The Principality of Achaea was one of the three vassal states of the Latin Empire which replaced the Byzantine Empire after the capture of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
Achaea was founded in 1205 by William of Champlitte, a minor knight who had participated in the crusade. It became a vassal of the Kingdom of Thessalonica, along with the Duchy of Athens, until Thessalonica was captured by Theodore, the despot of Epirus, in 1224. After this, Achaea became the dominant power in Greece.
Achaea was rather small, consisting of little more than the interior of the Peloponnese (which the crusaders called Morea) and a few ports such as Monemvasia. It was surrounded by Epirus as well as territory held by Venice in the Aegean Sea, but it was fairly wealthy, and helped the Latin Empire against the exiled Byzantine emperors of the Empire of Nicaea.
The capital of the principality was originally at Andravida. In the mid-13th century the court at Andravida was considered to be the best representation of chivalry by western Europeans. Prince William II Villehardouin was a poet and troubador, and his court had its own mint, literary culture, and form of spoken French. The Prinicipality produced the Chronicle of Morea, a valuable history of the Crusader States in Greece. Achaea's laws became the basis for the laws of the other Crusader States, combining aspects of Byzantine and French law, and nobles often used Byzantine titles such as logothetes and protovestarios, although these titles were adapted to fit the conceptions of Western feudalism. The Byzantine pronoia system was also adapted to fit Western feudalism; peasants (paroikoi) technically owned their land, but military duties and taxes that they had not been subject to under the pronoia system were imposed on them by their new French lords. Essentially, the early Principality was a little French colony.
William II moved the capital of Achaea to Mistra, near Sparta, in 1249. In 1255 he began a war against the Venetian territories in the Aegean, and in 1259 he allied with Michael II, despot of Epirus, against Michael VIII Palaeologus of Nicaea. However, Manuel then deserted to join Michael, and William was taken prisoner at the Battle of Pelagonia. After Michael recaptured Constantinople in 1261, William was released in 1262 in return for Mistra and the rest of Morea, which became a Byzantine despotate.
After William, the Principality passed to Charles I of Sicily. In 1267 Charles was given Achaea by Baldwin II of Constantinople, who hoped Charles could help him restore the Latin Empire. Charles and his descendants did not rule in Achaea personally, but they sent money and soldiers to help the principality defend against the Byzantines. In 1311 the Duchy of Athens was taken over by the Catalan Company, whose actions helped to destablize Achaean territory. Achaea came under the control of Italian nobles, who held on to the increasingly smaller territory for another century before it was conquered by Thomas Palaeologus, the Byzantine despot of Morea, in 1432. The Byzantines held it for less than 30 years, until the area was taken by the Ottoman Empire in 1460.
The feudal conflict of Morea (1307-1383)
The main picture of this century-long situation: The Principality was under violent succession dispute. That originated from dispossessed Latin Emperor Baldwin II giving overlordship of Achaia to Charles I of Sicily, in order to gain his support for reconquering the throne in Constantinople - Baldwin did not secure the rights of Villehardouin Princes of Achaia when doing that. As a result, Angevin kings of Naples gave Achaia as their fief to a series of their own relatives and creatures, who fought against Princess Margaret Villehardouin and her heirs. Basically these, recurring disputes continued until 1373.
Charles II of Naples had granted the fiefdom of Morea or Achaea to Princess Isabella Villehardouin (from the Villehardouin dynasty), but she was deposed in 1307 by Charles II and it was then granted to Philip I of Taranto, son of Charles I, who in 1313 transferred it to Matilda (or Mafalda, or Maud) of Hainaut, heiress of Isabella Villehardouin, who was married to Louis of Burgundy, Titular King of Thessalonica. But Margaret, (younger) daughter of William II Villehardouin, claimed her rights from 1307. In 1313 she claimed it again without success and then transferred her rights to her daughter Isabelle of Sabran, wife of Ferdinand of Majorca. The son of Ferdinand and Isabelle, known as James the Unfortunate, was proclaimed prince of Morea in 1315 under the regency of his father, who conquered the principality (1315 to 1316) but was defeated and executed by Louis of Burgundy and Matilda (1316). In 1318 Louis of Burgundy died and king Robert of Naples deposed Matilda, and gave the principality to his brother John of Durazzo. From 1331 the feudal lords began to recognize the rights of James, and in 1333 the recognition was total. Then John transferred his rights to his sister-in-law, Catherine of Valois, Titular Empress of Constantinople, wife of Philip I of Taranto, whose stepson Robert claimed her rights until 1346 when she died, and then the claim was issued by the son of Philip and Catherine, Philip II of Taranto. In 1349 James was succeded by his son James IV (II of Morea). In 1364 Robert of Taranto, stepson of Catherine and eldest surviving son of Philip I of Taranto, died. In 1373 Philip II transferred his rights to his cousin and overlord, the queen Joan I of Naples, wife of James IV of Majorca, who, when he died in 1375, left the principality as a legacy to his wife and queen Joan, who at that point became more or less uncontested Princess of Achaia. However, when Joan was imprisoned in Naples in 1381, another, much younger James, James of Baux, grandson of Catherine and nephew of Philip II, who 1374 had become Titular Emperor of Constantinople, used the opportunity and seized Achaia. In 1383, Achaia was annexed by Charles III of Naples, successor and murderer of Joan I, who was grandson of John of Durazzo, at which point James of Baux was driven away. In 1383 the Vicary government began, lasting until 1396, under Durazzo kings of Naples.
Incomplete List of the Princes of Achaea
(This list does not contain the rival princes of Margaret Villehardouin's line, who 1307-75 rather successfully held much of the principality, sometimes the total of it. They were: Margaret Villehardouin 1307, Isabelle of Sabran and Ferdinand of Majorca 1313-15/6, James of Majorca 1315-49, James of Majorca 1349-75.)
Reign Name (Anglicized) Contemporary Regnal Name Notes
1205 to 1209 William I of Champlitte, Prince of the Morea Guillaume
1205 to c1209 Geoffrey I of Villehardouin, Prince of Achaea Geoffroi de Villehardouin nephew of the historian Geoffrey of Villehardouin
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