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"Eudoxia" of Montpellier - part 4/1 - title as "empress" and parentage
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Peter Stewart
2020-03-08 04:47:29 UTC
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According to the chronicle of her grandson James the Conqueror of
Aragon, Eudokia was the daughter of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos. This was
accepted by many (though certainly not all) historians until the early
20th century, and still gets repeated without question by some today.

Those who disagree tend to suppose that James was deliberately fudging
the facts in order to aggrandise his own ancestry, but considering that
he was disparaging about his own father I don't think it's very safe to
assume that he was prone to fibbing for the sake of family prestige.

Two contemporary sources describe Eudokia as niece to Manuel,and this is
usually taken to indicate that she was most probably his grand-niece.
Manuel was the youngest child of Emperor Ioannes II, born in November
1118 (Suzanne de Jongh in 1937 placed his birth in 1122, that is also
still repeated sometimes, but this was corrected by Barzos in 1984).
Seven of his older siblings left offspring, so there are numerous ways
in which Eudokia could have been his grand-niece and perhaps a few in
which she could have been a generation closer as his direct niece though
I think this is too dubious to pursue since the next-oldest, his sister
Eudokia, was married ca 1131 and unlikely to have been givinrth uop to
three decades later. The only child of Ioannes II who can be shown to
have become a parent as late as the probable birth-date range of Eudokia
was Manuel himself.

Manuel's legitimate offspring were two daughters by his first wife
Bertha of Sulzbach (renamed Eirene in Constantinople): Maria born in
March 1152 and another, perhaps named Anna, born in 1154. Both died
without issue, the elder murdered in 1182 and the younger, aged 5 or 6,
in 1160 - that we don't know even her name for sure, though she was a
porphyrogenete princess, indicates how little trace we can expect of
Eudokia herself as a lesser child born into or closely related to the
imperial family.

By his second wife, maria of Antioch, Manuel had only his son Alexios
II, born in 1169 and murdered in 1183.

But Manuel was notoriously keen on self-indulgence, and one of his
several mistresses gave him at least one child: this was his own niece
Theodora. Despite this incestuous adultery, four successive patriarchs
of Constantinople during the full decade of their affair kept silent,
with no protest or criticism from that quarter on record.

The son born to Theodora was named Alexios, born ca 1160/61. In 1183 he
was married to an illegitimate daughter of his father's cousin
Andronikos II and given the title sebastokrator, an empty but highly
distinguished honorific that at one stage had been held to be the
second-ranking title of the empire. It is a portmanteau invention of the
late-11th century meaning roughly "augustocrat", as opposed to
"autocrat" which was a style reserved to the emperor (basileios).
Szabolcs de Vajay was unduly impressed by this rather silly title and
made its possession one of the two main criteria for identifying
Eudokia's father, but this is specious because by the 1160s it was
overtaken in rank by "despotes", the title was given to Bela-Alexios of
Hungary when he was married to Manuel's elder daughter Maria and made
heir to the imperial throne.

Manuel's son/grand-nephew Alexios was blinded and imprisoned by his
father-in-law Andronikos I in the summer of 1185 as punishment for an
alleged conspiracy against his régime. The accused did not need to be
put to death, as would have been the usual sanction for this peccadillo,
because a blind man was normally held by the Byzantines to be ineligible
for the throne and anyway the Komnenoi much preferred casual murder to
official killing.

Some historians have speculated that Manuel had other children by his
niece Theodora, born like Alexios after the death of his first wife.
There does not appear to be any evidence that this illicit couple did or
did not have a daughter or two, who may have passed unrecorded, though a
second son is less likely to have escaped notice.

It is a fairly obvious harmonisation of the sources to conjecture that
Eudokia of Montpellier could have been both a daughter and a grand-niece
of Manuel, and that the latter relationship could have been the primary
billing she was given as a bride in the West.

However, I think this is not very plausible. Alfonso of Aragon would
probably not have considered such a parentage suitable for his brother's
wife, even for the sake of a rich dowry; the scandalous background would
almost certainly have become well-known and could be expected to have
come up in written sources. Alexios was known to be the child of Manuel
and Theodora precisely because this level of infamy is hard to keep
secret, even if your local patriarchs are ready to blink at it. Eudokia
was prominent enough in the Midi and in Rome that she would hardly have
passed in anonymous camouflage as "a certain Greek lady" if she had been
the child of flagrant sin, and even the troubadours might be expected to
demur at calling her "empress" in such circumstances.

Also I don't think we should look especially for a sebastokrator as her
father just because she was called "empress". Byzantine titles were not
closely studied by Occitan poets, and if they had heard this particular
whopper one of them would surely have gratefully taken its feminine form
"sebastokratorissa" as a free line of verse in itself.

In any case, Eudokia's mother-in-law Mathilde of Burgundy was called
"ducissa" (duchess) in Montpellier because she came from a ducal family,
so it is not too surprising that Eudokia from an imperial one was called
"empress".

However, it is not implausible that Eudokia did maintain some kind of
pretense to imperial rank: in the romanticised "Vida" of Peire Vidal, a
troubadour who is supposed to have fallen in love with her, it is said
that he married a Greek lady in Cyprus who he claimed to be the rightful
empress of Constantinople as niece to the emperor, and that he set out
quixotically to win her throne. Once again, as with the story retold by
James about her rejection by Alfonso, this fiction evidently originated
in her own milieu.

Peter Stewart
Peter Stewart
2020-03-08 06:14:42 UTC
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Post by Peter Stewart
Manuel's son/grand-nephew Alexios was blinded and imprisoned by his
father-in-law Andronikos I in the summer of 1185 as punishment for an
alleged conspiracy against his régime.
I should add that Alexios had become very wealthy, as his mother
Theodora was favoured by her uncle Manuel with "oceans of money". At the
time of his blinding his secretary was burned alive in the hippodrome,
perhaps slaking the bloodthirst of his father-in-law for a while.

Andronikos himself was despatched by a mob in 1185, and when Isaakios II
Angelos became emperor he released the blinded Alexios from prison,
demoting him from sebastokrator (augustocrat) to kaisar (caesar).
Alexios preferred not to remain at court in Constantinople and retired
to his estate at Drama in Macedonia. In 1191 he was accused of another
conspiracy and the chronicler Niketas Choniates was sent to arrest him.
He was taken to Mount Papikion and forced to become a monk, choosing for
himself the same monastery (out of many dozens in that locale) where
Alexios Axouchos had been tonsured in 1167. He took the name Athanasios.
Three months later Isaakios II relented and had him brought back to
court in Constantinople, where he was feasted as a welcome guest. We
don't know what became of him afterwards or when he died. However, the
generosity shown to him was peculiar since monks were not supposed to
leave their monasteries and Isaakios had no apparent reason to treat him
as a friend except perhaps that he was the son of a respected
predecessor as emperor. Given that Eudokia was having troubles of her
own in Montpellier by that time and yet Isaakios showed no interest in
her unhappy predicament, it is perhaps a bit more unlikely that she was
a sister of Alexios.

Peter Stewart

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