LXXXII. Those damned dull Byzantines
Theodoros carries on his lovely affairs for four years, until the need of an heir and the strong pressures of Pope Louis II induce him to marry a good party. Two choices stand out from others: Beatrice de Lorraine, sister of the young king of France Lorenzo, and Elena Marsvin, sister of Hardeknut of Poland. While the alliance links would recommend choosing the Polish princess, the superior traits of Beatrice (including her Italian origins) and the sponsorship of the Pope decisively bolster the prospects of the ďFrench betrothalĒ.
So Theodoros and Beatrice wed and consummate the marriage in early 1428; few months later, with her already carrying a baby in the womb, they visit Agrigento and found there a church as a vow to Virgin Mary for a sound pregnancy. The thanksgiving proves fruitful as by year-end the heir is born safely and baptised Ezio (the queen would give birth also to Alexandros in 1430, Zeno in 1432 and many, many others in the following years!). The year and half which approximately goes from the royal coupleís wedding to Ezioís first birthplace is full of joy and success: first the king revokes Hermann of Spoleto of his lands (annexing them to the royal demesne), and then between May and October 1429 he orders an expedition that captures Leptis Magna on the coast of Libya.
Unfortunately such apparently happy setting is destined not to last, ruined one more time by a revival of Byzantine aggressiveness which abruptly interrupts ten years of stability. Romanos V has succeeded his brother Nikolaos as Emperor in 1422, coveting since then the revenge for the embarrassingly ineffectual war of 1416-19 (a clear symptom of how the Byzantine armies of today are far from the old glories of the past). After seven years of waiting his chance comes in December 1429 by declaring war on Smbat II (Theodorosí strongest vassal in Egypt), guilty of having assailed the Byzantine post in the oasis of Buhairya during the previous war.
Differently from the last time, this one the Sicilian fleet succeeds in keeping the Byzantine forces at bay. The whole Italian peninsula is adequately sheltered from the attacks coming from across the Adriatic and Ionian seas (with the minor exception of a pillaging raid conducted against Bari in spring 1430), while Anatolia, Egypt and Crimea are the main theatres of a war mainly fought on the attack by King Theodorosí armies. At the opening of the hostilities in early 1430, Smbat II proceeds to occupy Buhairya while the Sicilian forces begin to act vigorously in the Aegean Sea by capturing the Anatolian town of Laodikeia and Thessalia.
The remainder of the year and the following 1431 record mixed developments: on the one hand, a strong Byzantine counteroffensive in Egypt liberates Buhairya and even force Smbat II out of Alexandria; on the other hand, the Sicilian expedition in Anatolia makes its way east and occupies Adana and Amisos, but leaves Laodikeia undefended against the return of the imperial troops. As Romanos V Ė probably puzzled by these mixed signals Ė refuses to come to terms, Theodoros commands the 8.500 Sicilians to embark at Amisos for Crimea, where the Chersonid emperors have always had their base of power. The landing occurs in summer 1431, and by September Lukomorie and the Lower Don delta are in Hautevilleís hands. The years from 1432 to 1434 record a ping pong too hectic to be accounted for: in Greece, Egypt and Anatolia towns and forts are lost and retaken by each side several times, but the trend is generally favourable to the Sicilians. At length Theodorosí large use of mercenary armies Ė responsible for horrendous pillages in Crimea Ėmakes unsustainable the war for the Byzantines, who finally surrender in a peace gesture the oasis of Buhairya (August 1434).
Rumours from distant lands Ė The German Confederation: a shaky amalgam
The confederation inaugurated from the ashes of the Hohenstaufen empire has lived for nearly 60 years in a peculiar situation: presided since its beginnings by a representative of the commune of Milan, with the accession of more and more German noble, ecclesiastical and urban lordships the league has turned into a chimera with a small Italian head on a big German body. All efforts of Igino of Milan (consul of the Confederation since 1371!) to expand influence over Northern Italy have been thwarted for decades by both Venice and Isaakios the Great.
At least, the confederation has brought more than 30 years of peace to Germany. But trouble brews again in 1401 when Consul Igino declares war on King Amedeo of France in order to profit of the weak grip of the Lorraine dynasty on the throne. Even if successful for the Germans, the conflict brings destruction and impoverishment everywhere Ė and a papal interdict to Igino, guilty of having attacked fellow Christians. Finally in 1419 a peace treaty transfers the provinces of Nordgau and Perigord from France to the German Confederation, and Igino chooses to move to Strasbourg the capital of the league in order to appease its other members. A good intent turns very bad for the cause of the Milanese leader, given the number of external and internal opposers envious of his power and irritated with Iginoís staunch defiance to leave an office which to most critics seems to have become a life and quasi-hereditary tenure. While the Hautevilles, owners of the Iron Crown since 1387, have now an easy time in asserting their claims on the whole Lombardy, likewise the rulers of Scandinavia and Bohemia gain the help of some members of the confederation (such as the Dukes of Brabant, Meissen and Brandenburg) alienated by the decaying hegemony of Milan.
After a quite long period of low-grade discord, the situation conflagrates in the 1320s with major fightings occurring in Lombardy, along the Milan-Genoa line, and in central-northern Germany; King Vit of Bohemia takes the lionís part of the profit by extending his grip on Saxon lands. For several years Consul Igino holds the line against his foes and finally saves the confederation from complete collapse: in the early 1430s the estates of the Dukes of Brandenburg and Meissen, plus the rich trading city of Hamburg, are reincorporated in the federation (but not the equally wealthy Brabantine lands). Igino passes away in 1437 at the venerable age of 70 and with his death comes the necessity to devise a reshuffle of the German Confederation, now more and more centered on its German core. Unfortunately, the strong Milanese leadership of Igino would be followed by two weak officeholders, Adhemar da Cardano and Innocenzo von Vinstingen, strengthening the impression that such loose confederation cannot easily stand the rising power of great nation-states.
Bohemia has aggrandised itself at the expense of the German Confederation