The Multiplicity of Empire: Translatio Imperii and Its Meanings in France and Flanders in the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, 1204–61

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 9:20 AM
Room 302 (Hilton Atlanta)
Anne E. Lester, University of Colorado Boulder
In the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, as French, Flemish and Venetian crusaders claimed dominion over the Byzantine Empire and began to divide and rule its domains in the Imperial City and the Peloponnese, the idea and practice of empire pervaded responses to the crusade and its unusual course. Ideas and images of empire appear most often in letters, charters and later in the historiae written for use as lections for the liturgical offices composed to honor the Passion relics, which returned with crusaders from the east. In this paper I will offer a close reading of “Empire” in these three types of texts. I will then set the images that emerge from the crusader correspondence and histories into the context of other chronicles and vernacular prose histories produced at the same moment in northern France. I will show that competing definitions and claims to empire existed, one secular and built on a past invented connection to Greece and Troy, the other sacred and founded on the possession of the most holy relics of the Christian Church.  These claims competed and informed the contentious real political relationships that existed between the northern French and Flemish nobility and the French Crown.  They also informed the ways that the many hundreds of relics sent from the imperial treasury in Constantinople were to be venerated and set in relation to the Passion relics collected by the Louis IX in the Sainte-Chapelle.  Ultimately, the Capetians cultivated for themselves a very specific notion of sacred empire that would eclipse all other claims to such dominion and allow the French king to consolidate power throughout the border of his realm.