POD; Securing Rhomania
Deus hoc vult pro Rom
With The Empire of Constantinople being a crusader state, this naturally worried the Pope, Honorius III. In early April, the Pontifex called a crusade, desperate to prevent the city’s fall (... a second time). This posed a vital opportunity for Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire, who had promised to go on a grand crusade in his efforts to win the Imperial Throne. Were he to be successful against the heretics, he would preserve the Eastern Empire while proving that the western empire was the greater power. He, and several of his southern vassals, were quick to pledge allegiance and aid to the crusade . Shortly after, the French King Louis VIII would also follow suit, young and eager to prove himself his father’s equal.
While Frederick II was also King of Sicily and thus had access to a useful staging ground, the Crusade still took time to properly get going. Armies took time to amass, after all. During this intervening period, Robert I of the Empire of Constantinople was struggling to hold off Epirus, though they were alleviated somewhat as the Greeks had pulled back some of their forces to guard against the coming invaders. However, by July the 21st, the first Italian crusaders had started to arrive- from Frederick’s Sicily, the Papal States, and especially Venice, who were especially interested in propping up their ‘roman project.’ The first battle of the newly named 6th crusade, the Battle of Kruja, posed a clear problem for the Epriots, as during the leadup, they had made one crucial mistake: they’d anticipated the crusaders would simply march straight east. While this was true in some form, the Sicilians and Venetians had landed further north than the Epriots had anticipated, which had given the invaders the ability to take defensive terrain. This allowed them to pick off the Greeks via a storm of arrows and a cavalry charge. This battle was quickly followed up when the French, who had taken the overland route, arrived in Thessalonica proper to reinforce Robert’s army, forcing the Epriots back further. While Eprius was a power in its own right, it was not the Ayyubid Caliphate and it could not hope to survive such weight crushing it.
Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor
While in a better situation, Nicea might intervene, the fact of it was that John III Doukas Vatatzes was not in a position to do so. His ascension had been contested by rival claimants and a battle was coming. As such, the man needed all the men he could keep here. Besides, the Nicean Emperor reasoned, if Eprius were to fall, then that was one less challenger to his legitimacy as Caesar when he or his descendants finally retook the City of Constantine, whenever that would be. However, there was one crucial ally for the Despotate- Bulgaria. Dragged in due to the French crusaders…. Acting like crusaders, Tsar Aven II was fighting a defensive war, but he was able to inflict serious wounds on the Latins, attempting to focus on the eastern territory to prevent conflict with his allies. However, the French made this quite difficult for him. Eventually, they circled back around Thrace, cutting the Bulgarian Empire off from their shot at Constantinople.
The fifth crusade would last for five years, with few more notable battles against the Bulgarians. Epirus, however, still proved a formidable foe, with battles Eventually, Robert’s forces were able to expand into territory they’d never occupied, mostly in southern Bulgaria and on the Adriatic Sea. As the crusaders occupied towns, their commanders would allow them to do whatever they saw fit to the populace, naturally resulting in untold deaths and devastation. Soon after christmas 1229, Eprius surrendered. The capitol had been sacked and utterly devastated. With the end of the crusade, Robert personally took the titles “Duke of Epirus” and “Count of Haskovo,” though he gave most of Thessalonica back to its rightful King Demetrius. The emperor allowed the various crusaders to settle in the empire if they so wished.
Gold: Constantinople; Purple: Nicea; Red: Bulgaria; Yellow: Triezbond; Bright Blue: Venice; Teel: The Seljuks
Despite these gains, not all was peaceful in the Empire of Constantinople. After marrying Eudoxia of Neuville, a Burgundian woman, he was nearly ousted in a conspiracy. However, his successful campaigns meant the troops were loyal to him, and thus he was able to force the conspiratorial groups out of his empire- albeit at the cost of them taking much of the wealth they’d brought with them. Bigger problems emerged during the summer when the tax collectors sent out into newly acquired territories were accosted by locals, who were naturally still Orthodox. By this point, the assembled levies the Emperor had were unrestful and wanted to stand down. As a result, Emperor Robert, as well as the Imperial Council (made up of Barons, the Podestà of Constantinople who represented Venetian interests in the Aegean, and his own smaller council of six) were all forced to negotiate if they wanted to keep their gains. It was agreed that within the territories of Epirus and Haskovo, locals would not be taxed for ten years, and that those who converted to catholicism would get another five years without taxation. Robert ordered the construction of several catholic churches in order to facilitate this. Like other Emperors, Robert was not interested in suppressing the Orthodox state, but in passively converting them by making it beneficial.
In 1230, Robert and Eudoxia had their first son, Charles. Charles was the first son of an Emperor to actually be born within the Theodosian Walls, something that Robert pushed extensively in an effort to legitimize a dynastic founding, so to speak. This was also why the boy was named Charles, as it was the modernized version of the name Karl, thus an invocation of Charlemagne; it also invoked a similar name as Constantine, the one who moved Roman power eastward. The boy was to be educated in both Greek and French, the two administrative languages used within the Empire. Well, Greek’s administrative use was small, mainly localized in recent conquests.
Shortly later, in July, Frederick II set out on another crusade- this time for Jerusalem. This campaign would be successful, as Frederick was a capable leader and commander, but would come back to pose problems for the western emperor, as his regent would launch an attack into Spoleto, provoking war with the Papacy. When Frederick, now King of Jerusalem, returned about a year later, he was forced to make a deal with the Pope and grant the church certain autonomies within Sicily. His long time away from the Empire, both in Greece (Rhomania) and the Levant, had stirred up unrest within Germany, leading many of the princes to demand greater autonomy from their liege. This coincided with a revolt in Italy that had minor endorsement from the Pope- if the Hohenstaufen line was elected continuously, it could be very dangerous for the Vatican.
King Louis IX was a young king, having only ruled France for a few years. Despite this, he was quickly becoming a prestigious ruler, known for his generosity and skills with mediation. Wanting to advance the Catholic cause, he made a deal with Emperor Robert- the King would fund the creation of a Christian Holy Order in northern Greece that would be able to help convert the masses and fight the Bolgars (most Holy Orders were based in the Aegean and thus couldn’t always be relied on), in exchange for the Emperor’s help on Crusade, if one that was declared via Papal Bull were to come up within their shared lifespan.
Shortly after this, however, a brief conflict erupted with the Nicaean Empire, who under John III Doukas, felt they’d amassed their forces enough to take back the city- they had attempted to make an alliance with the Bulgarians, but they were wary of dealing with the Latins again so soon. Unfortunately, while they were able to occupy parts of the Bosphorus across from Constantinople, neither side was able to make a decisive strike against each other. The Niceans boldly attempted a strike on Constantinople itself, but this would prove disastrous, and their army was massacred. In the resulting negotiations, the Empire of Constantinople was able to regain their limited Anatolian holdings
Not much more would happen for the next several years. However, in 1248, a crusade was indeed called, and Emperor Robert was called in due to the deal he’d made with the French some time ago. In 1249, Robert’s son Charles would later be betrothed to Kinga of Hungary, daughter of Béla IV. She was 4 years younger than him, though the children did seem to at least like each other. By this point, the Prince Imperial was 14 and had taken a keen interest in navies and finances. He would frequently grumble to his father that the Venetians were a limiting factor to the prosperity of the Empire and that a continuation of the Roman Empire should have a permanent fleet like they had, though Robert had always taken this with a grain of salt due to Charles’s youth. Regardless, he set out on the crusade with King Louis IX.
John Doukas Vatatzes
John Doukas Vatatzes
It was unsuccessful. While Robert and Louis were competent commanders in their own right, the fact of it was they were hundreds of miles from home, had little supply, and the Mamlukian sultanate had the advantages of familiarity and numbers. Worse still, both realms had failed to consider the Nile’s infamous flooding, leaving them trapped for six months. Later, at the Battle of Fariskur, the two Christian lords were both opened to being captured. Robert, the ruler of a much closer realm, was prioritized, allowing Louis IX to escape (plus for an emperor, it was easier to set a larger ransom). While Louis did put forward a significant part of Robert’s ransom, he was still not able to pay quickly.
The regency council in Constantinople was slow to pay back the ransom as well, though this was more due to maintaining other essentials. This only increased Prince Charles’ dislike of the Venetian influence. Unfortunately, even after the Prince reached 16, he was not able to declare himself Prince-Regent due to the Regent needing the council’s consent to hold power, something that the young man was not going to get for exactly the reason he wanted to take power.
Eventually, however, Emperor Robert was released, though by 1254, despite being treated respectfully, it was clear the desert had taken a toll. He’d survived dysentery and had suffered strain from both sun and heat stroke. He found himself resentful over not seeing Charles grow into a man in his own right and spent as much time as he could with the boy. He even found himself growing to agree with Charles’s assessment of both the naval assessment and the Venetian influence.
Up north, the Kievan Rus was fully subdued by the Mongol Golden Horde early into 1255. The confederation had already been thrown into disarray by the collapse of their largest trading partner, but that had quickly become secondary. This is what finally convinced Emperor Robert to order the construction of a black sea navy. While he knew the Mongol khans were far from proficient with navies, he felt that the added deterrent would be useful, especially to protect trade, as it was likely the Rus cities would no longer be able to do so under the Mongol yoke.
Emperor Robert I of Constantinople
Notes: This is my third TL, but my second I've given any real thought to. The idea of the Latin empire is a fascinating one to me, given the diversity of language and religion already in this part of the world and how that impacted the age of exploration.
= our POD. OTL, Honorious’s crusade was largely ignored. TTL, not the case, and it becomes the 6th crusade with the backing of the HRE and France, as you saw. This also avoids Frederick II's first ex-communication, though the realpolitik that led to his falling out with the papacy and princes remain.