All You Want to Know About the 9 Rulers of the Failed Latin Empire

All You Want to Know About the 9 Rulers of the Failed Latin Empire

Patrick Lynch - May 13, 2018

Also known as the Empire of Romania, the Latin Empire was a short-lived feudal Crusader state founded by the leaders of the Fourth Crusade after the Sack of Constantinople in 1204. It was part of a chaotic period of the Byzantine Empire which lost around three-eighths of its territory to the Republic of Venice and also lands to the Empire of Trebizond.

In many ways, the Sack of Constantinople was the end of the Byzantine Empire, and while Michael VIII Palaiologos recovered the city in 1261 and regained some territory, the mini-revival didn’t last long. The formation of the Latin Empire came about when the Fourth Crusade, which was supposed to attack Egypt, got involved in a complex political situation involving the Byzantine Empire.

The Crusaders owed a fortune to Venice, and the Venetians wanted to intervene in the Byzantine power struggle to ensure they consolidated their trading privileges. Alexios IV Angelos was a pretender to the throne, and he appealed to Venice for help. The Republic persuaded the Crusaders to divert their mission, and in 1203, they ended up at the walls of Constantinople. The great city was to be taken for the first time, and the result was over half a century of weak rule (barring the reign of Henry) that signaled the death knell for the Byzantines. Keep reading to learn more about the 8 (technically 9) emperors of the Latin Empire.

All You Want to Know About the 9 Rulers of the Failed Latin Empire
Baldwin I –

1 – Baldwin I (1204 – 1205)

Baldwin was the Count of Flanders, the Count of Hainaut and one of the most prominent figures in the Fourth Crusade. He initially benefitted from the chaos that followed the Sack of Constantinople but paid the ultimate price for getting involved in a deadly power struggle. The Crusaders installed Alexios IV as the co-emperor with his blind father, Isaac II, but Alexios was unable to pay the men they money he had promised.

He was murdered by Alexios Doukas (who became Alexios V), but the new leader now had the problem of holding the Crusaders at bay. While he strengthened the city’s defenses, the Crusaders were able to conquer Constantinople on April 12, 1204. According to one Crusader, the invaders took more loot from the city than in any previous sack in human history. Perhaps this is not an exaggeration since Constantinople had amassed an incredible number of precious objects, stones, and statues since its formation in 330 AD and had never before been captured.

Alexios V fled but was caught and executed. The Crusaders chose Baldwin as the new leader of the Latin Empire, and he became Baldwin I on May 9; his crowning ceremony took place a week later at the Hagia Sophia. Baldwin’s portion of the new empire consisted of several regions in Europe and Asia along with a few islands. The only problem was, not all of these territories had been conquered.

Baldwin wanted to conquer Thessalonica but faced resistance from Boniface of Montserrat, who was a rival candidate for the empire and possessed a large portion of territory in Macedonia whereupon he became the King of Thessalonica. Boniface laid siege to the city of Adrianople, one of Baldwin’s territories, but stood down when an agreement was reached where he received Thessalonica as a fief from Baldwin.

However, the Emperor had to deal with a Greek revolt in Thrace which was supported by Kaloyan, Tsar of Bulgaria and soon, they expelled the garrison at Adrianople. Baldwin marched to the city but was defeated by the Bulgarians at the Battle of Adrianople on April 13-14, 1205. Baldwin was captured, but historians don’t agree as to how he met his end. Some say the Tsar murdered him in a fit of rage while others say he was killed for trying to have an affair with the Tsar’s wife. According to legend, Kaloyan used Baldwin’s skull as a drinking vessel; just like Khan Krum did with Emperor Nikephoros I. Eventually, Kaloyan wrote to Pope Innocent III to tell him that Baldwin died in prison.

All You Want to Know About the 9 Rulers of the Failed Latin Empire
Henry – Alternative History Wikipedia

2 – Henry (1206 – 1216)

As Constantinople did not receive reliable information that Baldwin was dead until July 1206, there was no official emperor for over a year. Eventually, Henry, Baldwin’s brother, was crowned in August 1206. Henry had also been involved in the Fourth Crusade and was a division general during the siege of Constantinople. Although he was the obvious successor to Baldwin, the Lombard nobles in Thessalonica would not swear allegiance. Henry went to war against them and ultimately defeated the Lombards after a two-year conflict.

Henry was easily the best of the Latin Emperors and was known for his fair and even-handed treatment of the Greeks. He was also an excellent general and used his skills not only to defeat the Lombards but also to overcome enemies such as Kaloyan and the Emperor of Nicaea, Theodore I Lascaris. When Kaloyan was murdered in 1207, he was succeeded by Boril. However, Boril didn’t have any better luck against Henry than his predecessor and was defeated at the Battle of Philippopolis in 1208.

Henry’s military excellence was also noticeable during his ongoing conflict with Nicaea which had a competing claim for the empire. He expanded the empire’s territory in Asia Minor in 1207 and defeated Theodore at the Battle of Rhyndacus in 1211. It was a significant victory at the time as it allowed the Latins to march almost unopposed through Nicaea territory as far as Nymphaion. Despite his success, Henry decided not to overstretch as he wanted to focus on issues in Europe, so he signed a truce with Nicaea in 1214.

Henry was unable to carry out whatever plans he had because he died in 1216. It is suggested that he was poisoned by Oberto II of Biandrate, who was formerly a regent in Thessalonica. There is also a belief that Henry’s wife, Maria of Bulgaria, instigated the plot. It was a shame for the Latin Empire because Henry was tolerant but not weak, strong, but not cruel and an outstanding military commander. The empire would never again have such a good ruler.

All You Want to Know About the 9 Rulers of the Failed Latin Empire
Peter –

3 – Peter (1216 – 1217)

As Henry died with no male heirs, Peter II of Courtenay, the youngest son of King Louis VI of France, was nominated as the fallen emperor’s successor. To say Peter was an ill-fated emperor would be an understatement. At the time of Henry’s death, Peter was in his home at Chateau de Druyes in France, so he had to leave to claim his throne. He wasn’t crowned as emperor until April 9, 1217, when Pope Honorius III consecrated him outside the walls of Rome.

Shortly after his coronation, Peter began implementing changes of policy. He recognized William VI of Montserrat’s right to the Kingdom of Thessalonica and reached an agreement with Venice. Peter said he would conquer the port of Dyrrachion, but soon after he arrived and began to lay siege, Theodore Doukas of Epiros arrived on the scene.

Peter reached another agreement; this time with Doukas. He would recognize Doukas’ claims to Dyrrachion despite the Venetian claim. However, Doukas realized there was a strong possibility that Peter would return at a later date and try to reclaim the port for Venice. As a result, Doukas made a calculated decision; he would capture Peter and get ready for the inevitable repercussions.

While Honorius III initially tried to secure the release of Peter, his anger at Doukas quickly cooled when a papal legate named Giovanni Colonna was released from the port. There were no further attempts to free Peter who was probably mistreated in captivity and could have died at any time from 1217 to 1219. As a consequence, Peter had the ignominious distinction of having never reached Constantinople nor did he have an opportunity to govern the empire in any meaningful way.

All You Want to Know About the 9 Rulers of the Failed Latin Empire
Yolanda of Flanders –

4 – Yolanda of Flanders (1217 – 1219)

Yolanda was Peter’s wife and was technically a regent in her husband’s absence since he may have lived until 1219. Moreover, she was only third choice since her oldest son, Philip, and her second son, Robert of Courtenay; both refused the throne. When Peter discovered that he was the new emperor, he sent Yolanda to Constantinople, so she avoided her husband’s fate when Theodore captured him.

She was in an unenviable position since she initially expected Philip to come to Constantinople, but he refused to leave France. Robert was technically the emperor, but he was also in France and showed no inclination to make the long trip to the Latin Empire’s capital. As a result, Yolanda was merely a caretaker, and her only act of diplomacy was to marry her daughter to Theodore I Lascaris of the Nicaea Empire. It was a clever move because it led to a temporary period of peace in the eastern part of the empire.

However, Ivan Asen II, nephew of Kaloyan, managed to regain the Bulgarian Empire throne from the usurper Boril and he was intent on regaining the territory lost by the empire during the reign of Boril. Meanwhile, Theodore Doukas was also increasing his power at the expense of Thessalonica. At that point, the Latin Empire was in desperate need of a strong leader, and no one stepped forward.

Yolanda tried her best and allied with the Bulgarians against several Byzantine successor states. Even though she was the most reluctant of leaders, she turned out to be much better than her son Robert who eventually succeeded her. When she died suddenly in 1219, Philip once again refused the throne, and while Robert would eventually accept, he remained in France until 1221. As a result, the Latin Empire once again had no leadership, and its enemies were starting to strengthen.

All You Want to Know About the 9 Rulers of the Failed Latin Empire
Latin Empire – Wikipedia

5 & 6 – The Regents: Conon De Bethune (1219) & Giovanni Colonna (1220 – 1221)

As Robert was still in France, a French crusader named Conon De Bethune was elected as regent until the new emperor arrived. Conon was involved in the Third and Fourth Crusades and was one of the six knights chosen to command transport and supplies when the army arrived at Constantinople in 1203. He held a number of important positions within the empire and was known for being a chivalrous, noble and wise knight. Conon had served Henry and Yolanda, so he was an obvious choice as a short-term ruler.

However, Conon died within a couple of months, so yet another regent had to be found. The role fell to Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, who was released from captivity by Theodore Doukas when Peter was captured. Little of note happened within Constantinople during his relatively brief spell as regent, but because he was no military commander or leader, he was unable to do anything about the empire’s enemies as they continued to strengthen.

By the time Robert arrived at Constantinople in 1221, the Latin Empire was already in dire straits. The chronic lack of leadership since the death of Henry five years earlier had almost crippled the Latins, and its empire proved brief because it was practically on its last legs from the moment Henry died.

Indeed, in The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, Donald M. Nicol asserts that the regime only survived because of the strength of its enemies as opposed to weakness. The exiled Greeks knew that they could reclaim Constantinople, but the rivalry between the Byzantines in Nicaea and Epiros meant they were unwilling to set aside their differences and join forces. As a result, the Latin Empire was able to stumble on until 1261 when it could have been deposed decades sooner.

All You Want to Know About the 9 Rulers of the Failed Latin Empire
Robert of Courtenay – Wikipedia

7 – Robert of Courtenay (1221 – 1228)

Robert was finally crowned emperor on March 25, 1221, at least two years after he should have taken the throne. He was surrounded by enemies and appealed to Pope Honorius III and King Philip II of France but was unable to prevent Theodore Doukas and the Empire of Nicaea from taking Latin land. After waiting so long for an emperor, the people of Constantinople were stuck with a man who was young and self-indulgent.

During his reign, the Latin Empire lost the last of its territories in Asia Minor along with the Kingdom of Thessalonica. The latter blow came in 1224 when Doukas captured Thessalonica and crowned himself Emperor of the Romans. Meanwhile, in Nicaea, John III Vatatzes became the new ruler in 1222, and two years later, he destroyed the armies of the Latin Empire in Asia Minor.

While the Pope tried to help Robert by organizing a crusade to defend Thessalonica, the response was extremely poor. As a result, by 1224, the Latin ‘Empire’ was comprised of little more than Constantinople, the Morea, and a few Aegean Islands. One suspects that Constantinople could have been taken at that point, but the rivals of the Latin Empire were too busy fighting amongst themselves.

When John III captured Edirne in 1225, his garrison was driven out by Doukas who in turn was removed from the city by King Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria. As for Robert, he reneged on an agreement to marry the daughter of the late Emperor of Nicaea, Theodore I Lascaris, and married a woman who was supposed to marry a man from Burgundy. The Burgundian led a conspiracy to drive Robert from Constantinople, and he fled to Rome to get help from the Pope. He was convinced to return to his empire’s capital but died in Morea in 1228 on the return trip.

All You Want to Know About the 9 Rulers of the Failed Latin Empire
John of Brienne – Bearers of the Cross

8 – John I (1229 – 1237)

Although Robert’s youngest brother, Baldwin II, was his successor, the child of Peter II of Courtenay was only 10 years of age, so yet another regent had to be found to rule on his behalf. Ivan Asen II offered his services, but unsurprisingly, the barons refused his approach and chose the former King of Jerusalem, John of Brienne, as the new monarch.

When John became the new emperor, his main threat came from Theodore Doukas who was almost in sight of Constantinople in 1230. However, he believed that Ivan Asen would become the new ruler of the Latin Empire and considered Bulgaria the only threat remaining to his conquest. As a result, he invaded Bulgaria in 1230 without a declaration of war and plundered villages along the way. He was so confident of victory that he brought his entire court including his wife and children. However, disaster struck at the Battle of Klokotnista on March 9, 1230, when he lost most of his army and died on the battlefield along with his court.

The Bulgarian Empire was soon expanded in a lightning campaign and in 1235, Asen joined forces with John III of Nicaea. Together, they started to besiege Constantinople but were defeated in 1236 when Venetian ships came to the aid of the city. John distinguished himself during the siege and was praised for his bravery. However, the Latin Empire had lost its last outposts in Asia Minor and Gallipoli while its territories in Thrace fell to the Bulgarians.

Three authors from the thirteenth-century claim that John became a Franciscan friar sometime in 1237; possibly due to his failing health. Certainly, Baldwin II had reached the age of succession by this stage, so it made sense for John to step aside after saving Constantinople. John died at some stage between 19-23 March 1237 and had the distinction of being the only Latin Emperor to die in Constantinople.

All You Want to Know About the 9 Rulers of the Failed Latin Empire
Baldwin II – House Empire

9 – Baldwin II (1237 – 1261)

To say that Baldwin II was the ruler of an ‘empire’ would be exceedingly generous. By the time he became emperor in 1237, he was in charge of little more than Constantinople. His reign was a fairly pitiful affair as he spent most of his time traveling to Western Europe to beg for financial aid and to pawn as much merchandise as he could to contribute to the state’s pathetic coffers.

Baldwin successfully pawned the Crown of Thorns to a Venetian merchant for over 13,000 gold pieces, and by 1240, he had earned enough money to return to Constantinople with a considerable army. Alas, he was only able to pay his augmented army until 1243 and lacked the military skill to do anything with the men in any case. He returned to Western Europe once again to beg for money.

The situation became so desperate for Baldwin that he even tried to ally with the Seljuk Turks; then he had to strip the lead from Constantinople’s churches to make money. Baldwin even handed over his only son, Philip, to Venetian merchants as ‘collateral’ for loans. He spent the remainder of his reign on these begging tours in Europe.

Meanwhile, John III of Nicaea married the daughter of the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II while John’s successor, Manfred, created an alliance with Michael II Doukas of Epiros. The city of Constantinople should have been easy pickings at this stage, but rivals of the Latins continued to fight amongst themselves.

The issue was finally resolved in 1259 when the new emperor of Nicaea, Michael Palaiologos, decisively defeated Epiros in battle. In 1261, Michael agreed to a treaty with the Republic of Genoa; they would supply him with ships to defeat the Venetians and conquer Constantinople. As it happened, a Nicaea general named Alexios Strategopoulos found a secret passageway on July 24, 1261, and captured the city.

Baldwin managed to escape but was in such a hurry that he left his crown and scepter behind. When Michael VIII entered the city and became emperor, the population was just 35,000. While he expanded the empire in the Peloponnese, his successor, Andronikos II, was unable to sustain the positive momentum. In reality, the Latin Empire was a failure and only lasted 57 years because its enemies were too busy fighting one another. Once Henry died in 1216, the Latin Empire blundered on and petered out, much like the Byzantine Empire ultimately did in 1453.


Where Did We Get This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources

‘Latin Empire of Constantinople’.

‘Baldwin I’. Encyclopedia Britannica.

‘The Latin Renovatio of Byzantium: The Empire of Constantinople (1204 – 1228).’ Filip Van Tricht, 2011.

‘The Fourth Crusade: Event and Context.’ Michael J Angold, 2015.

‘The Story of the Europe.’ H. E. Marshall, 2009.

‘History of the Byzantine Empire, 324 – 1453.’ Alexander A. Vasiliev.

‘The Byzantine Empire.’ Nancy Brown, and Robert Browning, 1992.

‘The Oxford History of Byzantium.’ Cyril Mango, 2002.

‘Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities.’ Bettany Hughes, 2017.

‘Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. Judith Herrin, 2008.