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Two Medieval PODs

MAC161

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Location
WI, USA
(Accidentally posted in Writing; reposted here!)

Thanks to my Crusades-themed reading of late, a great many interesting PODs are coming to mind; here are two that rise high above the rest:

1. Religious/military order "nation" in Iberia (and no, this isn't a set-up for a Templar Holy Grail/secret history story :D)

What if the 1131 will of King Alfonso I ("the Battler"), which left the Kingdom of Aragon in its entirety to three orders (Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller, and Knights of the Holy Sepulchre), was put into effect? There's a great deal of controversy and debate about what the will's actual intent was (to keep the papacy out of a disputed succession, to bring the king's brother Ramiro out of the monastery and into the royal palace, and others), and in the end, the Aragonese nobility in effect ignored it and went with the Ramiro choice. But for the sake of argument, let's say the terms had been carried out, and the three orders received Aragon. How might it have been divvied up, and what would the effect have been on the orders of having another territorial enclave (esp. the Templars, given their eventual fate)? What would the role of the orders have been in the wars against the Muslim taifa states; might it have resembled the Teutonic Knights' conquest/expansion in eastern Europe? How long might this "nation" of three orders last, before rivalries between them, invasion by Castile or another power, and/or resentment, intrigue and rebellion by Aragon's nobles brought it down?

2. Fourth Crusade doesn't march on Constantinople

There's a multitude of possibilities with this, but the best POD at the moment seems to be Alexios IV Angelos not escaping prison in 1201, and/or failing and being caught, then killed or blinded like his father Isaac II. While the latter wasn't always a permanent bar to imperial power in the Byzantine Empire (as when Isaac was restored to the throne alongside his son), it was commonly considered to be such, and so if he suffered this fate, Alexios IV would likely not have been able to make his bid to the crusaders (unless, maybe, it was spun as another sign of the depravity and/or "godlessness" of the usurper Alexios III, thereby making his restoration even more of a "righteous" and "holy" act) and the people of Constantinople would've been even less inclined to support him as ruler than in OTL. Without Alexios IV, what happens to the Fourth Crusade after the sack of Zara? Does it go on to Egypt as planned, or fall apart due to its debts and internal divisions? And perhaps the biggest question: what happens to the Byzantine Empire (and Alexios III in particular) without the Fourth Crusade sacking Constantinople?
 
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MAC161

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Published by SLP
Location
WI, USA
For 2. The Byzantines were a mess by this point anyway so even without the sack its likely their decline continues though far less dramatically.
What's the likeliest form that decline takes? Barring further crusades (and maybe even because of them, if the sack of the 4th happens under a later expedition), I'm picturing continued encroachment by the Turks in the east and the Hungarians and the Italian city-states in the west, until the empire is left with nearly the same fragments it possessed by 1453.
 
My suggestions for the alternate paths taken by Byzantine decline are to be set out in my next Sealion ebook on Byzantium, provisionally entitled 'Rampart of Christendom?' (successor to 'Caesars of the Bosphorus') , when this comes out ; date not yet finalised. Broadly speaking, I set out the alternate paths as diverging from what would most logically have happened had various 'crunch points' of the decline not taken place or been less drastic, starting with the reign of Manuel I (r 1143 - 1180) and the defeat that Manuel suffered by the Saljuks at Myriocephalum (centre South of Anatolia, near Konya which was then the Saljuk capital) in 1176. This put the Empire, minus a large part of its army and a lot of its military confidence, on the defensive in maintaining the wobbly (approx) line of the frontier between Byz and Saljuk lands in central Anatolia after a period of Byz expansion, and laid the way for loss of the S coast and Saljuk tribal incursions into the Western lowlands after Manuel - the last reasonably good Imperial general before 1204 - died in 1180.

The 'If the Fourth Crusade Had Not Happened' strand of this discussion centres, as is suggested above, on the possibilities for the feud-riven Angelus dynasty before the Crusade's arrival in 1203 not turning out as in OTL - when the refugee Prince Alexius, son of the deposed Emperor Isaac II (ruled 1185-95, deposed by his brother Alexius III), arrived with the Crusaders after promising them Byz military and financial aid if they helped him and his father get their thrones back. He had fled to Italy in 1201 , with a great deal of luck as he reportedly fled on an Italian ship from Constantinople disguised as a sailor and was not recognised when Byz agents searched the ship ; and as Isaac II had married off his daughter to a short-reigning Norman king of Sicily earlier and she was now in Germany as wife to Philip of Swabia, the uncle of the under-age Hohenstaufen king Frederick of Sicily (later Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II) and current claimant to the disputed HRE throne, his sister and Philip received him in exile and sponsored his appeal to the Crusade as it assembled in Italy in 1202. The conquest and annexation of the Byz empire was not originally in the script for the Crusade; it (and its Venetian paymasters) was lured by the prospect of Byz troops and cash from a grateful restored Isaac II to aid their expedition once it evicted Alexius III (a venal,incompetent and unpopular ruler who Alexius assured it would be easy to get rid of). The Byz Church would then be reunified with the Catholic Church, to end the post-1054 Schism - a gesture to bring the Pope onside. Had things gone according to plan, the Crusade would arrive at the Byz capital and the restless Byzantines would rise up to evict the usurper Alexius III - then Isaac (blinded by his brother and probably ailing and/or mentally muddled by this point) and his son 'Alexius IV' would hand over troops and cash to the Crusaders. They would then go on to Jerusalem.

This nearly happened as Alexius III, apparently fearing a military mutiny, only put up a short fight as the Crusaders arrived in the Bosphorus, lost his attempt to stop them landing on the European side of the strait, then fled in the middle of the night with his daughter, his cronies, and his treasure; the embarrassed ministers then released Isaac, put him back on the throne, and sent to the Crusader camp to invite Alexius (IV) to join his father and assume the throne. One alternative would have been for a less cowardly or less unpopular Alexius III to hold out, as the Byz had huge triple walls to the capital - the Crusaders got in later via the weaker harbour wall, which they would not have done had the cost-cutting Alexius III not sold off or laid up the navy, Usually the city held out when besieged, and the Crusaders had not got as elaborate siege-towers (or any cannons, not yet invented) unlike Mehmed II did in 1453. Alternatively, the Crusaders might not have listened to Alexius IV and his sponsors and headed for Constantinople, and stuck to their original plan and/or insisted that a 'Crusade' should be directed at Moslems as oer usual and go to Palestine. Would they have done this had the great Crusader king Richard 'the Lionheart' of England, d 1199 after a freak crossbow-shot at a minor siege and a foe of Alexius' brother-in-law Philip and of the Angeli, been with the expedition? (He was close to its OTL leader, Count Baldwin of Flanders),

In reality, Alexius III held out against his nephew Alexius IV in Thrace so A IV had to ask the Crusaders to stay on into 1204 to help him, and the Byz could not raise the cash promised; nor was the idea of reunion of the Churches unpopular. So the Crusaders were still in camp when Alexius IV was suddenly arrested and murdered in a 'nationalist' coup by some Byz courtiers in Jan 1204, led by Alexius Ducas Murtzurphlus (nicknamed 'Bushy Eyebrows'), who took the throne as 'Alexius V' . The Crusaders besieged the city, and took it in April due to Venetian ships putting masthead ladders loaded with troops on top of the harbour walls - unlikely if the Byz navy had been up to usual standards. The sack and the setting up of a Latin Empire, run by Baldwin of Flanders at Constantinople as Emperor, Count Boniface of Montferrat (N Italy) at Thessalonica, and bankrolled by Venice which provided shipping, followed. The Byz held out at Nicaea to the East, led by A III's son-in-law the hugely talented and capable Theodore Lascaris (a likely successor to the son-less Alexius had he not been overthrown), in Epirus (NW Greece/ Albania) led by A's cousins Michael and Theodore Ducas Angelus, and in Pontus at Trebizond (led by Manuel I's late cousin Emperor Andronicus I's grandsons Alexius and David). Given this politico-military mess, it was surprising that the Latin Empire lasted as long as it did and caused 57 years of division and chaos to the Byz lands and the permanent loss of parts of Greece. Baldwin I was defeated and killed/ captured (and disappeared) by the Bulgarians in 1205, and the survival of the Empire then depended on his capable brother Henry of Flanders who defeated Theodore Lascaris of Nicaea; it could have fallen quickly in 1205/6, or later to Theodore I's equally capable successor John III Vatatzes in c. 1235 had the Venetians not saved Constantinople and the Mongols soon diverted John to protecting his Eastern frontier. A Byz state restored by Theodore c. 1206, by the Angeli of Epirus if they had not been defeated by Bulgaria in 1230, or by John III in c. 1235-40 would have been stronger than the OTL state restored by Michael VIII Paleologus in 1261 - Michael was a usurper who was regent to J III's grandson but deposed and blinded him so he was not accepted by a lot of the elite or the rural populace, especially on the crucial Turkish border.

Had the Crusade failed and Alexius III survived, he was already losing control of outer parts of Greece and Anatolia to rebels and the Bulgarians had reassumed independence from 1186; the Byz state of 1203, minus its navy and run by a paranoid usurper nearly deposed by a coup in 1201, was in a poor situation. If he was not overthrown, probably Theodore L would have succeeded him and done his best to restore control and rebuild the army and finances as in reality he did at Nicaea. With the capital behind him and unsacked, he and John III would have had a good chance of holding onto the central lands and Greece, but probably the Bulgarians would have still ruled most of Thrace and after the Mongol invasion of Anatolia in 1243 hordes of Turkjsh tribes would have been pouring in across the E frontier. The state, stronger than under the controversial Paleologi (or weak rulers like Michael's son Andronicus II), would have taken longer to decline, and I think might have stalled the Turks in Bithynia or at the Bosphorus and Dardanelles - and even had John III's grandson John IV been deposed as in reality Michael P could have done more with an unsacked capital (an asset not a drain) plus all of Greece. So we get a surviving Byz state holding onto the OTL Greek state plus Constantinople and a bit of coastal Anatolia unless angry Crusaders or the Papacy arrange a Western seizure of Greece (Charles of Anjou, king of Naples, in the 1260s-80s as in OTL?) and then Timur or a lucky Ottoman state with huge armies and cannons attacks its capital ?
 
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MAC161

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Location
WI, USA
A couple more PODs that've come up thanks to recent reading:

1. Frederick Barbarossa doesn't die in Asia Minor on the Third Crusade?

Leaving out the effect of a third, massive crusader army (supposedly 100K men strong) for the moment, what's the effect of a living Frederick on the Crusade as a whole? Would his presence dissuade Philip of France (and his troops) from departing the expedition, to avoid shaming himself in front of two of his royal peers and leaders of rival states? Would the German army have been sufficient for the expedition to take Jerusalem, rather than end in stalemate with Saladin?


2. Richard the Lionheart not killed by a crossbow bolt in 1199?

Given his recorded...colorful reaction to the papal legate's attempts to get him to make peace with Philip, I strongly doubt Richard I would've joined the 4th Crusade, as the Pope (might've?) wanted; nonetheless, what impact would a longer-living "Lionheart" have on English, crusading, and general European medieval history? Regarding the Crusades, I tentatively suspect he'd provide consent/encouragement for some of his nobility to join the 4th (esp. if it meant sending those of possibly dubious loyalty out of his domains) and maybe funds for the expedition that might help lessen its debt to the Venetians, but not much more.
 
If Richard is not mortally wounded in a fluke lucky bowshot by a crossbowman at the siege of Chalus, aged 41, there's still the problem of who's to succeed him when he does die - and given his recklessness and fondness for taking risks he's unlikely to make it to his fifties or sixties and outlive John, who's nearly ten years younger. If his wife Berengaria of Navarre was sterile rather than Richard not bothering to make sure he fathered a child, then he might decide to divorce her and find a new and fertile wife from a useful dynasty of lords in Aquitaine or an anti-Philip foe of France in the Rhineland/ Low Countries. But this could alienate her family in Navarre across the Pyrenees from his Gascon lands and upset the careful balance of alliances he's built up in Spain to protect Aquitaine , and given R's usual policy of relying on his luck not planning ahead (eg in his risky strategy for getting back to England safely from Crusade without many men or ships) he's more likely to go on as he did pre-1199. That leaves the half-Breton Arthur , b 1187, as his probable heir (R referred to him, not John, as his heir while on Crusade in 1190) and Arthur is presumably away from England ruling his turbulent lords in unstable Brittany most of the time, not building up English noble alliances; A's only major English supporter is his stepfather, earl Ranulf of Chester. Arthur is also likely to build a relationship with Philip, as king of France and overlord of Brittany, to counter John's backers in England. Philip will use him to undermine John and get back at the more militarily successful Richard - and find Arthur a politically useful wife, as he had a legal right to do as his overlord?

So whenever Richard dies, A could face John in a civil war as in OTL 1200-02, even if this is as late as c. 1210 or 1215. The likeliest scenario is of John being backed by most of the English nobles (building on his support in 1191-2 against R's then regent William Longchamp), especially if he's not divorced his first wife Isabella, heiress/ countess of Gloucester and main landed power in the SE Welsh Marches, as he did in OTL 1199. Normandy is probably pro-John out of hostility to Brittany. Arthur is backed by Philip, and with P's army close to hand he can strike East into Anjou while Philip strikes West down the Loire so they can overrun Anjou - and if Eleanor's dead by this point (d 1204) she can't hold onto Aquitaine for Richard. John could end up holding the England-Normandy bloc and Arthur holding the Anjou-Aquitaine lands, and the Angevin 'empire' is broken up for good with Philip as arbiter and in a strong position. John refuses to let his inheritance go and keeps on raising taxes and troops for reconquering it as in OTL 1205 and 1214, causing baronial resistance in England - and if he's not divorced Isabella yet he presumably has to do so on his accession to get a son. This could be later than the OTL birth of his son Henry (III) in 1207 - with butterflies for later history if he's only got a small child to succeed him as he faces revolt or a French invasion in the 1210s.

Two more points - 1. If Richard is alive and in full control of the Angevin lands in 1209-10 as the Albigensian Crusade crisis starts, Philip does not have the resources of Normandy and Anjou to use in sending an army S to attack the 'heretics' and conquer the Rhone valley and Toulouse. Do as many French barons as in OTL risk leaving the North and looking for lands in the South if their homes face a powerful and hostile Richard, so this means a weaker French army and the St Gilles counts managing to fight them off or at least saving Toulouse? And does Richard , inheriting his father's claim as overlord of Toulouse, risk Papal displeasure by trying to stop his foe Philip's son Louis conquering Toulouse and establishing French royal power there? Would R, conventionally Catholic but not notably devout, put local politics above keeping the Pope happy and sponsor aid by his Gascon barons or his Aragon/ Navarre allies to the anti-Louis resistance in Toulouse, and be accused of being pro-Cathar by Philip? Does Richard not John face a Papal interdict from the autocratic Innocent III - or does Innocent need R too much for his Crusading plans to risk this?

2. What if John had not married Isabella of Gloucester , and his father or his brother Richard had chosen a wife for him in the 1180s who gave him a son pre-1200? (In reality, John's original fiance, from Maurienne in Savoy, chosen by his father, died .) For example, Henry II marrying him off to the heiress (from 1185) of the earldom of Pembroke and the lordship of Leinster, Isabella de Clare (b 1173, 6-7 years younger than John), daughter of Richard de Clare/ 'Strongbow', as part of his plan to make John lord of Ireland? In that case , John has an adult or teenage son available as the revolt against him starts in 1215 - so can the rebels lure him to lead them in revolt and not bother to call on Philip to send them his son Louis (who was m to Richard and John's niece Blanche)? Or if John's son stays loyal, then we get an adult or semi-adult king when John dies in 1216 and no long regency - and a more capable English attempt to get Normandy back in 1228 after Louis dies?
 
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