William of Villehardouin

  (Redirected from William II of Villehardouin)

William of Villehardouin (French: Guillaume de Villehardouin; Kalamata, c. 1211 – 1 May 1278) was the fourth prince of Achaea in Frankish Greece from 1246 to 1278. The second son of Prince Geoffrey I (r. 1209 – c. 1229), he held the Barony of Kalamata in fief during the reign of his elder brother Geoffrey II (rc. 1229 – 1246). William started to rule Achaea as regent for his brother during Geoffrey's military campaigns against the Greeks of Nicaea who were the principal enemies of his suzerain, the Latin Emperor of Constantinople. William succeeded his childless brother in the summer of 1246. Conflicts between Nicaea and Epirus enabled William to complete the conquest of the Morea. In about three years, he captured Monemvasia and built three new fortresses, forcing two previously autonomous tribes, the Tzakones and Melingoi into submission. He participated in the unsuccessful Egyptian crusade of Louis IX of France who rewarded him with the right to issue currency in the style of the French royal coins.

William II
Two sides of a small coin, one of them depicting a cross
Coin of William struck at Glarentza (inscription +:G:PRINCEACh, +:CLARENTIA)
Prince of Achaea
PredecessorGeoffrey II
SuccessorCharles I
Bornc. 1211
Kalamata, Achaea
Died1 May 1278
FatherGeoffrey I of Villehardouin
ReligionRoman Catholicism

In the early 1250s, William was the most powerful ruler of Frankish Greece and most neighboring Frankish rulers acknowledged his suzerainty. In 1255, he laid claim to the northern terziere, or third, of the Lordship of Negroponte in the island of Euboea. Although the two other rulers of Negroponte were his vassals, they rejected his claim. After they gained the support of Venice, Guy I de la Roche, Lord of Athens, and other Frankish rulers, the conflict developed into a devastating war of succession, causing much destruction in both Euboea and mainland Greece. After William's victory near Thebes in May 1258, Guy and his allies surrendered. Guy was put on trial for his disloyalty, but he could keep his Achaean fiefs.

A succession crisis in Nicaea prompted the Epirote ruler Michael II Komnenos Doukas to build up an anti-Nicaean coalition with William and Manfred of Sicily. In the summer of 1259 William and Michael assembled the bulk of their armies and marched as far as Pelagonia to give battle to the Nicaeans. The Frankish and Epirote troops could not cooperate effectively and they were continuously harrassed by archers from the enemy camp. After the Epirotes abandoned their allies unexpectedly, the Nicaeans inflicted a decisive defeat on the Franks. William fled from the battlefield, but he was captured and sent to Nicaea. He was still held in prison when Nicaean troops captured Constantinople and destroyed the Latin Empire in July 1261. The triumphant Michael VIII Palaiologos released William in return for three southern Morean fortresses in late 1261.


Frankish Greece around 1210. The Principality of Achaea includes almost the whole Morea in the south.

Ruling from 1246 to 1278, William was the fourth prince of Achaea. A state in Frankish Greece, Achaea was established in Byzantine territories in the Morea (in southern Greece) in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade.[1] William's father Geoffrey I of Villehardouin started the conquest of the Morea with a local Greek aristocrat's support in late 1204. As his ally died soon, Geoffrey approached Boniface of Montferrat, the ruler of the newly established Frankish Kingdom of Thessalonica for military aid. Boniface appointed William of Champlitte to accompany Geoffrey back to the Morea and they mustered 500 knights and serjants for the campaign. They captured Patras and other Byzantine fortresses and forced the Messenian and Arcadian Greek aristocrats into submission.[2][3] William of Champlitte received the title of Prince of Achaea from Pope Innocent III in November 1205.[3] The Franks could not capture Monemvasia in southeastern Morea and the fortress was seized by Greek corsairs.[4][5] The Frankish conquerors could neither overcome the natives in the southeastern mountainous region.[6]

In the newly established principality Geoffrey held the Barony of Kalamata in Messenia as William of Champlitte's vassal.[7] When William died in 1208, Geoffrey assumed power likely with his peers' consent.[8] He swore fealty to the Latin Emperor of Constantinople Henry at the Parliament of Ravennika in 1209.[8] Henry confirmed Geoffrey as the new prince of Achaea and made him an immediate imperial vassal.[8] The leaders of the Fourth Crusade had promised much of the Morea to Venice in their 1204 treaty about the distribution of the Byzantine Empire.[9] In a new treaty Geoffrey recognized that he held parts of his principality in fief from Venice, but the Venetians made no further steps to assert their theoretical suzerainty.[8]

As the Franks could not conquer all Byzantine territories, two successor states, Epirus and Nicaea emerged on the eastern and western borderlands of the Byzantine Empire.[10] The Greeks of Epirus started the reconquest of the former Byzantine territories in Thessaly in the 1210s.[11] They annihilated the Kingdom of Thessalonica and captured the city of Thessaloniki in December 1224.[12] Their expansion towards Constantinople came to an abrupt end when they suffered a massive defeat from the Bulgarians in the Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230.[13] The Greeks of Nicaea launched invasions against the Latin Empire from the east. By 1235 they reconquered whole Anatolia and seized an European bridgehead at Gallipoli.[14] In theory the princes of Achaea still owed allegiance to the Latin Emperors, but in practice Emperor Baldwin II would have been unable to defend Constantinople without Achaean military and financial support.[15] In return he acknowledged Geoffrey's elder son and successor, Geoffrey II as the overlord of the triarchs (three co-rulers) of the island of Negroponte (and possibly of other Aegean islands).[16]

Early lifeEdit

William was the second son of Geoffrey I of Villehardouin and his wife Elisabeth.[17] Elisabeth remained in France when her husband left for the Fourth Crusade. She and their elder son Geoffrey only moved to Achaea when Geoffrey's position stabilized after the Parliament of Ravennika.[18] She gave birth to William in the castle of Kalamata around 1211.[15][18] Growing up in the Morea, William could speak Greek at native level.[15] As a younger son, William received the Barony of Kalamata in fief, while his brother succeeded their father as prince around 1229.[19] He married an unnamed daughter of Narjot de Toucy, a high-ranking official of the Latin Empire.[5] He administered Achaea as regent during his brother's military campaigns for the defense of Constantinople against the Greeks of Nicaea.[5]


Expansion and crusadeEdit

Ruins of the fortress of Mistra: William erected it to complete the conquest of southeastern Morea.

William came to power in Achaea when the childless Geoffrey II died in the summer of 1246.[5][20] By the time of William's ascension relationship between Epirus and Nicaea had grown tense. In December 1246 Nicaean troops attacked and captured Thessaloniki.[21] William took advantage of the two Greek powers' conflict to complete the conquest of southeastern Morea.[15] He laid siege to Monemvasia with the support of other Frankish rulers, including Guy I de la Roche, Lord of Athens (who owed allegiance to him for Argos and Nauplia), and Angelo Sanudo, Duke of the Archipelago.[15] The defenders suffered from famine, but they capitulated only after William promised to respect their property and liberty in 1248.[5][22]

William's conquest of Monemvasia forced the Tzakones of the nearby Mount Parnon into submission.[5][15] He ordered the construction of new fortresses.[15] First, in late 1248 and early 1249, he personally directed the construction of Mistra near the Mount Taygetus; then the castle of Grand Magne was built on the Laconian Gulf; and a third castle, Beaufort was constructed on the Messenian Gulf.[15] The three castles secured the Frankish control of the Mount Taygetus, forcing the local Slavic tribe of the Melingoi to acknowledge William as their ruler in return for the confirmation of their liberty.[15][23]

Hugh IV of Burgundy spent the winter of 1248–49 in Achaea.[5] He was on the way towards Cyprus where the participants of Louis IX of France's crusade against Egypt were assembling.[5] William decided to join the crusade, and mustered 400 knights and armed a fleet of 24 ships before he left for Cyprus together with Hugh in May 1249.[5] From Cyprus he accompanied Louis to Egypt and remained with him until the end of the abortive military campaign.[24][25] As a reward, Louis granted him the right to mint coins in the style of the French denier tournois.[24] William returned to Achaea in May 1250.[24][25] During the following five peaceful years, Achaea was the dominant power of Frankish Greece as most lesser Frankish rulers acknowledged William as their overlord.[26]

War of the Euboeote SuccessionEdit

William's second wife, Carintana dalle Carceri, was one of the rulers of Negroponte, sharing Oreus and the island's northern terziere, or third, with Grapella of Verona.[26] When Carintana died in 1255, William wanted to keep her lordship, but Grapello laid claim to her inheritance.[26] As the triarchs owed allegiance to both Achaea and Venice, Grapella could cite a 1216 ruling by the Venetian bailo, or governor, of Negroponte, that stated that a co-ruler of a terziere was entitled to re-unite it if his or her partner died without issue.[26][27] The lords of the island's two other terzieri, Guglielmo I da Verona and Narzotto dalle Carceri supported Grapello's claim.[26][27] The Venetian chronicler Marino Sanudo writes that the conflict developed into a war after William had Guglielmo and Narzotto imprisoned, because their wives convinced the Venetian bailo Paolo Cradenigo to intervene and he seized the island's capital, Chalcis.[27] If the two triarchs were indeed incarcerated, they were held in captivity only for some months.[27] William appointed his nephew Geoffrey of Briel to lead an army to Negroponte.[26][27] The Achaean troops laid waste the island and expelled the Venetians.[26][27]

The Doge of Venice Reniero Zeno made Marco Gradenigo the new bailo.[28] Gradenigo gained the support of William's vassal, William de la Roche, and his brother, Guy I of Athens.[28][26] William of Verona and Narzotto dalle Carceri had a meeting with Cradenigo at Guy's seat in Thebes on 14 June 1256.[27] At the meeting, the two triarchs rejected Achaean overlordship and swore fealty to Venice for their terzieri.[27] Two other Frankish lords, Thomas II d'Autremencourt, Lord of Salona, and Ubertino Pallavicini, Marquess of Bodonitsa, joined the anti-Achaean coalition, while William secured the support of Othon de Cicon, Lord of Karystos in Negroponte, and the Genoese.[27][26] Cradenigo attacked Chalcis and the Venetian infantrymen routed the Achaean cavalry near the city.[29] Geoffrey of Briel deserted William and Chalcis surrendered to the Venetians.[30]

The war quickly spread to mainland Greece.[31] William assembled his army and invaded Athens across the Isthmus of Corinth in the spring of 1258.[31] Guy I of Athens and his allies tried to stop the invasion at Mount Karydi, but William inflicted a decisive defeat on them in May 1258.[31][32] Guy and his allies fled to Thebes and William pillaged Attica and Boeotia.[31][33] William attacked Thebes, but the city's archbishop persuaded him to abandon the siege.[34] Guy pledged that he would never fight against William and agreed to accept the decision of the High Court of Achaea for his rebellion against his suzerain.[35] After hearing Guy at Nikli, the Achaean aristocrats sitting at the High Court decided that they could not judge the case because Guy owed fealty to William for his Achaean fiefs, but not for the Lordship of Athens.[35] Instead of forfeiting Guy's Achaean fiefs, the High Court referred his case for judgement to King Louis IX.[35] As Guy accepted this ruling, peace was restored between the two Frankish rulers.[35] Louis IX received Guy in Paris in June 1259.[35] The King and the French barons decided that Guy had done adequate penance for breaking his oath of fealty by undertaking the arduous journey to France.[35]

Defeat and captivityEdit

Doge Ranieri Zeno ordered the new bailo of Negroponte Andrea Barozzi to conduct peace negotiations with William early in 1259, but William got involved in a new conflict between Epirus and Nicaea before the negotiations started.[36] The Nicaean emperor Theodore II Laskaris was succeeded by an underage son John IV Lascaris in August 1258.[37] An ambitious Nicaean aristocrat overthrew the child emperor's guardians and had himself crowned co-emperor as Michael VIII Palaiologos.[37] The ruler of Epirus Michael II Komnenos Doukas wanted to take advantage of the Nicaean power struggles through fostering a wide anti-Nicaean coalition.[31] He offered the hands of his daughters Helena and Anna to the Hohenstaufen ruler of Sicily, Manfred and William respectively.[38] He promised generous dowries, to William 80,000 hyperperi, the castle of Liconia and nearby lands in southern Thessaly.[39] For their possession could strengthen his hold of Oreus, William quickly accepted the offer. He married Anna in Patras late in summer of 1258.[39] Before the end of the year he and his father-in-law met in Patras and concluded a formal alliance.[40] According to the Chronicle of the Morea, Michael acknowledged William's claim to a revived Kingdom of Thessalonica.[40]

Michael VIII dispatched his brother John Palaiologos with fresh troops to Thessaloniki.[41] He sent envoys to Epirus, Sicily and Achaea to start peace negotiations, but Michael II, Manfred and William refused.[41] Enforced by newly hired mercenary troops, John Palaiologos launched a full-scale invasion against Epirus.[42] Unable to resist alone, Michael II called for his allies' assistance in the spring of 1259.[42] William assembled the bulk of the Achaean army: the Aragonese version of the Chronicle of the Morea, a source of dubious reliability, estimates that "eight thousand first-class men-at-arms and twelve thousand men on foot" gathered for the campaign.[43] He led the Achaean army across the Gulf of Corinth and joined his father-in-law at Arta.[42] They marched to southern Thessaly where reinforcements from Athens, Salona, Negroponte, Naxos and other Aegean islands joined them.[44] After the Frankish and Epirote commanders decided to fight a pitched battle against the Nicaeans instead of attacking fortified towns, the allies marched to Macedonia as far as the plain of Pelagonia in June 1259.[42][45] Although the combined number of the Epirote–Frankish soldiery outnumbered the Nicaean troops, their command remained divided.[45]

John Palaiologos avoided battle, but his Cuman and Turkish archers continuously harrassed the enemy camp.[46] As their constant attacks exhausted the Franks and Epirotes, Michael II entered into negotiations with John Palaiologos's envoys who urged him to desert his Frankish allies. The Byzantine historian George Pachymeres asserts that the Epirote–Frankish coalition split after Achaean knights disrespected the beautiful Vlach wife of Michael II's bastard son, John Doukas, because William refused to discipline them. Outraged by William's rude remarks about his illegitimate birth, John Doukas deserted to the Nicaeans and convinced his father to abandon the campaign. John's unexpected attack from the rear caused panic and the Franks's retreat quickly turned into a flight. This whole episode, not reported by the more contemporary Akropolites, is considered doubtful by historian Kenneth Setton. Akropolites attributes the allies' defeat to Michael II's inability to resist the archers' attack, because after his flight from the battlefield the Epirotes either followed his suit or deserted to the Nicaean.[47] As the Nicaean victory seemed inevitable, William fled towards Kastoria. Akropolites writes that William hid under a haystack but a soldier recognized him by his large protruding teeth.[48] He was shackled and sent to Nicaea together with Anseau of Toucy, Geoffrey of Briel and other Achaean aristocrats.[49] Michael VIII demanded the entire Achaean principality for William's release.[50] William refused, stating Achaea was "a land acquired by force of arms, held by right of conquest" by the conquerors' descendants and he could not surrender his vassals' territory.[50][23] During his prolonged, but comfortable captivity, Guy I of Athens assumed the regency for him in Achaea.[23]

The Nicaeans could not conquer Thessaly and Epiros after their victory at Pelagonia, but Michael II of Epiros could no more threaten their hold of Thessaloniki.[51] As the Latin Empire was in ruins and exhausted, Michael VIII decided to re-conquer Constantinople from the Latins. He concluded an alliance with Genoa to secure naval support for the siege, but his general Alexios Strategopoulos seized Constantinople without Genoese assistance taking advantage of the absence of the Latin garrison on 25 July 1261. Michael VIII was again crowned emperor in the Hagia Sophia and he quickly deposed his underage co-emperor.[51][52] After the fall of the Latin Empire, new negotiations started between Michael VIII and William about the conditions of William's release.[50] They reached a compromise when William agreed to cede Mistra, Grand Magne and Monemvasia.[50] As they had been built or conquered by William, their transfer did not violate Achaean customary law, but he could not cede frontier castles "without the counsel and consent of his liegemen". To legalize the transfer of the three castles, William's wife convoked the imprisoned Achaean lords' wives to a parliament.[53] Although Guy I opposed the proposal, the "parliament of dames" consented to it because the Achaean ladies wanted their husbands back.[53][23] Before releasing William, Michael VIII extracted an oath of fealty from him and took two Frankish hostages to secure his compliance with their agreement.[23] William returned to Achaea late in 1261.[53] After the Byzantines took possession of the three castles, the Tzakones and the Melingoi rejected William's suzerainty and transferred their loyalty to Michael VIII.[54]

Attempts to recoveryEdit

Neither William nor Michael VIII believed that the peace treaty would be lasting since the Byzantines could used their Morean bridgeheads for further expansion, while William could hardly acquiesce in the territorial losses.[55] Pope Urban IV released William from the oath he had taken at Constaninople under duress and William started peace negotiations with the Venetians.[54] In May 1262 William abandoned his claim to rule parts of Negroponte directly in return for the recognition of his suzerainty over the island, and the Venetians' quarter in Chalcis was expanded although their castle was destroyed.[56][57] By controlling the port of Monemvasia, the Byzantines could easily transfer troops and supply to their new Morean possessions.[54] By the end of 1262, they seized the whole Cape Maleas and took control of the nearby Mani Peninsula.[55] Pope Urban IV urged the Catholic bishops and abbots of Frankish Greece to support the Achaeans against the "schismatic" Byzantines on 27 April 1263, but he soon acknowledged that he could achieve his principal goal, the unity of Christendom, only through negatiationg with Michael VIII.[58] Michael VIII sent a new army to Monemvasia in the summer of 1263.[55] The Byzantines invaded Arcadia and seized small fortresses, but the Franks routed them near William's capital at Andravida.[55] An other Byzantine army marched towards Kalavryta and seized it with the support of the local Greek population.[55]

Coat of arms of the principality of Achaea.

He remained in captivity until 1262, and was forced to hand over Grand Maigne, Monemvasia and Mistra to the Byzantine Empire, which had been restored in Constantinople the previous year.

William had now lost all of his previous power, as had his former lord, Baldwin II of Constantinople, whose Latin Empire was lost with the Byzantine restoration. William and Baldwin both acknowledged Charles of Anjou as lord of Achaea under the Treaty of Viterbo in 1267; Charles had earlier defeated and killed William's old ally Manfred. As a vassal of Charles, William and 400 Achaean knights fought against Conradin at the Battle of Tagliacozzo in 1268.

William and Anna had two daughters, Isabella and Margaret;[59] Isabella, the elder daughter, married Charles's son Philip of Sicily, who, however, predeceased his father. Charles personally succeeded William in 1278, ending the Villehardouin dynasty and setting up Angevin rule, with the principality governed essentially as a province of the Kingdom of Naples. With the decreasing power and influence of Achaea, the Duchy of Athens became the most powerful state in Greece.

William was also noted as a trouvère, and the Manuscrit du Roi, containing two of his own compositions, was written in Achaea during his reign. He was fluent in both French and Greek.


  1. ^ Lock 1995, pp. 5, 332.
  2. ^ Lock 1995, pp. 69, 73–74.
  3. ^ a b Longnon 1969, p. 237.
  4. ^ Lock 1995, pp. 72, 80–81.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Longnon 1969, p. 244.
  6. ^ Lock 1995, pp. 80–81.
  7. ^ Fine 2009, p. 70.
  8. ^ a b c d Longnon 1969, p. 239.
  9. ^ Lock 1995, p. 49.
  10. ^ Lock 1995, pp. 39–40.
  11. ^ Lock 1995, p. 81.
  12. ^ Lock 1995, pp. 61–62.
  13. ^ Lock 1995, pp. 82, 315.
  14. ^ Lock 1995, pp. 65–66.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Setton 1991, p. 68.
  16. ^ Longnon 1969, p. 243.
  17. ^ Lock 1995, pp. 362–363.
  18. ^ a b Longnon 1969, p. 240.
  19. ^ Longnon 1969, pp. 242, 244.
  20. ^ Lock 1995, p. 317.
  21. ^ Lock 1995, pp. 82, 317.
  22. ^ Setton 1991, p. 36 (note 43).
  23. ^ a b c d e Fine 2009, p. 166.
  24. ^ a b c Setton 1991, p. 69.
  25. ^ a b Lock 1995, p. 85.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i Longnon 1969, p. 245.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i Setton 1991, p. 78.
  28. ^ a b Setton 1991, p. 79.
  29. ^ Setton 1991, pp. 78–79.
  30. ^ Setton 1991, pp. 79–80.
  31. ^ a b c d e Longnon 1969, p. 246.
  32. ^ Lock 1995, p. 318.
  33. ^ Setton 1991, p. 420 (note 89).
  34. ^ Setton 1991, p. 420.
  35. ^ a b c d e f Setton 1991, p. 421.
  36. ^ Setton 1991, p. 80.
  37. ^ a b Fine 2009, p. 161.
  38. ^ Setton 1991, pp. 81–82.
  39. ^ a b Setton 1991, p. 82.
  40. ^ a b Setton 1991, p. 83.
  41. ^ a b Setton 1991, p. 84.
  42. ^ a b c d Setton 1991, p. 86.
  43. ^ Setton 1991, pp. 86–88.
  44. ^ Setton 1991, pp. 86–87.
  45. ^ a b Fine 2009, p. 162.
  46. ^ Longnon 1969, p. 247.
  47. ^ Setton 1991, p. 88-89.
  48. ^ Setton 1991, p. 89.
  49. ^ Setton 1991, pp. 88–89.
  50. ^ a b c d Setton 1991, p. 98.
  51. ^ a b Fine 2009, p. 164.
  52. ^ Lock 1995, p. 64.
  53. ^ a b c Setton 1991, p. 99.
  54. ^ a b c Fine 2009, pp. 166–167.
  55. ^ a b c d e Fine 2009, p. 167.
  56. ^ Fine 2009, p. 189.
  57. ^ Setton 1991, p. 80 (note 56).
  58. ^ Setton 1991, p. 99 (note 61).
  59. ^ E. Arnold, The princes of Achaia and the Chronicles of Morea: a study of Greece in the middle ages, Volume 1, (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1907)


  • Bon, Antoine (1969). La Morée franque. Recherches historiques, topographiques et archéologiques sur la principauté d'Achaïe [The Frankish Morea. Historical, Topographic and Archaeological Studies on the Principality of Achaea] (in French). Paris: De Boccard. OCLC 869621129.
  • Fine, John Van Antwerp (1994) [1987]. The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08260-4.
  • Longnon, Jean (1969) [1962]. "The Frankish States in Greece, 1204–1311". In Setton, Kenneth M.; Wolff, Robert Lee; Hazard, Harry W. (eds.). A History of the Crusades, Volume II: The Later Crusades, 1189–1311 (Second ed.). Madison, Milwaukee, and London: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 234–275. ISBN 0-299-04844-6.
  • Setton, Kenneth M. (1976). The Papacy and the Levant (1204–1571), Volume I: The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society. ISBN 0-87169-114-0.
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Geoffrey II
Prince of Achaea
Succeeded by
Charles I