Discussion:
"Eudoxia" of Montpellier - part 4/4 - title as "empress" and parentage (last posting)
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Peter Stewart
2020-03-10 04:52:53 UTC
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It will save my time and flagging energy if I don't relate full details
of the lives and careers of Ioannes Axouchos and his son Alexios,
instead posting these links to two unexceptionable Wikipedia articles:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Axouch

and

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexios_Axouch.

Both of these have some omissions but no outright errors that I am aware
of, though they fail to take account of the most notable literature on
the two men, especially the joint biography by Konstantinos Mekios
(1932), the work of Barzos (1984) already mentioned in this thread and
an study by Giorgios Charizanis (2011) on Alexios and his blinded
Komnenos namesake, mentioned before, who were both forcibly tonsured in
the same monastery on Mount Papikion.

Anyway, the Wikipedia biographies give a fair summary. Alexios would
have come to notice in the papal court not only from his mission in
Italy outlined there, but also from his outreach on Manuel's behalf to
the Armenian Apostolic Church. Alexios met with St Nerses the Gracious,
at the time brother of the katholikos Grigor III (whom he later
succeeded), to open discussions on a possible union with the Greek
Orthodox Church. In the context of the great schism, Rome would very
probably have been alert to this effort.

A more relevant omission for the purpose of this thread is a more
detailed coverage of Alexios Axouchos' disappointed propects of becoming
emperor.

Apart from the AIMA prophecy by which the successor to Manuel should
have the initial A, applicable to him but equally to some Komnenoi by
birth, Alexios had been chosen for his marriage with Maria Komnene on
the full understanding that he was likely to succeed to the imperial
throne as a result.

Ioannes II had made his eldest son Alexios co-emperor (i.e. with the
supreme Byzantine title basileios) in 1122 following the Byzantine
victory over the Pechenegs at Beroia (now Stara Zagora in Bulgaria),
where incidentally Ioannes Axouchos was wounded. Alexios Komnenos was a
porphyrogenete because he was born after Ioannes II had been made
co-emperor by his own father, on the occasion of an earlier victory over
the Pechenegs, and Maria was also a porphyrogenete (they were
subsequently hailed together with this honorific by a court poet).
Alexios Komnenos was married to his wife from Kiev (named Eirene in
Constantinople) in the same year as his elevation to the imperial title.

Although it is not known exactly when Maria was born, this was probably
a few years before 1130 as she appears to have been married to Alexios
Axouchos in the lifetime of her father, who died unexpectedly from a
fever in 1142, or else by her grandfather shortly afterwards (Ioannes II
died in 1143; his successor Manuel I would have had no interest in
bringing about this union risky to himself). We don't know how old she
was at the time of her wedding, or when she had her children - if she
was a young bride, born say ca 1128 and married at 14, she may have
given birth from the mid-1140s to 1160s. A dating towards the middle of
this range, from ca 1155 on, seems likely enough because her sons were
described as "children" at the time of their father's disgrace in 1167.

This is the point that has perhaps caused Alexios Axouchos and Maria
Komnene to be disregarded until now in the search for Eudokia's parents.
Barzos and others have contented themselves with noting that the couple
had two sons living in 1167, without heeding a faint hint in the passage
from which we learn this that there was probably at least one daughter
as well.

Barzos attributed three sons to them, but the third (who allegedly died
before 1167) is highly dubious, relying on verses about the death of the
son of a protostrator by a poet (Kallikles) who is not known to have
written or survived after 1142. The protostrator in question was more
probably not Alexios but one of his recent predecessors in office.

Choniates, a source well-placed source for knowledge of the family, says
that when Alexios was sent to a monastery (in 1167) his wife Maria
became unhinged, crazily begging Manuel for mercy and devoting the
resources left to to her, after the confiscation of her husband's
immense wealth, to her two sons.

From the opening sentences of the history written by Choniates we know
his unqualified terms for son, daughter and child, as he started by
saying that Ioannes II's father Alexios I Komnenos had three sons and
two daughters, adding that Ioannes was favoured by him above the other
children. When he narrated the insanity of Maria he used the locution
"her male children" rather than straightforwardly saying "her sons". She
would not have been the first or last deranged and suicidal mother to
focus on her sons after being parted from her husband, and to neglect
any daughter/s by comparison. It is only a faint hint that such
daughter/s existed, and it may have been just a kind of elegant
variation by the author, but nonetheless it may be a direct implication
that Alexios and Maria had other children including female/s and not
just the two sons.

One of these sons, presumably the elder, was Ioannes "the Fat" who used
the surname Komnenos rather than Axouchos (making it a bit questionable
that he was the genealogical link to the grand Komnenos of Trebizond who
was surnamed Axouchos). Even if he was in his 20s to early 30s by the
time of Eudokia's marriage in 1178/79 (though probably younger if he was
still a "child" in terms of age by 1167), he would have been in no
position to have a say in the marriage of his sister. Maria Komnene is
said to have died within a year of her husband's removal to life as a
monk at Papikion, and Barzos placed the death of Alexios ca 1170 (Mekios
left the date as unknown, which I think preferable). The family was
ruined, but not deprived of their claim to the imperial inheritance that
Maria and her husband had in prospect before the sudden death of her
father and the subsequent choice by Ioannes II of his youngest son
Manuel as heir. At the beginning of the 13th century Ioannes "the Fat"
took part in an abortive revolt against Emperor Alexios III (Angelos),
and was himself crowned emperor. He lasted only a day before he was
summarily eliminated, as befitted an upstart with his preferred surname
of Komnenos.

In the decades before this failed attempt, Ioannes "the Fat" and any
other Axouchoi living in Constantinople on the charity of their
relatives would not have had the temerity to express their residual
claim to the imperial throne. But a sister living as far away as
Montpellier might have felt free to express her longing for the glory
that had once been their due, and to put forward to her circles a
pretense that she wished her brothers could make real.

If she was of Turkish extraction through her paternal grandfather, with
a father who had befriended and complimented the sultan Kilij Arslan II,
Eudokia's rather disrespectful - if not actually derisive - treatment
from Rome may be easier to account for. When her daughter Maria was
later in the process of being repudiated by her third husband, Pere "the
Catholic" of Aragon, her cause was taken up in a big way by the papal
court, yet when the same had been happening to Eudokia the pope's legate
held a council in Montpellier while the pope himself repeatedly extended
apostolic protection to Guillem VIII and his illegitimate son.

It can be reasonably objected that no-one ever said Eudokia was a
Turkish woman as opposed to a Greek, and that prejudice of this kind was
hardly rife in the Midi or in Italy during her troubles. But the
difference in regard for her is stark, from her troubadour admirers who
extolled her beauty and rank to the Church authorities who behaved as if
she was an anonymous nuisance and any relatives left in Constantinople
who were evidently uninformed, unable to help, or uninterested in her
plight from 1178/79 until she died.

Peter Stewart
Peter Stewart
2020-03-10 08:28:50 UTC
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Post by Peter Stewart
Ioannes II had made his eldest son Alexios co-emperor (i.e. with the
supreme Byzantine title basileios) in 1122 following the Byzantine
victory over the Pechenegs at Beroia (now Stara Zagora in Bulgaria),
where incidentally Ioannes Axouchos was wounded. Alexios Komnenos was a
porphyrogenete because he was born after Ioannes II had been made
co-emperor by his own father, on the occasion of an earlier victory over
the Pechenegs, and Maria was also a porphyrogenete (they were
subsequently hailed together with this honorific by a court poet).
Alexios Komnenos was married to his wife from Kiev (named Eirene in
Constantinople) in the same year as his elevation to the imperial title.
I hadn't thought of this twist before: if Eudokia was the daughter of
Alexios Axouchos and Maria Komnene, then through her maternal
grandparents the basileus Alexios and his wife from Kiev she was a
second cousin of Ingeborg of Denmark, the second wife of King Philippe
Auguste who was also being repudiated in favour of a bigamous union in
the same timeframe.

Peter Stewart
Kelsey Jackson Williams
2020-03-10 18:19:11 UTC
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Dear Peter,

Many thanks for this excellent series of posts. It was especially good to see criticism of Vajay's halfbajed theories and the presentation of an alternative hypothesis. I've not studied the immediate context in any detail, so these are ignorant interjections, but two things occur to me:

a) should we put much or any credence in the claim that Eudoxia, or her immediate family, had a claim, however tenuous, to the imperial throne? This sounds to me like the sort of empty statement that is often made about members of a foreign aristocracy in their adopted country.

b) The more I think about it, the more Eudoxia's initial marriage plan seems like a great deal of effort for comparatively little result. Am I missing something in the geopolitics of the period?

Thanks again for your work!

All the best,
Kelsey
Peter Stewart
2020-03-10 22:12:03 UTC
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Post by Kelsey Jackson Williams
Dear Peter,
a) should we put much or any credence in the claim that Eudoxia, or her immediate family, had a claim, however tenuous, to the imperial throne? This sounds to me like the sort of empty statement that is often made about members of a foreign aristocracy in their adopted country.
This is a critical aspect that I had meant to go into more thoroughly,
as it deserves, when I used an adjectival form (basileios = imperial)
for the title of Eudokia's putative grandfather - but frankly I forgot,
and was running out of puff anyway. I can't offer a neat or remotely
conclusive response.

We don't have a clue how well Eudokia spoke the language of her marital
environment, and whether or not she made clear exactly what she may have
meant if maintaining that her family background was "imperial" and that
somehow this applied also to her personal rank.

We can however be reasonably confident that this idea originated from
her and not just from thin air. She was explicitly called "empress" in
verse, her principal troubadour admirer Peire Vidal was mixed up in a
legend about pressing a claim to the imperial throne through his beloved
lady, and her grandson James of Aragon believed (or at least wrote) that
she was daughter of an emperor.

Also, successive popes who were mightily engaged in the marriage woes of
Ingeborg of Denmark and Maria of Montpellier simply brushed aside
Eudokia in their dealings with her faithless husband Guillem VIII. I
don't think prejudice against her over possible Turkish ancestry, a
putative father convicted of sorcery and a deranged mother who attempted
suicide are enough to account for this peculiar factor, but the
political complication that she may have been asserting hereditary
rights to the Byzantine throne could have added to her disrepute (even
toxicity) as seen from Rome.

The custom in Italy, Germany and elsewhere has long been to accord a
family's highest title to every agnatic member, so that all children of
a prince are titled "prince/ss", of a count "count/ess", etc. A version
of this evidently was current in 12th-century Montpellier, since Guillem
VIII titled his own mother "duchess" when she was only the daughter of a
duke, with no claim to be a potential heiress of Burgundy.

However, nowhere did this custom of upgrading the titles of offspring
extend as high as sovereign rank. For instance, in Germany children may
be called "prince/ess" when their father holds the title Prinz, but not
"Fürst/in" if he is a Fürst. In the Hapsburg family all children of an
emperor were titled "archduke/duchess" but never "emperor/empress". The
only loose exceptions to this that I know of were in Iberia, where an
aunt who acted as regent (even if she was a nun) might be called "queen"
and where a countess of Flanders whose father was king of Portugal
insisted that she be called "queen" as a consequence. (The same was once
suggested also for Rozala-Susanna of Italy, but not convincingly.)

I suspect that Eudokia said she was imperial, perhaps knowing herself
only vaguely what this meant as to her family's lost status in the
Byzantine empire, and that from the kind of credulous and foggy
understanding Kelsey has unerringly pointed to this was misinterpreted
and came to be a standing half-joke in the Midi, at least in the social
circle of Eudokia but probably more widely.
Post by Kelsey Jackson Williams
b) The more I think about it, the more Eudoxia's initial marriage plan seems like a great deal of effort for comparatively little result. Am I missing something in the geopolitics of the period?
I agree, but Manuel was indefatiguable (is that the right spelling?) in
his westward diplomacy at the time, and Alfonso of Aragon had his own
reasons to fall in with a fairly minor snub to Frederick Barbarossa in
the bride chosen for his own younger brother who had been given
Provence, within the sphere of the German emperor as king of Arles.

Since Alfonso had sent an ambassador to Constantinople not very long
before the wedding was meant to take place, I suppose he knew well
enough who the bride would turn out to be - and possibly even preferred
one whose antecedents and uncomfortable relationship to Manuel may have
given an excuse for refusing her at the last minute.

Peter Stewart
Peter Stewart
2020-03-10 22:53:34 UTC
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Post by Peter Stewart
Post by Kelsey Jackson Williams
b) The more I think about it, the more Eudoxia's initial marriage plan
seems like a great deal of effort for comparatively little result. Am
I missing something in the geopolitics of the period?
I agree, but Manuel was indefatiguable (is that the right spelling?) in
his westward diplomacy at the time, and Alfonso of Aragon had his own
reasons to fall in with a fairly minor snub to Frederick Barbarossa in
the bride chosen for his own younger brother who had been given
Provence, within the sphere of the German emperor as king of Arles.
Since Alfonso had sent an ambassador to Constantinople not very long
before the wedding was meant to take place, I suppose he knew well
enough who the bride would turn out to be - and possibly even preferred
one whose antecedents and uncomfortable relationship to Manuel may have
given an excuse for refusing her at the last minute.
For all we know, it could be that the projected marriage to Raimond
Berenger of Provence was a ruse all along, and that Manuel sent Eudokia
from Constantinople already knowing that she was to end up marrying
Guillem of Montpellier.

For instance, he had sufficent reason to get rid of any daughters of
Alxios Axouchos and Maria Komnene who would not become (or stay) a nun,
no matter (within the bounds of family pride, that with the decadent
Komnenoi ought to have been fairly wide) how insignificant the husband
he found - and the farther from himself, the better.

Peter Stewart
r***@gmail.com
2020-03-12 15:18:48 UTC
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A marvelous job, sir, on a very difficult subject. After processing the whole, I have a few thoughts that may merit sharing:

1) A look at the dates of birth and death of his parents and grandmother show that James I would only have had indirect knowledge of her. Had she, as Vidal claimed, considered herself an empress, it would have been natural for him to assume Manuel I, the man behind the marital machinations, was her father.

2) Evidently the result of the diplomatic expedition to marry off Eudokia was satisfactory of Manuel, as we hear of no effort to overturn it or punishment for his diplomats. That is suggestive that you may be correct in assuming Montpellier was always the goal.

3) A look at the Komnenos family shows that, aside from Andronikos I's rebellion in 1183, the only other usurpation took place in July 1200, when John Axouchos was proclaimed emperor in opposition to Alexios III. He was killed about a year later. He was the senior representative of Alexios, the eldest son of John II and, if Eudokia was his sister, she could well have inherited his claim to the throne. Indeed, giving her this place in the genealogy of the Komenonoi is the only way I see to reconcile her alleged claim to the imperial throne.
Peter Stewart
2020-03-12 22:19:17 UTC
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Post by r***@gmail.com
1) A look at the dates of birth and death of his parents and grandmother show that James I would only have had indirect knowledge of her. Had she, as Vidal claimed, considered herself an empress, it would have been natural for him to assume Manuel I, the man behind the marital machinations, was her father.
2) Evidently the result of the diplomatic expedition to marry off Eudokia was satisfactory of Manuel, as we hear of no effort to overturn it or punishment for his diplomats. That is suggestive that you may be correct in assuming Montpellier was always the goal.
3) A look at the Komnenos family shows that, aside from Andronikos I's rebellion in 1183, the only other usurpation took place in July 1200, when John Axouchos was proclaimed emperor in opposition to Alexios III. He was killed about a year later. He was the senior representative of Alexios, the eldest son of John II and, if Eudokia was his sister, she could well have inherited his claim to the throne. Indeed, giving her this place in the genealogy of the Komenonoi is the only way I see to reconcile her alleged claim to the imperial throne.
My view is that this is perhaps the best way, though not the only one.
There was effectively also a claim put forward by a namesake grandson of
Manuel's brother Isaakios when he was proclaimed emperor in Cyprus. This
man, known as Isaakios Doukas Komnenos, was apparently born around the
same time as Eudokia and murdered in 1195/96 when her marriage problems
in Montpellier were being disregarded in Rome (especially compared to
the very similar ones of Ingeborg of Denmark, who had been repudiated by
her husband in November 1193, around 6 years after Guillem did this to
Eudokia, and arbitrarily divorced in favour of a bigamous marriage by
June 1196).

As for the knowledge of James I about his maternal grandmother, your
point is one that I should have mentioned. We can also not be sure how
much his mother Maria ever had to do with her own mother Eudokia - we
have evidence that (unlike James) she at least called her by her name,
but nothing beyond this.

In particular we can't be sure that anyone who did have social
engagement with her would have understood clearly what she may have
meant if she tried to describe herself in their language as imperial
(basilike) rather than empress (basilissa).

Peter Stewart
Peter Stewart
2020-03-12 23:03:49 UTC
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Post by r***@gmail.com
1) A look at the dates of birth and death of his parents and grandmother show that James I would only have had indirect knowledge of her. Had she, as Vidal claimed, considered herself an empress, it would have been natural for him to assume Manuel I, the man behind the marital machinations, was her father.
2) Evidently the result of the diplomatic expedition to marry off Eudokia was satisfactory of Manuel, as we hear of no effort to overturn it or punishment for his diplomats. That is suggestive that you may be correct in assuming Montpellier was always the goal.
3) A look at the Komnenos family shows that, aside from Andronikos I's rebellion in 1183, the only other usurpation took place in July 1200, when John Axouchos was proclaimed emperor in opposition to Alexios III. He was killed about a year later. He was the senior representative of Alexios, the eldest son of John II and, if Eudokia was his sister, she could well have inherited his claim to the throne. Indeed, giving her this place in the genealogy of the Komenonoi is the only way I see to reconcile her alleged claim to the imperial throne.
Relating to this, another aspect that I forgot to cover is the
accusations levelled against Alexios Axouchos in 1167.

The main one was that he had conspired with Pecheneg mercenaries to
assassinate Emperor Manuel (which I suppose would not have disposed him
to kindly feelings for the rival's wife and children).

This alleged plot was revealed to Manuel's eunuch Thomas, who was one of
the officials appointed to investigate the crime. The witnesses
interrogated included a converted Jew from Corinth, named
Aaron-Isaakios, who had worked as an interpreter for Latin visitors at
the imperial court (he had evidently become familiar with Western
language/s during time spent in Italy). His role in the offenses charged
against Alexios Axouchos was providing a potion to be given
clandestinely to Manuel's second wife, Maria of Antioch, in order to
prevent her giving birth to a son who would stand in the way of Alexios
himself becoming emperor. In other words, the lapsed position as a
prospective emperor that he had held when first married to Manuel's
niece Maria Komnene was feared to be recoverable through magic (Alexios
was supposed to be a sorcerer, able to fly and swoop down on his victims).

Whether or not Aaron-Isaakios was known in Rome, this kind of family
background would not have recommended Eudokia to the papal court as a
person whose cause was worth taking up against a husband whose own
family had been loyal to the papacy through convoluted religious
politics in the Midi.

Peter Stewart
J.L. Fernandez Blanco
2020-03-14 06:09:30 UTC
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Peter, I do find your case quite compelling, even if much of it has to be reconstrued through an almost detective work. One thing that has always stuck on the back of my head was James I's claim that his maternal grandmother was the daughter of the Basileus. True, we don't know how much Maria played into this (if she did at all). But that is certainly a clear clue not to be taken lightly.
It's a well-thought-out and a quite clear-cut hypothesis.
We might never know the exact truth, but your case merits further study. All that we know point exactly in the same direction you are developing here. I myself have been more than once thinking about it and having the same thoughts as you.
Of course, I cannot dare to compare the depth of your knowledge with my paltry one. But I certainly find no objections to your proposition.
I do hope it gains a foot in the mind of Byzantinists because is a more than a hypothesis based on some far-fetched allegations.
Documents might be lacking. However, the hints are all there.
Thanks for sharing your incredible knowledge about this topic with the group.
I, for my part, can't really contribute with something solid but remain expectant about how the specialists could react.
Have you thought about developing a journal article about this? It could spark a debate long overdue.
All the best!
Peter Stewart
2020-03-14 06:31:17 UTC
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Post by J.L. Fernandez Blanco
Peter, I do find your case quite compelling, even if much of it has to be reconstrued through an almost detective work. One thing that has always stuck on the back of my head was James I's claim that his maternal grandmother was the daughter of the Basileus. True, we don't know how much Maria played into this (if she did at all). But that is certainly a clear clue not to be taken lightly.
It's a well-thought-out and a quite clear-cut hypothesis.
We might never know the exact truth, but your case merits further study. All that we know point exactly in the same direction you are developing here. I myself have been more than once thinking about it and having the same thoughts as you.
Of course, I cannot dare to compare the depth of your knowledge with my paltry one. But I certainly find no objections to your proposition.
I do hope it gains a foot in the mind of Byzantinists because is a more than a hypothesis based on some far-fetched allegations.
Documents might be lacking. However, the hints are all there.
Thanks for sharing your incredible knowledge about this topic with the group.
I, for my part, can't really contribute with something solid but remain expectant about how the specialists could react.
Have you thought about developing a journal article about this? It could spark a debate long overdue.
Thanks, but I'm not going to make the effort to prepare a journal
article that hasn't been asked for by an editor - I'm not under any
professional need to publish, and don't have an ambition to add another
little stream to the rivers of ink that have flowed over the Komnenoi.

Frankly I'm not convinced that unverifiable speculation really deserves
to be in print, at least without adding some new source or a more
substantiated interpretation of known ones. This case is only made from
circumstantial possibilities, and an internet newsgroup sees to me a
good forum for sharing such ideas with a familiar circle who may be
interested while not promoting them as worthy of wide attention.

Peter Stewart

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