- Aug 3, 2008
Interlude Three: From R. Champlin’s ‘History of the Normans’.
The following is an expert from Roger Champlin, ‘History of the Normans in the Mediterranean’, Edinburgh-Palermo 2008. The present editor has chosen to omit most of Champlin’s copious footnotes and annotations to allow for greater ease of reading; only a bare minimum was retained to enable an interested reader to delve more deeply in the subject. In the present passage, Champlin has denied that Robert Guiscard should have taken any actual steps to appropriate himself of lands on the Balkans and concludes his argument with a cursory look at the marriages of the early Hautevilles.
Some have resorted to circumstantial evidence to imply that Robert Guiscard’s marriage policy would basically have been aimed at Byzantium (most vocal of the recent scholars to put forth this thesis was Grimard, p.122-124), but that his attempts in this direction were frustrated by the reluctance of Greek nobles to ally themselves with the upstart Normans, forcing Robert de Hauteville to make other marriage arrangements for his children. The present writer plainly rejects this notion. The arguments for it are very far-fetched – if one looks at the actual marriages arranged by King Robert for his children, an entirely different picture emerges.
His youngest child, Emma, he married in 1078 to the scion of one of the most powerful noble families of Pisa, the house of Grimaldi. The bridegroom, Iacopo Grimaldi, was easily old enough to be Emma’s father, but he was the acknowledged as Pisa’s second most powerful man after Gentile d’Appiano, the governor himself. He was the elected general of the armies of Pisa and held the office of marshall. At the time of the marriage, he was the single most likely individual to succeed Gentile d’Appiano to the governship of the republic. A marriage of this kind poses then little difficulty in the analysis – it was very clearly an attempt by King Robert to gain a local Italian ally, the Republic of Pisa. It is highly reasonable and need by no means be viewed as some kind of second choice after failed negotiations with Byzantium.
The marriage of Roger Borsa de Hauteville to Isabel de Montfort in mid-1077 provides us with little to no evidence, as it seems that King Robert had no hand in it and that it was a marriage of love, at least love on the part of Roger Borsa, who was three years younger than his wife (Amatus of Montecassino explicitly praises this love, see Am. Cas. Yst. Nor. XI.4.1f). At this time, the de Montforts where still a far call from being the powerful family they would become in later centuries and King Robert, who certainly had had higher hopes for his son, could not have been thrilled at this marriage. Documents show that Isabel’s father, who had recently been appointed marshall of the duchy of Normandy, had in 1077 taken all of his family on a pilgrimage to Rome, and it can only have been there where Isabel and Roger met. At any rate, this marriage was not arranged by Robert Guiscard and was in all probabilty even against his will, and is thus of no consequence for an analysis of the marriage policy pursued by him.
The marriage of his eldest daughter Mathilde on the other hand was clearly arranged by King Robert. In early 1076, she was wed to the Frankish nobleman Renaud de Joigny, son and heir of Geoffroi, Count of Sens. This choice of bridegroom is somewhat enigmatic, but any attempts to surmise the Guiscard’s intentions regarding his daughter will always have to remain highly speculative, as the de Joignies lost all of their French holdings only a few short years after the marriage. Whatever plans Robert may have had with this marriage alliance were thus irrevocably undone and had no chance whatsoever to come to fruition. But the mere fact that Robert Guiscard's plans were frustrated by forces beyond his power is not enough to surmise that he did not have plans at all and that this marriage was merely an emergency measure after aspirations to Byzantine bridegroom had failed.
The most prestigious marriage by far King Robert was able to arrange was that of his eldest child. Bohemond de Hauteville was married to Sancha de Barcelona, scion of one of the most powerful noble houses in southern France and northern Spain, and sister to no less than four great lords. Her two eldest brothers, both of which were born at an uncertain date around 1040, were Hugues, Count of Lusignan, and Guillaume, Duke of Toulouse, but she was also sister to Raymond de Toulouse, Count of Rouergue, born in 1042, and to Pedro Ramon, who was not only count of Barcelona, but also Duke of Catalonia and as such an independent ruler in his own right, even though he was the youngest of the brothers, being born in 1045. The wedding between Bohemond and Sancha was celebrated either very early in 1076, or, more probably, late in 1075. At any rate the ceremony must have been conducted in the north of Italy, where Bohemond was at the time campaigning against Mathilda of Canossa. It goes without saying that any claim that a marriage to a lady as well-connected as Sancha de Barcelona was any kind of second or even third choice for Robert de Hauteville borders on the ridiculous, as does the inferral that any kind of failed Byzantine marriage policy might underlie this important connection with the western Mediterranean.
Aforementioned campaign against Toscana was brought to a happy conclusion in March 1076. For several months Bohemond had ravaged the lands of Duchess Mathilda and had even conquered the important town of Ferrara. In itself, this would probably not have been sufficient to prompt Mathilda to offer peace, but it coincided with another fateful event in the history of Germany, the untimely death of King Heinrich IV. von Franken on February 22nd 1076. The circumstances of his unfortunate death in a minor siege and the ascension of his merely eight year old son Peter to the throne of Germany are well known and need not be retold here. As fateful as this event may have been for Germany, which was by it propelled into one of the major crises of its history, as fortunate did it prove for the house of Hauteville.
For one, with the death of strong and energetic King Heinrich, Mathilda of Canossa must have realized that the crisis of the German Empire would persist for some time and require her continued presence north of the Alps, preventing her from returning to her own lands to drive the Normans from them. Unable to pursue the war against Robert de Hauteville with sufficient fervour, Mathilda of Canossa sued for peace. The peace treaty, one of the earliest surviving documents of this type, was signed by Bohemond de Hauteville as representative of his father, and by the Bishop of Cremona as representative of Duchess Mathilda. It was negotiated at Ferrara and is therefore by historians commonly referred to as the ‘Peace of Ferrara’. The main articles of the treaty are the pledge by Robert de Hauteville to withdraw all of his troops from the lands owned by Mathilda, and the Duchess’ cession of Spoleto to the Norman king.
MAP 12 Italy in April 1076, after the Peace of Ferrara.
The lands of Mathilda of Canossa are marked in a differing colour from the other German vassals.
But the death of Heinrich IV. had not only brought the war with Toscana to a conclusion, it was also to be expected that a German infant king with numerous rebellious vassals would for a considerable span of time be in no position to pursue his quarrel with the Normans. Seizing this opportunity, Robert de Hauteville took to the field, for the very last time in his warlike career leading an army in person. While Bohemond was negotiating the peace with Mathilda of Canossa, his father led a host north, against Ancona and Count Werner von Lenzburg, who had opposed the Normans the previous year.
Here, Champlin goes on to describe the latter years of Robert de Hauteville’s reign, but the present editor shall not follow him, instead giving an account of his own. But before we continue with it a quick glance at Peter von Franken, boy king of Germany, Burgundy, and Italy: