Margaret of Hungary

Margaret ("Margit") (born 1175, living 1223) was a Princess of Hungary, the Empress consort of Isaac II Angelos Byzantine Emperor, then the Queen of Thessalonica, and Regent for her infant son, and finally evidently returned to Hungary. Her life story gives a glimpse of the Fourth Crusade and origins of the Latin kingdoms in Byzantium.


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Margaret ("Margit") (born 1175, living 1223) was the Empress consort of Isaac II Angelos, Byzantine Emperor.  She took the baptismal name of "Maria" when she came to Constantinople and is thus called "Mariam Pannoniam" (Mary of Pannonia) by Niketas Choniates in his History in book "Urbs Capta" section 7.

Margaret was the eldest daughter of Bela III, King of Hungary (crowned 1173) and his first wife Agnes of Antioch. She was a younger sister of Emeric, King of Hungary (d Sep/Oct 1204). Her younger siblings were Andrew II of Hungary (d. 1235) and Constance of Hungary. Two other siblings, Solomon and Stephen, are mentioned in the "Europäische Stammtafeln: Stammtafeln zur Geschichte der Europäischen Staaten" by Detlev Schwennicke. They reportedly died young.  Margaret's paternal grandparents were Geza II of Hungary and Euphrosyne of Kiev. Her maternal grandparents were Raynald of Chatillon and Constance of Antioch (joint princes of Antioch).

Bela had conquered several cities that had been part of the Byzantine Empire, but then made peace with the new Emperor Isaac II Angelos, who married as his second wife, Bela's daughter Margaret Jan 1186, when she was just ten years old, and received these cities as her dowry.  For his part, in addition to the cities, Isaac wanted a politically strategic alliance with Hungary in order to strengthen his claim to the throne.  Upon this marriage, Margaret took the baptismal name "Maria".  At this point, Margaret would have gone into the household of Isaac, to be raised there until she was of the right age to consummate the marraige.

With Isaac, she had two sons:
  • Manuel Angelos (1189/92 – 1 Oct 1205/1207), he was evidently the elder son, being contemplated in 1205 to ascend the Byzantine throne (Rodd, p78) Garland states that Boniface, apparently in 1204, proclaimed Manuel, "emperor of the Romaioi" ("Byzantine Empresses", page 224)  Peter Stewart on Gen-Med Sep 2010 : "The article on Margaret by Wertner (note 2 on page 223) also says that Manuel died at Nicaea in 1212, on 17 June, but no source for this information is cited there either. See the article by Wertner, p. 223 note 2" And in a later note he states : "The claim that Manuel was 35 years old in 1212, i.e. born in 1177 when his mother was aged 2, was made by Hopf, presumably Carl Hopf in _Geschichte Griechenlands vom Beginn des Mittelalters bis auf unsere Zeit_, 2 vols (Leipzig, 1867-1868). This was reprinted in 1960...." "It is worth noting that his half-sister Eirene Maria, wife of the German king Philipp of Swabia, arranged for the anniversary of her brother Manuel's death to be commemorated at Speyer cathedral on 1 October ("Manuel frater Marie regine et Effrosina soror eiusdem obierunt, quorum anniversarium ipsa constituit celebrari", see Hansjörg Grafen, 'Spuren der ältesten Speyerer Necrologüberlieferung: Ein verlorenes Totenbuch aus dem 11. Jahrhundert' in _Frümittelalterliche Studien_ 19 (1985), p. 408). Since Eirene Maria herself died in August 1208 this means that her brother Manuel was dead by 1207 at the latest, so unless she had an otherwise unknown full-brother also named Manuel this clearly precludes his dying at Nicaea in 1212. NB Wertner, loc. cit., adds that Manuel had no known wife or offspring."
  • John Angelos (~1193 – before 13 Jan 1254). Peter Stewart on Gen-Med Sep 2010: "Proofs of his parentage are quoted with references by Wertner on pp. 224-225." He migrated to Hungary and ruled over Syrmia and Bacs (1227–42) as a vassal of king Bela IV of Hungary.  He married Matilda von Vianden.  He was dead before 13 Jan 1254.  One of their children might have been the Jelena who married Stephen Uros, King of Serbia.

Isaac had been deposed and blinded in 1195 by his elder brother Alexios III Angelos ("Alexios III Angelos", Wikipedia) who then assumed the throne.  Isaac and his son Alexios from his first marriage were imprisoned, but it's not yet clear if Margaret was also.  Her father Bela died in 1196, and her two brothers were quarreling over Hungary, probably not interested in launching a campaign to free her and her husband.  If the confinement began as harsh, it must have eventually became light allowing Isaac to see any visitor he chose, and also write and receive letters. (Andrea and Whale citing Nicetas Choniates)  Alexios III eventually released his nephew Alexios from captivity and even offered him a place at court conditional on his renouncing his claim to the throne.  This would prove his undoing as this nephew, later Alexios IV ("Alexios IV Angeles", Wikipedia) while on a campaign with his uncle, escaped on ship in 1201 (Rodd p38 citing Ronciani), arriving in Sep or Oct 1201 (Queller p35) at the court of his brother-in-law Philip of Swabia, who had been crowned King of the Germans in 1198. ("Philip of Swabia", Wikipedia)  But Philip while offering a refuge, had his hands full, in his fight for supremacy against Otto of Brunswick.  However there was a band of soldiers which was ready to assemble in Italy to launch the Fourth Crusade, targeting Egypt.

The Crusaders had first chosen Thibault, Count of Champagne and Brie to lead their cause, but he died young on 24 May 1201.  They voted again and chose a few others who did not want the honor, before settling on Boniface, Marquis of Montferrat, sometime that year.  Journeying to Soissons where they awaited him, Boniface stopped to consult with French King Philip Augustus, in the late Summer of 1201. (Queller, p30)  He paid a visit to his cousin Philip of Swabia at Hagenau and spent the Christmas holidays there. (Queller, p33)  Here he found an unexpected guest, Alexios.  From Innocent's letter (see Appendix B below) we know that Alexios was born before his father ascended the throne, which occurred in 1185.  He was perhaps now in 1201, in his late teens.  They probably discussed the overthrow of Alexios III but such a prospect at that time would not have seemed likely.  Boniface arrived at the Crusaders agreed-upon meeting place in Venice in 1202, and they proceeded to sack the town of Zara, which fell 24 Nov 1202, (Andrea, p40) but evidently without Boniface's involvement. (Source)
On behalf of his brother-in-law Alexios, Philip the Swabian sent envoys with a definite proposal to the Crusaders, while they lay in their winter quarters at Zara (1202-1203), shortly after they had sacked that city. Andrea and Whale give the date as 1 Jan 1203 "the Feast of the Circumcision."  The proposal offered great rewards if the Crusaders would go to Constantinople in order to depose this false uncle and restore his imprisoned father and himself to the throne.  In addition to offering exorbitant rewards, including offering to finance the expedition against Egypt, he in part of his appeal, offered to reunite the Western and Eastern churches once again, to end the Great Schism.  The point of that was to remove the opposition of Pope Innocent III. Quellar and Maddan suggest that Alexios did not want an armed conquest of the city, but just a show of force that would launch a palace coup.  Alexios himself then arrived at Zara from Swabia about Apr 1203.  The Crusaders arrived at Constantinople in June 1203 and took the city by July when Alexios III escaped and Isaac was taken from prison and became Emperor again, if only in name, with his son, made co-ruler as Alexios IV, probably exercising all actual authority.  In a letter to Innocent III dated Aug 1203, Boniface explained the diversion to Constantinople as a way to finance the expedition to arrive in the Holy Land.  Hugh Count of St Pol writes home to describe this part of the adventure and includes the detail : "...Emperor Kirisac and his wife the empress, namely the sister of the king of Hungary, both of whom had been held and shut up in the horror of prison for such a long time, thanked us profusely."
However the Crusaders were not happy when Alexios tried to postpone his agreed-upon payments, probably because his treasury was bare. This lack of funds has been laid at the feet of Alexios III's dispensing largess in order to hold his throne.  The citizens of the city were also unhappy with the situation which caused a riot, and the Crusaders were looting and evidently perhaps also raping.  This allowed another nobleman Alexios V to seize the throne for a few months, imprisoning his rival Alexios IV.  During this new Emperor's short 1204 reign Margaret's husband the Emperor died between February and April, his end "... accelerated by the fate of his son [Alexios IV]..." who had been "...strangled in his dungeon after poison had failed to do its work". (Source)  So the Crusaders again took the city by force, and Alexios V fled.  Baldwin himself explains what happened in this letter to Pope Innocent III.

When Boniface of Montferrat, leader of the Crusade and commander of the land forces at the taking of Constantinople, took the palace Bucoleon (or Vukoleon), it was found (13 Apr 1204) that Margaret had taken refuge there. (Source)  Boniface was one of only two contenders put forth to be elected the next Emperor, but he lost to Baldwin.  As compensation, he was granted "all the territories on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus as well as the Ille de Griesse [the Peloponnese]." (Source) The coronation of the new Emperor took place in the church of St Sophia on 16 May 1204, with Boniface himself carrying the crown.  That same year, in Constantinople, sometime between 13 Apr and 16 May, the widowed Margaret, dowager Empress, married Boniface of Montferrat, and returned to the rites of the Latin church.

Boniface who had just conquered the city of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, was soon to become King of Thessalonica.  Evidently in this same year of 1204, but after his new marriage, Boniface requested that he be allowed to exchange his lands in Asia for the Kingdom of "Salonika" (Thessalonica).  "...because it lay near the land of the King of Hungary, whose sister he had taken to wife." Presumably he considered it to be better suited for a political alignment with his new brother-in-law Andrew, then Regent of Hungary, who would then be his neighbor, and the new Emperor agreed to this exchange. (Source)
The record is unclear as to what if anything Margaret's brother Emeric, King of Hungary thought of any of this.  After a war that had lasted several years, he came to peaceful terms with their brother Andrew.  Emeric then appointed Andrew to be regent for his infant heir Ladislas.  Emeric died sometime between Sep and Oct of 1204.  Emeric's widow, Constance of Aragon, however not thinking the situation safe, took the boy and fled.  The situation was resolved when the infant Ladislas died 7 May 1205, thus clearing the path for Andrew to become King of Hungary.

Baldwin was determined to make Salonika surrender to him, but Boniface enjoined him not to march there.  Baldwin refused this council which caused a rupture between them.  Boniface then took the castle of Demotica "...which was one of the strongest castles in Roumania..." and left there his new wife, Margaret the Empress. He then took his troops and besieged Adrianople in spite.  Villehardouin at this time calls Boniface's chief counselors : "James of Avesnes, William of Champlitte, Hugh of Colemi and Otho of la Roche".  In an escrow agreement, brokered by Geoffrey the Marshal of Champagne, Boniface agreed to give up Demotica and the area around it, once he had Salonika in his hands.  At this time, Boniface with his troops and his new wife marched to Salonika, and those places which had been taken and garrisoned by Baldwin (which were not all the lands he had been promised) were given up to him.
Boniface did not enjoy his new domains peacefully, being engaged in almost constant warfare until his death.  Speaking of this time period, Garland states that "Alexios III and Euphrosyne then moved to Thessalonika where they were welcomed by Isaac II's widow Margaret-Maria of Hungary, now wife of one of the crusade leaders, Boniface of Montferrat, who was absent campaigning in northern Greece.  Alexios III and Euphrosyne were expelled after being discovered in a conspiracy, and they then moved to Corinth...." ("Byzantine Empresses", page 222)  I find it a bit disconcerting to think that Margaret welcomed Alexios III, her brother-in-law, who had blinded and deposed her first husband.
As Boniface marched through all the lands he was claiming, he assigned the conquered lands as various fiefdoms to the crusaders who were accompanying him.  The pass of Gravia for example, was assigned to Nicholas de St Omer and his brother, who we will meet with again shortly.  After Emperor Baldwin died, Margaret's step-daughter Agnes of Montferrat, who come from Lombardy for the purpose, was married 4 Feb 1207 in the church of St Sophia, to Baldwin's brother Henry who had been elected the new Emperor.  That same year, Boniface was returning to Thessalonica when attacked by a Bulgarian ambush.  He was taken alive and decapitated on 4 Sep 1207, his head being sent to the Bulgarian king. (Source1, Source 2)

With Boniface, Margaret had a son:
  • Demetrius of Montferrat born 1205 ("two years old at his father's death"), he married Bonne de la Roche, a sister of the Lord of Athens but they had no children.  He died in 1227 (Source), his widow remarried to his half-brother Bela de St Omer. (Source)  In the absence of any male successor to his claims to Thessalonica, he transferred his rights to Emperor Frederick II to whose court he had fled.

Boniface left a will in which, he had designated Demetrius as his successor in Thessalonica, under the regency of Margaret.  His son William, by an earlier marriage, succeeded to the Marquisate of Montferrat.  The barons however, knowing that a strong government was necessary, constituted themselves a council of regency for the infant.

In 1207, on his father's death, Demetrius became king of Thessalonica, at least in title.  The Emperor Henry visited Thessalonica to receive the homage, in the infant's name but was barred from the city by the bailiff Umberto di Biandrate ("Oberto II of Biandrate", Wikipedia) until he would agree to outrageous demands. (Source) Margaret, now in the Emperor's presence, put herself in his hands and revealed the plot against the infant.  At this time the Emperor crowned the new infant King of Thessalonica. (Source)

Biandrate fled, but conspiring at a distance, returned once more in 1216 to claim the Regency, possibly on behalf of William, Marquis of Montferrat, Demetrius' half-brother. "In response to Queen Margaret's appeal the Emperor hurried to her assistance, but arrived on the scene only to die with mysterious suddenness in the flower of his age."(Source) Margaret married thirdly Nicholas de St Omer, who with his brother, had accompanied his maternal uncle James of Avesnes (Jacques d'Avesnes) on the Crusade and was granted a fief in Doris.  Nicholas was the fifth son of his father William castellan of St Omer in France.  Nicholas is also called "Lord of Boetia". (Source1, Source2: "Margit of Hungary" on Charles Cawley's, "Medlands") The Santameri hills in this area owe their name to a corruption of "St Omer". (Source)  Nicholas had been one of the many crusaders who accompanied Boniface when the latter used force to secure his fiefdom in Thessalonica and surrounding areas.

Apparently Nicholas wasn't really very old at this time, and so he and his brother were merely assigned the fiefdom called "the pass of Gravia" or perhaps just "Gravia", not a very imposing sounding fiefdom.  When Boeotia was next conquered "Thebes with Boeotia and Athens with Attica and the Megarid" were all bestowed on Othon de la Roche. (Source)  Obviously a rather important person, as far as Boniface was concerned.  And that is how Nicholas' son Bela, by marrying Othon's heiress became joint-Lord of Thebes and I suppose Boeotia and Athens... or something.  Nicholas died sometime between 1217 and 1219.

With Nicholas, Margaret is apparently the mother of his two known sons:
  • Bela de St Omer, the elder son, born 1208/18, living 1240 but apparently dead by 1258, married Bonne de la Roche, niece of Othon de la Roche, Lord of Thebes, Athens, Boeotia, Attica and the Megarid.  When Othon died, Bela succeeded (in right of his wife) as joint-Lord of Athens. (Source)  Their eldest son Nicholas would succeed to this title in 1258.
  • Guillaume de St Omer, the younger son, born 1209/19.  ESNF suggests that he is that one of this name, who married before 15 Oct 1256 Pernel de Lacy, but died childless.  If so, he was living 19 Oct 1265.  However a reference by John Higgins on Gen-Med quoting from F. N. Craig's article in NEHGR, gives that William (Guillaume) a different father.  Peter Stewart on Gen-Med states : "The chronicle ascribed to Baudouin d'Avesnes says that Nicholas of Saint-Omer's younger son Guillaume died without an heir ("Li aisnes ot non Bylaus et li autres Guillaumes. Cil moru sans hoir de sa char..."), although it is also confused about his mother calling her a sister of Guillaume de la Roche, duke of Athens." But see also this entry in Codex diplomaticus Hungariae cited by Peter Stewart on Gen-Med 9 Sep 2010 : "...that he held lands in the Angevin kingdom of Naples (Sicily) and was deprived in 1281 after leaving."  But then on 12 Sep 2010 Peter Stewart on Gen-Med states : "It turns out that this is wrong after all - the Guillaume of Saint-Omer who was given lands by Charles of Anjou was in fact a first cousin twice removed to his namesake the younger son of Nicholas by Margaret of Hungary, so the basis for speculating that the latter returned to Flanders before June 1281 disappears.  The castellany of Saint-Omer was inherited by Beatrice (a sister of Nicholas) who married Philip of Aire and died in 1253 leaving Saint-Omer to her daughter Mathilde, wife of Jean II of Ypres, lord of Reninge. Their son Guillaume VII was father of the Guillaume VIII, who took part in the campaigns of Charles of Anjou and lived until 1283 or later. This was the man whose lands were repossessed in 1281.  The genealogy above is set out by Ernest Warlop in _The Flemish Nobility Before 1300_, 3 vols (Courtrai 1975-1976). For Guillaume VIII the references are: _Les châtelains de Flandre: étude d'histoire constitutionnelle_ by Willem Blommaert (1915) and a charter of Philippe de Quienville, who was in charge of Saint-Omer in Guillaume's absence, dated February 1279:
    • "Jou Phelippes de Kienvile, chevaliers, tenans le liu et warde de le tiere mon chier segneur, monsegneur Willaume, castelain de Saint Omer, liquels est en lointaines tieres, fai savoir... ke mesir Wautiers, etc. a vendu iretaulement, etc., par devant mi et par devant ses pers, houmes audit castelain ki à ce furent apelé soufisanment, c'est à savoir monsegneur Boissart de Renenghes et monsegneur Jehan de Cornus..."

Thanks to Derek Howard for the following two references:
  • For the St Omer genealogy see Antoine Bon: "La Morée Franque ...", Paris 1969, p 707. For the family and the division of Thebes see Nicholas Cheetham: Medieval Greece, 1981, p 79
  • For Othon de la Roche in detail see Jean Longnon: "Les Compagnons de Villehardoin, recherches sur les croisés de la quatrième croisade", Genève 1978, 215-216

Margaret, is said to have "fled" to Hungary about 1216.  If this year is correct, it would likely be just after the Emperor Henry had died, possibly from poison, when her position was thus made insecure.  She was probably already married at this time, so alternately, Margaret may have left Greece when her last known husband Nicholas died sometime between 1217 and 1219.  In either case she was perhaps accompanied by her eldest surviving son John, and her youngest two sons Bela and Guillaume.  However it seems perhaps more likely that her son John would already have been married to someone... but who?  Perhaps instead of fleeing to Hungary, Margaret merely went to Hungary and her son John became engaged to some girl in the court there.  This would have given her some better political protection.  Her middle son Demetrius evidently stayed in Greece where he may have already, at this time, have been married (as a youth) to Bonne de la Roche.  If so, Demetrius was probably under the protection of his new brother-in-law who held the other half of the joint-lordship that Othon had bequeathed when he went back to his native France.

After Emperor Henry's death, the crown next passed to Philip de Courteney, who never even set foot in Byzantium before he died on his way there.  His wife Yolande was pregnant and gave birth to an infant there.  Robert their eldest son, then became Emperor, being crowned Mar 1221.  But meanwhile Theodore, Despot of Epirus was encroaching on Thessalonica.  Demetrius, probably with his mother, went to Italy to seek help against this threat.  Theodore however took advantage of this absense to enter the city and declare himself Emperor of Thessalonica in 1222.  This is probably the time and circumstance under which in 30 Mar 1223 Pope Honorius III takes Margaret under "his special protection".
Whether Margaret ever returned to Greece, I do not know, but her son Demetrius who had successfully enlisted the aid of his half-brother William, Marquis of Montferret appeared there with an army to attempt to reclaim his kingdom.  William however delayed long enough to make his effort worthless, his fleet finally cast off in the Spring of 1226, he reached Almyros on 17 Sep and promptly died. (Where is Almyros?)

Pope Honorius III wrote to Margaret's son John in 1227 calling him "born of Margaret who was Empress of Constantinople" requesting him to keep his promise to campaign against the Bosnian heretics.
Margaret may have been living as late as 3 Mar 1229 when Pope Gregory IX issued a bull confirming that the "sister of the King of Hungary" had acquired "the land of ulterior Sirmia" (today in Serbia).  This is the name given to the district between the Save and the Danube.

Her brother, who was Andrew II, King of Hungary died 21 Sep 1235.   Margaret's exact death date and place, and burial location are apparently unknown, but would then likely be in this area of modern-day Serbia, which was then under the overlordship of Hungary.

Sources Cited

Appendix A
This entry in Codex diplomaticus Hungariae cited by Peter Stewart on Gen-Med 9 Sep 2010 states in prose form:
"Catharina inclita et fulgens Margarita In hoc arcto tumulo iacent absque vita Bele III filie regis Hungarorum Et Mariae Lascari regine Graecorum Ab impiis Tartaris fuerunt fugate Mortue in Clissio huc Spalatum translate lacet hoc sub iapide nobilis Gulielmus iacet heros inclitus operit quem tellus Nepos Bele tertii regis Ungarorum Margarite genitus Domine Graecorum Dicti regis filia Grecis dominatrix Constantinopoleos sceptris imperatrix Arcente denique barbaro peruerso Infinitis Tartaris marte sub aduerso Quartum Belam prosequens eius consobrinum Ad mare peruenerat usque Dalmatinum Ubi ad commercia vite celsioris Mortis soluit debitum iussu Creatoris Anni Christi fluxerant mille cum ducentis Quadraginta duo plus computo legentis Aprilis vigesima die iam transacta Qua Gulielmi spiritus rediit ad astra Heu accedit inclita sponsa Margarita Sanctum gerens spiritum moribus et vita Nam cuncta quae moriens ita vir legauit Dispergens pauperibus prorsus erogauit Qualia ecclesie tulit ornamenta Ex imperialibus pannis vestimenta Patent intuentibus lucem et supernam Eis postulent requiem aeternam"
In rhyming couplet form, the original way its presented is:
Catharina inclita, et fulgens Margari  }
In hoc arcto tumulo iacent absque vi  } ta
Bele IIII. filie, regis Hungaro   }
Et Mariae Lascari regine Graeco  } rum
Ab impiis Tartaris fuerunt fuga  }
Mortue in Clissio, huc Spalatum transla } te
Iacet hoc sub lapide nobilis Gulielm  }
Iacet heros inclitus, operit quem tell  } us
Nepos Bele tertii, regis Vngaror  }
Margarite genitus, domine Graecor  } um
Dicti regis filia Grecis dominatr  }
Constantinopoleos sceptris imperatr  } ix
Arcente denique barbaro peruer  }
Infinitis Tartaris marte sub aduer  } so
Quartum Belam prosequens, eius consobrin }
Ad mare peruenerat usque Dalmatin  } um
Vbi ad commercia vite celsior  }
Mortis soluit debitum iussu Creator  } is
Anni Christi fluxerant mille cum ducent }
Quadraginta duo plus computo legent } is
Aprilis vigesima die iam transact  }
Qua Gulielmi spiritus rediit ad astr   } a
Heu accedit inclita sponsa Margari  }
Sanctum gerens spiritum moribus et vi } ta:
Nam cuncta, quae moriens ita vir legau }
Dispergens, pauperibus prorsus erogau } it.
Qualia ecclesie tulit ornamen   }
Ex imperialibus pannis vestimen  } ta,
Patent intuentibus, lucem et supern  }
Eis postulent requiem aetern   } am.
Appendix B
Letter from Pope Innocent III to Alexios III, regarding Alexios the son of Isaac and also Philip of Swabia
"Innocent III to the Illustrious Emperor of Constantinople (Lateran Palace, 16 November 1202)"
Found at this link
or (will open as a DOC item)
In which Innocent writes that Alexios IV had seen him to plead his case, that Alexios had gone on to Philip's court and in which it appears possible that Innocent and his advisors had put into his head the idea of appealing to the Crusaders.  He chastises Alexios III on the seperation of their churches and states that he wants actions not words.