Archiver > GEN-MEDIEVAL > 2006-12 > 1166067058

From: "Paul K Davis" <>
Subject: first wife of Isaac II, Byzantine emperor
Date: Wed, 13 Dec 2006 19:30:58 -0800

This subject has been discussed before, without conclusive resolution. I
am submitting this message as a further study of the chronological
plausibility of one hypothesis.

Background: The Byzantine emperor Isaac Angelos is known to have had at
least two wives. The first was the mother of his daughter Irene (later
renamed Maria), who married the German emperor Philip of Swabia, and is the
identified ancestress of a large number of people. This first wife is
named only in a Western document written after the death of the daughter,
and the name given is "Irene". Skepticism has been expressed of the
reliability of this document, and I know of no direct evidence of the
woman's origin. She presumably died by 1185, when Isaac married
Marguerite, daughter of king Bela II of Hungary.

Notation: I will call these two women "Irene the mother" and "Irene the

Hypotheses: (1) According to Moriarty, Isenburg listed Irene the mother as
a daughter of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos I. I have been unable to
determine what evidence, if any, lies behind this claim. (2) According to
Don Stone, Rudolf Hiestand suggested Irene the mother was a daughter of
Georgios Palaiologos Komnenodoukas, megas hetaireiarches. This was based
on a document of 1191 saying Andronikos Palaiologos was gambros of emperor
Isaac II. Sturdza, on the other hand, uses this to conclude Andronikos
Palaiologos married a sister of Isaac. (3) It has been suggested that the
very unusual circumstance of a daughter having the same name as her mother
indicates that Irene the mother was not Greek.

Nothing to my knowledge limits us to choose only these options. The truth
may not have been guessed yet, and may never be.

Purpose: My purpose is to present option 1 chronologically. This may
result either in disproving it as chronologically impossible, or in
pointing a direction in the search for further evidence.

Sources: I have relied primarily on Sturdza's "Grandes Familles de Grece"
[1983], the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium [1991], Treadgold's "A History
of the Byzantine State and Society" [1997], and Harris's "Byzantium and the
Crusades" [2003].

Andronikos Komnenos, who became the Byzantine emperor Andronikos I, led a
complex life. According to Sturdza, he was born about 1123. He was the
son of one of the several Isaac Komneni who held the title sebastocrator.
This Isaac's wife, and presumed mother of Andronikos, has been recently
demonstrated by Rafal Prinke to have been a Georgian princess, which
heightens the interest in this possibility. Her Byzantine name was
"Irene"! Sturdza also lists two daughters of Andronikos named "Irene"!

According to Sturdza, Andronikos' first wife was also a Georgian princess.
After this marriage, Andronikos had, as a mistress, his cousin once
removed, Eudoxia Komnene. This relationship is dated 1145 - 1152. Among
other children, this relationship produced a daughter name "Irene", who
married Alexios, an illegitimate son of the emperor Manuel Komnenos.
According to Treadgold, shortly after Andronikos became emperor in 1185,
this Alexios was blinded for conspiring to rebel. Treadgold's wording
implies Alexios was son-in-law to Andronikos at the time. If so, it would
be difficult for this Irene also to be Irene the mother.

According to Treadgold, Andronikos was arrested in 1155. He escaped once,
and was returned by the Russians to whom he had fled. In 1166 he was freed
and sent to Cilicia as governor. I assume that during the time-frame 1155
to 1166 he was not able to accomplish any seduction leading to any
children. In 1166 Andronikos seduced Philippa of Antioch, sister-in-law of
then emperor Manuel. Sturdza lists no children to this relationship
(though there is an unnamed daughter, who, by 1184, married a Romanos,
governor of Dyrrhakeion, identified either as a child of the first wife, or
a bastard, in different charts).

I propose that: if Irene the mother was indeed a daughter of Andronikos, it
was most likely by Philippa. Irene the mother would then have been born

Andronikos then seduced his niece Theodora, widow of the crusader king of
Jerusalem. Among the children Sturdza lists for this relationship is
another "Irene", born 1169, who married Nikephoros Palaiologos. She seems
to have been born too late to be identified with Irene the mother.

Andronikos and Theodora fled to Moslem lands for the time being. I would
presume that any children of Andronikos and Philippa were left behind with
Philippa, and raised in her home with her later husband, Humphrey of Toron,
a Norman crusader from Italy.

The emperor Manuel died in 1180, and a regency governed in the name of his
young son Alexios. According to Treadgold, Andronikos rebelled against
this regency. In early 1182 the regency council sent an army against him,
under the command of Andronikos Angelos, but Andronikos Komnenos won the
battle, and then Andronikos Angelos joined the rebellion.

I propose that: it would have been at this moment, in 1182 when the two
Andronikoses joined forces, that they would have arranged a marriage
between their children, Isaac Angelos and Irene (the mother). Philippa
would presumably have honored Irene (the daughter)'s father's choice of a
husband for her.

This would give the time frame from 1182 to 1185 for Isaac Angleos and
Irene to have their three known children: Alexios who became emperor
Alexios IV, Euphrosyne who is called the elder sister, and Irene (the
daughter). Treadgold calls Alexios "about 21" when he became emperor in
1203, which is consistent, though tight. I presume Alexios was born about
1183, Euphrosyne about 1184, and Irene about 1185.

Andronikos Komnenos' rebellion was successful, and he became regent
sometime in late 1182 or early 1183, but then Andronikos Angelos changed
sides again, was defeated, and fled with his sons to the crusader kingdom.

Andronikos Komnenos now proclaimed himself emperor, murdered the young
emperor he had pledged to protect, and married his widow. Due to her
youth, there were no children of this marriage.

The Angelos rebellion was now dealt with. Isaac Angelos surrendered Nicea
on condition of amnesty, but the emperor later changed his mind and ordered
Isaac arrested in 1185. Isaac, learning of this, fled to the cathedral,
where the patriarch crowned him emperor, and the populace lynched

For over a century the empire had been mostly at war with the Norman rulers
of southern Italy and Sicily. In 1192, in an apparent effort to settle
this, Irene (the daughter) was married to Roger, heir to and associate king
of Sicily. He died before his father, in 1193, and there seems to be no
notice of any children to this marriage. Irene the daughter's birth date
is often given as 1180, which I believe is based on the assumption she was
twelve at the marriage. I think this is very shaky reasoning, since
diplomatic marriages did not respect age. The lack of children to the
marriage would tend to indicate she was prepubescent.

If Irene (the mother)'s mother really was Philippa of Antioch, then Roger
and Irene were fourth cousins once removed, being both descended from
Tancred de Hauteville, founder of the Norman dynasty in southern Italy.

Irene the daughter apparently remained in the West, after being widowed.
The same year as her husband's death, 1193, her uncle Alexios overthrew and
blinded her father, becoming emperor Alexios III. In 1197 Irene was
married to Philip, son of German emperor, Frederick Barbarosa. In 1198
they became the Western emperor and empress, and then were murdered in
1208, having produced at least five children. At least one child seems to
have a birth date of 1198, so Irene was fertile by then.

Based on this information, Irene the daughter reached puberty sometime
between 1193 and 1198. Assuming for this an age between 13 and 15, I
conclude her birth could have been any time between 1178 and 1185. The
chronology is thus tight, but not impossible.

(And now we also know why the word "byzantine" has come to mean very
complex duplicitous political machinations -- and I haven't even mentioned
how these events led to the perversion of the Fourth Crusade.)

Comments: Since Andronikos definitely had two daughters named "Irene", by
two different women, I see no problem in proposing he had a third
homonymous daughter by yet another woman. They all would have been named
after his mother. Since I presume the woman I call Irene the mother to
have been raised in a non-Greek home, I see no reason why she would have
adhered to the Byzantine Greek aversion to naming a child after a parent,
thus allowing Irene the daughter to share her name. Since I propose Irene
the daughter to have been part Norman and to have been raised in a Norman
crusader home, she would have been an appropriate diplomatic match for a
Norman Italian prince.

Conclusion: The hypothesis, that Irene, first wife of the Byzantine emperor
Isaac II, was an illegitimate daughter of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos
I and Philippa of Antioch, is chronologically, politically and culturally
plausible, but otherwise unsupported. It therefore remains an interesting

Questions: Can this scenario be disproved, perhaps by explicit birth dates
of which I am unaware? Would Roger and Irene have needed a dispensation to
marry? Would such a dispensation survive? Is the original source of this
hypothesis known to anyone? Is there any other relevant evidence?


-- PKD [Paul K Davis, ]

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