Introduction part I: the sovereigns
This part of the introduction is being posted weeks after the rest of the thread, replacing a temporary introduction used as a placeholder, and my choice of date has already been questioned. I defended it in post #16 below and will allow this to stand on the matter, though having decided that I have slightly edited the post. Turning now to the sovereigns then reigning*, I do not intend to say a great deal about them, or not all of them at any rate, but will at least touch on all and give some idea of their circumstances on what, in England at any rate, was a fateful day.
The son, the mother and the lover
Seventeen years old on 19th October 1330, Edward III was married and the father of a son, had tasted battle and had been since he was fourteen the crowned King of England. What he had not experienced was rule: the uncrowned king Roger Mortimer, recently made Earl of March, and his lover the Queen Mother Isabella had kept power firmly in their own hands since ousting Edward III’s father Edward II three years before. The younger Edward had no love for Mortimer, whom he suspected of having his father killed after deposing him, and the feeling was mutual. Either that day or the day before, the King and his friends had been summoned to appear before Mortimer and Isabella in the council chamber at Nottingham Castle, where the court was then resident, and publicly berated and humiliated, Mortimer warning the King’s friends that he not the King was the one in all circumstances to be obeyed.
The reason for the summons was that rumours had reached Mortimer’s ears of a plot against him among the King and the young men who surrounded him. The rumours were correct. Apart from his personal hatred for Mortimer and the frustration caused by Edward being treated like a boy when he felt himself already a man, it was impossible to see how Mortimer could ever safely let go of power, such was the bad blood between him and the King; and although Isabella loved her son, she did Mortimer’s bidding in all things and would back him to the end.
Which was swift in coming. Plans had been laid to resolve the impasse between the rightful and de facto kings, and were now put into motion. Unbeknownst to Queen Isabella and her lover, there was a secret passageway right into the heart of the royal quarters (it still exists, and can be seen today). On the night of the 19th, the King’s friends armed themselves and entered the passageway. Unaware of their peril, Mortimer and Queen Isabella were concluding the day’s business, the King absent, perhaps on a plea of sickness. Armed resistance was met and speedily overcome, and within minutes Mortimer and the Queen Mother, all-powerful master and mistress of the realm when night fell, were helpless prisoners.
The next day, the teenage King proclaimed that he had assumed government of the realm and would rule ‘according to right and reason, as befits his royal dignity’. Mortimer, a chained prisoner, was sent under heavy guard to London, the Tower and, following the necessary formality of a trial, death, while Queen Isabella was placed under house arrest in Berkhamsted Castle, near Windsor. ‘Bel fitz, eiez pitie du gentil Mortimer’ had been Isabella’s agonised plea as her world collapsed around her. ‘Fair son, have pity on noble Mortimer.’ Edward had none, and on 29th November Mortimer was publicly hanged.
Four young Kings and a Queen
On that day of 19th October, England’s teenage King was far from the youngest European monarch. In fact he was the fourth youngest, one of a group of adolescent or prepubescent monarchs aged respectively six, 14, 15, 17, 18 and 19.
Different circumstances accounted for all these early accessions. In the case of the youngest of all, David II of Scotland, his reigning at such a young age was due to his father Robert I’s sonless first marriage and his eight years’ separation from his second wife, a war captive in English hands. She had been too young for consummation when they married, and it was not until after their 1314 reunion that she began to bear her husband children. David was the third of these, his father already 49 and with but five years left to live when he was born.
Much to his resentment, as he thought the match unworthy, Edward III’s sister Joan had been married at Mortimer’s orders to the then four-year-old heir to Scotland. David was therefore Edward’s brother-in-law as well as fourth cousin once removed, the latter being one of the closest relationships the young King of Scots enjoyed with his fellow sovereigns. Only the second of his dynasty, his blood was mainly noble, with only distant traces of descent from Europe’s established royal houses.
He would also be the last; after Joan’s death he married again aged 39, then divorced his second wife and aged 46 announced his intention to marry a third time, to his mistress Agnes Dunbar. But he attained no greater age, dying suddenly and unexpectedly 11 days before his 47th birthday. With no fruit of any of his unions, his heir was his half-nephew Robert II, and the long reign of the House of Stewart over Scotland began.
Next in age was the 14-year-old Magnus Eriksson, who had been King of Norway (as Magnus VII) and Sweden (as Magnus IV) since he was three. His Swedish royal blood came through his father Erik, Duke of Södermanland, and his Norwegian through his mother Ingeborg, sole legitimate child of Haakon V of that realm. In Norway Magnus succeeded automatically on his grandfather’s death, Ingeborg, who could not reign in her own right, assuming the regency for her infant son.
The death of Magnus’s father had been at an unknown but earlier date, he and his younger brother Valdemar being killed (reputedly by being starved to death) on the orders of their eldest brother Birger, then King of Sweden, who held them captive at the time. While it is certainly true that Erik, supported by Valdemar, had been working to seize their brother’s throne, the two younger brothers were widely loved and the elder not at all. The same year that the child Magnus inherited Norway the Swedish nobility rose up, overthrew Birger and elected his nephew as the new King, Ingeborg thus becoming regent of Sweden also.
Her position was unprecedented for a woman in either realm, but unfortunately she did not govern wisely and as Magnus grew her power dwindled, the actual rule being taken into the hands of the respective Councils and Ingeborg’s regencies only nominal. Even those came to an end in 1331, Magnus being declared of age. This caused a rebellion in Norway, where the law was that kings came of age at 20, while Magnus was just 15. Further turmoil resulted when Magnus did reach 20 and was crowned King of Norway. In Stockholm, which did not go down at all well with the Norwegian nobles.
In fact, throughout his personal rule Magnus never sat easily on either of his thrones, eventually giving up Norway altogether to his son Haakon VI and concentrating on Sweden, where in 1364 his nephew Albrecht, Duke of Mecklenburg invaded and managed to depose Magnus, aided by discontented factions of the nobility. With the support of his son Haakon VI Magnus sought to overthrow Albrecht in turn, but in 1365 was defeated and captured. He remained a prisoner for six years, then was released as part of a peace agreement and travelled to Norway, where aged 58 he drowned in a shipwreck. Of all his former realms, only Iceland remained to him at his death.
Almost exactly a year older than his (very) distant Scandinavian cousin, Jaume III had seen many changes already in his brief life to that date, and more were to come. His mother, who had a claim to the Principality of Achaea (essentially the modern Peloponnese), died not long after giving birth to him, the claim thus passing to Jaume, her only child. His father Fernando, a younger son of Jaume II of Majorca, sailed off to conquer Achaea in his son’s name, but after initial successes fell in battle, leaving the one-year-old Jaume a landless orphan.
The child’s prospects improved markedly with the death of his childless uncle Sanç (Sancho) of Majorca in 1324. Now nine years old, he became King of Majorca, a realm which besides the Balearic Islands included substantial fiefs in what is now southern France. Achaea incidentally did eventually come to him, he being universally acknowledged its prince by 1333, but pressing financial circumstances led him to immediately sell the principality.
Palma de Majorca then rivalled Barcelona as a centre of Mediterranean trade, and the little kingdom ought to have been prosperous and flourishing. However, Jaume’s reign was beset and his realm beggared by the demands of his kinsmen the Kings of Aragón, who claimed a feudal suzerainty over Majorca and all its lands, a claim Jaume resisted.
In 1344, after two turbulent decades on his throne, the islands were invaded by Aragón and annexed to its crown. Jaume retreated to his French possessions, and died in battle in 1349, futilely attempting to recover his lost dominions. A titular claim was continued by his descendants, but he was to be the last monarch of an independent Majorca.
The next oldest monarch after Edward III was his first cousin Jeanne II of Navarre. The daughter and sole child to live past infancy of Louis X of France, she might well have been Jeanne I of France also, had she been older and already married to her gallant husband Philippe of Evreux when first her father then his posthumous son Jean I, Jeanne’s half-brother, died in turn. But in 1316 when these events happened she was just four, and the thrones of both France and Navarre went to her paternal uncle Philippe, who became Philippe V.
While there was no precedent for a female succeeding, there was also no precedent for a king dying with no son to follow him. There was no as such succession law in France anyway, only custom and precedent, and this situation was as said unprecedented. Philippe V obtained a determination from the Estates-General that females were barred from the succession (possibly assisted in this by what seem unjustified doubts about Jeanne’s true paternity, which nevertheless circulated widely), leaving his own path clear.
Then died himself leaving only daughters, so was succeeded by Jeanne’s next uncle, Charles IV. As sons of Jeanne I of Navarre both Philippe V (II) and Charles IV (I) had been able to succeed to that kingdom as well as France, but when Charles also died leaving only daughters his cousin and successor Philippe VI could make no such claim.
So aged 16 Jeanne finally became the regnant Queen she might have been at the much younger age of four. Married the next year, besides her trans-Pyrenean kingdom she owned with her husband extensive lands in northern France. We don’t know an enormous amount about her life, but it may reasonably be surmised that it was a great deal more prosperous and happier than might have been expected for that four-year-old orphan of, many felt, questionable paternity back in 1316.
The oldest and also earliest-reigning of the teenage monarchs of the day was Alfonso XI of Castile. Even though only 19 he had already earned his sobriquet of ‘el Justiciero’, loosely translated as ‘the avenger’ or ‘the implacable’. His father Fernando IV had died less than a month after Alfonso’s first birthday, and many conflicts arose over who would be regent for the infant King. Eventually it was agreed that the regency would be jointly held by his mother Constance of Portugal, his grandmother Maria de Molina (a member of a cadet branch of the Castilian royal house), his father’s brother Pedro and his father’s (and Pedro’s) uncle Juan.
However when Alfonso was still only two he was again orphaned, his mother Constance dying aged just 23 herself, then shortly after he turned eight both his uncle and great-uncle fell on campaign against the Moors. The young king had still not quite reached double figures when his redoubtable grandmother died as well, leaving him bereft of effective guardianship and his kingdom devoid of effective rule.
Anarchy prevailed until, just 13, Alfonso XI declared himself of age and set about restoring order, doing so in such a stern and sanguinary fashion as to gain the name by which posterity still knows him. He continued to govern firmly and well throughout his life, unfortunately shortened by an outbreak of plague, and extended his kingdom all the way to the Straits of Gibraltar at Moorish expense. However his cruel behaviour to both his wives and contrastingly lavish treatment of his mistress sowed the seeds of all the trouble that was to follow, afflicting both Castile and neighbouring Portugal for decades to come. That complexly interwoven story however will be told below as it affects Portugal, while the further consequences for Castile will be related in another thread.
‘Now the brother shall betray the brother to death’
At the comparatively towering age of 30, Alfonso IV of Aragón was the youngest monarch of the day after all these teenagers and children. He was not originally expected to become King, as he had an elder brother Chaime, who however did not become Chaime III as when Alfonso was 20, and already his father’s most able lieutenant, he renounced the succession and his recent marriage (to Alfonso XI of Castile’s sister Leonor) and entered a monastery. Alfonso himself had already been married for five years and had several children by the time he so unexpectedly became heir. Before he became King he was a widower, and following his coronation he married the discarded Leonor.
In contrast to his brother-in-law this Alfonso was remembered by his subjects as Alfonso the Kind, and he does indeed seem to have been a good and decent man, albeit not unaccomplished at war. However, despite the energy and achievements of his youth, serving his father Chaime II with great distinction, indolence, apathy and domination by his grasping and meddlesome second wife marked his time as King, to the extent that it is speculated that he suffered from some kind of wasting disease. His reign, three years old in 1330, had only six more to go.
As for his brother Chaime, his monastic vocation was no such thing but merely the latest manifestation of his erratic character. He had long troubled his father with his scandalous behaviour, which continued unabated while purportedly under vows. He survived his brother and lived on into the reign of his nephew Pero IV, a son of Alfonso IV’s first marriage who in his father’s final years became estranged from him due to the aforesaid Leonor’s intriguing on behalf of her own sons, Pero IV’s half-brothers. One of whom he would eventually have put to death, while the other was killed at the orders of the King of Castile, Leonor’s nephew Pedro the Cruel, along with Leonor herself.
These family troubles were mirrored in the relationship Afonso IV of Portugal had with his father Diniz and then in turn with his son Pedro, later Pedro I. At 39 the oldest of the five Iberian monarchs, he had been his father’s only legitimate but far from favourite son. That would be his bastard half-brother Afonso Sanches, and the rivalry and at times open warfare between the legitimate heir and illegitimate favourite wracked the closing years of Diniz’s reign.
Afonso did have a legitimate sibling, his full sister Constance, previously referred to as the mother of Alfonso XI of Castile. The latter put aside and imprisoned his child bride Costanza Manuel, daughter of a cadet of the Castilian royal line, Juan Manuel, Prince of Villena (by, it happened, Constance of Aragón, sister of Alfonso IV), and married instead his first cousin Maria of Portugal, Afonso IV’s daughter.
Juan Manuel was a distinguished author, one of the earliest writers in Castilian. His learned pursuits did not mean that he was of mild character, however, and the discarding and imprisonment of his daughter caused him to rise against the King. Who treated his second wife no better than the first, openly neglecting and spurning her in favour of his mistress. The humiliated Maria fled back to her father, who now (and this is where it gets complicated) made common cause with Juan Manuel. The latter had by now obtained his daughter’s freedom, and to seal the alliance she was married again, this time to Afonso’s heir (and Maria’s brother), the aforesaid Pedro.
Who fell in love not with his wife but with one of her attendants, the noble lady Inês de Castro. Pedro nevertheless had three children by Costanza, but when she died shortly after bearing the third began openly living with Inês and his children by her. His father strenuously disapproved and eventually ordered Inês seized and executed, which was done by beheading in the presence of one of her young children. Son and father went to war, and while they eventually formally reconciled Pedro understandably never forgave his father’s barbarous act.
In 1330 these troubles were mostly still to come, but far away at the other end of the Mediterranean the 33-year-old Eastern Emperor Andronicus III had already gone to war against his grandfather, and won. His father Michael IX had been co-emperor with his own father Andronicus II, but had died in 1320, reputedly from grief at the death of his younger son Manuel at the hands of followers of his elder son Andronicus. Andronicus II disowned his grandson and namesake, who promptly rebelled, claiming the crown for himself. Unable to stem the rebellion, in 1325 the elder Andronicus agreed to crown the younger co-Emperor, but conflict between grandfather and grandson soon resumed and in 1328 Andronicus II was deposed altogether and confined to a monastery for his remaining years.
Despite a dissolute youth, another reason for his grandfather’s disapproval of him, Andronicus III proved quite an effective Emperor, and it was greatly to the empire’s harm when he died aged only 44. His eldest son succeeded as John V aged just eight, so there had hardly been time for Andronicus III to suffer the same familial strife he had himself been responsible for. The unsatisfied fates therefore inflicted these troubles in full measure on the blameless John V, but that story will also have to wait for another thread.
Tales of families at war with themselves are not yet at an end in this one, though. Indeed the life and reign of Stephen Uroš III of Serbia might be considered the pièce de résistance among them, beginning with attempted filicide, continuing with fratricide and ending with parricide. At 45 older than any of the monarchs considered so far, he was not to get much of a look at 46, being overthrown in 1331 by his son Stephen Uroš IV, who later that year had his captive father put to death. Which perhaps was condign, since Stephen Uroš III’s reign had begun nine years earlier with the overthrow and death of his elder brother Stephen Constantine.
The years in between were marked by war with Stephen Uroš III’s cousin Stephen Vladislav II of Srem, son of his father Stephen Uroš II’s elder brother and predecessor Stephen Dragutin (all males of the Serbian royal house were called Stephen, which means ‘crown’, by way of honouring their forefather Stephen Nemanja, founder of the dynasty). There was war also with Bulgaria and the Eastern Empire, in which Stephen Uroš III triumphed, as he did in all the many conflicts of his brief reign except the fatal last.
And the filicide? His father Stephen Uroš II had detested his younger son sufficiently that he sent him to Constantinople to be blinded, which cruel procedure would very likely have resulted in his death. However Stephen Uroš III apparently remained sighted, so if carried out at all the procedure can only have been partial. Eventually there was a reconciliation between father and son, though whether this would have lasted cannot be known as the father died not long after. Without, so far as is known, any help from either son.
Western kings, eastern crowns
Jan of Bohemia actually was blind, though not blinded, and not in 1330. Aged 34 at the thread date, his sight began to fail naturally as he neared 40, and by the time of his death at the Battle of Crécy, fighting for Philippe VI of France against Edward III, the name John the Blind by which he is known to history was more or less accurate.
Son of the Emperor Heinrich VII, the unimportant Count of Luxembourg who was elected precisely because he was expected to be weak but who turned out to be strong, Jan at 17 was considered too young to be elected in succession to his father, even though he had already been King of Bohemia for three years. He had been placed on that throne by his father, and married to Elisabeth of Bohemia, daughter of Václav II and sister of Václav III, the childless last male Přemyslid. She was not exactly the heiress, as she had an older sister whose husband Henry of Carinthia was the elected King. However he was not popular and the Bohemian nobility were quite willing to cooperate with the Emperor in deposing Henry and crowning Jan in his stead.
Jan did not like Bohemia, or his wife, and the feeling soon became mutual in both cases. However he remained King of the former and had seven children by the latter, the last of whom, twin girls, were born in Bavaria after Elisabeth left her husband and fled into exile there. It is hard to see why she bothered, because Jan’s dislike of Bohemia led him to spend most of his life away from it on an endless circuit of Europe’s courts, practicing the diplomacy and alliance-building which were his great skills and which perhaps explain why the absentee monarch was never deposed.
He had given early notice of his abilities in this regard by being instrumental in the election of the Bavarian Ludwig IV as his father Heinrich VII’s successor, beating off the challenge of the Austrian candidate whom he saw as more of a threat to his Bohemian interests. Although formally a claimant to the Polish and Hungarian thrones he brokered alliance between Bohemia and those realms, and brokered the marriage also of his daughter Jutta, rechristened Bonne which has the same meaning (good) as Jutta in French, to the heir to France, the future Jean II.
Although Bonne of Bohemia never lived to be Queen of France she still bore nine children before her early death, of which seven, four sons and three daughters, lived to adulthood and had children themselves. All European sovereigns today are descended from all seven, not to mention from Bonne’s brother the Emperor Karl IV, so the blood of her paternal grandfather, the obscure count who became Emperor, is firmly entrenched in European royal lines. As is the blood of her blind father, a man who after a lifetime of diplomatic manoeuvrings finally fell heroically in battle, honouring the treaty of alliance which had been among the conditions of his daughter’s splendid marriage.
Jan’s neighbour to the south, Károly I of Hungary, was also an alien on the throne which by 1330, aged 42, he had been occupying in one way or another for nearly three decades. A member of the Neapolitan branch of the House of France, he had inherited a contentious claim to the eastern kingdom through his Hungarian royal grandmother. His own father Charles Martel, eldest son of Charles II of Naples, had striven to make the claim good but died without either gaining Hungary or succeeding to Naples. Then called Charles Robert or Carobert, his only son was declared King of Hungary at the age of seven, but remained for the time being in Naples, where in contrast to Hungary his claim was acknowledged.
That changed over time, helped by active Papal support, and a powerful faction of the Croatian nobility also came out in support of the young prince, who by then had attained the age of 12. At which age he was shipped off to Croatia to see if he could gain a more than theoretical throne. The death a few months later of András III, supposedly the last male Árpád but whose paternal lineage was widely questioned, left Hungary in chaos but created an opportunity for Károly, and in May 1301 the 12- or 13-year-old (his exact birthdate is not known, only the year) had the first of his eventually three coronations as heir of St Stephen.
This first one was technically deficient in that while it was by the right person, the Archbishop of Esztergom, it was in the wrong place, Esztergom itself rather than Székesfehérvár, and with the wrong crown, the Holy Crown being in the hands of Hungarian magnates opposed to the young Neapolitan. These magnates preferred someone equally young, Václav of Bohemia, heir to Václav II and referred to above as the brother of Elizabeth of Bohemia. This child-king had his coronation in August 1301, right place, right crown but still technically deficient because wrong person, the Archbishop of Kalocsa rather than Esztergom.
The two boys remained in different parts of the Hungarian realm for the next three years, both claiming to be its King while Hungary was actually broken up into a set of mini-kingdoms, each ruled by the local magnate. However, further Papal diplomacy won more and more of the magnates to Károly’s side, and in 1304 Václav II recalled his son to Bohemia, fearing for his safety. The younger Václav took the Holy Crown back to Bohemia with him, and the next year renounced his claim in favour of his cousin Otto III of Bavaria. Otto was duly crowned with the Holy Crown in Székesfehérvár. Well, not quite duly, still the wrong person, the Bishop of Veszprém this time. Otto’s position, unfortified by the invalid coronation, weakened while Károly’s support strengthened, and in 1307 the magnate László Kán took Otto prisoner, gaining possession also of the Holy Crown. In 1308 Otto was released and left Hungary forever, but the Crown remained in the hands of Kán, whose allegiance was uncertain at best.
He ignored the urgings of his fellow magnates to surrender the Crown to Károly, so in 1309 the Pope consecrated a new one and sent it to Hungary for Károly’s second coronation. Which was in Buda at the Church of Our Lady, later renamed the Mathias Church and the site centuries later of the last ever coronation of a Hungarian king. But although it was again the right person, so far as 14th-century Hungarians were concerned it was still the wrong place and definitely the wrong crown.
Papal support of Károly, by this time a young man whose great capabilities were beginning to be seen, now took the form of excommunicating Kán until the Crown was surrendered. In 1310 Kán submitted, and coronation number three was at Székesfehérvár, with the Holy Crown, by the Archbishop of Esztergom. Perfect. The coronation comedies were at last at an end, but the realm remained divided between over-mighty magnates, and royal authority was still largely nominal.
Years of warfare followed, but by 1323 Károly had subdued the very last magnate and their power was henceforth subordinate to Hungary’s alien but now undoubted King, whose long reign brought peace, order and prosperity to his hitherto anarchic kingdom, his legal reforms underpinning the stability he created and his economic reforms making Hungary’s currency the strongest in Europe. He, the first non-Árpád to truly establish himself, is remembered as among the greatest names in the 900-year history of Hungarian kingship.
Two kings of one kingdom
Actually it is almost three kings, so divided were contemporary opinions of Robert of Naples, who at the thread date was 53 years old and had been on his throne for 21 of those years. Considered by many, including Károly himself, to have usurped the throne properly belonging to his nephew Károly of Hungary, he called himself King of Sicily, but never reigned there. So did the actual King of Sicily, who did. What Robert ruled was the mainland portion of the once united Kingdom of Sicily, while the great island itself had fallen to Aragón. Succeeding Kings of Naples continued the pretence to be Kings of Sicily instead, while succeeding Kings of Sicily, barred by treaty from calling themselves that, nevertheless did. So did everyone else, well everyone else non-Neapolitan, and Kingdom of Naples became the de facto if not de jure name of the rival realm.
Robert, according to his great contemporary Dante and various other literary figures of the day, was cowardly, avaricious and treacherous, a ‘king of words’ better fitted to occupy a pulpit than a throne. However, his great contemporary Petrarch had a somewhat different view. ‘He was wise, he was kind, he was high-minded and gentle’ and ‘that eminent king and philosopher… as famous for his culture as for his rule, and the only king of our age who was at once the friend of knowledge and virtue.’ Others including Boccaccio were as laudatory, and we are left at a loss as to the true measure of the long-ago monarch.
The evidence of his over three decades of rule in Naples and also in Provence, a legitimate family inheritance as opposed to the conquered and usurped (by Robert’s grandfather Charles I) Neapolitan realm, is that he was eminently capable, achieving a position of near-total dominion in Italy and frustrating all the many schemes laid and alliances formed against him, and indeed cultured, leaving a considerable legacy both in the beautifying of Naples and in commissioned works of art and literature. ‘Robert the Wise’ is the name by which he is best-known to history, and even over the gulfs of time it can certainly be seen that he was no fool. Whether he should also have been called ‘Robert the Gentle’ is rather harder to judge, though the proposition seems dubious for a successful medieval king.
But however much else he was successful with, his efforts to regain Sicily were a failure, in fact they set the seal on the island’s becoming a separate and independent kingdom. Pero III of Aragón had at the plea of the Sicilian populace liberated the island from the Angevin usurper Charles I, being the husband of the last Hohenstaufen King Manfred’s daughter and heiress. When Pero III died Aragón went to his eldest son Alfonso (III), while the next brother Chaime (James, Giacomo in Italian) became King of Sicily. However Alfonso died childless and the Crown of Aragón was now Chaime’s inheritance, as Chaime II. He retained the Sicilian throne but naturally had to leave for Aragón, so installed his youngest brother Frederick (I couldn’t find the Aragonese version of the name, but Federico in Italian) as regent.
Beset by war in Aragón, Chaime agreed in a peace settlement to surrender Sicily to the Church, who then would grant it as a fief to the Neapolitan king Charles II. The Sicilians were far from accepting this betrayal, and instead elected Federico their King. He accepted, and proved himself gallant, honourable and able, standing steadfastly by his adopted subjects, leading the island’s defence and refusing numerous attempts to bribe him to desert his throne, which he occupied for over forty years and left to his own son Piero II. Who was also the grandson of Charles II of Naples, marriage to Charles’s daughter Eleanor having been part of a 1302 peace agreement.
Another part was that Federico’s crown was for his lifetime only, and on his death the island realm would return to Naples. This however was disregarded as thoroughly as a third part of the settlement, that Federico was never to call himself King of Sicily but rather of Trinacria. It was as King of Sicily that he reigned, and when he died aged 64, six years after the thread date, it was as King of Sicily that Piero II rather than his uncle Robert of Naples succeeded.
There was another Mediterranean island realm at the time besides Majorca and Sicily, the crusader kingdom of Cyprus. In contrast to Sicily, where two kings claimed one kingdom but in practice ruled different parts of it as separate realms, Hugues IV of Cyprus, who in 1330 was 35 and had been King for six years, claimed two kingdoms, the other one being Jerusalem, but in practice ruled only the island. He seemed content with this, wisely resisting involvement with attempts to recover the mainland territories, the last of which had fallen during the reign of his uncle and predecessor Henri II. Cyprus he ruled sternly but with justice until in 1358 he resigned the throne to his son Pierre I, living in retirement until his death the next year.
His mother and paternal grandmother had both been of the powerful Ibelin family, Crusader lords who had been in the East from the early days of Latin rule. So were both his brides, and his ancestry, almost exclusively from Crusader lines, is in considerable contrast to those of all the other monarchs considered here, different as they were amongst themselves. It is not surprising that his closest relationship was fourth cousin, that being to his nearest neighbour Andronicus III, who was not without Crusader blood himself.
Moneybags and the Elbow-high
My difficulties in connecting Hugues were minor in comparison to those I had with his seventh cousin Ivan I Kalita of Moscow and Vladimir, 42 at the thread date and five years on the first and two on the second throne. Ivan’s ancestry was almost exclusively Rurikid, insofar as it is known at all. It was Rurikid princesses in past ages marrying ‘out’ rather than Western princesses marrying ‘in’ that made me able to connect him at all, as he had not one discernible drop of mainstream royal blood.
Which did not make him one whit less royal in Russia, of course. The Moscow principality was fortunate in being sheltered by neighbouring principalities from direct attack, and its rulers had been judicious in maintaining steadfast loyalty to the Khan of the Golden Horde. The comparative peace and stability brought to Moscow by these factors led to a steadily increasing prosperity and population, as people flocked there from the oft-ravaged surrounding lands. These in turn led to the ever-growing wealth and power of its princes, of whom Ivan was the second to be Grand Prince of Vladimir but not the last, his efforts securing the premier Russian principality more or less permanently for his line.
His nickname Kalita, ‘moneybags’, reflected the aforesaid wealth. Another 1330 monarch with a memorable and not particularly flattering nickname was coincidentally his nearest relative among the contemporary sovereigns, his fourth cousin Władysław I Łokietek of Poland. Meaning ‘Elbow-high’, the sobriquet is simply explained; Władysław was short, as in tiny.
In historical stature, though, he stands very tall among Polish kings. At 69 the oldest by some distance of the 1330 monarchs, he nevertheless acceded only ten years before. He did not however succeed anyone directly. Divided up among his sons by the will of Bolesław III (himself Duke rather than King) back in 1138, the country had since been united only for brief periods, then fragmented again. But Władysław, scion of a junior but nevertheless powerful Piast line, by the patient work of decades succeeded in gathering all the various duchies under himself and eventually in reviving the Polish kingdom, which having scarcely existed for centuries before him would endure for centuries after.
The bankrupt and the Bavarian
Christopher II of Denmark might have wished for a heritage such as Władysław I left to his son Kazimierz III, or still more to be able to leave one like it himself. His brother and predecessor Erik VI had mortgaged much of the kingdom and squandered the money on lavish entertainments and hiring mercenaries to suppress the rebellions his policies caused. Denmark was bankrupt, and the accession charter forced on Christopher by the nobility and Church left him powerless to resolve the situation except by still more mortgages, and futile attempts at gaining territory in Germany to provide the tax base denied to him in his kingdom. Removed from the throne in 1326, he was restored in 1329 but was even more powerless than before. Fifty-four at the thread date, he would die within two years, theoretically still King but a prisoner, a broken, ruined man who no longer even pretended to rule his broken, ruined kingdom.
Germany’s ruler Emperor Ludwig IV was a very contrasting character, with a very contrasting career. Quite clearly a clever, capable and determined man, in 1330 he was 48 years old and had been 16 years on the German throne, and two years before had become Emperor at a ceremony in Rome. Which did not involve the Pope, then a resident of Avignon who in service of the French interests that ruled him had declared Ludwig deposed and excommunicate, being instead ‘by acclamation of the Roman people’, a (much) earlier style of accession ceremony than Papal coronation. Actually Papal deposition and excommunication were the fate of every strong Emperor, just about, and many a strong King. It very rarely made any difference, and certainly didn’t to Ludwig, who continued his acquisitive and successful career to the point where when he died suddenly of a stroke in 1347, still Emperor, his personal dominions stretched unbroken from the Alps to the North Sea.
One monarch remains to be tackled, Philippe VI of France, who had been elected to France’s vacant throne in 1328 and was 37 when his cousin and nephew by marriage seized power in England. He cannot then have imagined just how much of the remaining nearly 20 years of his life and reign were to be dominated by conflict with his younger neighbour monarch. Which Philippe actually provoked, beginning what would become known as the Hundred Years War by confiscating Edward’s duchy of Aquitaine; one of Philippe’s many unscrupulous acts, which invariably had poor consequences, though he never seemed to learn from this.
He must have feared little from England, a smaller, weaker and less populous country than his own mighty realm, and indeed things went well at first, with Philippe’s successes on land and at sea leading him to contemplate landing an army across the Channel. To do that he needed a navy, and after the English triumph at the Battle of Sluys in 1340 he no longer had one. Edward’s position grew stronger and stronger, as did his claim to the French throne in right of his descent through his mother.
Nevertheless in 1343 Philippe refused Edward’s offer to end the war and renounce his claim in return for possession of Aquitaine in full sovereignty. After the cataclysmic defeat at Crécy in 1347 Philippe lacked not only a navy to carry his army to England, but an army to be carried. He died in 1350, leaving the war he had foolishly begun and even more foolishly continued to be finally settled not by his son Jean II, or his grandson Charles V, or his great-grandson Charles VI, but his great-great-grandson Charles VII.
And that concludes this part of the introduction. I don’t think I kept very well to my implied promise at the start to be brief, but you try writing about 20 monarchs, some of them great Kings who reigned for many years and achieved much, and keeping things short. Edward III himself had little shrift, his effective accession being described but little else of his reign covered, though he did come into things again at the end. He will though get a second bite of the cherry in 1371, his brilliant reign mostly behind him instead of ahead, and I will now turn to more detailed consideration of the relationships of those monarchs.
* Omitting Ivan Stephen of Bulgaria on account of the brief and shadowy nature of his rule, which began weeks earlier and ended only months later, and also for the reasons given in post #14.