedings he was fortunate enough to witness; still less do they appear to have troubled the anonymous Byzantine eye-witness who describes with almost equal enthusiasm the solemn state with which the newly-crowned pair returned to the palace, their horses' bridles held by the caesars, despots and sebastocrators, before showing themselves enthroned to their cheering subjects.

For a year and a half after his coronation Manuel was left in comparative peace; but in July 1393 a serious insurrection in Bulgaria against the Sultan brought swift retribudon, and the following winter Bayezit called his principal Christian vassals to his camp at Serres. Apart from the

Emperor himself, they included his brother Theodore, Despot of the Morea, his father-in-law Constantine Dragash, his nephew John VII and the Serbian Stephen Lazarevich. None of them knew, however, that the others had been summoned also: only when they were all assembled did they realize how completely they had put themselves in the Sultan's power. Manuel himself was convinced that a general massacre had been intended, and that Bayezit had countermanded his own orders only after the eunuch entrusted with the executions — who may well have been Ali Pasha, the son of Khaireddin, conqueror of Thessalonica - had refused or somehow prevaricated. Here, in short, was yet another example of his suzerain's mercurial changes of mood, when he would instantaneously switch from blind and savage fury to displays of almost exaggerated kindness and courtesy:

First he showed his anger by the outrages he committed against our followers, gouging out their eyes and cutting off their hands . . . and when in this fashion he had assuaged his unreasonable spirit, thereafter he very simple-mindedly attempted to make his peace with me - whom he was injuring and had dishonoured with myriad injustices - greeting me with gifts and then sending me home, just as children who weep after being punished are soothed with sweetmeats.

What better proof was there that the Sultan was by now emotionally unstable, and consequently more dangerous than ever? Eventually, after giving his vassals further grim warnings of the consequences of any future disobedience, he let them go — apart from Theodore, who was obliged to accompany him on campaign to Thessaly and was there put under severe pressure to yield Monemvasia, Argos and several other fortresses in the Peloponnese. The luckless Despot undertook to comply; fortunately, however, he escaped soon afterwards to his own territory, where he immediately rescinded his promises. Manuel meanwhile, still shaken by what he believed till the end of his life to have been a narrow escape from death, returned with all speed to Constantinople.

Soon afterwards he received yet another summons from Bayezit. This time he flatly refused. His experience at Serres had driven him to an inescapable conclusion: the days of appeasement were over. Such a policy might have succeeded with Murad - who, despite occasional bouts of savagery, had been an essentially reasonable man with whom civilized discussions were possible. Bayezit, on the other hand, had shown himself to be unbalanced and deeply untrustworthy. Manuel's first instincts had been right after all. The sole chance of survival was in resistance. Meanwhile, however, he had no delusions as to the momentousness of the decision he had taken. His refusal of the Sultan's summons would be interpreted as an act of open defiance, a casting-off of his former vassalage - in effect, a declaration of war.

One consideration only enabled him to contemplate such a step: however determined Bayezit might be to annihilate him, however great the Turkish army or formidable their siege engines, he still believed in the impregnability of Constantinople. On both occasions that the city had fallen to armed force - in 1203 and again in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade - the attacks had been launched from the sea, against the relatively inferior fortifications which ran along the shore of the Golden Horn. Such an operation would be impossible for Bayezit, who was still without an effective navy. He could attack only by land, from the west, and despite the recent demolition of the fortress by the Golden Gate the Land Walls were as strong as ever they had been. They had stood for almost a thousand years; the Byzantines had long since lost count of the number of would-be conquerors who had turned away from them, furious and frustrated at their own impotence and often without loosing a single arrow.

Manuel was soon able to put his theory to the test. In the spring of 1394 an immense Turkish army marched against Constantinople, and by the beginning of autumn the siege had begun in earnest. The Sultan had ordered a complete blockade, and although an occasional vessel managed to run the gauntlet — notably a Venetian merchantman which arrived early in 1395 with a much-needed shipment of grain — for some time essential supplies ran desperately short. All the land outside the walls -anyway inaccessible to the inhabitants — had been laid waste; the only areas available for cultivation were the plots and gardens within the city itself. Many a cottage was demolished for the sake of the resulting firewood, so that the bakers could bake their bread. Fortunately for the citizens, however, the situation gradually eased. The blockade was not lifted - it was to continue in one form or another for eight years, during which spasmodic attacks continued to be made on the walls - but gradually, as the ever-unpredictable Bayezit lost interest in the siege and involved himself in other operations that offered more immediate rewards, the pressure in some degree relaxed. At last Manuel was able to devote some of his time to diplomacy — for, he was well aware, without foreign alliances his Empire could have no long-term prospects of survival.

John VI had not been the only basileus in the past century to have discovered, to his cost, just how difficult it was to persuade the princes of the West of what should have been a self-evident truth: that the dangers now faced by Byzantium constituted an almost equal threat to themselves. In the last decade of the fourteenth century, however, the advances of the Turks across the Balkans had begun to cause them genuine anxiety. Bulgaria finally fell with the capture of its capital, Trnovo, in July 1393; so, over the next two years, did Thessaly. Further south, in Attica and the Morea, the already confused situation had been still further complicated by the irruption, some twenty years before, of a company of adventurers from Navarre. They had made themselves sworn enemies of the Despot Theodore, as well as of the Acciajuoli family who had recently captured Athens from the Catalans; before long the whole area was up in arms, and the veteran Turkish general Evrenos-Beg saw his chance. Defeating Theodore below the walls of Corinth, with the enthusiastic help of the Navarrese he smashed his way into the Morea and seized two Byzantine fortresses in the very heart of the Despotate. Then on 17 May 1395 Prince Mircea the Elder of Wallachia, supported by Louis the Great's son-in-law King Sigismund of Hungary, did battle against the Turks at Rovine. Several Serbian princes fought as vassals on the side of the Sultan, among them Stephen Lazarevich, the legendary hero Marko Kralyevich and Manuel's own father-in-law, Constantine Dragash; and though the struggle was inconclusive it resulted in Mircea's being obliged in his turn to accept Turkish suzerainty.

All these events made a deep impression in the West. Sigismund, whose Kingdom was the most immediately affected, made a general appeal to the princes of Christendom; and this time the princes responded. So also did the two rival Popes, Boniface IX in Rome and Benedict XIII in Avignon. The knighthood of France was particularly inspired by the prospect of what had now, thanks to the Popes, become a Crusade; no fewer than ten thousand, together with another six thousand from Germany, joined Sigismund's sixty thousand Hungarians and the ten thousand Wallachians raised by Mircea. Another fifteen thousand came from Italy, Spain, England, Poland and Bohemia. Manuel himself — though he had concluded a formal agreement with Sigismund in February 1396 and had promised to arm ten galleys - was prevented by the blockade from making any strategic contribution; but the Genoese in Lesbos and Chios took responsibility for the mouth of the Danube and the Black Sea coast, as did the Knights of Rhodes. Even Venice - after long hesitation, waiting as always to see how her own best interests were most likely to be served - sent a small fleet to patrol the Hellespont and keep open the vital lines of communication between the crusading army and Constantinople.

This immense force - it almost certainly numbered over a hundred thousand men - gathered in Buda and set off in August 1396 down the valley of the Danube. By definition, Crusades are hampered from the outset by an excess of religious enthusiasm: the ardent young knights saw themselves as heroes of an earlier age of chivalry, driving all before them to the very doors of the Holy Sepulchre. Were heaven itself to fall, they boasted, they could support it on the points of their lances. Sigismund's continued efforts to impose discipline and caution were in vain. The expedition began well enough, when the Bulgar Prince Stracimir, ignoring his oath of vassalage to the Sultan, opened the gates of Vidin; but further downstream at Rahova a pointless massacre of the local inhabitants boded ill for the future. A month or so after their departure the Crusaders reached Nicopolis, to which they immediately laid siege; and it was there that the Sultan — living up once again to his nickname of the Thunderbolt - caught up with them.

On the morning of Monday, 25 September a group of French knights, spotting what appeared to be a small detachment of Turkish cavalry at the top of a nearby hill, galloped forward to the attack. Unfortunately for them, Bayezit's army was drawn up out of sight in the valley behind. Suddenly the Frenchmen saw that they were surrounded. The Turks made short work of them, then charged down the hill and fell upon the rest of the Crusader army, which was taken completely by surprise. What followed was a massacre. Among those captured the French leader, Count John of Nevers, was spared because of his rank: being the son of the Duke of Burgundy, he could be trusted to fetch a good ransom. A number of other prisoners were equally lucky. The rest -some ten thousand of them - were beheaded in the Sultan's presence. Those who escaped - they included Sigismund himself and Philibert de Naillac, Grand Master elect of the Knights of St John - managed to find Venetian ships to take them back to the West; a German eye-witness, who had been taken captive but whose extreme youth had somehow saved him from execution, tells of how, as these vessels passed through the Dardanelles, he and three hundred other surviving prisoners were drawn up on the banks and made to jeer at the conquered King.1

1 Johann Schiltberger, Hakluyt Society, Vol. lviii, 1879.

In its own curious way, the depressing expedition known to history as the Crusade of Nicopolis proved to be something of a milestone. Not only was it the last of the great international Crusades;1 it was the first trial of strength between the Catholic nations of the West and the Ottoman Sultan. As such, it hardly augured well for the future.

The years 1395 and 1396 had provided the people of Constantinople with a period of relief. Bayezit had had other things on his mind; his blockade had been distinctly half-hearted, and it had been possible to bring substantial quantities of food and other supplies into the beleaguered city. By the first weeks of 1397, however, he was back -determined, if it refused to surrender, to take it by assault. Fortunately Manuel's faith in the Land Walls proved fully justified - so much so indeed that at one moment the Sultan seems to have cast an appraising eye on the far less impressive fortifications to the east of Galata; but here the Genoese and the Byzantines together, for once putting up a united front, successfully held the battlements against every attack. Refusing to give up his enterprise, Bayezit then turned his attention to the Bosphorus; and the defenders of Galata watched with consternation as a great castle rose on the opposite side - a castle that still in part survives and is nowadays known as Anadolu Hisar.2

More worrying for Manuel than any considerations of physical defence, however, was the state of morale within Constantinople. The city was once again sealed; supplies were fast diminishing, and reports of deaths from starvation increasingly common. Many of the poorer citizens in their desperation were slipping out of the city at night and making their way across the Bosphorus to the Asian shore, where they could expect food, shelter and a warm welcome from the Turks. It was an open secret, too, that the Sultan had repeatedly offered to raise both siege and blockade together if the people would agree to accept John VII as their rightful ruler. John had always had a body of supporters within the city, and there were probably many others too who felt, after nearly three years of hardship and deprivation, that the substitution of the nephew for the uncle would be a small price to pay for peace.

By the spring, the Emperor was becoming seriously alarmed. King

1Unless we count the equally unsuccessful 'Crusade of Varna' of 1444; but that was on a far smaller scale. See pp. 404-6.

2The ruined fortress that we see today includes extensions added by Mehmet II in 1452, when he was building the castle of Rumeli Hisar opposite.

Sigismund had promised another expedition, but it seemed increasingly-unlikely that he would keep his word; and by March Manuel was making arrangements to entrust Constantinople to Venice if he were obliged to leave in a hurry. The Venetians for their part, on 7 April, dispatched three galleys to the city 'for the comfort of the Lord Emperor and' - a rare expression of consideration - 'of the Genoese of Pera [Galata]', indicating that they would be sending several more as soon as these could be prepared. In fact, however, such emergency measures were to prove unnecessary: the Emperor kept his nerve, and not long afterwards Bayezit, obliged at last to face the fact that the defences of Constantinople were indeed too strong for him, once again lost interest in the siege. But he did not abandon it altogether; though food supplies became a little easier, the people continued to suffer. A year and a half later, moreover, in September 1398, we find the Venetian Senate ordering its Captain of the Gulf to be ready to defend the city from a possible Turkish attack by sea from Gallipoli. As for Manuel himself, he remained under heavy pressure. Every hour of every day, Ducas tells us, he would murmur the same prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ, let it not come about that the great multitude of Christian peoples should hear it said that it was during the days of the Emperor Manuel that the City, with all its holy and venerable monuments of the Faith, was delivered to the infidel.

Meanwhile, following the constantly-repeated advice of the Venetians, the Emperor redoubled his efforts to obtain aid from abroad. It was not an easy task; whatever Crusading flame might once have flickered among the rulers of Western Europe had been effectively snuffed out at Nicopolis. Manuel, however, saw things in a different light. For him the recent expedition, disastrous as it had been, had shown just what Christendom could achieve if only it was prepared to make the effort. Any new Crusade would obviously learn from past mistakes, and might well succeed where its predecessor had failed. In that event the Turks would be driven back into Asia, and the shadow that had hung for so long over eastern Europe might be lifted for ever. And so, in 1397 and 1398, imperial embassies set forth once again - to the Pope, to the Kings of England, France and Aragon and to to the Grand Duke of Muscovy, while similar delegations were sent by Patriarch Antonius to the King of Poland and the Metropolitan of Kiev.

In Rome Pope Boniface IX, still smarting from the humiliation of Nicopolis, was only too ready to do anything he could to eradicate what he saw as a serious stain on his reputation. With the possibility of Church union also ever-present in his mind, he promulgated two bulls -in April 1398 and March 1399 - calling upon the nations of the West to participate in a new Crusade or, failing that, to send financial contributions for the defence of Constantinople. Full indulgences were offered to those who answered the call; collecting boxes would be set up in all the churches. The response of King Charles VI of France, when an embassy led by the Emperor's uncle, Theodore Palaeologus Cantacuzenus, reached him in October 1397, was even more satisfactory. Only the year before, Charles had become overlord of Genoa1 and its colonies — John VII had even tried to sell him his title to the Byzantine crown in return for 25,000 gold florins and a chateau in France - and he was consequently far from indifferent to the fate of the threatened city. Though unable to provide any immediate military assistance, he promised Theodore that he would do so at the earliest possible moment, giving him as an earnest of his good intentions the sum of 12,000 gold francs to take back to the Emperor.

The Byzantine delegation, reaching England in the summer of 1399, could hardly have arrived at a worse moment. Richard II was in Ireland through most of June and July, and returned to England to find the country up in arms against him. He was captured by Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) in August, formally deposed in September and almost certainly murdered - though it is just possible that he died of grief - the following February. His predicament was consequently a good deal graver even than Manuel's; yet somehow he found time to receive the Byzantine emissaries and to express his concern, giving his full approval for the proposed collection of funds - a contribution box was placed in St Paul's Cathedral - and ordering the immediate payment on account of 3,000 marks, or £2,000 sterling. (The entire sum was subsequently embezzled by a Genoese broker, but Richard can scarcely be blamed for that.)

Charles VI, on the other hand, proved as good as his word: he had undertaken to send a military force to the East, and in 1399 he did. It was led by the greatest French soldier of his day, Jean le Maingre, better known as Marshal Boucicault. The Marshal had fought three years

1 Soon after the peace of Turin, the governmental system of Genoa had begun to crumble. Torn asunder by factional strife, the Republic was to elect and depose ten Doges in five years, until in 1396 the Genoese voluntarily surrendered to a French domination which was to continue until 1409.

before at Nicopolis, where he had been captured and - nearly a year later - ransomed; and he longed for vengeance. Leaving Aigues-Mortes at the end of June with six vessels carrying some twelve hundred men, he made many stops along the way to do further recruiting and eventually, having smashed his way through the Turkish blockade of the Hellespont, reached Constantinople in September. Manuel gave him an enthusiastic welcome and named him Grand Constable, and together they took part in several minor operations on both sides of the Bosphorus. But Boucicault saw at once that none of this was of any real importance. An army that was to achieve anything worth while against the Turks would have to be on a far larger scale and could be obtained in one way only: the Emperor must himself make the journey to Paris and plead his cause in person before the French King.

Manuel asked nothing better, but there was a problem: who would look after the Empire in his absence? The obvious candidate was John VII, if only because if he selected anyone else John would be sure to reassert his claim to the throne; but uncle and nephew had not been on speaking terms for years. At this point Boucicault came into his own. He went straight to John at Selymbria and persuaded him to agree to a reconciliation. The two then returned together to Constantinople, where the family quarrel which had poisoned relations between the Palaeologi for twenty-five years was quickly healed. According to the terms of their agreement, John would act as Regent in Manuel's absence, and on his return would be granted Thessalonica. True, the city was then under Turkish occupation; but this state of affairs, it was confidently hoped, would prove to be only temporary.

And so, on 10 December 1399, the Emperor left Constantinople for the West, accompanied by Boucicault, the Empress Helena and their two small sons, the seven-year-old John and his brother Theodore, who was probably not more than four or five. The fact that he did not take them with him to France but settled them with his own brother in the Morea is a clear enough indication of his true feelings towards John VII; the reconciliation was all very well, but if the Regent did decide to make trouble there was at least no risk of his taking the imperial family hostage. And even then Manuel's mind was not entirely at rest: what if Bayezit should launch a sudden attack on the Peloponnese? The first weeks of 1400 were taken up with planning for the possible escape of his wife and children and their refuge in the Venetian ports of Modone and Corone. Only after their future was absolutely assured did he set sail for Venice, where he and Boucicault arrived in April.

There the two separated, the Marshal travelling straight on to Paris to prepare for the Emperor's arrival. Manuel remained a few days in Venice before continuing his journey via Padua, Vicenza, Pavia and Milan, where Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti, its ruler, gave a great banquet in his honour and loaded him with presents, promising to travel himself to Constantinople if the other rulers proved cooperative. It was all a far cry from the sort of treatment that John V had received in Venice in 1370; now, as Manuel moved through Italy, he was cheered and feted in every town through which he passed. The contrast was not altogether surprising. John had visited Venice as a beggar and a discredited debtor; his son was seen as a hero. Italy had at last woken up to the Turkish danger, and in Italian eyes this tall, distinguished figure -having come, as it were, straight from the front line - was the principal defender of Christendom, the potential saviour of Europe.

Something else had happened, too, in the past few years: the Italians had discovered Greek literature and learning, and had taken it to their hearts. Until the last decade of the fourteenth century, Greek had been effectively a dead language in Italy. Petrarch had possessed a Greek manuscript of Homer, on which he would regularly plant a reverent kiss but of which he understood scarcely a word.1 The study of Greek achieved no real impetus undl 1396, when a pupil of Demetrius Cydones named Manuel Chrysoloras was installed in the newly-founded chair of Greek in Florence. Thenceforth the spark travelled quickly. Early in 1400 Chrysoloras had moved on to Milan - leaving behind him a small but enthusiastic body of Greek-speaking scholars and the first Greek grammar ever to appear in Italy - and was there to greet the Emperor on his arrival. In Milan as elsewhere, Manuel thus found all the educated citizens passionately eager for Greek culture and hanging on his every word. Scholar and intellectual as he was, he did not disappoint them.

On 3 June 1400 - just three weeks short of his fiftieth birthday -Manuel Palaeologus arrived in Paris. King Charles VI was waiting for him at the suburb of Charenton with the snow-white horse on which he

1 He and his pupil Boccaccio had finally and with much difficulty unearthed an old and extremely dirty monk from a remote Basilian monastery in the depths of Calabria and in 1360 had brought him to Florence. Despite his villainous appearance and unpleasant personal habits -Petrarch described him as 'the concierge of the Cretan labyrinth' - Boccaccio had lodged him in his house and set him down to translate the Iliad; but before the monk could get very far he was struck by lightning.

was to enter the city. A monk from Saint-Denis, who was an eye-witness of all that took place, was particularly struck by the way Manuel transferred himself directly from one mount to another:

. .. Then the Emperor, dressed in his imperial robe of white silk, seated himself on the white horse presented to him by the King during his journey, mounting it nimbly without even deigning to set a foot upon the ground. And those who — while marking his moderate stature, distinguished by a manly chest and by yet firmer limbs, though under a long beard and showing white hair everywhere - yet took heed of the grace of his countenance, and adjudged him indeed to be worthy of imperial rule.1

Riding in the centre of a magnificent procession, Manuel was escorted to the old Louvre, where an entire wing had been redecorated to receive him. Lavish entertainments were prepared in his honour; the King himself took him hunting; he was invited to the Sorbonne to meet the country's most distinguished scholars. On every side he was revered and venerated as the Emperor he was. No amount of celebration and festivity could however conceal the fact that he failed to achieve his main object. He had several meetings with the King and his council, in the course of which they agreed to provide him with another force of twelve hundred men for a year, commanded once again by Boucicault; but this, as he and the Marshal well knew, was useless. Nothing would succeed against the Turks but a full-blown international Crusade; and this, apparently, King Charles refused to contemplate.

The situation was not improved by the fact that, within a few weeks of the Emperor's arrival, Charles gave way to one of his periodic fits of insanity, after which all negotiations had to be suspended. Manuel, however, was by this time in correspondence with the Kings of Castile and Aragon, both of whom spoke encouragingly of aid - while remaining somewhat vague about the scale on which it was envisaged. He also made contact with a certain Peter Holt, a prior of the Order of St John, about the possibility of a visit to England. This, Holt pointed out, would not be without its problems: Richard II, with whom he had formerly corresponded, had been deposed in the previous year by the present ruler, King Henry IV; Henry was at present occupied in putting down a rebellion in Scotland; moreover, although England and France were at present temporarily at peace, relations between them were as usual severely strained, and it was far from certain that His Majesty

1 Religieux de Saint-Denis, Chronica Karoli sexti, quoted by J. W. Barker, op. cit.

would wish to receive any ruler, however distinguished, who had so recently enjoyed the hospitality of the French King.

Fortunately, the prior's misgivings proved unfounded; he and Manuel were obliged to spend two frustrating months in Calais, waiting until King Henry had returned from Scotland and was ready to receive them, but in December they finally made the crossing. Stopping for a few days at Canterbury, they reached London four days before Christmas. The King met them at Blackheath and escorted them into the city. Far from showing any coolness towards his guest, he too treated him with the utmost reverence and respect: his own position in the Kingdom was still uncertain - many of his subjects rightly considered him a usurper of the throne, and a probable murderer to boot - and he believed with good reason that to be seen playing host to the Emperor of Byzantium would do much to enhance his prestige. On Christmas Day he entertained his guest to a banquet in his royal palace at Eltham.1 As in Paris, everyone was deeply impressed by Manuel's dignity, as by the spotless white robes that he and his entourage all wore. Among those present was the lawyer Adam of Usk. 'I reflected,' he wrote, 'how grievous it was that this great Christian prince should be driven by the Saracens from the furthest East to these furthest western islands to seek aid against them . . . O God, what dost thou now, ancient glory of Rome?'2

The Emperor himself seems to have been equally impressed by King Henry:

There is the ruler with whom we are staying at present, the King of Great Britain [sic] which is, one may say, a second universe. He overflows with merits and is bedecked with manifold virtues . . . He is most illustrious both in form and in judgement; with his might he astonishes all, and with his sagacity he wins himself friends. He extends a hand to everyone, and furnishes every sort of assistance to those who are in need of aid. He has established a virtual haven for us in the midst of a twofold tempest, both of the season and of fortune . . . and he appears most pleasant in conversation, gladdening us, honouring us and loving us no less . . . He is to furnish us with military assistance in the shape of men-at-arms, archers, money and ships which will convey the army wherever necessary.

Not all those who knew the King shared his guest's enthusiasm; but

1The old moated palace of Eltham - a mile or two south-east of Greenwich - still stands. Although a royal palace since the days of Edward III (1327-77) it was largely rebuilt by Edward IV in the 1470s; from this period dates the Great Hall with its tremendous hammerbeam roof. Of the building in which Manuel Palacologus was regally entertained, little or nothing now remains.

2Cbronicon, p. 5 7. Quoted by Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople,

Henry, powerless as he was to provide the military aid that he so cheerfully promised, seems at least to have shown genuine sympathy with the Byzantine cause. Told of the disappearance of the 3,000 marks contributed by his predecessor, he at once ordered a formal inquiry; and when the peculation was revealed he immediately made good the loss, at the same time presenting Manuel with a further £4,000 said to have been contributed to the church collection boxes - astonishing testimony to the generosity of the people of England towards a nation which few had ever seen, and of which the vast majority can never even have heard.

After some seven weeks in England, Manuel was back in Paris towards the end of February 1401. He was to stay there for more than a year, continuing his negotiations with the Kings of Aragon and Portugal, the Pope in Rome and the anti-Pope in Avignon; he also seems to have joined with Charles — who had by now temporarily recovered his sanity -in an attempt to contact the Mongol leader Tamburlaine and to encourage him to lead his immense and apparently invincible horde against Bayezit. Throughout the summer he continued optimistic; several of his surviving letters written from Paris at this time make it clear that he still believed a great international expedition to be in preparation. With the coming of autumn, however, his correspondence grew steadily more discouraging. For the King of Aragon, the season was too far advanced; Henry of England was fully occupied with another rebellion, this time on the part of the Welsh; the Florentines, to whom Manuel had sent his own kinsman Demetrius Palaeologus with a request for aid, sent many expressions of sympathy but pointed out that they had an 'Italian Bayezit' (the Milanese Gian Galeazzo Visconti) of their own to deal with.

Most disappointing of all were the French. They, ideally, should have masterminded the new Crusade, organized it, orchestrated it, given it shape and purpose. But Charles VI was largely incapacitated - no one knew when madness would once again overcome him - and his disease had led to power struggles between various members of his family which paralyzed the government still further. In the autumn of 1401 Marshal Boucicault - who was to have led the new French expedition -was nominated instead as Governor of Genoa, where he arrived at the end of October. Yet even now the Emperor refused to give up hope. A few months later he wrote to Venice, suggesting that Doge Michele Steno might take over the leadership where Charles had failed; but the

Doge prevaricated. Venice, he pointed out, had already gone to considerable expense to help 'the Christians of Romania'. Any further aid must be contingent on similar contributions being made by other nations of the West.

After such reverses, why did the sad and disillusioned Emperor remain in Europe as long as he did? Certainly not, as has been suggested, because he dreaded returning to his capital with the news of his failure. A deeply conscientious man with an unassailable sense of duty, he had not seen his wife and children for nearly two years and would not have wished to stay away from his home and capital for a day longer than he thought necessary. But he was also determined. His father's policy of appeasement had failed; resistance was the only alternative. Somehow it must be made to work; thus, for as long as there seemed the slightest possibility of persuading all or any of the princes of the West to change their minds, he himself must remain among them.

How long he would have done so we shall never know; because in September 1402 the Seigneur Jean de Chateaumorand - whom Boucicault had left in Constantinople with a token force of some three hundred French troops — arrived in Paris with news that instantly changed the entire situation. The Mongols under Tamburlaine had destroyed the Ottoman army. Bayezit himself had been taken prisoner. For Manuel Palaeologus, there was no longer any reason to remain in the West. He began to prepare for his journey home.

You can support our site by clicking on this link and watching the advertisement.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!