Sunday, June 17, 2012

King Payen I (1251-1280)

Marguerite's heir occupies a peculiar place in Breton history. He was an unassuming man, friendly and diligent, enjoying taking a hands on approach to rulership which sometimes gave his council fits. He was personally content, lacking the burning ambition which had been on display in recent generations of the de Rennes dynasty; in this way he was like his forebear, King Conan I. He would have made a marvelous alderman or guild leader in a quite, medium sized city somewhere, a place like Narbonne or Swansea.

But he was a king and he ended up being quite competent, even firey and passionate in certain narrow situations, such as when war against Islam was concerned. Most importantly, he was the first Breton ruler to attempt to bridge that always touchy divide between the Breton and Irish halves of the kingdom. Apprenticed to the Duke of Leinster, he cultivated a love for all things Irish from an early age. His name was chosen by his mother as a sop to the Irish by his larger than life mother; Payen would make certain that his attempted equal treatment of the Irish went much further than symbolism.

The death of his mother revealed long simmering tensions within the kingdom. The force of her personality and her unparalleled achievements meant that her authority was more or less unquestioned. Not so with Payen. The newly crowned king found himself facing a situation eerily similar to that early in Marguerite's reign. The Duke of Cornwall was in possession of the Duchy of Munster. This gave him an extremely advantageous position within the politics of the realm. Payen began maneuvers to change that.

The king had a claim on Munster, which he had no desire to actually take into his demesne, but he pressed it anyway, knowing it would put the Duke of Cornwall and Munster, Drogon II, in a bad situation. Drogon II refused, and reluctantly rebelled.

Payen's plan was simply to end the rebellion quickly, take Drogon down a notch, and dole the titles out to his own people. There was one flaw: the French political situation, always volatile, erupted into open civil war once more. This time, it centered on plans to lower the French king's authority. Payen had instructed his spy master to lend help to this effort, in the hopes of keeping French interest away from Normandy, which he hoped to incorporate into Brittany. Things happened too quickly, however, and Brittany was dragged into the French civil war on the side of the rebellious French counts at nearly the same time that the war against Drogon began.

To make matters worse, Scotland declared war on Cornwall in the hopes of installing Payen's sister, Duchess Adelaide of Lothian, on the ducal throne. Since Adelaide was married to a Scottish prince, the hope was that it would eventually work its way to the Scottish realm.

The complicated war persisted from early in Payen's reign in 1251 until 1260. It was a fairly low intensity conflict, with most of the major players involved in multiple conflicts at once. Adelaide was actually briefly installed as Duchess of Cornwall in 1257. This proved to be disastrous for her; Scotland had discharged its promised aid to her and withdrew to the north immediately. Payen declared a second war against her and only her the second the Scottish left; she surrendered quickly and was allowed to stay on as Countess of Devon within the Duchy of Cornwall.

Drogon surrendered shortly thereafter. He was spent, with his Cornish forces routed by Scotland while the Bretons ran roughshod over southern Ireland. His titles were stripped. He died a broken man shortly thereafter, his son being made the new Duke of Cornwall but the family's hold on Munster forever broken.

1260 brought an end to the French civil strife, with King Gaucelin III of France still on the throne and his hold on his kingdom strengthened. Payen wisely instructed his forces to steer well clear of the French situation and Gaucelin was only too happy to enter a gentleman's agreement to stay clear of Brittany in exchange. The French nobles who had counted on Breton aid were enraged and demoralized.

The decade of the 1250s had seen a shift in thinking, largely spearheaded by Payen, when it came to Breton's interests. The Iberian Muslim states had slowly made their way past the Pyrenees. It became an intolerable situation for both Brittany and France. Payen and Gaucelin III made a joint decree shortly after the end of Breton involvement in the French civil war that reestablishing the Christian kingdoms of Iberia was the top priority for their two kingdoms. Known as the Affirmation of Chartres, the Holy Roman Emperor lent his weight to the spirit behind it.

In addition to setting French eyes south and marking a decided shift in Breton attitudes toward expansion; instead of looking to Scotland and Wales in order to achieve the long desired greater Celtic kingdom, Brittany would remain fixed on Iberia for decades to come.

The Affirmation of Chartres also marked a waning of influence of the Church. This was a crusade in all but name, albeit one which was deliberately open-ended. Crusades were the Church's domain and the new order of things in Western Europe obviously skirted what had traditionally been the Pope's domain. But after four crusades with nothing to show for it but the ignored Iberian Muslims creeping halfway into traditional French lands, the lands of Charlemagne's former empire had had enough.

In 1262, on Christmas Day, Payen announced that he was going to throw the Mauretanians out of Toulouse. He gave a rousing, out of character speech at the traditional Christmas feast at Rennes Castle; his vassals pledged to follow him to Hell and back if that's what it took.

The Breton armies made short work of the Mauretanians. The Muslims were far from home and still fairly new to their conquests, though they had done an amazingly thorough job of converting the Occitanian and Frankish population to Islam. The Iberian states were a fractious lot, as well, constantly warring and squabbling with one another, in direct contrast to the massive, frighteningly powerful Shia Caliphate which had ground the Mongols of the Ilkhanate to a standstill in Mesopotamia. Brittany claimed Toulouse from the Caliphate of Mauretania in July of 1264.

This marked a period when Payen became increasingly prideful. While still as personable as ever, he became less prone to allowing question of his methods and effectiveness. More damaging, he took up with Anastasia Taechaneiotes, the beautiful Greek wife of his nephew and Marshal of Brittany, Prince Turold of Sicily. Anastasia would bear Payen two daughters, Martha and Anthousa, the latter in 1277, when he was 65 years old. He would make both his legitimate daughters, embarrassing his nephew to no end.

His wife, Marie, would die in 1270, a year after his torrid affair with Anastasia became more or less common knowledge. She retreated to her chambers when she discovered the affair and disappeared from daily courtly life almost entirely. It was said that she died of embarrassment.

Shortly after her death, Payen married Klara, second daughter of the king of Denmark. He was still, in his pride, quite open about his preference for Anastasia. If the new queen minded, she never said; she bore him several children.

Most of Toulouse was slowly pacified, but two provinces remained outside Breton control. One of them, Melguiel, was under Genoese control, the great city-state having wrested control of the province from Muslim control long before the Affirmation was even a consideration. Payen, seeing the Genoese as soft, declared war in order to bring Melguiel under the control of Brittany.

Genoa would prove a tough nut to crack, much tougher than Payen and his council had anticipated. The war with Genoa coincided with terrible turmoil in the general area. England had declared war on France after Gaucelin III had been excommunicated. This stirred the usual resentments amongst the French nobility, who quickly split into numerous camps, each trying to overthrow Gaucelin in favor of its own candidate. Things would have played out in the normal fashion save for England succumbing to the same pressures. Both kingdoms dissolved into innumerable warring factions, warring along cultural as well as geographical lines. The wars would rage throughout the 1270s.

Pope Sabian II would try to redirect attention to his own targets in 1276, at the height of the Genoan war, by declaring the Fifth Crusade. This time the target was Alexandria, rather than Jerusalem. Response was muted, with only a handful of duchies committing, along with the now negligible Kingdom of Wales. It would continue smoldering throughout the decade and beyond, the Pope's terrible timing assuring that none of the large kingdoms could commit to seeing the Fifth Crusade to a proper conclusion.

In may of 1277, Genoa ceded Melguiel to Brittany. The merchant republic had stayed aloft by funding numerous Italian mercenary companies, which created a stalemate for a few years. In the end, the Breton and Irish forces were too many and too skilled for the Genoese to beat back.

Payen died in 1280 at the age of 67. His reign had been continued the general trend of Marguerite the Great's in terms of a careful balance of conquest and good domestic governance. He left behind a staggering eleven children, nine by his two wives, the latest born when Payen was 65 years old. His identification as at least as much Irish as Breton helped to keep the Irish people, who loved him right back, calm. The Irish were equals from that point forward.

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