Part XXIX: The Sons of Alexander (1477-1506)
Or, how not to raise the heirs to the throne.
The House of Komnenos had nearly gone extinct during the early 13th Century, when its male lineage had been reduced to Alexios and David Megalos Komnenos. However, after the establishment of the Trapezuntine Empire it had rebounded considerably, gaining a reputation for fecundity and beauty that spread far beyond the bounds of their realm. The most recent generation of rulers had been no exception to this, and by the turn of the 16th century there were more Megalo-Komnenoi then ever before. In fact, the Komnenoi were presented with a rare problem for eastern dynasties; there were too many legitimate men….
Branches had begun to spread from the ancestral tree since the mass executions and blindings of the anarchic 1340s. The majority of the Komnenoi were descendants of Alexios III (r.1349-1390), although there was a distant Italian branch that had been founded by a son of Ioannes III who fled into exile in Genoa. This branch, the Comnino family, would eventually wind up as doges of Savona. However, these were far enough removed to be mostly irrelevant. The Alexian line then split after Manouel III, who had two sons, Alexios and Manouel. Alexios became emperor, while Manouel traveled to Morea, where he took up service as a cavalrymen. By 1500, he had a dozen living descendants in Morea and Boeotia, several of them landed pronoiai. One of these, Andronikos, would emigrate to New England in 1503, becoming the first Greek to die in the western hemisphere.
The Trapezuntine imperial line really began to splinter with Alexios IV. Alexios had three sons, Ioannes IV, Alexandros I and David, who all in turn had children. Ioannes’ only male child, Alexios, was born in 1445 and would die in 1506, and had married a Lazic noblewomen named Maria of Kapnanion, and in turn had six children, of whom three would live to adulthood. Among these were two sons, Ioannes (b.1466 d.1533) and Nikephoros (b.1472), who would in turn have children. David’s two sons, Basileios (b.1451 d.1509) and Manouel (b.1456 d.1518) both had sons of their own as well, bringing the number of Ioannes’ grandson and great-grandsons, barring the Alexandrian line, to eight. None of these cousins would reach particularly high status, but they all had at least a semi-valid claim to the throne.
As previously mentioned, Alexandros I had two sons, Alexios and Sabbas. They are best known for their struggle for a throne neither of them would live to sit upon, but the two brothers did have a great deal of dynastic importance. Sabbas had one posthumous daughter, Anna, who would be forced into a monastery after her father’s death and, taking a note from her forebearer of the same name, wrote a history of her grandfather’s and cousins’ reigns. She died in 1544 at the age of seventy-five, the longest-lived of Alexandros’ grandchildren. Of considerably more importance are the children of Alexios, the elder brother. As we know, Alexios’ eldest son, Alexandros, became Alexandros II in 1469 and ruled in his own right from 1474. His children, being the offspring of a sitting aftokrator, will be covered later. However, Alexios also had other children, namely Basileios (b.1463) and Anna (b.1466).
Basileios married Maria Palaiologina, daughter of Andreas Palaiologos, in 1487. This was done in an attempt to secure an alliance between the two chief Greek states after the decline of Venetian power in the region, but unfortunately no alliance ever came of it. The Palaiologians were wracked with a period of intrigue following Andreas’ death in 1489, and upon the succession of Konstantinos to the Morean throne he disowned his hated sister, essentially leaving the alliance worthless. However, it appears that Basileios and Maria truly loved each other, for they vigorously resisted any of the proposed divorces that floated around the court in the early 1490s. The marriage produced five children (Alexios, Maria, Andreas, Alexeia, Sophia), of which only two, Andreas and Sophia, would live to adulthood. Basileios himself was a fairly unremarkable man, spending most of his time drinking or engaged in polo or wrestling. His only accomplishment of note was his botching of the embassy to Krakow in 1503, after which he faded into obscurity and died sometime in the 1510s.
Anna was married in 1483 to the Prince of Novgorod-Slusky, Vasily II the Mute. She was a constant presence in Nizhny Novgorod, helping to introduce Pontic culture and art into the distant lands of the Russias. She gave birth to a number of children, among them five sons. One of these was the famed tsar, Aleksandr I, but her tutelage of her sons and Aleksandr’s eminent career is beyond the scope of the story. After a long and hopefully fulfilling life, she died in 1543 at the age of 78.
Of course, that brings us to the children of Alexandros and Martha. The marriage was quite fecund, and despite the distant kinship between them no sign of genetic defect was apparent. There were a grand total of six prophrygenitoi born to the Imperial couple, Alexios (b.1477), Martha the Younger (b.1479), Theodoros (b.1480), Eirene (b.1482), Ioannes (b.1483) and Romanos (b.1485). Unfortunately, Theodoros was stillborn, and Ioannes died of an unknown disease in 1491. However, in terms of medieval child mortality rates, four out of six is an almost shocking survival rate. With Alexandros busy attending to the affairs of state, Martha and her appointees effectively raised the Imperial children in isolation. The ‘other aftokrator’ was one of her unflattering nicknames, and she was as equally strict a parent as she had been iron-willed as an empress consort. From the time they could walk, the princes and princesses were never unsupervised, although Martha was pain-staking in making sure that they were never spoiled. This took the form of beatings for any transgression, random beatings for slights which they had performed in secret (a tall task for a five-year old under constant watch) and being locked into a darkened wine cellar to think about the eternal damnation that awaited them if they so much as thought about sinning. The lives of the princes in particular were bleak, being woken before dawn, ‘bathed’ in the crashing surf, then paraded between tutors and priests for the next fifteen hours before being put to bed by an armed guard. Their only breaks were two-hour sessions of shifting mounds of dirt back and forth between two mounds in one of the palace gardens twice a day. Supposedly, this was so miserable that one of his minders caught a young Alexios muttering that he hoped for an Ottoman victory in the ongoing siege, because it couldn’t possibly be worse. For this, the young boy was whipped.
The only relief for the young princes were journeys away from Trapezous with their father, who took Alexios and Romanos on semi-frequent riding and hunting expeditions, as well as occasional inspections of bandons. Whether or not the aftokrator was aware of the abuse being levied upon his sons is unknown, and if he did, whether he was intimidated by his battleaxe of a consort or if he agreed with her methods is also unknown. However, this strange dichotomy between loving father and tyrannical mother would explain some of the stranger tendencies exhibited by Alexios upon his ascension to the throne.
In spite of her cruel methods, it cannot be denied that Martha got results. By the age of twelve, both of the princes were proficient in Greek (both classical and Pontic), Latin and French, the former which were the chief language of Europe and the upcoming lingua latina, respectively. They were also capable students in math and the sciences, although this took the form of rote memorization rather than the creativity and encouragement of the modern classroom, as even the slightest mistake would get them severely beaten. They were also (seemingly) devout, well-versed in theology, biblical quotes, and scriptural analysis, although these too were born out of fear rather than any real piety. They were frequently trotted out before visiting foreigners as a sign of Trapezuntine stability and legitimacy, although, as a Spanish ambassador noted in 1490, “They look pale and wretched, as if street urchins had been abducted and dressed in Imperial robes….it is altogether disconcerting.”
As the two princes matured, Martha increased her vigilance, instituting a system of double guards so that a sole minder could not become overly-attached to or, even worse, soft on either of the boys. However, they were permitted to associate with outsiders for the first time in their lives, with closely-inspected visits with the children of prominent courtiers. However, little ever came of this, as neither of the princes were able to develop lasting relationships with either of them, partly because Martha was deathly afraid of sodomites and so scrutinized the reports of any meetings, having any child she deemed as too friendly sent aware at best and imprisoned at worst. Alexios in particular had troubles, developing a pattern of lavishing praise and affection upon a new potential friend, then turning against them at the slightest insult and attacking them. In 1489, Alexios appealed to his father and won the right to daily rides. He, along with several escorts, would range through the wilds for hours on end, anything to get away from the overbearing presence of his mother and her stooges. During these rides, Alexios was seen to speak to horse, which wasn’t especially concerning, and trees, which was. Indeed, he even began speaking to a fir which he passed by every day as ‘Isaakios’, which his guards found more than a little unnerving.
In 1494, Alexios married Françoise of Berry (b.1472), the sister of Charles VIII of France. The marriage had been a difficult one to arrange, which had required the concerted effort of the Trapezuntine diplomatic corps to arrange and which took five years to complete, from the betrothal first being made to the actual wedding occurring, in French-aligned Naples. Françoise was a deeply pious woman, who spent more time in prayer than she did anything else, and the two seemed to have much in common. However, upon returning to Trapezous, Alexios effectively ignored his wife, spending most of his time out riding through the countryside. This left poor Françoise alone with only the small number of servants she had brought with her from France, and she soon refused to speak with Alexios, who doesn’t seem to have notices. The two passed a decade in marriage having only shared a bed twice, both on the voyage back to Trapezous.
Romanos seems to have had the opposite marriage, marrying Tamar of Kartvelia (b.1488) in 1502. The two spent all of their time together, with Romanos seeking his wife’s approval and guidance in every matter, regardless of its true importance. He refused to be separated from her, which drove Tamar to the brink of madness. In 1504, she had a nervous breakdown and took holy orders to escape her husband, requiring guards to be stationed at the doors of her convent to keep Romanos from pestering her. This whole affair became the subject of great ridicule, with multiple anonymous obscene poems surviving to the present day. The most famous of these states that Alexios was a sodomite and that they would all be better off if Romanos had been one as well. It’s likely that Martha the Younger and Eirene had similar problems, but as they were shipped off to Poland and Moldova (respectively), we can’t be sure.
The strange behaviour of his children and the increasingly domineering nature of his wife, who was attempting to micromanage the affairs of her husband now that her children had escaped her grasp, took a heavy toll on Alexandros. The aftokrator had by now spent nearly three decades on the throne and had become deeply tired of life, probably experiencing a midlife crisis. His own mortality was increasingly present in Alexandros’ everyday life, the sharpest reminders coming with the death of Alexios Mgeli in 1500 and his mother, the Dowager Queen Keteon, in 1502. Mgeli had been born all the way back in 1427, and had spent most of his life in service to the empire in one way or the other, and his absence from his once-familiar post in one of the wings of court cast a shadow over Alexandros. The death of his mother, who had been a pillar of his life ever since that fateful day at Kapnanion, shook him to his core, and the aftokrator withdrew into himself, spending a great deal of time in seclusion. He was tired of ruling, and just wanted to be done with it all. But he couldn’t just abdicate; Alexios and Romanos were both morons who would run the country into the ground. He began pouring over the Bible and other texts, looking for a way out of his labyrinth. Then, in late 1505, he found it.
On the morning of March 15, 1506, Alexandros strode into court two hours late. The courtiers, who had been nervously awaiting the aftokrator rose to greet him. Alexandros, who smelled strongly of wine, fired a pistol into the air and shouted for them all to shut up. He went on a long, invective-laced rant about the moral failings of the various characters of court. He was disgusted by them in every way, and had only stayed in Trapezous as long as he had because the sea was too rough to sail. He concluded his speech by telling all of them that he hoped they were raped to death by Turkmen, named one of his nephews, Nikephoros, his heir apparent, then abdicated, effective immediately. Alexandros then walked out, straight to a waiting galley, and set out for Tmutarakan, never to return….
 I forgot what I was going to write here
 Historically he had three sons, but here he was blinded and sent into exile, so George was never born.
 There was a long text I was going to put here about Byzantine naming conventions, but I’m too tired.
 Although I will note that the famous “Volga” anecdote is quite characteristic. Upon being told by several of his subordinates that Volga Novgorod (as Nizhny Novgorod was renamed) was too close to the frontier to serve as a capital, he laughed and said “The only thing to fear about the frontiers is that I may run out of them.” He then had them killed.
 There are no reports of a Trapezuntine Purple Chamber, but with how incredibly rich they all were, I figure they probably built a replica
 TTL’s Lingua franca
 Françoise refused to convert to Orthodoxy, and so was ostracized by the Trapezuntine court. There was a nasty rumor she spent more time with her confessor than she did with her husband, which was true, but not in that sense.
 Mgeli was, canonically, the last person born before the PoD.
 The Komnenoi never had a codified succession law, as evidenced by the AIMA prophecy, so this was perfectly legal.