Page images
PDF
EPUB

LX.

CHAP. capital of the Roman empire was impregnable to foreign arms.

The strangers of the West had violated the city, and bestowed m the sceptre, of Constantine : their Imperial clients soon

became as unpopular as themselves : the well known vices of Isaac were rendered still more contemptible by his infirmities; and the young Alexius was hated as an apostate, who had renounced the manners and religion of his country His secret covenant with the Latins was divulged or suspected; the people, and especially the clergy, were devoutly attached to their faith and superstition; and every convent, and every shop, resounded with the danger of the church and the tyranny of the pope. An empty treasury could ill supply the demands of legal luxury and foreign extortion: the Greeks refused to avert, by a general tax, the impending evils of servitude and pillage ; the oppression of the rich excited a more dangerous and personal resentment; and if the emperor melted the plate, and despoiled the images, of the sanctuary, he seemed to justify the complaints of heresy and sacrilege. During the absence of marquis Boniface and his Imperial pupil, Constanti. nople was visited with a calamity which might be justly imputed to the zeal and indiscretion of the Flemish pilgrims.73 In one of their visits to the city, they were scandalized by the aspect of a mosque or synagogue, in which one God was worshipped, without a partner or a son

Their effectual mode of controversy was to attack the infidels with the sword, and their habitation with fire : but the infidels, and some Christian neighbours, presumed to defend their lives and properties; and the flames which bigotry had kindled consumed the most orthodox and innocent structures. During eight days and nights, the conflagration spread above a league in front, from the harbour to the Propontis, over the thickest and most populous regions of the city. It is not easy to count the stately churches and palaces that were reduced to a smoking ruin, to value the merchandise that perished in the trading streets, or to number the families that were involved in the common destruction. Ву this outrage, which the doge and the barons in vain affected to disclaim, the name of the Latins became still more unpopu. lar; and the colony of that nation, above fifteen thousand persons, consulted their safety in a hasty retreat from the city to the protection of their standard in the suburb of Pera. The emperor returned in triumph ; but the firmest and most dexte

TOTWTATOP......

72 When Nicetas reproaches Alexius for his 'impious league, he bestows the harshest names on the pope's new religion ; ualev xas

rapεκτροπην πιςεας ...... των τε Παπα προνομίων καινισμον παταθεσιν τε και μεταποιησιν των παλαιών Ρωμαιοις εθων (p. 348.) Such was the sincere language of every Greek to the last gasp of the empire.

73 Nicetas (p. 355,) is positive in the charge, and specifies the Flemings () anstres,) though he is wrong in supposing it an ancient name.

Villehardouin (No. 107,) exculpates the barons, and is ignorant (perhaps affectedly ig. norant) of the names of the guilty.

rous policy would have been insufficient to steer him through chap. the tempest, which overwhelmed the person and government LX. of that unbappy youth. His own inclination, and his father's N advice, attached him to his benefactors; but Alexius hesitated between gratitude and patriotism, between the fear of his subjects and of his allies.7: By his feeble and fluctuating conduct he lost the esteem and confidence of both; and, while he invited the marqıms of Montferrat to occupy the palace. he suffered the nobles to conspire, and the people to arm, for the deliverance of their country. Regardless of his painsul situation, the Latin chiets repeated their demands, resented his delays, suspected his intentions, and exacted a decisive answer of peace or war. The baughty summons was delivered by three French knights and three Venetian deputies, who girded their swords, mounted their horses, pierced through the angry multitude, and entered with a fearless coiintenance the palace and presence of the Greek emperor. In a peremptory tone, they' recapitulated their services and his engagements; and boldly declared, that unless their just claims were fully and immediately satisfied, they should no longer hold him rither as a sovereign or a friend. Alter this defiance, the first that had ever wounded an Imperial ear, they departed without betraying any symptoms of fear; but their escape froin a servile palace and a furious city astonished the ambassadors themselves; and their return to the camp was the signal of mutual hostility.

Among the Greeks, all authority and wisdom were over- The war borne by the iinpetuous multitude, who mistook their rage for A. 1204 valour, their numbers for strength, and their fanaticism for the support and inspiration of Heaven. In the eyes of both nations Alexius was false and contemptible: the base and spurious race of the Angeli was rejected with clamorous disdain ; and the people of Constantinople encompassed the senate, to demand at their hands a more worthy emperor. To every senator, conspicuous by his birth or dignity, they successively presented the purple : by each senator the deadly garment was repulsed: the contest lasted three days; and we may learn from the historian Nicetas, one of the members of the assembly, that fear and weakness were the guardians of their loyalty. A phantom, who vanished in oblivion, was forcibly proclaimed by the crowd ;75 but the author of the tumult, and the leader of the war, was a prince of the house of Ducas; and his common appellation of Alexius must be discriminated by the epithet of Mourzoufle, 76 which in the vulgar idioin expressed the close

74 Compare the suspicions and complaints of Nicetas, (p. 359-362,) with the blunt charges of Baldwin of Flanders (Gesta Innocent III. c. 92, p. 534,) cum patriarcha et mole nobilium, nobis promissis perjurus et mendax.

75 His name was Nicholas Canabus; be deserved the praise of Nicetas and the vengeance of Mourzoutle (p. 362.)

76 Villebardouin (No. 116,) speaks of him as a favourite, without knowing

feb. 8.

Second

CHAP. junction of his black and shaggy eyebrows. At once a patriot LX and a courtier, the perfidious Mourzoufle, who was not desti

tute of cunning and courage, opposed the Latins both in speech and action, inflamed the passions and prejudices of the Greeks, and insinuated himself into the favour and confidence of Alexius, who trusted him with the office of great chamberlain, and tinged his buskins with the colours of royalty. At the dead of night he rushed into the bed chamber with an affrighted aspect, exclaiming, that the palace was attacked by the people and betrayed by the guards. Starting from his couch, the unsus

pecting prince threw himself into the arms of his enemy, who Alerius and had contrived his escape by a private staircase. But that deposed by staircase terminated in a prison ; Alexius was seized, stripped, zoufle, and loaded with chains; and, after tasting some days the bit

terness of death, he was poisoned, or strangled, or beaten with clubs, at the command, and in the presence, of the tyrant. The emperor Isaac Angelus soon followed his son to the grave, and Mourzoufle, perhaps, might spare the superfluous crime of bastening the extinction of impotence and blindness.

The death of the emperors, and the usurpation of MourJanuary, zoufle, had changed the nature of the quarrel

It was no longer the disagreement of allies who overvalued their services, or neglected their obligations: the French and Venetians forgot their complaints against Alexius, dropped a tear on the untimely fate of their companion, and swore revenge against the perfidious nation who had crowned his assassin. Yet the prudent doge was still inclined to negotiate; he asked as a debt, a subsidy, or a fine, fifty thousand pounds of gold, about two millions sterling; nor would the conference have been abruptly broken, if the zeal, or policy, of Mourzoufle had not refused to sacrifice the Greek church to the safety of the state.77 Amidst the invective of his foreign and domestic enemies, we may discern, that he was not unworthy of the character which he had assumed, of the public champion : the second siege of Constantinople was far more laborious than the first; the treasury was replenished, and discipline was restored, by a severe inquisition into the abuses of the former reign; and Mourzoufle, an iron mace in his hand, visiting the posts, and affecting the port and aspect of a warrior, was an object of terror to his soldiers, at least, and to his kinsmen. Before and after the death of Alexius, the Greeks made two vigorous and well-conducted attempts to burn the navy in the harbour; but the skill and courage of the Venetians repulsed the fireships ;

April.

that he was a prince of the blood, Angelus and Ducas. Ducange, who pries into every corner, believes him to be the son of Isaac Ducas Sebastocrator, and second cousin of young Alexius.

77 This negotiation, probable in itself, and attested by Nicetas (p. 365,) is omitted as scandalous by the delicacy of Dandolo and Villehardouin,

and the vagrant flames wasted themselves without injury in the chap. sea." In a nocturnal sally the Greek emperor was vanquished by Henry, brother of the count of Flanders : the advantages of number and surprise aggravated the shame of his defeat; his buckler was found on the field of battle ; and the Imperial standard, 79 a divine image of the Virgin, was presented, as a trophy and a relic, to the Cistercian monks, the disciples of St. Bernard. Neartbree months, without excepting the holy season of Lent, were consumed in skirmishes and preparations, before the Latins were ready or resolved for a general assauit. The land fortifications had been found impregnable; and the Venetian pilots represented, that, on the shore of the Propontis, the anchorage was unsafe ; and the ships must be driven by the current far away to the straits of the Hellespont; a prospect not unpleasing to the reluctant pilgrims, who sought every opportunity of breaking the army. From the harbour, therefore, the assault was determined by the assailants, and expected by the besieged; and the emperor had placed his scarlet pavilions on a neighbouring height, to direct and animate the efforts of his troops. A fearless spectator, whose mind could entertain the ideas of pomp and pleasure, might have admired the long array of two embattled armies, which extended above half a league, the one on the ships and galleys, the other on the walls and towers raised above the ordinary level by several stages of wooden turrets. Their first fury was spent in the discharge of darts, stones, and fire, from the engines; but the water was deep; the French were bold; the Venetians were skilful; they approached the walls; and a desperate conflict of swords, spears, and battle-axes, was fought on the trembling bridges that grappled the Aoating, to the stable, batteries. In more than a hundred places, the assualt was urged, and the defence was sustained, till the superiority of ground and numbers finally prevailed, and the Latin trumpets sounded a retreat. On the ensuing days, the attack was renewed with equal vigour, and a similar event; and in the night, the doge and the barons beld a council, apprehensive only for the public danger; not a voice pronounced the words of escape or treaty; and each warrior, according to bis temper, embraced the hope of victory or the assurance of a glorious death.90 By the experience of the former siege, the Greeks were instructed, but the Latins were animated; and the knowledge that Constantinople might be taken,

78 Baldwin mentions both attempts to fire the fleet (Gest. c. 92, p. 534, 535;) Villebardouin (No. 113—115,) only describes the first. It is remarkable, that neither of these warriors observe any peculiar properties in the Greek fire.

19 Ducange (No. 119,) pours forth a torrent of learning on the Gonfanon Imperial. This banner of the virgin is shown at Venice as a trophy and relic : is it be genuine, the pious doge must have cheated the monks of Citeaux.

20 Villehardouin (No. 126,) confesses, that mult ere grant peril; and Guntherus (Hist. C. P. c. 13,) affirms, that nulla spes victoriæ arridere poterate Yet the knight despises those wbo thought of light, and the monk praises bis couns try men who were resolved on death.

CAP. was of more avail than the local precautions which that know

lx. ledge had inspired for its defence. In the third assault, two mships were linked together to double their strength; a strong

north wind drove them on the shore; the bishops of Troyes
and Soissons led the van ; and the auspicious names of the
pilgrim and paradise resounded along the line.8! The episco-
pal banners were displayed on the walls; a hundred marks
of silver had been promised to the first adventurers; and
if their reward was intercepted by death, their names have
been immortalized by fame. Four towers were scaled; three
gates were burst open; and the French knights, who might
tremble on the waves, felt themselves invincible on horseback
on the solid ground. Shall I relate that the thousands who
guarded the emperor's person fled on the approach and before
the lance of a single warrior? Their ignominious flight is
attested by their countryman Nicetas; an army of phantoms
marched with the French hero, and he was magnified to a giant
in the eyes of the Greeks. While the fugitives deserted
their posts and cast away their arnis, the Latins entered the
city under the banners of their leaders; the streets and gates
opened for their passage : and either design or accident kindled
a third conflagration, which consumed in a few hours the
measure of three of the largest cities of France. In the close
of the evening, the barons checked their troops and fortified
their stations ; they were awed by the extent and populousness
of the capital, which might yet require the labour of a month,
if the churches and palaces were conscious of their internal
strength. But in the morning, a suppliant procession, with
crosses and images, announced the submission of the Greeks,
and deprecated the wrath of the conquerors; the usurper
escaped through the golden gate; the palaces of Blachernæ
and Boucoleon were occupied by the count of Flanders and
the marquis of Montferrat; and the empire which still bore the
name of Constantine, and the title of Roman, was subverted
by the arms of the Latin pilgrims.

81 Baldwin, and all the writers, honour the names of these two galleys, felici auspicio.

82 With an allusion to Homer, Nicetas calls him eyves cpqulas, nine orgyæ, or eighteen yards high, a stature which would indeed have excused the terror of the Greeks. On this occasion, the historian seems fonder of the marvellous, than of his country, or perhaps of truth. Baldwin exclaiins in the words of the psalmist, persequitur unus ex nobis centum alienos.

83 Villehardouin (No. 130,) is again ignorant of the authors of this more legitimate fire, which is ascribed by Gunther to a quidam comes Teutonicus, (c. 14.) They seem ashamed, the incendiaries !

84 For the second siege and conquest of Constantinople, see Villehardouin (No. 113–132.) Baldwin's second Epistle to Innocent III. (Gesta, c. 92, p. 534-537,) with the whole reign of Mourzoufle, in Nicetas (p. 363–375;) and borrow some hints from Dandolo (Chron. Venet. p. 327—330,) and Gunther (Hist. C. P. c. 14—18,) who add the decorations of prophecy and vision. The former produces an oracle of the Erythræan sibyl, of a great armament on the Adriatic, under a blind chief, against Byzantium, &c. Curious enough, were the prediction anterior to the fact.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »