Isaac II Angelus (or Isaakios Angelos) (September 1156-1204), was the Byzantine emperor from 1185-1195, and again 1203-1204. He was a grandson of Theodora Comnena Porphyrogenita, youngest daughter of Emperor Alexius I, and thus a member of the extended imperial clan.
In 1185, during Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus's absence from the capital, the latter's lieutenant ordered the arrest and execution of Isaac. Isaac escaped and took refuge in the church of Hagia Sophia. Andronicus, a capable ruler, was also hated for his efforts to keep the aristocracy obedient. The sanctuary-bound Isaac appealed to the populace, and a tumult arose which spread rapidly over the whole city. When Andronicus arrived he found that his power was overthrown, and that Isaac had been proclaimed emperor. Isaac delivered him over to his enemies, and he was killed on September 12, 1185.
In order to strengthen his position as emperor, he sought a new wife, and in 1185 married Margaret of Hungary, daughter of king Bela III. Hungary was one of the empire's largest and most powerful neighbours, and Margaret also had the benefit of high aristocratic descent, being related to the royal families of Kiev, the Holy Roman Empire, Italy, Provence, and the previous Byzantine emperors (unlike Isaac himself, who was descended from the Comneni, a family of the lower nobility).
Isaac inaugurated his reign with a decisive victory over the Normans in Sicily, but elsewhere his policy was less successful. He failed in an attempt to recover Cyprus from the rebellious noble Isaac Comnenos, thanks to Norman interference. The oppressiveness of his taxes drove the Bulgarians and Vlachs to revolt (1186). In 1187, Alexius Branas, the general sent against the rebels, treacherously turned his arms against his master, and attempted to seize Constantinople, but was defeated and slain. The emperor's attention was next demanded in the east, where several claimants to the throne successively rose and fell. In 1189 Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor sought and obtained leave to lead his troops on the Third Crusade through the Byzantine Empire; but he had no sooner crossed the border than Isaac, who had meanwhile sought an alliance with Saladin, threw every impediment in his way, and was only compelled by force of arms to fulfil his engagements.
The next five years were disturbed by fresh rebellions of the Vlachs, against whom Isaac led several expeditions in person. During one of these, in 1195, Alexius Angelos, the emperor's elder brother, taking advantage of the latter's absence from camp on a hunting expedition, proclaimed himself emperor, and was readily recognised by the soldiers. Isaac was blinded and imprisoned in Constantinople. After eight years, he was raised from his dungeon to his throne once more after the arrival of the Fourth Crusade. But both mind and body had been enfeebled by captivity, and his son Alexius IV was the actual monarch. Isaac died in 1204, shortly after the usurpation of his general, Mourzouphles.
Isaac has the reputation of one of the weakest and most vicious princes that occupied the Byzantine throne. Surrounded by a crowd of slaves, mistresses and flatterers, he permitted his empire to be administered by unworthy favourites, while he squandered the money wrung from his provinces on costly buildings and expensive gifts to the churches of his metropolis.
The identity of Isaac's first wife is unknown, but her name, Herina, is found on the necrology of Speyer Cathedral, where their daughter Irene is interred. His wife Herina may have been a member of the Palaeologus family; she was dead or divorced by 1185, when Isaac remarried. Their children were:
By his second wife, Margaret of Hungary, Isaac had two sons:
Hiestand, Rudolf. Die Erste Ehe Isaaks II Angelus und Seine Kinder (Jahrbuch der Osterreichischen Byzantinistik, 47), 1997.
This article incorporates text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, which is in the public domain.
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